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The Mystery Of Jamieson Stone
 

The Mystery Of Jamieson Stone

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    The Mystery Of Jamieson Stone The Mystery Of Jamieson Stone Document Transcript

    • 2 - J.Cross/Stone THE MYSTERY OF JAMIESON STONE A Novel by Jonathan Cross
    • 3 - J.Cross/Stone CHAPTER 1 WASHINGTON, D.C. The studios of WNN (Worldwide News Network) were as hectic as usual. Producers, assistant producers, directors, assistant directors and a beehive of workers were all scurrying around pawning off papers and giving and taking orders. Cameras jostled into position as the lights focused on where Jamieson Stone would do his nightly news; the same seat he had sat in for more than twenty years. Jane Simmons, the head assistant producer and floor manager, shouted at everyone within earshot, commanding the floor like a general. “Let’s go people! Twenty minutes to airtime.” Simmons had been with WNN for almost ten years. Her demeanor was always dour and abrupt, not that it was her natural personality, but she felt that it was the only way to get attention and respect. She was slated to become the show’s head producer within three months. She had waited patiently for Alex Trent to retire. Even though her salary was almost double of anyone else in her position at the other networks, being the head producer of ‘The Stone Nightly News’ was her entrée into an elite circle of Producers. “Johnson,” she yelled, “where’s the damn teleprompter?” “Almost ready,” he said, not wanting to garner her wrath.
    • 4 - J.Cross/Stone “Let’s get with it, boy,” she thundered, and then spoke quietly into her headset that nestled over her short, black hair to the director who sat over looking the studio set behind a bank of video screens. “Have you seen Stone?” The director replied, “Not a sign,” in between punching up several shots of the set, still not finding one he liked. “It’s not like him. He’s always here at least two hours before airtime. I hope he hasn’t been in some kind of an accident,” she said not wanting to imagine the possibility. “There’s been no phone calls from the police or any hospital. Probably stuck in traffic,” he said trying to allay Simmons’ fear. Just then she saw Stone enter through the green door that read Studio B. Simmons relaxed. She turned to Annie from makeup. “Get him prepped. Do the best you can.” Annie nodded and strode off to intercept Stone. “We’ve all been worried about you Mr. Stone. Are you okay?” “I’m fine. Sorry I’m late. Just a touch of blush, okay Annie?” “You got it Mr. Stone. I’ve got my tray right next to your desk.” Stone walked over and sat in his usual comfortable chair and slid a small black leather bag under the desk, but well within arms reach. Annie applied a small sponge to his face and dabbed in some color. Simmons watched until Annie was done and then walked over. “You okay, boss?” “Fine J.S.” he said. “Sorry, if I caused you any problems.” “Are you kidding? This place is always an insane asylum,” she said with a mock smile. “The main thing is that you’re alright,” she patted him on the arm. “We’ve got ten minutes. Need anything?” “A glass of water would be nice.” “You got it, boss.” Simmons collared a woman carrying a clipboard, “Get Mr. Stone a glass of water. And I mean now. We’ve got eight minutes to show time.” “Sure thing,” she said and scurried away and returned in seconds with the water. “Anything else, Boss?” “No, honest I’m fine,” Stone said sipping on the water.
    • 5 - J.Cross/Stone Simmons moved the glass out of camera range, “We’re almost ready,” she said and walked away. Jamieson Stone sat there watching at least fifty people preparing for his nightly news cast, plus another twenty he couldn’t see working the controls behind the smoke colored windows above the floor of the studio. Over the years, Stone had become the most famous and trusted newsman, not only in America, but also in most of the civilized world. A hundred and forty countries tuned in via satellite and Internet – over a billion people at last count. However, his fame had not been meteoric; he had carefully cultivated and crafted his personae over two decades. Though, he had been an anchorman on WNN, a fledging network at the time, he also worked the field better than any other reporter. Over the years, he had taken on the tough assignments reporting live during the Panama Invasion, the Island war of Grenada, and from the explosive cities and deserts of Iraq, Kuwait and Lebanon, not to mention that he had almost been blown up by a Palestinian suicide bomber while waiting for a bus in Jerusalem. He had set himself apart from the rest of the television journalist, not just because of his imposing presence and commanding voice, but because he reported the truth about what he saw…the whole truth, no matter the consequence. His journalistic philosophy was one of integrity; he reported every controversial nuance. For that, he had almost been fired several times, except for the fact that his ratings were three times that of any other network news. Today, his ratings eclipsed all networks combined. He was the one man that the world tuned in to hear the truth, and he never disappointed them. Tonight, he would not need the teleprompter. What he had to say would rock the nation. Stone possessed a unique quality; even when the bombs in Iraq were exploding all around him, he felt a calmness that even he couldn’t explain. His mind had always gone into that quiet peaceful place within the eye of the storm, while the rest of his colleagues and the world panicked with fear around him. Jane Simmons looked at the huge, white-faced clock perched on the studio wall, and then to Stone who seemed to be waiting patiently as he always did, and picked up a loud speaker, “Alright, folks, it’s time to relax.” The same words she had always used before the start of every show. The studio went silent and then to black, except for the
    • 6 - J.Cross/Stone spotlights that lit Jamieson Stone. His face taut and intense with his hands folded in front of him. She spread the fingers of her hand below the camera’s lens and curled each finger as she counted him down…five, four, three, two and then pointed her finger toward Stone indicating he was on. The camera’s red eye above the lens blinked on and focused on Jamieson Stone. As the red eye came to life Stone felt a twinge of anxiety, something he had never experienced. He began with his usual opening signature, “This is Jamieson Stone reporting live to the world, telling you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” He sounded as if he were taking an oath on some unseen Bible. The red eye above the lens of the camera glared at him like a laser beam. Stone stared back as if it were the only thing in the universe. He strained to focus his eyes away but his mind began spinning as if in the throes of an eddy, dizziness and the oncoming feeling of nausea flooded over him. “Tonight, I have a special report about our immaculate Capitol Hill,” forcing his voice through sheer will to retain its calmness. “What I’m about to report will shake this nation, if not the entire world.” But, as hard as he tried, the blood-red eye of the camera captured his mind in a vise. He grabbed the edges of the desk to steady himself. His voiced faltered as he continued to fight off the dizziness. “Our country has come to expect the best from our politicians…” Suddenly, his eyes glazed over and his mind went to black. He reached into the leather bag he had set down next to him and retrieved a pearl, handled twenty-two revolver, put it next to his temple and pulled the trigger.
    • 7 - J.Cross/Stone CHAPTER 2 Pandemonium erupted, as the exploding sound of the bullet echoed throughout the confines of the studio. Stone’s body lurched sideways slipping out of sight under the desk. The director instantly jabbed a button sending the video screens to black and then to a commercial. Jane Simmons’ mind reeled, but like a good general she fought with every ounce of her strength to retain control. She grabbed the loud speaker and shouted into it, “Call an ambulance! Call 911! Call the police!” But the one thing she couldn’t contain was her emotions; her tears streamed down involuntarily into a cascade of horror. She ran to Stone. His body had buckled under the desk. She threw the chair aside and reached for his throat, trying to find a pulse. There wasn’t any. She pulled her hand back, and the sight of her bloodied hand, which dripped red rivulets onto the desk, sent her into hysteria. “No. No. No,” she screamed and then fainted into her own blackness. Captain Barton and his men flooded over the studio set. “Get the hell out of the way,” he shouted as the paramedics wheeled Jamieson Stone’s lifeless body, zippered into a body bag, through a crowd of shocked disbelievers. “This is a crime scene. Everyone stay away from the desk.” He turned to a police sergeant standing next to him, “I don’t want anyone leaving without my permission. Is that clear!” The sergeant grabbed a couple of officers and headed to the door with the large red ‘B’ printed on it and stood guard.
    • 8 - J.Cross/Stone A squat balding man in a dark three-piece suit forced his way through the melee, doing a version of bumper cars, until he reached Barton. “I’m Daniel Jacobs, General Manager of WNN,” he announced testily. “This isn’t a crime scene! It was a suicide!” “It’s a crime scene until we determine otherwise…and, personally, I don’t care who you are,” the Captain said calmly without looking at him as he scribbled on a notepad. “We all saw it. The man put a gun to his head, and blew his brains out.” “Must have been a friend of yours,” Barton said sarcastically. Jacobs relented. “All I’m saying is that no crime was committed. It’s all on video. The poor man committed suicide. Can’t we keep this to a minimum?” Barton finally eyed the short rotund man with red veins that criss-crossed his face like an erratic map. “Suicide’s a crime. No one leaves. I need a statement from everyone. Is that clear?” Barton said, still not looking at Jacobs. “For Christ’s sake, just about a billion people saw him blow his brains out.” “I don’t care if the whole world saw it,” Barton said and continued to scribble in his notepad. “Look, I’ve got a job to do. So, I’d appreciate it if you let me do it.” “Well, I’ve got a job to do as well,” Jacobs said defensively. “Then go do it. I’m sure you’ll put the best spin possible on it. Your ratings will probably go through the roof,” Barton said without hesitation. “You know, you’re an ass, Captain,” Jacobs retorted angrily. “And, if you don’t mind me saying, I think you’re an asshole.” “I know a lot of people in this town, and they’re going to hear from me,” Jacobs protested. Barton just shrugged. “Go for it.” A dozen officers sat in various corners of the studio painstakingly taking statements. No one really had anything to add that was not already known, but procedures were procedures, and Captain Barton was a stickler for thoroughness, especially when it came to high profile cases. And this was just about as high profile as it gets. Barton looked around and grabbed the first person he saw wearing a WNN badge. “Who knew Mr. Stone best…I mean who worked the closest with him on the set?”
    • 9 - J.Cross/Stone The young man startled and flinched for a second. “That would be J.S., Jane Simmons, she’s the floor manager.” He glanced around the room. “There,” he pointed, “she’s sitting over there in the middle of that group.” Barton walked over. “Excuse me,” he said, shuffling a few people aside. “Are you Ms. Simmons?” A crumpled looking tear stained face looked up at him. “Yes, I’m Simmons,” she said dabbing a handkerchief at her eyes. “I’m Captain Barton. Can we talk privately for a minute?” She nodded, and Barton hustled her off to a more or less quiet spot. “I know this has been very traumatic for you,” he said compassionately, “but I only have a few questions.” “I already gave one of your officers a statement,” she replied, sucking in a deep sigh. “Thank you for that. I’ll make it quick.” He opened his notepad, “I understand that you and Mr. Stone were pretty close.” She blew her nose. “Just here on the set,” she said, her eyes filling with tears again. “When Mr. Stone arrived was there anything unusual…his manner, or something he said?” Simmons shook her head. “Not a thing. He was always polite and professional.” “Was it his custom to bring in that black bag?” “I really didn’t notice the bag. He was late, and everything was frantic.” “Was he usually late?” “First time in over ten years that I can remember.” “Did he say why?” “No. There wasn’t any time to ask questions. I was just glad he was alright.” “How late was he?” “Close to two hours.” “Thanks, Ms. Simmons,” he said and patted her arm. “We may have to talk again.” She nodded, and dabbed the handkerchief at her eyes.
    • 10 J.Cross/Stone - Barton finally found his second in command, Lieutenant Washington, who was talking to the director in the control room hidden behind the smoked glass above the main floor. Washington was asking, “So, that’s it? He reached under the desk and pulled out a gun and shot himself?” “That’s about the size of it,” the director said punching up another commercial. “If you don’t mind, I’ve got to go to another studio. We’ve got to explain this…somehow to the viewing audience,” he said. “After all, this is news.” His voice sounded callous. Washington sighed and waved him to go. “Wash, what do you think?” Barton asked, as the director slipped from the room. Washington was jotting down notes, but spun around at hearing Barton’s voice. “You got me, Captain. Looks like it’s a suicide, plain and simple.” “Nothing’s ever simple, Wash. There’s always an angle,” Barton said, staring out at the set below where Jamieson Stone supposedly took his life. “Get one of the technicians over here and let’s take a look at the replay of this so-called suicide.” Washington didn’t have to go far, he grabbed the guy in the next chair. “Can you replay the video of Stone’s last minutes on earth?” “Sure.” The technician swung his chair over and pushed a couple of buttons. Barton and Washington watched in amazement as Stone put the pearl-handled gun to his head and fired. “Looks straight forward to me, Cap,” Washington said. “I guess the guy wanted to go out in a blaze of glory.” “Or in a mystery,” Barton said. But, the suicide replay appeared exactly as reported by all the witnesses. “You see something, Cap?” Washington asked. “Nah, the poor slob just blew his brains out.” But something about the scene nagged at the back of Barton’s mind. He couldn’t put is finger on it; so, he concluded that what he saw was the way it went down.
    • 11 J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 3 Senator Simon Kensey rapped the brass lion’s head knocker on Susannah York-Stone’s front door, which was a massive Georgian-style house on the outskirts of Georgetown. An elderly butler answered the door. “Oh, sir, it’s good to see you. Mrs. Stone has been hysterical. I’m sure you can help. The doctor has given her some sedatives, but I don’t think it’s helping.” “Nasty situation,” the Senator said and walked into the foyer. “I’ll let Mrs. Stone know that you’re here,” he said forcing a smile and left. In a matter of seconds, a set of double doors off the foyer burst opened and a statuesque blond in a blue robe rushed toward the Senator. She grabbed onto him sobbing in a way little girls do when left in the dark. “I’m glad you’re here, Simon. I’m about to go crazy,” she sobbed even harder. Simon Kensey had been Jamieson Stone’s best friend since they had attended Harvard together. He patted her back, and held her tightly. “I know what’s happened is unimaginable, but we’ll get through this.” His voice was reassuring. He stroked her head as she sobbed into the lapel of his coat. “Why, Simon? Why?” Her voice muffled through his tweed overcoat. “Come on,” he urged. “Let’s go into the sitting room and talk.” In the sitting room, he helped her to lie down on a soft, burgundy velvet sofa. He chose a wing-backed chair and moved it closer to her. He remained silent for a long time as Susan cried into a pillow, clutching it as if it were a lifeline to her own sanity. After
    • 12 J.Cross/Stone - several minutes, she said through deep intermittent sighs, “We were going to Martha’s Vineyard this weekend. He had the boat all cleaned, and stocked with our favorite foods and wine. The Moseley’s were going to join us for the weekend… Why would he do this? It makes no sense.” “Suicide never does,” Kensey said. “You’re his best friend, Simon, how can you believe it? Susan asked through an avalanche of tears. “I don’t care what the video shows. He never would have…” she couldn’t bring herself to say the word, suicide. “Simon, I have to know why. Why he did what he did,” her voice pleaded. “You’re right, Susan, he was my best friend. I don’t understand this anymore than you do,” Kensey said, chocked up. And then offered, after thoughtful consideration, “I know a man, not the most reputable, at least not in political circles, but he might be willing to help. At least, it will put your mind at ease.” Susan looked up with her tear stained face, “Thank you, Simon. Please call him. I have to do something. Even he finds out nothing, at least, I will have tried,” her voice trailed off, as her eyes began to flutter. Kensey could see that the sedatives were starting to take effect. “I’ll be in touch.” He kissed her on her moist cheek, and walked out into a blustery wind. The phone rang in Michael Brand’s apartment. He put down the Washington Post and just stared at the phone, never picking it up until it went through the voice-messaging center. He screened every call in the same manner, most of which he never picked up. Usually they were some form of solicitation, or someone he had no desire to talk with. After the machine responded with “No one’s here; please leave a message,” a voice came on. “This is Senator Kensey, I’d appreciate it if you would return my call…” Before the message ended, Brand’s curiosity forced him to pick up the phone. “Senator, Brand here. Sorry, I was just getting out of the shower.” His usual response when he decided to answer the phone. “Oh, good. I’m glad I caught you,” Kensey said. “This is a surprise, Senator. What can I do for you? I’m usually non gratis in your circles.”
    • 13 J.Cross/Stone - “You still are. But this is not political, it’s personal.” “You’ve got a personal problem, Senator?” Kensey ignored the question. “I assume you’ve seen or heard about Jamieson Stone’s suicide on worldwide television.” “I’ve seen a dozen replays. The networks have no shame. It’s always ratings to them. I know that you were close friends. Stone was an upstanding man. My condolences, Senator, but, why are you calling me?” “I don’t want to discuss this on the phone. Do you think you can find some time in your schedule to meet with me?” “Is this something urgent?” “I wouldn’t call you if it wasn’t,” Kensey said annoyed. “I’ve got time this afternoon,” Brand replied not reacting to Kensey’s tone, he was much too interested to let Kensey’s arrogance bother him. “I don’t want to meet in any conspicuous place, I’ve got a reputation…” “So do I,” Brand interrupted. “I know a small private, out of the way, Mexican restaurant called Terrazzo’s. It’s on twenty-third. I’m sure your chauffer can find it. Let’s meet at one o’clock, if that’s convenient?” Kensey agreed and hung up. The powerful Chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee needs a favor, Brand mused, as he skipped to the bathroom to take a shower. Michael Brand was a uniquely complicated individual. His life had consisted of many layers of incongruities. He had been born in Colombia. His father was a doctor, and his mother a Bostonian socialite. At the age of seven, his parents, afraid of the Ruling Junta, and the insistence of his father’s family sent him to live with his mother’s aunt in New York, a fashion designer. Fearing discrimination, his aunt changed his name from Branderos to Brand. During his high school years he had learned how to live a double life: his days as an honor student in a prestigious prep-school, and his nights roaming the barrio where he could feel his Latin heritage and be free to be himself. Moving through both worlds with equal ease set the pattern for the rest of his life.
    • 14 J.Cross/Stone - In college he had gravitated to politics, he found he had unusual aptitude for it; maybe it was because he understood that politics was also two worlds: the real and the unreal. He had chosen Colombia University -- the name alone was ironic and somehow fed into the fantasy of his double life. After graduating with top honors, he accepted a position in one of the most prestigious political consulting firms in Washington, D.C. (the District of Colombia). No matter where he went he was always reminded of his roots. During his first few years at the firm he had been given the task of running campaigns that had already been written off as losers, primarily because the campaigns were under-funded. But to his amazement, and the amazement of his colleagues his candidates always won. His ingenuity at tapping into the right issues, and his uncanny ability at fund raising had made the difference. Soon he was the topic of conversation in the political circles within the Beltway, and became a frequent guest on the Sunday morning news shows. Not only because he had garnered a winning political reputation, but his handsome good looks with his aquamarine eyes and witty commentary made him a more attractive guest than most. His fame, eventually, had compelled him to open up his own firm at the age of twenty-six. It was then that he met and married one of New York’s top fashion models, not so much because he loved her, which he did, but because she fit into the image that he had created for himself. It wasn’t long after that Michael Brand Jr. was born. To him, his son became one of the joys of his life. He doted on him every minute. But his married life, and the crushing pressure of winning elections began to take its toll. For relief and relaxation he turned to the one thing that made him feel free: the barrio. The excitement of the barrio, the drinking, the dancing that was in his blood, and especially the women who tempted him beyond his ability to say no was the beginning of his downfall. His wife had tolerated his indiscretions, but when he showed up in the Tabloids with pictures of women hanging all over him, it was too much for her to take. The divorce was messy and public. It had cost him a small fortune for the privilege of seeing his son one weekend a month. His reputation had suffered as well as his business. His ability at fundraising had been dramatically affected; as a result he started losing races. The aura of the young ‘Beltway’ genius was fading as fast as a setting sun. But that was twenty-five years ago.
    • 15 J.Cross/Stone - Brand parked his car and walked to Terrazzo’s. As he entered, he heard a familiar voice, ”Ah, Senor, Miguel, it’s so good to see you,” Jose, the owner of the restaurant, said flashing a large grin. ”I have your favorite table waiting.” “I’m looking for someone.” Brand shifted his eyes around the room, and found Senator Kensey sitting alone in a small booth wearing ordinary slacks and shirts. “I’ve got a meeting, Jose -- a private meeting. Comprehende?” “After twenty-five years nothing changes, eh, Senor,” Jose said understanding completely. “I will send over a waiter only when you signal.” “Gracias, amigo.” Brand padded over to where Kensey was sitting, a menu half covered his face. “You’re late,” he whispered. “Relax, Senator, these people here wouldn’t know a politician from a pollywog.” “Keep your voice down, someone might hear you,” Kensey said, and looked around, his voice filled with paranoia. “There’s not a person in this place that speaks English,” Brand lied. “You can’t be too careful,” Kensey said still unsure. “Senator, let’s stop this cloak and dagger stuff. Besides, your own mother wouldn’t recognize you in those clothes. So, what’s on your mind?” “It’s Stone’s wife. She’s hysterical over her husbands death.” “From what I’ve seen, looks like an unfortunate, but dramatic suicide.” Kensey shifted uncomfortably. “How about a drink, Senator…just to settle your nerves.” “Good idea. I’ll have a scotch, neat.” Brand signaled by lifting his hand slightly. Jose’s peregrine eyes watched for Brand’s signal and then sent over a waiter who asked in Spanish to take their order. “Scotch, no ice. And I’ll have a mineral water,” Brand ordered in Spanish. He had quit drinking ten years ago. “So, why call me? What do you think I can do?”
    • 16 J.Cross/Stone - “I think she believes her husband really did commit suicide, but she feels she has to do something.” “Senator, let’s not play games. What do you want from me?” “Since you quit your career as a political consultant, ten years ago, you’ve gone into, let’s say, private practice, and have taken on some very personal, and I might add, high profile people, and you’ve always been very discreet. I’m counting on that.” “Senator, I’m going to ask you for the last time. What do you want? Or, I’m leaving right now.” Brand said, playing with him and enjoying it. “This is a delicate situation. Be patient.” “I’m out of patience.” The waiter brought over the drinks and set them down and left quickly. Kensey inhaled his scotch in one gulp. “I have twenty-five thousand dollars in cash in my pocket. I want you to convince…no, let me put it another way. I want you allay Mrs. Stone’s mind that her husband committed suicide just as we all saw on television.” Brand’s eyes steeled and glared at Kensey. “You want what?” “It’s a simple assignment. For God’s sake’s man, all I’m asking is for you to put a widow’s mind at ease.” “The police could do that. You don’t need me.” “She wants…she wants someone objective,” Kensey said flustered. Brand’s mind went into warp speed. He knew a lie from a half-truth. This was both. He was about to leave when his instincts kicked in. He immediately decided to take the case, not because of Mrs. Stone, the grieving widow, but because he saw something in Simon Kensey’s eyes that said he was hiding an awful truth; and that he had to find out. “Twenty-five grand’s a lot of money just to hold her hand,” he replied calmly. “It’s peanuts, if it puts her mind to rest.” “Okay, sounds simple enough,” Brand said, tacitly accepting the assignment. Kensey reached into his pocket and withdrew an envelope, and carefully pushed it across the table hidden beneath the menu. Brand stuffed it away into the inside pocket of his jacket. “When would you like to meet again?”
    • 17 J.Cross/Stone - “Never, I hope,” Kensey said. “Just do what you’re being paid to do. I’ll tell Mrs. Stone to expect you.” “Fair enough,” Brand said. Senator Simon Kensey, one of the most powerful men in Congress, left the restaurant looking more ill attired than any of the patrons. Brand mused at the stupidity of amateurs. Before meeting with Mrs. Stone there were a couple of stops that Brand considered more important: First, to his sometimes’ friend, Captain Barton, and then to WNN to watch the replay in slow motion. He and Barton had worked officially and unofficially on more than a dozen cases over the last ten tears. Their relationship was either good or bad depending upon the outcome of the case. A short, but intense, April shower swept through the Capitol city, leaving a sultry air that seemed to press down gravity. The oppressive moisture lay like a cloud of lead weight. Brand walked up the steps of the 3rd precinct, his shirt and jacket already soaked through by the abhorrent humidity. As he entered the building, a cool, sweet smelling air conditioning flowed over him like the waves of a tropical breeze. A stern looking Latino sergeant peering over a tall, walled off platform broke into a smile. “Que pasa, Michael? It’s been awhile. What brings you to this place between heaven and hell?” “Just in the neighborhood. Thought I’d pay a visit to Captain Barton.” “Michael, you’re never just in the neighborhood. You got business with the Commandante?” “Not really. Is he in?” “He’s in, but I must warn you he’s in a foul mood. You know what I mean?” “He’s always in a foul mood, so what?” “There is foul, and there is foul. Are you sure you want to see him?” “Unfortunately, it’s a necessity at the moment.”
    • 18 J.Cross/Stone - “I’ll buzz him, but it’s your funeral,” the sergeant said with a sardonic smile. “Give me a minute.” Brand walked over and sat on a hard uncomfortable bench and watched as people and police alike vied for the sergeant’s attention. He handled them as deftly as a concert director. After a couple of minutes, “He says, he’ll see you. Tread lightly, Miguel,” the sergeant cautioned. Brand walked down a long angular corridor until he reached Barton’s office. The shades were open and he could see Barton pacing around with a phone clamped to his ear and waving his free arm as if he were sword fighting with some unseen enemy. Brand watched from behind the open slats of the blinds. Barton finally slammed down the phone breaking off a small piece of plastic sending it sailing through the air like a missile. His eyes searched the floor for a second, and then ran his hands through a thick, black mane of hair. Brand waited another second and then rapped on the office door, opened it and poked his head in. He just stood there smiling at Barton. “What the fuck do you want?” Barton’s face was still twisted in anger and agony. “Having fun yet?” Brand closed the door just in time before a telephone book smashed against it. Brand complimented himself on his instincts, and reopened the door. “Brand, this is not a good time,” Barton said, only slightly calmed down. “It’s never a good time. Not in our business.” “Not in our business,” Barton repeated sarcastically. His eyes narrowed into menacing slits. “Come on in,” he finally said. “Maybe, I can take it out on you.” Barton slumped into his chair. Brand sat down on a rather soft corduroy sofa. “By the looks of your conversation, it was either the mayor or a member of our esteemed congress.” “The mayor’s an asshole,” Barton fumed. “So are the vagaries of life,” Brand said as if quoting from a play. “What? Never mind. What do you want?” “Same thing you do. Trying to make sense of a mysterious suicide,” Brand said, hoping it would flush out a few unintended remarks.
    • 19 J.Cross/Stone - Barton held his hands against his temples and squeezed. “Don’t tell me… Please don’t tell me you’re working on the Stone suicide,” his voice pleaded. “What makes you think it was a suicide?” Brand asked. Barton looked up releasing his head, “Who hired you?” “Now you know that’s privileged.” “You don’t have any privileges. You’re not licensed in any jurisdiction.” “That’s why I need you. And, if I might add, you need me.” “You’re the last ting I need.” “By my count, together we’ve solved more than a dozen cases. Unless you want to take credit for all of them.” “Okay, so you helped. So, what?” “So, you need some help, Robert. We make a good team.” Barton rose from his chair and looked out the window. Splashes of sun squirted through a spongy looking mass of gray clouds. “What do you think you know about this, Michael?” “I don’t know anything, but I’ve got a lot of questions. And, I bet you do too, except the heats on for you to wrap this up into a nice tight ball. No investigation. No questions. Tell me I’m wrong?” “You’ve always had good instincts, Michael.” “You afraid of your job, Robert?” “You know better than that. After twenty-years, I should give a good goddamn?” “Then what is it?” “It’s the bullshit -- always the bullshit. It never ends.” “Then why don’t you quit?” “After this case, I think I will.” Barton turned to Brand. “Alright, let’s go for it,” he said impulsively as the corners of his mouth creased into a sardonic grin. “If someone’s hired you, then there must be something we’re missing…You’re not going to tell me who hired you, are you?” “Not just yet. But, since we’re partners again, I’ll tell you this; I’m working on behalf of Mrs. Stone. I haven’t met with her yet, so you can assume whoever hired me was not her.”
    • 20 J.Cross/Stone - “Mrs. Stone, huh? In that case, I assume she doesn’t believe it was suicide?” “I didn’t say that.” “This is not the usual kind of case you get involved in, Michael. What’s up?” “It’s exactly the kind of case I get involved with. Let’s call it the mystery of Jamieson Stone.” “Sounds like a title from a Perry Mason show.” “I didn’t mean it to sound so melodramatic.” “Yes, you did.” “Are we going to quibble, or find out why the most trusted news man on the planet committed suicide on worldwide television?” “Okay, okay.” Barton held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “So, what do you suggest?” “First, we look at the replay of the suicide.” “I’ve seen it a dozen times. I’ve got a video of it here in the VCR. It’s not going to change.” “Not here, at WNN. I want to see it in slow motion.”
    • 21 J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 4 The WNN building was a sixty-five storied edifice built of crimson granite and gold tinted glass. Barton wondered how many people would be laid off now that Stone was dead. His nightly news show probably represented more than a third of their revenues, and Barton couldn’t imagine anyone who was capable of taking his place. He was sure though that they would try. After all, the news must go on. “Who was the director that night?” Brand asked as they walked from the unusual humidity, half soaked, into the cool lobby of WNN. Barton scrambled through his notepad. “A Danny Greene was the director.” “Let’s find him, if possible. Did you interview him?” “No, Washington did. But I came in at the tail end. Seemed a little too cool for the situation.” “Fact or impression?” Brand asked. “Impression.” “Let’s see how cool he is under fire.” “Whoa,” Barton said. “This guy’s boss, a Daniel Jacobs, the General Manager of WNN called the mayor, and he chewed my ass out for ten minutes.” “Because of this Greene guy?” “No, because I had a run in with Jacobs…I called him an asshole.” “You really don’t care about keeping your job do you?” “He pissed me off.” “The whole world pisses you off. Greene wasn’t there, was he?” “No.”
    • 22 J.Cross/Stone - Barton and Brand approached a huge, plum colored curved marble reception counter that was at least forty feet long with a sole receptionist seated in the center that was handling the phones in a staccato fashion. “Please hold… Please hold… He’ll be with you in a minute…” Her fingers danced across the over-sized phone’s keyboard. “This could go on forever,” Brand jabbed Barton in the ribs. “Excuse me, miss,” Barton said politely, holding up his badge. “I’m here on official business.” The over worked receptionist eyed the badge, and blew a blond curl from the edge of her mouth. “One second,” she said to Barton, and then spoke into her headset. “All lines are tied up for now, please call back.” She looked at Barton. “This place is crazy, and the other receptionist decided not to show,” she said completely frustrated. “I’m Captain Barton of the D.C. police. I’d like to see Danny Greene. Is he in?” “Let me check.” She punched in a couple of numbers. “A Captain Barton from the D.C. police to see you…Fine,” she answered without blinking. “Greene’s on the twenty- fifth floor, room 2505. He’s expecting you. The elevators are up the stairs and to your right,” she said and returned to the phones. “Hold please…” “Thanks,” Barton said, wishing he had a receptionist like that. The elevator was a slow trip up to the twenty-fifth floor, stopping at every floor with people bustling in and out. Barton hated it, while Brand just picked at a fingernail. After walking through a maze of corridors, they finally found Greene’s office and entered. Everything was some shade of purple or plum, the carpets, the walls, the furniture, even the clothes of the secretary, who looked more like a flight attendant than a secretary. “May I help you?” she asked looking up from her computer. “We’re here to see Mr. Greene,” Barton said showing his badge. “I’ll see if he’s available,” she said with a practiced smile and picked up the phone. Barton was about to explode when she said in an almost singing voice, “You can go right in, he’s waiting for you.” And pointed toward a hallway.
    • 23 J.Cross/Stone - Barton and Brand, who had remained silent since entering the elevator on the first floor, walked down a purple hallway toward a magenta door that snapped open as they arrived. “Gentlemen, I only have a few minutes. I’m on deadline,” Greene said and ushered them over to a grape colored leather couch. “So, what can I do for you? I thought this episode was all wrapped up?” Greene asked as if he were referring to a completed installment of a weekly TV dramatic series. “Who told you that Mr. Stone’s tragic death, which was viewed across the world, was all wrapped up?” Barton laid a heavy touch to his words. “Jacobs, our General Manager.” “Well then, I’ve got news for you, Mr. News Director. This is a full-blown investigation into the death of Jamieson Stone, and it’s starting with you.” Greene’s eyes widened. Look, I don’t know anything. I was just sitting behind the video console. You saw what I saw.” Brand interjected. “That’s why we’re here, we want to see the replay again, but this time in slow motion. I know that you don’t want to be held on obstruction in an on going investigation, so, let’s get your fairy ass down to a private viewing room. Do you catch my meaning?” “Completely,” he uttered. As they walked to the elevators Barton whispered to Brand, “Damn the torpedoes.” He was glad to be with his sometimes friend again. He hated to admit it, but he missed him. Brand always brought the best out of him. Maybe, it was the competition. But, whatever it was, he felt invigorated. Greene punched up a video screen and asked, “Where do you want to start?” “From the beginning,” Brand ordered. “You mean from before Stone arrived on the set?” “We want to see everything from the beginning, and I mean everything; from the time you first began focusing your cameras, to the positioning of lights, and everyone on the set. You had three cameras running at the same time, I want you to punch them all up.” “Individually, or all at once?”
    • 24 J.Cross/Stone - “Individually,” Brand said. Except for some of the modern technology, Brand knew his way around a studio set and the director’s console as well as any. He had directed and produced over a thousand political commercials, and this wasn’t any different. Greene, afraid to disagree with anything, punched up camera One. “This is about ten minutes before Stone arrived,” he said. The picture on the video jilted and tossed, much of it blurred until it settled on a part of the set that included the door with a red ‘B’ printed on it. “That’s the main entrance to the set,” Greene said. “This camera will remain static until after Stone’s introductory monologue. We use it as a side shot when going to commercial.” “Is it on the whole time?” “Yes. At my signal it focuses on Stone.” “When’s that?” Brand asked. “About a minute before Stone finishes his introduction. We work from the teleprompter, but Stone wasn’t reading from the teleprompter, he was ad-libbing. So, the camera never focused directly on him. I was about to have the cameraman swing around, just in case, but by then Stone had already fired. I immediately went to black and then to a commercial.” “Let’s see all that camera One saw,” Brand ordered. “With all due respect, I’ve got a show to direct in five minutes,” Greene said. “Call the assistant director, I’m sure he’ll fill in nicely.” “But,” Greene began to protest… “It’s that or a night in jail,” Barton chimed in. Greene nodded his understanding and pushed a button that let camera One roll, he then picked up the phone and spoke a few words into it. They watched the video on camera One as it remained stationary taping an assortment of people dashing around, which appeared to Barton haphazardly, until the door to the studio opened and Stone walked in. A petite brunette quickly approached Stone and led him out of camera range. “Stop tape,” Brand said. “Back up. Who’s the young lady?” “Annie Jackson, make-up. You’ll see her again on camera Three.”
    • 25 J.Cross/Stone - “Did anyone take her statement?” Brand asked Barton. “I’m sure they did, I’d have to go back through the files.” Brand let Barton’s answer stand, and then said to Greene, “Pick it up when Stone enters the studio, slow motion.” They watched the scene unfold in slow motion, nothing unusual. Stone seemed cordial and relaxed as Annie Jackson led him off screen. Both Brand and Barton observed the black bag he carried loosely at his side. “Did he usually carry in that bag?” Brand asked Greene. “Not usually. Sometimes he carried a briefcase, sometimes a bunch of folders, most times nothing. He was never consistent.” “Let’s go to camera Two,” Brand said. Camera Two was a hodgepodge of nothing. It was to the far right of the set, only a long table with donuts and coffee, with various people standing around drinking and eating. Stone was nowhere in sight. Greene said, “This camera is used for Stone’s second break. An opposite side shot before going to commercial.” “Let’s get to camera Three,” Brand ordered. Greene pushed a button, the video screen snapped on to a test pattern. “This is the main camera, the pattern is for color only.” The video then immediately flashed on showing Stone sitting behind the desk with Annie Jackson applying makeup to his face. In seconds, she wheeled her cart away. “Stop tape,” Brand shouted. “I didn’t see what Stone did with the leather bag that carried the gun.” “I didn’t punch up the camera until Stone was already seated.” “Why not?” “There was no reason to. This is the main camera, I was only interested in lighting and making sure that Stone was centered in the frame.” Brand accepted the answer for now. “Roll tape.” Immediately, Jane Simmons entered the picture. “Stop tape,” Brand ordered again. “Is there any audio at this point?”
    • 26 J.Cross/Stone - “No,” Greene said. “It’s only activated when the red light above the camera lens comes on which let’s the anchorman, in this case, Stone know that video and sound is live. Otherwise it would confuse him.” “Continue,” Brand said. They watched as Simmons talked briefly with Stone. Their conversation appeared normal as Stone sipped from a glass of water, after which Simmons moved it out of camera range. “Stop tape,” Brand asked again. “Run it again in slow motion.” Greene complied. Brand was especially interested to see if Simmons’ hand had disappeared at any time under the desk. It had not. “Continue.” After less than a minute, Stone’s face appeared full frame on the screen. They watched the same scene unfold as they did a dozen times before. “Stop tape,” Brand shouted. “Take it from where Stone starts to speak.” Greene rolled it back. The video started to replay in slow motion. Brand yelled, “Stop. I want this section frame by frame.” “What for?” Greene asked. “Because I said so.” Greene nodded and pushed another button, the scene began to unfold frame by frame. “The audio will be squelched.” “I’m not interested in the audio at the moment. I want you to focus in on Stone’s face as tight as possible.” Greene pushed the zoom button. “It’s going to be slightly grainy, but I can clear it up.” A crisp picture finally emerged on the screen. Brand studied it intently. “One more time, just before he reaches for the gun.” “What are you looking for?” Barton asked. “Patience, my friend.” Several frames into the video, Brand yelled, “Stop. Can you zoom in closer on his eyes?” he asked Greene.
    • 27 J.Cross/Stone - “Sure, it’ll take just a second.” The picture reemerged with Stone’s eyes filling most of the screen. Brand watched with a trained eye as the frames passed one by one. “Thank you, Mr. Greene. You’ve been most helpful. We’re done here. Could I have a copy of the last part of the close up?” “Sure.” Greene ran off a copy and handed it to Brand. “Thank you again, Mr. Greene, for your cooperation.” Greened nodded, and hastened to leave. “You found something?” Barton asked. “I found everything,” Brand said as he stuffed the videotape into his jacket pocket. “What did you find?” “When we get back to headquarters, we’ll discuss it.”
    • 28 J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 5 Once inside Barton’s office, Brand shut all the blinds tight. “Turn on the TV and VCR.” Brand handed Barton the tape from his jacket. “I don’t think I can watch another second of this,” Barton said bleary-eyed, but shoved in the tape. “This you’ll want to see,” Brand said smugly. “It wasn’t suicide, it was murder!” Barton glowered at Brand. “What are you talking about?” “Just watch and learn.” The picture flickered for a second and then settled down revealing Stone’s face from the top of his brow to just below his nose. The scene played out frame by frame. “I don’t see a damn thing,” Barton said, “other than what we’ve already seen.” “Play it again. This time, I’ll take you through it frame by revealing frame.” Barton rewound the tape. “You know, sometimes, I hate you.” “Sometimes, I hate myself, Brand said. “Now, just watch it again. This time focus solely on Stone’s eyes.” The frames slowly slipped by, one by one. “There. Freeze it!” Brand said. Barton complied. “Describe what you see?” “I see two big, black eyes staring at me.” “Pupils,” Brand corrected. “Back it up a frame.” Barton acquiesced, and stared intently at the screen. “The pupils of his eyes are smaller, so what?”
    • 29 J.Cross/Stone - “The pupils are smaller because the intensity of the lights focused on his eyes are causing them to contract.” “Then why are they getting bigger? They should remain the same.” “Go to the head of the class.” “I don’t understand,” Barton said, still confused. “Now, slowly move the tape forward about four frames and then freeze it.” “His pupils are slowly enlarging; they’re almost to the outer edge of the irises,” Barton exclaimed. “Exactly. They’re dilating. The absolute opposite of what should be occurring.” “It makes no sense.” “Oh, but it does. It makes perfect sense,” Brand said and began explaining. “The pupils of an eye contract according to the amount of light they’re exposed to. When it’s dark the pupils dilate to take in as much light as possible. But, this is where a small piece of science comes in to play. We do not see with our eyes. Light, or what we call seeing, comes through the pupils, but is reflected in our brain. It is the brain that tells the pupils what to do, depending on the stimuli.” “I still don’t get it.” “For the brain to tell the pupil whether it’s light or dark, the brain must be functioning normally.” “You mean that Stone’s brain was not functioning properly?” “Exactly. Something was interfering with Stone’s perception. Roll the tape through the final frames,” Brand said. Barton seemed to be mesmerized as the frames changed like a slide projector. “That’s it,” Brand said. “Coming up is the place where Stone is reaching under the table.” Barton studied the frames. “Freeze it!” Brand said just before Stone pulled the trigger. “See how his eyes are completely dilated, and he hasn’t blinked once. Right, now, I’d bet anything his brain is registering that he’s in total darkness.” “How can you be sure?” “The eyes don’t lie, my friend.”
    • 30 J.Cross/Stone - “So, what would cause this?” “My guess is that he’s under the influence of a heavy narcotic.” “You got all this from the fact that his pupils are dilated, and he hasn’t blinked?” “You’ve got it, Captain Barton, Chief of Detectives,” Brand announced with some satisfaction. “How can we prove it?” “An autopsy.” “Impossible. And you know it.” “All suicides in the District of Colombia require an autopsy,” Brand said flatly. “The powers that be want this wrapped up by tonight.” “Are going to do what the law requires, or are you going to hang on to your job like an aging lion by his toenails?” “So, I’m between a rock and a hard place. Damn! Working with you is a constant source of unending aggravation.” “That’s why you love me,” Brand smiled. “However, if you’re chicken-shit, I can arrange for an autopsy. Remember, I’m working on behalf of Mrs. Stone.” “Alright, I’m a chicken-shit. So, What’s next?” “My friend, and I say this with all sincerity, I’ll be amazed if you have a job after Greene talks to his General Manager. But, if he’s smart enough, he’ll keep his mouth shut…I’ll arrange for the autopsy.” Barton just stood meekly without saying a word. His body language spoke volumes. “Don’t worry, the autopsy will prove that I’m right.” “And, if it doesn’t?” “Then we’re back to square one. While I’m convincing Mrs. Stone to agree to an autopsy, I suggest a few things.” “Like what?” Barton asked apprehensively. “We’ll have about three, maybe four days before the toxicological findings are completed…that’s if I can convince Mrs. Stone. In the meantime, there are a lot of questions unanswered. And, if I’m right, we’ll have a head start.” “Like what?” Barton asked again.
    • 31 J.Cross/Stone - “For starters, he could have ingested the narcotic from the glass of water.” Brand started pacing around as he spoke. “Have forensics go over the leather bag for any traces of a narcotic. Whose gun was it? And have it checked for any narcotics as well. These kinds of drugs can also be absorbed through the skin. Have the lab look for anything that produces a hypnotic effect. Also, check out the makeup that this Jackson woman applied to his face…You get the picture,” Brand said. “I’m sure you can up with a lot more…And for God’s sake, find out why he was late!” Barton just sat at his desk as Brand spieled out at least a weeks worth of investigation. “You should join the Department, you’re the best detective here. Hell, you should have my job.” “I got lucky. I’ve done a thousand commercials. I just happen to know what I’m looking at.” “You know what scares me the most?” Barton said shaking his head, “It’s the thousands of cases where we probably missed the crucial forensic evidence to convict or set free a suspect.” “Life’s not perfect,” Brand said. “Or fair.” Barton nodded. “But getting the lab to do what you want may be another thing. There’s lot of pressure on the Department.” “If Mrs. Stone orders it, they’ll have to comply. However, if the lab still refuses, I know someone at the FBI that will gladly do it.”
    • 32 J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 6 It was time to visit the illustrious Mrs. Stone. Brand parked his BMW in the circular drive in front of the massive Georgian mansion with its columns of white marble, standing like sentinels, seemingly guarding the entrance to an elegant fortress. He walked up a flight of stairs between the columns to a set of huge double doors, and rapped a brass lion’s head knocker, and waited. An elderly man dressed in a butler’s uniform pulled opened one of the huge doors. “Whom should I say is calling?” he inquired politely. “Michael Brand, on orders from Senator Kensey,” he replied. “Please step in. The humidity is simply atrocious.” Brand walked into a grand, rotund foyer that was at least thirty-feet high and with a colorful assortment of flowers that cascaded down like a waterfall into a three-tiered lava stone pond with giant Koi fish. “I’ll let Mrs. Stone know you’re here. Please wait,” the butler said and exited into a side door off the foyer. The butler returned within seconds. “Mrs. Stone was not expecting you. Could you wait in the library, please?” The butler ushered him into an expansive room, which Brand thought looked like a replica of an Alexandrian library. Bookshelves, from ceiling to floor, were stacked in volumes around the room. Brand wondered if they were all real. He then looked around the room; his eyes focused on what appeared to be ancient maps and artifacts from distant places and times. Off to the side of the room, he noticed what looked like a comfortable sitting area next to a stone fireplace. He sat down on a burgundy velvet sofa and admired the museum-like statues, which were situated in
    • 33 J.Cross/Stone - alcoves that separated the bookshelves, giving the room an artistic balance. Brand wondered how much money it would take to acquire such a collection, let alone a mansion like this. While he waited, he went over the suicide/homicide scene he had viewed with Barton, and tried to find any discrepancies. For now, he couldn’t. He hoped Mrs. Stone would be amenable to an autopsy. Before his mind became too entangled, Mrs. Stone walked in. “I’m so pleased you could come, Mr. Brand,” she said, hurrying in and extending her hand graciously. Brand rose immediately, and stepped forward to shake her hand. The heretofore, unimagined, Mrs. Stone was nothing like what he had expected; she was absolutely stunning as she seemed to glide across the room in a gossamer-like, blue flowing dress. She looked like a version of Scarlet O’Hare, except for the golden curls, which dripped down just below her shoulders. A hint of lilac wafted through the air. “It’s my pleasure, Mrs. Stone. I’m sorry we have to meet under these unfortunate circumstances,” Brand said, stating the obvious. “Please sit, Mr. Brand,” she said, taking a seat across from him. He could see a tear welling up in the corner of Mrs. Stone’s eye. “I came over as soon as I could after talking with Senator Kensey. He must be good friend?” “Actually, he was my husband’s friend. But, under the circumstances, he was the only one I could think of who might be able to help,” she said, fidgeting with her hands which were folded on her lap. “The Senator was not very clear as to what you would like me to do precisely,” Brand lied, and stared at her as if she were some kind of an angel misplaced on earth. “The Senator, and what I can gather from the news, believes that my husband committed.”…She still couldn’t say the word. “Suicide,” Brand uttered, knowing that it was imperative to get the declaration out in the open. “Alright, Mr. Stone... Suicide,” she said emphatically. “Is that what you want to hear?” she asked with a touch of anger.
    • 34 J.Cross/Stone - “Actually, Mrs. Stone, why I’m here is not because the Senator asked me, but because I have some grave questions about your husband’s apparent suicide. Before I came to see you, I did some investigation. There a lot of unanswered questions.” “Like what?” she asked, her face immediately lit up. “At the moment, it’s too complicated to go into, but I do have a few questions, if you don’t mind?” “I’m not a simpleton, Mr. Brand,” she said testily. “I didn’t mean to infer that. It’s just that, before any conclusions can be drawn, a full investigation has to take place. Forensics… and an autopsy… with your permission.” “Is that necessary?” “Only if you want to get to the truth.” “That I do, Mr. Brand. Make no mistake. The truth is the only the thing that is driving me. I need to know why my husband would do such a cowardly act. I just can’t believe it…” Tears began cascading down her face. “There’s something I need to know?” Brand asked, trying to ignore her tears. “If I’m going to find out the truth, I’m going to need your help.” “Such as?” she asked through her tears. “Mostly, personal. If you’re not willing, then I’ll be forced to walk away, and the incident of your husband’s death will stand as reported.” “Are you one of Kensey’s stooges?” she accused. “How much is he paying you, and exactly what does he want you to do?” she asked, her tone and demeanor hardened. Brand stared off into space, thinking for a long time before answering. “Mrs. Stone, we don’t know each other, but can I confide in you?” “I hope that you would,” she said with a touch of anger attached. “I mean, really confide. Just between us, not Kensey, or any other living soul?” “You want me to trust you, is that it?” “More than that. I want to know if I can trust you?” “With what?” “Anything I tell you must remain strictly between us,” Brand said. “And I promise the same.” “I just want to know the truth,” she said and held her hands up covering her face.
    • 35 J.Cross/Stone - Brand handed her his handkerchief. “I know what it means to lose a loved one.” “Do you?” she asked through the muffled sound of the handkerchief. “Yes. I lost my son when he was only seventeen. I know, Mrs. Stone. Believe me, I know.” “I apologize, Mr. Brand. I’m not acting very professional,” she said, doing her best to compose herself. “It’s I who should apologize for my callous manner.” “I guess that’s what you private-eyes are supposed to do.” “Private-eye,” Brand grimaced. “Is that what the Senator said I was?” “No. I just assumed.” “For the record, I’m just an ordinary citizen, but with a lot of experience…a kind of consultant if you wish.” “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.” Brand ignored her attempt at an apology. “Do we have an agreement about keeping things just between us? It’s imperative, or I can’t help you.” “Why is this secrecy so important?” “To tell the truth,” he hesitated, “I wasn’t going to take this case until I talked to you.” “Why not?” “Because I must have your promise in regards to secrecy, Mrs. Stone, before I can continue.” “Alright then, I agree,” she said firmly. “Now, tell me why it’s so important.” “Frankly, Mrs. Stone, I don’t trust Senator Kensey. And I don’t think you do either.” “Why do you think that?” “On your part, it’s just a feeling. For mine, primarily because of why he hired me.” “And why did he hire you, Mr. Brand?” “He hired me to convince you that your husband’s death is exactly as reported – a suicide.” Mrs. Stone was flabbergasted. “I’ll have to…”
    • 36 J.Cross/Stone - “Ah, ah, Mrs. Stone, you promised secrecy. Kensey will only lie to you, and then will hire someone else to do the job.” “He said you were not a very reputable man. So, why should I believe you?” “Why would he hire me then?” “I don’t know,” she said becoming confused. Brand reached into his pocket and handed Mrs. Stone the envelope containing the money that Kensey had given him. “What’s this?” “Twenty-five thousand in cash to convince you.” “That’s a lot of money.” “On the contrary, for a case like this, I would charge a minimum of $250,000, for starters. I accepted the money, because I believe that Kensey’s hiding something. As I told you, I don’t trust him; so I took to the money to find out what he’s hiding.” She glared at him and started to hand back the envelope. “No,” he said. “Give it to your favorite charity.” “Are you asking me for your minimum wage?” Brand laughed, inappropriately. “No, Mrs. Stone. This one’s on the house. I believe you have a right to know why your husband did…what he did.” “You’re either a great con, or an extraordinary man, Mr. Brand.” “If I accepted that money, I would violate my own perverted sense of ethics, and would be bound to comply with the Senator’s instructions. Now, I can investigate this case with a clear conscience.” “What would like me to do, beside keep my promise?” “Nothing…On second thought, there is. Call Captain Barton, Chief of Detectives, at the 3rd precinct and give him permission for the autopsy. And, while you’re at it, you can ask him about my reputation; but under no circumstances must he know that Kensey hired me.” “Now?” she asked, unprepared. “If you don’t mind. Time is of the essence; the Senator wants this case closed by tonight. The only thing that will keep it open is your request for an autopsy. The Senator must believe that you insisted on it, against my better judgment. Is that clear?”
    • 37 J.Cross/Stone - “Mr. Brand, you’re going to have to stop treating me like a child. I am completely competent as to the wiles of this world,” she said picking up the phone on the table next to her. “What’s the number?” Brand told her. “Captain Barton, please. This is Mrs. Stone calling.” The phone rang a couple of times before Barton picked it. “Mrs. Stone, I’m sorry we have to speak under such dreadful circumstances.” “Not to mind, Captain. I’m calling to insist that you perform an autopsy on my husband.” “You are calling to insist, not request, is that correct, Mrs. Stone?” “That is correct, Captain.” “I’ll order it, immediately.” “Oh, one more thing, Captain. Are you familiar with a Mr. Brand?” “You mean, Michael Brand?” he asked playing dumb. She covered the phone. “Is your first name, Michael?” she asked whispering. Brand nodded. “Yes, that’s the man.” “What would you like to know?” “Is he trustworthy? And what kind of reputation does he have at doing what he supposedly does?” “And what is it that he’s doing for you, Mrs. Stone?” Barton asked, containing himself from laughing out loud, but still very curious. “I’m not at liberty to say,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Well, I’ve known Mr. Brand for ten years, and during that time I can attest to his trustworthiness, and especially his tenacity at finding out the truth.” Barton hoped he hadn’t over played his role. “Well, thank you, Captain. I expect you to keep me informed,” she said and hung up the phone. “It seems you have a fan in the police department.” “We’ve worked on a few cases together.” “Being that we’ll be working together, and that we now have some kind of a blood-oath secrecy pact, please call me Susannah…I mean, Susan.”
    • 38 J.Cross/Stone - “And, you can call me Michael. But, if you don’t mind, I’ll call you, Mrs. Stone.” “As you wish, Michael,” she said tersely. “Is there anything else you would like me to do?” “At the moment, no, but I’ll be in touch…On second thought, make sure any conversations that we may have, either in person or on the phone, not be in hearing range of your butler.” “You may be trustworthy, but you certainly are not trusting,” she answered. “I don’t know how close your butler is to the Senator. He might inadvertently say something unintended.” “Alright, Mr. Brand. I’ll be the model of what you expect.” She was already more than what he had expected. “You can call me any time, day or night,” he said and handed her his card. Brand left, skipping down the stairs and into his car. He could still smell the hint of lilac. He decided to head to Barton’s office. As he entered the office, Barton was on the phone engaged in a furious argument. “I don’t give a good goddamn. The wife insisted on an autopsy, besides, it’s procedural in these cases.” Barton slammed down the phone. “I’m getting a lot of static, we may have to use your FBI contact,” Barton said completely frustrated. “I’ve never seen such pressure to close a case so quickly.” “Somebody knows something that they want to keep secret.” “Or, it just may be that they want to play down Stone’s suicide.” “Murder,” Brand corrected. “Nothing’s been proven. All we’ve got…you’ve got… is speculation.” “Speculation is for amateurs, I’ve got experience and instincts.” “Who do you think you are, Phillip Marlow, detective extraordinaire?” “Point made. But you know there’s more to this than a simple suicide…in front of a worldwide audience.” “I’ve got Lt. Washington working the investigation…on the sly.” “Anything?”
    • 39 J.Cross/Stone - “Yeah, it seems that the twenty-two caliber, pearl handled gun was registered to a one, Mrs. Stone.” “Damn,” Brand said, and chastised himself for being so enamored with the beautiful Mrs. Stone that he forgot to ask one single pertinent question. “Who else but a woman would own a gun like that,” Brand said, trying to cover up his own ineptness. “Yeah, where else would he get a gun like that,” Barton conceded. “I hope my testimonial helped you with Mrs. Stone…I presume it did, she insisted on the autopsy. You really amaze me sometimes,” Barton added. “Sometimes I amaze myself.” But Brand’s mind was racing again into warp speed. “There’s too much for Washington to cover alone. I’m going to jump in.” “Be my guest. I could use all the help. I’m expecting the mayor to call anytime now for another ass chewing.” “Don’t sweat it, you’re a tough cop.” Brand was already on his way out of the door. “Where you going?” Barton called after him, but it was too late, Brand was half way down the hallway.
    • 40 J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 7 Brand drove through the tortured afternoon traffic and tried to assemble the pieces as he knew them: The most trusted news man in the world, apparently beyond reproach, blows his brains out on live worldwide television. He was convinced it was an ingenious murder, but he couldn’t be absolutely sure until the toxicological reports confirmed it. For now, it had to remain just a well educated guess, even he had convinced Barton otherwise. He had no choice, or Barton would have refused to investigate. There had to be someone who knew, or had some information as to what Stone was about to reveal that would shake the nation, as Stone put it. The only person he could think of was Jane Simmons. He found out her address from the harried receptionist at WNN. She hesitated to give it out without permission, but finally relented after not being able to reach anyone of authority. Brand had timed it just before five o’clock, knowing that the upper management were either in discussions, or had gone home for the day. Brand parked his car and walked the short distance to an upper end D.C. apartment. He located her name, and pushed the button. After several rings, a soft voice answered, “Who is it?” “This is Michael Brand with the D.C. police. Captain Barton said that you would be expecting some follow up questions,” he said, hoping that Barton was true to form. “Just a minute,” the answer came back. “I’m in apartment 506, I’ll buzz you in.” Brand pushed the security door open and took the elevator to the fifth floor. Finding 506, he knocked. A muscular looking woman with short black hair and a dark green robe opened the door with the security chain still attached. “You got a badge?”
    • 41 J.Cross/Stone - Brand showed her a mock up of a badge, which he carried just for this expressed purpose. It was illegal to do so, but Brand didn’t care. She closed the door, and he could hear the chain sliding across, until the door opened wide. “May I come in?” Brand asked. “Sure, why not,” she said as she turned her back and wobbled into the center of the room with a drink in her hand. “Have a seat, anywhere.” Brand presumed she was drunk, or close to it. This would work to his advantage. It was only seven o’clock, but he apologized for the lateness of the hour. “I have only a few questions, and then I’ll be out of here,” he said and smiled reassuringly. “No hurry,” she said, and plopped down on a curved tan leather sofa. “My career’s in the shitter, and I’m back doing what I did ten years ago. I’m starting from the fuckin’ bottom again.” Her voice trembled in anger. “I’m sure it’s only temporary, “ Brand said. “What the fuck do you know? You’re a civil servant; you got a job as long as you live… Do you want a drink?” “No thanks, I’m working.” “Well, shit, please sit down, you’re making my head spin.” Brand thought he probably arrived too late. She appeared to be almost gone, but he had to try. “Do you know what Mr. Stone was working on for the broadcast? I understand that he was not using the teleprompter that night.” “Mr. Stone was a class act, but he kept everything to himself. Most times he read from the teleprompter, except when he had a scoop. Obviously, he had something important to say, but we’ll never know what. He blew is brains out, along with my career,” she said, and threw her glass against the wall, exploding it into a thousand pieces. Brand moved quickly away, missing the flying shards of glass. “Who was Mr. Stone’s personal assistant?” he asked as if the incident hadn’t occurred. “He didn’t have one. He always typed everything personally, and then handed it to a production staffer before airtime to have it put on the teleprompter.” “Did he use a computer?”
    • 42 J.Cross/Stone - “What generation are you from? Who doesn’t?” “And, in reading through the files,” he continued, “you said he had never been late, is that correct?” “Not in the ten years that I worked with him.” “Well, I guess that just about covers it, unless you want to add something?” “I’ll tell you this…whatever Stone was going to report, it must have been dynamite.” “Why do you say that?” “Because, whenever he didn’t use the teleprompter, it was always a top secret expose’…know what I mean?” “I think so,” Brand said and started to leave. “How would like to spend the night with a horny broad?” she asked with eyes half closed. “I’ll take a rain check.” The interview was useless, except for one thing she said, “It must have been dynamite.” Brand drove down the slickened streets caused by a sudden drizzle. The image of Susan Stone flashed before his eyes, and the smell of lilac still lingered in the air. He couldn’t wait until he talked to her…saw her again. He entered his apartment to a red eye blinking incessantly on his answering machine. He pressed the message button; it hummed until a recorded voice began speaking. “This is Kensey. We need to talk. Call me.” The voice sounded urgent. The next message was from Barton. “Call me if you came up with anything.” The third message was from an hysterical Susan Stone. “Someone’s broken into the house. Come as quick as you can,” her voice pleading with fear. Brand ran from his apartment to his car, and sped the ten minutes to the Stone estate. His mind reeled with scenarios, all of them foreboding. He skid the car to a stop in front of the mansion, jumped out and scaled the steps to the entrance. He banged on the door with the lion’s head knocker, but there was no answer. He then rushed around the side of the house, stopping at the Alexandrian library glass doors. He smashed his coated elbow into the glass, reached inside and opened the door. He sprinted into the dimly lit
    • 43 J.Cross/Stone - room, and then through the door that led to the foyer. Spotlights illuminated it, and a broad curved staircase. He climbed the steps two at a time until reached the second floor landing. It was dark. “Susan,” he yelled. “Where are you?” “I’m in the bedroom.” It was a faint cry off to the right. He headed anxiously toward the direction. At the end of the landing he found the bedroom, and burst through like a running back toward the goal line. Something caught his foot in the darkness, and he tumbled head over heels landing on his back. “Is that you, Michael?” A whispered voice floated over the room. “It’s me all right.” Brand said, breathing heavy. “Are you are okay?” A small bed light lamp snapped on, and a terrified Susan Stone rushed around the bed and leapt on Brand who was lying flat on his back. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she said, her face just inches from his, and her body pressed against him. The smell of lilac enveloped him. “What happened? Brand asked, and circled an arm around her waist. “I heard a noise down the hall. It came from Jamieson’s bedroom. I crept over to his bedroom, and flashed my mag-light. A tall man, dressed totally in black, panicked and ran right at me, knocking me over with his arm and bolted down the staircase. I didn’t here a door open, so I thought he might still be somewhere in the house. That’s when I called you.” “Why didn’t you call me when you first heard the noise?” “I wasn’t sure, I had just gone to bed, and this house has been known to have some very strange noises. I wanted to be sure.” “Why didn’t you call 911?” “The police? I wouldn’t think of it. You’re supposed to be helping me.” “The police have guns,” Brand said. “I have a gun, but I couldn’t find it.” “A pearl handled twenty-two?” “Yes. How did you know?” “A lucky guess.”
    • 44 J.Cross/Stone - The soft light from the lamp on her face, and the sweet smell of lilac made Brand’s heart race. He squeezed her waist a little tighter. “I think I should get up,” she said. Brand was inches from her lips; he wanted to kiss her. But that was out of the question. “Certainly,” he said. She got up, straightened her robe, and extended a helping hand to Brand. He struggled to his feet feeling a sharp pain in his back. “I’m sure the intruder is long gone. Can we go somewhere and talk?” Brand asked, and winced again from the pain. “Down stairs,” she said, and led him to a large gourmet kitchen with a small dining table. “Would you like some tea? It’ll only take a minute.” “Sounds good.” The butler appeared from a door off the kitchen in a short, dark robe over a pair of plaid pajamas. “Oh, it’s you, madam,” he said, exhaling a sigh of relief. “We had an intruder, Jonesy,” Mrs. Stone said as she reached for a box of tea. “I didn’t hear a thing until just a minute ago,” he said raising his hand to his mouth in shock. “Are you alright? Was anything taken? Shall I call the police?” “That won’t be necessary, but I do have a few questions,” Brand said. “Certainly, sir,” the butler said accommodatingly. “I had to smash the library door window to get in, it made quite a sound.” “My bedroom is just off the kitchen, the library’s on the other side of the house; but if there was an intruder, the security alarm should have gone off.” “Do you set the alarm?” “At exactly eight o’clock, each evening.” “And tonight?” “I may be old, sir, but I’m not addled. Tonight was no exception.” “Assuming, the intruder entered before you set the alarm, and waited, it should have gone off when he left the house.” “Maybe, he’s still here,” the Butler said and tightened the robe around him as fear flashed across his face.
    • 45 J.Cross/Stone - Brand shook his head no. “If the alarm was on, my smashing the window would have set if off…Would you go and check if the alarm is on or off?” The butler hesitated. “Me, sir?” “I assure you it’s safe,” Brand smiled. The butler left, and Susan set down two cups on the table. Brand asked, “What do you think he was looking for?” “I couldn’t imagine,” she said, pouring the tea. “After our tea, we’ll go up and check.” Then Brand remembered she had said it was her husband’s bedroom. He decided to wait and ask her about that later. The butler returned. “It’s most curious. The alarm was off. I’m sure I set it,” he said adamantly. “If there’s nothing else, Mr. Brand, could Jonesy retire?” Susan asked. “Just one more thing. Who knew the combination, other than yourself, and of course, Mr. and Mrs. Stone?” “Only the two maids that lived here.” “And where are they now?” “After Mr. Stone’s…well, they were too afraid to stay and left the next morning.” “Didn’t you find that peculiar?” “Two Jamaican’s, sir. They’re very superstitious when it comes to these things like this.” “All right, Jonesy,” Brand said. “And don’t forget to have the window fixed first thing in the morning.” “Right you are, sir. Would you be needing anything else?” “No,” Susan said. “I’ll see you in the morning.” Susan sat across from Brand and sipped on her tea. “Chamomile, helps soothe the nerves,” she said. “You don’t seem so upset anymore?” “Why should I? You’re here.” “And when I’m not here?”
    • 46 J.Cross/Stone - “I’m not one to be afraid of the dark,” but then asked, “If it’s not too much trouble, I’d appreciate it if you could spend the night? I certainly would feel safer. We have nine guest bedrooms; you can have your choice.” Brand thought for a long minute as he sipped on his tea. “Okay, if it’ll make you feel better.” “Just for the night, of course.” “Of course,” Brand said staring at her, almost forgetting where he was; but then quickly took control of his emotions. “Earlier today, I said that I might be asking you some personal questions.” “Ask away.” “Why did you and your husband have separate bedrooms?” “Do want the short version, or the long one?” “How about something in between.” “Jamieson and I met twenty years ago, I was twenty-four and he was thirty- four…” Brand knew that there wasn’t a woman alive that could tell a short story. “…He was young and ambitious, very educated; an intellectual, you understand…” Brand interrupted, “Maybe, the more condensed version, at least, for tonight.” Susan frowned. “About ten years ago, his job required to him to be away for months at a time. I got use to sleeping alone. During the time he was home, he usually worked mostly throughout the night. It became more convenient for him to have his own bedroom, you know, like the President and the First Lady.” “And what about your personal relationship?” “You mean our intimate relationship? Is that relevant, Mr. Brand?” “Could be,” he lied. Brand was mostly curious. “Well, it’s been at least five years.” Brand then asked as if what he had just heard made no impression, “Did you ever talk to your husband about the stories he was working on?” “In the beginning, we talked constantly, he was a very interesting man…”
    • 47 J.Cross/Stone - “What about the last few months or weeks, especially anything about what he was working on before…” “As I was about to say, over the last few years we had become distant. His job was his career, and mine was to be the best hostess in Washington. We hardly saw each other, except when we hosted parties together. We entertained everyone from Head’s of State to the last several Presidents. Everyone wanted to be on Jamieson’s good side.” “I can understand,” Brand said knowing the politics of the town. “I’d like to take a look at his bedroom now, if you’re ready?” “But what about you? Are you married? Have children? About your job?” “We’ll do that interview another time,” Brand said. “Right now, it’s up to the bedroom.” “Well, I do declare, Mr. Brand,” she said fluttering her eyes. “You know what I mean. Let’s go.” Susan snapped on the light as they entered Stone’s bedroom. The desk drawers were opened, an oak cabinet was ajar, the floor was strewn with file folders; it looked almost as if it were staged, but Brand factored in that the intruder was trying to be as quiet as he could which would account for the scene. “Could you tell if anything were missing?” he asked. “No, I rarely came into this room, Jamieson usually kept it locked when he was out.” “See if you can find an address book, or an appointment book. They’re usually the most telling,” Brand said. Susan and Brand searched, but found nothing. “I think the intruder found, at least, some of what he was looking for,” Brand said, and then asked, “Where would he file his old appointment books?” “I haven’t the slightest,” she said, “Except for maybe his safe.” “Is it here in the room? Do you have the combination?” he asked excitedly. “Yes, it’s behind that painting of Stoney. I’ll get the combination.” Brand looked at the picture. It was of a German Shepard with his front legs standing on a small boulder and his ears at perfect attention. An heroic stance if ever he saw one.
    • 48 J.Cross/Stone - Susan dashed back into the room, and pulled on one side of painting, opening it like a door. Her fingers dialed the combination, and the safe sprang open. She stepped aside, Brand peered in, snatching the contents and laying them on the desk. He shuffled through an assortment of bearer bonds, the beginning pages of an autobiography, a thick file of tax returns, a folder of his last will and testament, and ten small books with the words embossed in gold leaf, Calendar of Appointments. “This is it,” Brand said, presuming it contained a chronology of people, places and numbers. He sat down behind the desk, adjusted the goose-necked lamp and flipped opened the first book. The dates on the books were chronicled by years. He spread the books out over the desk. “What are you looking for?” Susan asked. “The last book he wrote in. As you can see,” he said, handing her some pages, “he was beginning an autobiography, and he was using these books to jog the memory of his past.” Susan remained silent as Brand rifled through the books, finally finding Stone’s latest. At first he skimmed the pages, and then slowed down as he read getting closer to the end. He finished, and the started again from the beginning. “What are you looking for now?” “Recurring names, places and numbers.” Brand, this time, was more meticulous, studying each page for a clue. One entry kept appearing: every other Thursday a name and time was written in bold red ink: Prof. Zlatamir, 3:30. “Have you ever heard your husband speak about someone by the name of Zlatamir?” “Not that I can remember. Is it important?” “It was someone he was meeting with every other Thursday at three-thirty, I’m assuming it was p.m… Doesn’t ring a bell, huh?” Brand asked. “Jamieson was very secretive, especially if he was working on a story.” “This was no story. These meetings have been going on,” he flipped through the pages of the year before, “for at least two, maybe three years. In front of the name is written Prof., I assume that to mean Professor.” “My husband was involved with many professors, I told you he was an intellectual.”
    • 49 J.Cross/Stone - “That may be true, but not in this case. The amount of times he met with this Zlatamir he could have achieved a Ph.D.” “What do you think it means?” “It means he met a lot with this Zlatamir.” Brand looked at his watch, it was nearly midnight. “I think we could use some sleep. We’ll talk in the morning.” Susan led him to a guest room that was situated at the furthest part of the landing from her bedroom. “I want you close, but not too close. I’m sure you’ll find everything you need. Every guest room is completely equipped. I’ll see you in the morning, “ she said, and walked over and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Thanks for staying.” She smiled and left, leaving a lingering smell of lilac in the room. Brand looked around the guest room; it was bright and cheery with green leaves printed on white wallpaper, and a matching comforter on a four-poster bed. The bathroom was spacious with a double sink, a Jacuzzi bathtub, and a shower that could fit five people. He opened the mirrored closet and found an assortment of clothes hanging neatly. Something for everyone, he mused. He tried to sleep, but his mind raced with a series of incongruities. What was the intruder looking for, if in fact there actually had been one? Why hadn’t Susan called the police? Why was the alarm off? Was her asking him to spend the night just a pretense? Did she sense that he was attracted to her, and was manipulating him to assume certain things? To her credit, she had immediately disclosed where the safe was and opened it, but that too could have been a set up. However, he had found a clue: Prof. Zlatamir, three-thirty every other Thursday. Did she want him to find it, or was she as innocent as she appeared? He decided that his Latin blood had gotten the best of him, but no more. He would rein in his emotions, and find out the truth. The soft humming of the central heating system finally sent him off into a conflicted sleep. A bright sunlight shot through the slats of the blinds, and forced him awake. It took him a minute to orient himself, and then languished under the comforter trying to decide how to handle the mysterious Mrs. Stone. From now on she was just a client, and he would treat her accordingly. His watch read six-thirty. He decided not to take a shower, put on his clothes from the night before, and go to work. Even though he wasn’t
    • 50 J.Cross/Stone - being paid he felt an obligation -- a promise made is a debt unpaid, especially one he made to himself. He dressed and scurried down the steps to the front door and to his car. He was glad that Mrs. Stone was nowhere in sight. He arrived at his apartment and took a long shower. After, he squeezed an orange into a glass, and popped a couple pieces of bread into the toaster. Brand then headed to Barton’s office believing that something was very wrong. Truth can be very illusive, and when it is, it is very dangerous. The humidity was starting to build at an early hour as he entered the 3rd precinct, and raced down the corridor to Barton’s office. Barton, as usual, was on the phone. “This is not only procedural, but the victim’s wife has insisted. Do you want a written statement for your records?…Fine, I’ll get it. Anything else?…Okay.” Barton slammed the phone down. “I hope you’ve got something?” he snapped at Brand, not in the best of moods. “Mrs. Stone’s house was burglarized last night. She accosted the intruder, but was thrown aside, and the intruder escaped. She called me, and I went over the crime scene.” “Why didn’t she call the police?” Barton asked. “She said she didn’t want the police involved, and that I was hired to help her. I tried to get her to call the police, but she refused, so I did the best I could. I went through Stone’s safe, which the intruder hadn’t discovered, and I found, at least, one interesting clue.” “What was that?” Barton asked, resting his chin on both hands. “Have you ever heard of a Prof. Zlatamir?” “No.” “I found the last ten years of Stone’s calendar and appointment books in his safe. The current year was missing; I presume the intruder took it. I found the beginning pages of an autobiography, and he was using his calendar of appointments to reconstruct his memories.” “Why do you presume that?” Barton asked “Are you awake, or should I come back later?”
    • 51 J.Cross/Stone - “I’m sorry, I’ve got a head the size of a watermelon. Go on,” Barton insisted. “What was the clue you uncovered?” “The last two years of his appointments indicated that he was seeing or meeting with a Prof. Zlatamir at three-thirty ever other Thursday afternoon.” “So?” “So, the intruder took Stone’s current appointment book.” “That’s the clue?” “You know, I might just as well be talking to the wall,” Brand said frustrated. “I apologize, my wife had an ulcer attack -- I was up all night. Maybe, I had two hours sleep.” “I’m sorry to hear that. Do you want me to come back later?” “No, please continue,” Barton said, sounding pathetic. Brand forced himself to continue. “The last two years indicate that this Zlatamir was an important part of Stone’s life.” “What do you think it means?” Barton asked. “Honestly, I don’t know, except that all of the entries were written in red ink, and nothing else in any of the appointment books were written in red.” “How can I help?” Barton asked through half-closed eyes. “I need unfettered access to your computers.” “Not a problem. I’ll tell Thomas to take an extended break.” Brand was as comfortable around computers as he was around the WNN director’s console. He logged onto the internet and searched for the name Zlatamir. The computer posted five names. Only one read Professor Ivan Zlatamir. Brand focused the mouse on it, and clicked. In seconds, the computer gave a brief history: author of five books, three on physics, and two on psychiatry. Received his Doctorate in physics in Moscow, and his Doctorate in psychiatry in Vienna. It also listed some other biographical information that Brand, at least for now, considered unimportant. He quickly did a name and address search. The computer whizzed up an address in Virginia. He scribbled it on a piece of paper, stuffed into his pocket and started to leave, but then hesitated, and took the address out and read it closer – not far from Langley, he mused. Brand popped his head into Barton’s office, “Gotta go, I’ll talk to you later.”
    • 52 J.Cross/Stone - Barton just stared at him through blank eyes. Dark gray clouds covered the city like an impenetrable dome. Brand swerved in and out of traffic to an unscheduled visit with the mysterious Professor Zlatamir. On the way, he decided to stop at one of those upscale bookstores that contained everything, including juices and café latte. With the inept help from one of the clerks, he finally found and paid for two books written by the Professor: one on physics, the other on psychiatry. He glanced over the table of contents of both books. Only two things potentially stood out. The one on physics, “Nuclear Power, The Salvation For The Ages; the other on psychiatry, “Cures For Anxiety and Depression.” Maybe something. Probably nothing. The chapter headings were run of the mill for a thousand other books on the same subjects. Brand found Zlatamir’s address. It was located in a posh professional building for the successful, and wealthy. He parked his BMW in the underground garage, checked the listings for a Zlatamir, and rode the elevator up to the fifth floor. He walked down the broad, rose-colored hallway until he came to a mahogany door with a small brass plate that read, “Professor Zlatamir.” He entered into a sedate, but plush outer office with a hatchet faced receptionist sitting behind a lap top computer. Her black hair was pulled back so tightly into a bun that Brand considered that it might be an alternative to a face- lift. Even if it was, it didn’t help. “May I help you,” she asked sternly, but politely over a set of half-glasses set low on her over-sized nose. “Professor Zlatamir, please,” Brand reciprocated in his own stern voice. “I’m sorry, the Professor’s not accepting new clients.” “Tell him, I’m here on behalf of Mrs. Stone.” Her eyes widened slightly. “Who did you say you were?” “I didn’t. Tell the professor that Mr. Brand is here to see him. It’s urgent that I speak with him.” The receptionist pushed a button and spoke into the phone, “A Mr. Brand is here to see you on behalf of Mrs. Stone…Fine, sir,” she said. “Professor Zlatamir will be with you in a minute,” she said stoically to Brand. “Please have a seat.”
    • 53 J.Cross/Stone - But before Brand could sit, the door opened and a lean man with a salt and peppered goatee that framed a set of thin lips appeared. “I haven’t had the pleasure,” he said with a heavy European accent.” “Neither, have I professor, but I’m sure we’ll change that,” Brand quipped. “You say you’re working for Mrs. Stone?” “That’s right.” Zlatamir studied the brash man. “Please, come in. But, I warn you I only have a few minutes.” Brand stepped into the inner sanctum of the professor’s domain. It resembled the Stone library, except on a much smaller scale. The Professor sat down behind his too large dark mahogany desk. “I’ve never met Mrs. Stone. But, please give her my utmost condolences on her tragic loss. So…what can I do for you, Mr. Brand… is it? Brand sat down in front of the desk without being invited to do so. “Mrs. Stone wants to know what her husband and you have been meeting about over the last two years.” Brand came right to the point. “Of course, I know Mr. Stone, but whatever we discussed is privileged. I’m sure you’re aware of that,” his eyes bored in on Brand, and his goatee crinkled into a disdainful smile. “Suicide is a crime, Professor, and it must be fully investigated. If necessary, you’re client privilege can be breached.” “I doubt that, Mr. Brand…And I doubt that you’re an attorney.” “Look,” Brand said more friendly, trying a different tact, “Whatever you’re thinking, we don’t have to be adversaries. Mrs. Stone would just like to know why her husband was seeing you. Maybe, anxiety, depression, or just plain stress,” Brand stabbed in the dark. “It would put her mind at ease, at least in part, to understand why he r husband committed suicide…I don’t want this to go to a subpoena for just a simple answer.” Zlatamir considered Brand’s question, and finally said, “Without revealing any confidential information, I can state that I was treating him for severe panic attacks.”
    • 54 J.Cross/Stone - “Panic attacks, huh? Sounds unusual, but reasonable,” Brand said, trying to cajole. “I understand that some of our most successful and intelligent people suffer from such a condition. Were you treating him with drugs?” “That is privileged.” “We’ll know soon enough when the autopsy is completed.” “Autopsy?” The Professor stroked his goatee. “In that case, it’s no harm in telling you that I was not treating him with any kind drugs.” Brand nodded without further inquiry in to how he was treating Stone. “Just out of curiosity, Professor, why don’t you go by Doctor? You have two Doctorial degrees.” “Because that’s what I choose. I am more a professor than a doctor.” “I see,” Brand said, and filed it away. On his way out he asked the hard-looking receptionist, “Do you validate?” She gave him a superior stare, and returned to her computer.
    • 55 J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 8 Brand decided to stop and talk with Mrs. Stone. The clock on his dash read five minutes to twelve. Maybe, he could take her out to lunch. There were several questions he wanted to ask. Besides, he hadn’t eaten since the day before yesterday, and hunger was tearing at his insides. After knocking with the brass lion’s head, the door opened with Jonesy, the butler staring at him. “Mr. Brand,” he said agitated, “the mistress has been trying to contact you. Please, come in.” Jonesy showed him into the library. “Mrs. Stone will be with you shortly.” Brand stood in the center of the library and looked around, still amazed at the amount of wealth it would take to acquire such a mansion, not even considering the upkeep. Multi-millions he assumed. The library doors swung open, and Mrs. Stone rushed in wearing an emerald green flowing chiffon dress. “Michael, I was so worried about you. You left without saying a word this morning. Why?” she asked, and moved within inches of him. Brand stepped away. “Mrs. Stone, I’m working on a case, and I’m trying to find the truth out about your husband’s death. That’s what you want, isn’t it?” “Of course,” she said, “But why are you acting so remote? I thought we arrived at an understanding of trust last night?” “Maybe you did, but I still have a lot of questions.” “Are you saying that you don’t trust me now?” she asked perplexed. “Let’s just say that I don’t trust myself. So, from now on, it’s strictly a client relationship.”
    • 56 J.Cross/Stone - “I don’t understand. I never expected it to be anything else,” she said quite testily, her voice hardening. “It’s my problem, not yours,” Brand said apologetically. “I visited Professor Zlatamir this morning,” not giving her a chance to respond. “He said he was treating your husband for severe panic attacks. Were you aware of any such episodes?” “Not in the least,” she said, her shoulders seemed to slump slightly. “Come over here and sit with me.” She moved to the sofa, and patted a spot next to her. Brand grudgingly sat down next to her. She extended both of her hands toward him. He reached out instinctively, and held them. His mind raced for a comfort zone, but found none. “Do you trust me? I mean really trust me?” she asked. Brand couldn’t look her in the eye. “I trust what I see, but not what I feel.” “And what is that?” she asked, taking her hand and moving Brand’s face toward her. “You don’t think I know that you’re attracted to me? I feel complemented, it’s been a long time since any man dared to look at me the way you do. And, if it makes you feel any better, I’m also attracted to you,” she replied with a smiled, but then her voice turned icy. “But, we both have a job to do. Find out the truth about my husband’s death.” Brand felt speechless, his body and mind reeled with conflicted emotions. “That’s exactly what I’m trying to do,” he said. She hesitated. “Let me tell you this,” she said, her voice all of sudden sounding odd. “I’m not the Southern Belle you think I am. I was raised with two brothers, and basically, I’m a tomboy. I’m one tough savvy lady; I know… I feel that Jamieson would never commit suicide. I’m sorry that I led you to believe that I was just some dumb elitist Washington wife. I don’t have any real friends here, and I’m not about to go home before I find out what happened to Jamieson. I hope you can be my friend?” Brand felt stupid and foolish. He should have guessed as much. “Alright, Mrs. Stone…” “If you don’t call me Susan, then leave now. Our business is finished, I’ll find someone else to help me.” “Why is that so important to you?” Brand asked, not knowing where all this was going.
    • 57 J.Cross/Stone - “I told you, I need a friend that I can trust.” Her Southern drawl, and mannerisms had transformed into a solid sincere, almost tough, voice. “How do you know you can trust me? Kensey hired me.” “As I said, I’m not stupid. Kensey may have had his own reasons for hiring you. But, my experience, so far, tells me that you’re someone I can trust.” “How can you be sure?” “I can’t. I just feel it. So, are we going to work together or not?” “It’s going to be tough, at least for me,” Brand said. “And, for me too,” she said flatly. “But we’re both professionals, and we’ve got a job to do. So, tell me everything you know or suspect.” Brand stumbled, trying to get started. Her new found voice was unsettling. He was more unconvinced than ever -- but what the hell he had been fooled before. He stared at her for a minute, and then started pacing. “I believe your husband was murdered. Without getting into the specific details, his eyes were dilated to a point that I’m convinced he was under the influence of a powerful, hypnotic drug. At the time of his death, he was following a strong pre-set command. We’ll know for sure when the toxicological reports are completed.” “And, if they find nothing?” she asked, not responding to Brand’s assertions. “We start all over. But, after talking with Zlatamir, I expect the forensics will come up negative.” “You don’t expect any drugs to be found in his system then?” “No. It would have been too easy to trace. They would assume an autopsy. I think your husband’s death was more ingenious than that, and I believe this Professor Zlatamir has a lot to do with it.” “Presumption or fact?” she asked. “Instinct,” Brand replied. “I trust your instincts. So, what’s next?” “For now, we do ‘silent running’, an old submarine expression. We wait out the enemy.” Brand looked at his watch. “Look, I’m going to my apartment and surf the internet for something that might connect some of these pieces together.” “Like what?” she stared at him.
    • 58 J.Cross/Stone - “I don’t know,” he said honestly. Susan nodded her understanding. “I still have a lot of questions… how ‘bout dinner tonight?” he asked. “Fine, and you can also catch me up. I’ll have Jonesy make us dinner.” “I was thinking more like going out somewhere… You like Mexican food?” “Love it… But, do you think it’s a good idea if we’re seen together?” “Where we’re going we won’t be seen.” All right,” she smiled. “Pick me up at seven.” Brand’s apartment looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned in a month. He shoved a few crusted dishes into the dishwasher, made a cheese and peanut butter sandwich with an orange juice chaser, and settled down in front of his computer. He wrote a short list on a yellow legal pad: Kinsey, Stone, Zlatamir, and panic attacks; and then added, proposed Senate Bills. After two hours of pounding on his computer, he had found nothing that he didn’t already know, except when he searched ‘causes and treatments’ for panic attacks. Something he knew very little about. As he read, he discovered that panic attacks were fairly common, albeit they were terrifying episodes. In the extreme, if unchecked with treatment, they could become paralyzing events, forcing people to remain in their houses for years at a time. This was known as agoraphobia, fear of the outside world. But panic attacks manifested themselves in as many ways as there were people who experienced them: fear of driving, flying, bridges, even the fear of door knobs, the list was endless. The variety of effects from this mental or chemical imbalance was so ubiquitous that it defied any single definition or treatment. The most common treatment was a combination of drugs and psychotherapy. Brand grabbed Zlatamir’s book and leafed through it until he came to the chapter on ‘treatments’. For most of the chapter it reiterated mainly what he had just read. Although, hypnosis had been mentioned in several areas as possible treatments, the professor’s approach was somewhat unorthodox. Instead of hypnotizing a patient and slowly making them feel more comfortable with what was triggering the attacks, his treatment was to totally immerse the patient into the anxiety producing event, causing
    • 59 J.Cross/Stone - them to experience a full-blown panic attack. His reasoning was that even in the throes of such an attack, no physical injury would occur, thus giving them comfort. The professor did state that there were many in the field that disagreed with this kind of intense approach, stating that there were those who believed that it might worsen the severity of the attacks, and possibly precipitate a physically, susceptible person to have a mild heart attack. Brand thought the professor’s method extreme, but plausible. However, he felt that it didn’t apply to Stone. No. There was something else. Something he was missing. The phone rang, and Brand answered it unconsciously, Hello?” A familiar voice said, “Miguel, I thought you never answered your phone?” “I made a mistake,” Brand said sarcastically. It was Anthony Garza, his old friend. “Five years, I haven’t heard from you. This must be my lucky day… So, how does it feel to be a desk jockey,” he jabbed, “for the esteemed FBI? -- Assistant to the Director, no less, I understand.” “I hate it. But, it was that or resigning, and you sure as hell weren’t going to let me partner up with you.” “You never asked.” “I already knew the answer. You hate partners.” “Tony, you know that’s crap, you were my best partner. But enough, after five years, I know this is not a social call.” “Well, in a way it is,” he said. “What’s up?” “I could ask you the same question. Every file since you were in prep school has been accessed, even those that were classified ‘Top Secret’. Even in the Bureau, there are no more secrets,” he added disgusted. “But to access your file, it’s got to come from some place higher than even the Director…What the hell are you into?” “How do you know my file was accessed?” “It was accessed through back-channels. One of my loyal subjects,” he quipped, “informed me. I still have a couple of friends around here.” “Must be old friends. How much was accessed?” “Everything, even your years as under cover for Military Intelligence.” “Who’s got that kind of pull?”
    • 60 J.Cross/Stone - “No one… except, maybe the President.” “Who else knows that this information was accessed, besides your friend?” “No one. I warned him, all right,” he answered. “I threatened that if I found out that this information was leaked, I’d have him killed. Satisfied?” “No, but I’ll have to trust you.” “What’s up, buddy? Tony Garza asked, his voice changing into the warm feelings of an old friend. Brand thought for a moment. “How’d you like to get out from behind that desk, and do some real work?” “For the fifteen years we worked together, every assignment scared the shit out me… But, that was ten years ago,” he said sighing heavily. “You know… that miracle in the sky…changed my life forever.” “Mine too. But life goes on. We keep chasing evil like an uncatchable butterfly. Do you want to help me, or not?” “What are you working on?” “Let’s meet tomorrow at Jose’s, I’ll tell you everything.” “You’re in trouble, eh, amigo?” “Not like before, but I need a friend at my side.” “So, what are friends for? Asta manana.” Brand’s heart swelled into heavy sigh as he thought about the ordeal, ten years before, that almost cost him his life, and his friends…no, they were more than that…they were compatriots that had changed the world forever, at least, a small part of it. His mind involuntarily drifted into the past, still feeling mystified at the tragic event and the miraculous outcome. But that was then, and this was now. He decided to lie down and rest, and fell into a fitful sleep. When he awoke his body was soaked in sweat. He looked at his watch; he had been asleep for several hours, but couldn’t remember what he had dreamed. He searched his mind, but it was blank; only the remnant feelings of a black nightmare remained. Brand showered, and put on a casual, but expensive shirt and slacks, and went to pick up the complicated, Susan Stone. He compartmentalized his emotions. No matter
    • 61 J.Cross/Stone - how much his Latin blood raged, Mrs. Stone was just another client. Besides, there was a mystery that had to be solved. And, at this moment, he truly felt he hadn’t a clue. Maybe this, maybe that…but that’s what mysteries were made of. The door to the Stone mansion was slightly ajar. He walked in cautiously, and wished he had brought his 9mm Beretta. He circled around silently to the kitchen, and pushed opened the swinging door. “Oh, there you are,” Susan said, standing and munching carefully on a chocolate cup cake. “The front door was open,” Brand replied, annoyed, “Aren’t you afraid of another intruder?” Susan lifted a .357 Magnum and laid it on the counter, “I don’t think so,” she said confidently. “I gave Jonesy the night off, and I didn’t want to miss your knock, so I left the door open.” Susan stood there dressed in a tight pair of jeans and a white pleated blouse. Her golden hair was spun back in loops and tied into a curled ponytail. “You have no idea of what danger is, do you?” “After last night, I think I do, that’s why I acquired this gun,” she said stroking the handle. “Where did you get it?” “From a friend,” she said, non-chalantly. “Who!” Brand interrogated. “If you must know, it was from Jonesy. He has a collection of guns. I guess he acquired the habit from my husband.” “Is it loaded?” “Of course, silly.” “I didn’t know your husband was a collector?” “He had over fifty guns in his collection. Would you like to see them?” “Not at the moment…but could you explain why he chose to take your pearl handled twenty-two to the set instead of one from is own collection?” “How would I know that? Maybe, it was the most convenient.”
    • 62 J.Cross/Stone - Brand’s mind was tearing into parts. The more he learned, the more confused he became. Brand was beginning to recalibrate who the real enemy was, and he didn’t like the possibilities. “I’m ready to go, if you are,” he said, feeling totally conflicted. Susan Stone licked her fingers sensually, and said, “I’m ready, when you are.” The drive to Terrazzo’s was mostly quiet, except for a brief discussion about the unseasonable weather, which was still humid as the valets opened the doors to his car. Brand ushered her into the restaurant as Jose greeted them. “I have just the perfect table, Senor Brand,” he said in Spanish. Brand reciprocated in Spanish, thanking him. Jose showed them into a private room behind a red velvet curtain. The table was decorated with red and purple bougainvillea and two, lighted red candles, which splayed soft shadows across the table. “I hope this is to your liking, Senor?” he asked in Spanish. Jose had always been instructed, as well as his waiters, to speak nothing but Spanish, unless directed otherwise. “This is my friend, Jose,” he said to Susan as Jose was fitting her into her chair. “Gracias,” she said. “It’s one of the few words in Spanish I know, “ she said to Brand, apologetically. Brand just smiled as he sat down across from her. “This is very romantic,” she said. “I hadn’t expected this.” “I apologize,” Brand said embarrassed.” I wasn’t thinking. Jose always assumes when I bring a lady that he must make it in to a special event. Unless, I tell him otherwise, we’ll have a trio with guitars singing love songs.” “Would that make you uncomfortable?” Susan asked. “Yes, very much.” “Why?” “Well, it’s been five years since I brought a woman here -- I think Jose is hoping.” “Hoping for what?” she asked, dipping a tortilla chip into a glob of salsa. “Jose doesn’t think I’m very happy… I’ve known him for twenty-five years. I helped bring his family from Cuba, he feels indebted.” “And why haven’t you brought a woman here in five years?” “I think that’s a little too personal.”
    • 63 J.Cross/Stone - “You’ve brought no woman here, but tonight you bring me?” “This is one of the few places that we will not be seen. I should have explained it to Jose… And it’s certainly not what you’re thinking.” “What am I thinking?” “I have no idea,” Brand said not wanting the conversation to go any further. One of the waiter’s came into the room and spoke a few words to Brand. “He’s asking what you would like to drink?” Brand translated. Susan said, “Umm, how about a Tequila Sunrise?” “And a club soda,” Brand said to the waiter. Susan frowned. “You’re not having a drink?” “Oh, but I am. It’s just that I need to keep all of my senses in focus.” “For what?” Brand stared at the Madonna-like face, but ignored the question, “Why did you have my files accessed which are above classified and top secret?” Brand asked, hoping his instincts were right. “Well, I guess there’s nothing’s top secret then, if you already know,” she said, biting into another chip festooned with salsa. “The question is why?” “Why? Because you asked me to trust you with my life, that’s why.” “How did you get passed the classified security?” “Oh, that… that was easy. I called the President. He was most obliging.” “And what did you find out?” “I found out that you are a man of extraordinary talent. At one time, you were one of the most successful political consultants in this town, and, at the same time, you worked under cover for Military Intelligence against the drug trade. Somehow, you were also involved with the so-called ‘miracle in the sky’, which scientists say, was caused by an unusual solar flare that caused the Aura Borealis to be seen around the world. But that part is very sketchy,” she said, sipping on her Tequila Sunrise, which the waiter had brought, as if she were reading from a dull resume. “Anything, else?” Brand asked.
    • 64 J.Cross/Stone - “Just that you were married to the same woman -- twice. I skipped over that. I figured you tell me about it when you were ready.” “You believe everything you read?” “Not generally. Is there something in error that you would like to correct, or add?” “No. I think you got the gist of it.” “What wasn’t so clear was what you’ve been doing for the last ten years?” “Rescuing cats from trees,” he said flippantly. “Do you consider me to be a cat?” Without hesitation, “A cat with many claws.” “So,” she said, not liking the answer and picked up the menu, “what do you suggest?” “I suggest you start telling me the truth.” “I have. What else would like to know?” “Why the Southern Belle accent, and playing the helpless widow.” “As for the accent, which I used at my husband’s insistence, and I might add, has also served me very well. As for the helpless widow, that’s exactly what I am. I need someone like you to help me. Simon obviously didn’t know the kind of man you really are, he presumed you could be bought for a few dollars.” “And what do you believe?” “Your file didn’t mention how arrogant and exasperating you could be…I need you to help me find out why my husband was murdered… or committed suicide.” “Did you love him?” Brand asked. Susan paled at the question. “There are many forms of love. My love was out of a deep respect for him as a man... As for the answer to your real question. No. It was not a romantic love.” “So, why did you stay with him?” “Your question is a rude one, but I’ll answer it anyway. Southern women are indoctrinated from birth to stay with their man. I had consigned myself to a life of helping others; besides, Jamieson was a good man. He had integrity. Are you that kind of a man?” she asked with an undertone of hostility.
    • 65 J.Cross/Stone - “I have my own kind of integrity,” he said, feeling things were getting out of hand. “Let’s order,” he said, leafing through the menu. “All right. I’ll accept that for now.” Brand slammed down the menu. “I don’t think this is going to work.” “Mr. Brand,” she said with cold, steely eyes. “I have done everything to get you to help me, except sleep with you… And that I will never do! If you want to quit, quit. I’ll manage on my own.” “Was there really an intruder?” he asked. “There was…I’m going to the ladies’ room. If you’re still here when I return, I’ll assume that you intend to help me…it’s your choice.” Brand reflected on her beauty and gracefulness as she parted the red velvet curtain. No, that was not enough to keep him on the case. She was outwardly beautiful all right, but she also radiated an inner beauty, something that he had never experienced. Something he wanted desperately to understand and feel. He would stay on the job, not just because of her, but because he was determined to find out the truth, which was the most tantalizing aspect of all. After a long five minutes, Brand was considering that she might not return, but then the soft, red velvet curtain parted, and she appeared. “I assume you decided to continue to help me?” she asked, sitting down in a fluid motion of perfection. “Do you trust me?” “Not entirely. You could have asked me about my past, instead of pulling up my file.” “You would have done the same in my position.” “Maybe,” he said. The waiter appeared and asked for their orders. They both decided on the special of the day, a shrimp fajitas with wild rice and assorted vegetables. For the rest of the dinner, Susan spoke about her farm in Virginia. The horses she raised from colts, the fun she had growing up with her brothers. She concluded by telling him that her parents were now deceased, and that her brothers had died in a tragic plane crash. She was left alone. It was now her responsibility to make sure the farm was an everlasting testament to her family.
    • 66 J.Cross/Stone - Brand began to feel like he was listening to a real person, not just some two- dimensional cardboard figure created for political expediency that fed the Washington rank and file. After dinner, they waited outside for his car. The black night air was still suffocating and oppressive. As his car arrived, Brand saw out of the corner of his eye a car barreling down on the wrong side of the street. He grabbed Susan and wrestled her to the ground and covered her with his body just as the car passed and fired a volley of bullets in their direction. Brand ran into the street, trying to see if he could make out the vehicle; all he saw was a black outline that resembled a Lincoln sedan as it swerved out of sight onto a side street. Susan was already on her feet, stumbling toward Brand. He caught her and hugged her as if still trying to protect her. He could feel her trembling, and stroked her hair. “They weren’t trying to kill us,” he said, walking her over to his car. “The bullets didn’t even penetrate the doors.” He yanked the door opened; the valet was crouched under the dashboard. “It’s okay,” Brand said and helped the scared valet out of the car. Jose came out of the restaurant ranting, “They smashed all the windows, there’s patrons lying on the floor screaming and scared to move... Miguel, what the hell is this all about?” “Not now, Jose. Send me a bill for everything. They weren’t trying to kill anybody. Look, the bullets never even penetrated the doors of my car.” “You’re playing a dangerous game, Miguel, be careful,” he said waving a finger at him. “If they wanted us dead, we’d all be dead. Go take care of your customers, and call the police. I’ve got to get the lady home…I’ll see you tomorrow. Garza and I will both be here.”
    • 67 J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 9 Brand hustled Susan into his car, and sped like a demon toward the safety of her mansion. On the way, he began having doubts about the safety of her house, considering the intruder, the butler gone, and the security alarm probably off. “How would you like spending the night at my apartment?” he asked. “I don’t think your house is safe. Granted, it’s not the Ritz, but you’ll be safe.” Susan trembled a yes. Brand then thought about how unkempt his apartment was, and decided on the next motel in sight. He drove into the parking lot of the ‘Washington Circle Motel’. “I thought we were going to your apartment?” Susan asked, still trembling. “I think it’s safer here. They must have been following us. No one knows about Terrazzo’s. They were waiting for us. They wanted to scare us.” “Well, they did a good job,” Susan said, moving closer to Brand. “What did you expect, when you decided to find out the truth about your husband’s death?” “I don’t think. I was just obsessed, I guess.” “They’re trying to warn us off.” “Who?” “I don’t know, but I bet Kensey knows.” Susan remained silent. Brand checked them in to a room with double beds. The room was the color of putrid yellow, and even Susan’s lilac perfume couldn’t cover the stench of stale, acrid smoke that filled the air. “I’m going to take a shower,” Susan said. “I feel grimy with sweat.”
    • 68 J.Cross/Stone - “I’ll take one after you,” Brand said, and punched on the remote to the TV. Brand decided to watch the local news to see if there were any reports about the shooting at Terrazzo’s. There wasn’t any. Maybe, the TV crew was late in getting the 911. He shut off the TV. Only a dimly lit lamp from Susan’s bed was on. He hadn’t turned on his light. He ran his mind over the scene that had happened just moments before. Why were they using half-loads? Obviously, they didn’t want to kill anyone. It was certainly a warning, but to who, Susan or him? Or both? He decided to return Kensey’s phone call in the morning. Susan stepped into the darkened room with a towel over her head in the form of a turban. She wore her pleated shirt, which hung down just long enough to cover her body, except for her legs, long, sleek and muscular. She sat with her back toward him and slipped off her shirt, revealing a naked back, and then with the swiftness of a magician’s move she disappeared under the covers. “Feeling better,” Brand inquired. “A little,” she said. “The shower helped.” Brand rose and went into the bathroom. He wiped down the steamy mirror, and tried to imagine her standing in front of it. He decided not to, so he turned on the shower to icy shards and stepped in. After a numbing cold shower, he walked into the darkened motel room lit only by a splashing neon light that penetrated the thin curtains of the room. He slipped beneath the bed sheets, dressed only in his jockey shorts, and tried to conjure up a picture of a puzzle with only misfit pieces. He couldn’t; and then twisted over and saw the lump curled up on the bed next to him. As he stared, he wondered how much he could trust the enigmatic Susan Stone. Not much he concluded, but felt he had no choice but to give her the benefit of the doubt. His tired body overtook the throbbing pain from his back, and the questions that began swirling like an ever-increasing tornado, and finally drifted off. His eyes fluttered open at precisely six-thirty, the same time he awakened, automatically for most of his life. He looked over to see if Susan Stone was still there. The same lump from the night before was molded on the bed. “It’s time to rise and shine,” he said half yawning. But there was no response. He decided to dress, and coach her awake. As he reached her side of he bed he realized that the lump was nothing more
    • 69 J.Cross/Stone - than a few contoured pillows. When could she have left, he asked himself? Probably before he finished his shower the night before, he concluded. But why? Was she afraid of him? Impossible, he thought. But finding out why, was imperative. He drove directly to Susan Stone’s mansion. After banging the knocker to her front door, Jonesy answered. “I was just on my to the kitchen to make breakfast for the madam.” “She’s here and awake then?” Brand asked as if there were a fire in the house. “Of course, sir. I’ll let her know that you’re here.” “What time did she get in last night?” “I had no idea that she left. I arrived at six o’clock this morning, my usual time, after a night off… I must say, sir, you are an early bird.” “Just tell Mrs. Stone that I’m here. I’ll find my way to the kitchen.” “She’ll be having breakfast on the portico,” Jonesy said, “It’s such a lovely morning.” “Where’s that?” The butler showed him to an outside patio close to the kitchen. It was small but impressive, with white marble columns encircling the area, and a three-tiered waterfall off to one side cascading down into a lava pond with more colorful Koi fish swimming around as if they were doing an aquatic ballet. A canopy of green ivy above filtered the morning sunlight onto the already set table. It was set for two. Brand confessed to himself that he was not only confused, but he was also predictable. Susan Stone always seemed to be a step ahead of him, if not more. Susan Stone appeared from behind him. “Right on time,” she said as if she had planned the entire scenario. She was dressed in a layered pink chiffon dress that flowed in circles as she sat down. “Did you sleep well,” she asked. Brand was completely dumbfounded, his mind swirling like an eddy. “I quit. Find someone else to be your patsy,” Brand said quietly, and rose to leave. “Why, because I decided to go home instead of spending the night in that disgusting motel room?”
    • 70 J.Cross/Stone - “Lady,” Brand said, “you don’t even have a clue. And if you do, you’re more scarier than I can imagine.” Brand turned abruptly and left. As he walked out he heard Susan Stone ask, “Is that it?” Brand went to his apartment and folded himself onto the sofa. He wasn’t through with the case; he was just through with Mrs. Stone. With her around he couldn’t think clearly, and there was a mystery, which he intended to solve. The phone rang. It circled through the message center, and Susan Stone’s voice came on. “I understand that you’re upset. I would like a chance to explain further, but you left so abruptly…Please call me,” her voice pleaded. Brand had no intention of calling her, at least, not for now. Instead, he called Senator Kensey. His receptionist answered. “Tell the Senator that Mr. Brand is calling.” “I’ll see if I can track him,” she replied. “There’s a vote on the Senate floor in ten minutes... Hold on, please.” After several minutes, Brand was about to hang up when Kensey came on, “We’ve got to meet,” he said, sounding irritated. “And I don’t mean at that insufferable restaurant.” “Where then?” “At my apartment, and be discreet. Four o’clock, and don’t be late.” Kensey hung up. Brand wondered what discreet meant, after all, it was at the Senator’s apartment. Brand showered and put on a fresh suit of clothes, and went to meet his friend Garza at Jose’s. The window’s were being worked on, and a hand written note on a poster taped to the front door read, “Open for business tonight.” Brand looked at his watch, and hoped that he was not too late to meet Garza. He knocked on the door to the restaurant, and peered inside. He saw Jose strutting around giving orders. He knocked, but this time harder. Jose waved a hand at him to be patient. As he waited, Garza strolled up. “Looks like somebody bombed the place.” “Not exactly,” Brand said. “I’ll tell when Jose let’s us in.” Brand shook Garza’s hand. “It was quite a night.”
    • 71 J.Cross/Stone - Before Garza could ask a question, Jose opened the door. “See what you did to my place,” he shouted at Brand, and then turned to Garza. “It’s good to see you Tony,” he said. “I hope you can talk some sense into this half-gringo.” Garza and Brand walked gingerly through a field of broken glass, and a group of workers trying to clean up the mess. “Follow me,” Jose said, and walked them into the back room behind the red velvet curtain. Remnants of bougainvillea still remained on the table that Brand and Mrs. Stone had occupied the night before. “The kitchen is open for anything you want,” Jose said gruffly to Brand, but smiled politely at Garza. Brand looked at his old friend. “Hairs a little thinner, put on some weight; is that what sitting behind a desk does for you?” “After all these years, you’re still an asshole.” “Nothing personal, just an observation.” “You know why you’re an asshole? Because you shove it in my face. There you sit, trim and fit as ever. Still a pretty boy, except for a few distinguished wrinkles, and streaks of gray hair in all the right places as if painted on by an artist. My jealousy makes me sick.” “That’s why I’m an asshole?” “A first class one. But never mind. So, what the hell happened here?” Garza asked pointedly. “There was an attempt on my life, as well as Mrs. Stone’s. Actually, it was more like a warning. They used half-loads that didn’t even penetrate my car door, but as you can see it wreaked havoc in the restaurant.” “What the hell is this all about?” Garza asked with his usual skeptical tone. “It’s about the Stone suicide, which occurred live on international television. Mrs. Stone, or more accurately, Senator Simon Kensey hired me to convince Mrs. Stone that his suicide was exactly as seen.” “So, what’s the problem?” “It wasn’t suicide, it was murder.” “D.C. police say it was suicide, plain and simple,” Garza said without reacting.
    • 72 J.Cross/Stone - “You obviously haven’t talked to Barton. He and I are working on the case. There’s pressure to spin this thing, and get it all wrapped up. But Mrs. Stone has asked for an autopsy, so for the time being the case is still technically open.” “Why do you think it was murder?” Brand went through all of the events methodically, including the intruder, his visit with Zlatamir, and the warning bullets from the night before. “Wow,” was all Garza could say, and then asked, “How do you figure the Bureau fits in?” “I don’t, but you do. There’s too much for this to be a simple suicide, or murder. This had to be in the planning for a long time. Kensey called, he sounded scared. I’m meeting with him later. Zlatamir’s got to be involved. You don’t meet with someone for over two years and not know anything. He squelched my questions by hiding behind client privilege.” “What about Mrs. Stone?” “She’s a complete enigma. At first, I believed her, but now I’m not so sure.” “So, what do you want me to do? This is beyond FBI jurisdiction.” “I want you to find out what kind of Senate Bills that Kensey was proposing, or touting on the Hill, and whatever you can find out about this so-called Professor Ivan Zlatamir. By name and accent he’s Russian, but he acts like a Nazis.” “You think Kensey’s involved?” “Up to his squirrelly eye balls.” “I think you’re way over the edge on this,” Garza said. “You know me better than that. Besides, why does a highly respected Senator, who hates me, pay me twenty-five thousand dollars to convince his widow that it was a suicide when the local police could have done the same thing?” “You say, Barton, believes it was murder?” Brand hesitated. “He believes the scenario that I showed him.” “Barton’s not the most reliable.” “No, but he’s a good friend, and he can see that something’s wrong.” “Alright, I’ll see what I can find out,” Garza said unconvinced.
    • 73 J.Cross/Stone - “Are you telling me that after everything that I laid out for you doesn’t give you pause as to a possible murder?” “Maybe yes, maybe no. You’ve got nothing but circumstantial evidence.” “Are you telling me that the Stone house break-in, and an Uzi being fired at us is circumstantial? In the old days you’d be swinging by your tail to find out the truth.” “This isn’t the old days. Besides, you said yourself that the break-in was not reported. The assault with half-loads could just as easily been a warning to Jose, there’s a lot of people in this area that don’t appreciate Cubans.” “I think this desk job has dulled your brain. You tell Jose that the shots were meant to scare him out of the neighborhood.” “I said it was a possibility. But I’m still you’re friend, so I’ll find out everything I can. Write down a list of what you want me to investigate. Off the record, of course.” Kensey’s apartment was in the Allan Park district, a wealthy conclave of bureaucrats and professional lobbyists. Brand thumbed the button next to Kensey’s name, and waited. A harsh voice came over the intercom, “Is that you, Brand?” “No, it’s the babysitter,” he said irritated. The door popped opened with an ugly sounding buzz. Brand rode the elevator to the penthouse, and knocked on Kensey’s door. A pimpled-faced, young man stared at him through the security chain as the door slipped opened a few inches. Brand assumed him to be one of the Senator’s aides. “Mr. Brand?” he asked in a squeaky voice. Brand nodded, and after a second the door widened. “The Senator’s waiting. If you’ll come in, he’ll be with you in a moment,” a tall, slender young man with a marine- type crew cut said. The apartment was plush, but ordinary. Brand strolled to the center of the room, while the young man exited through a swinging door. A door on the opposite side of the room opened and Kensey popped his head through,” Please come in,” he said, leaving the door ajar.
    • 74 J.Cross/Stone - Brand walked into the adjoining room, the Senator was just getting of the phone. “Do what you have to do,” he said, snapping off his cellular and shoving it into his pocket. “Please sit,” the Senator offered. “I prefer to stand,” Brand replied, “unless this is going to be a drawn out affair.” “As you please,” Kensey said and started to pace, his face ashen white. “Did you know that Mrs. Stone ordered an autopsy?” “I found out from Barton, Chief of Detectives, who’s conducting the investigation. So, what’s the problem?” “I hired you to make sure that this didn’t happen,” Kensey said, rubbing his hands together. “Excuse me, Senator, but you said nothing about an autopsy, if you had I would have certainly discouraged her.” “My mistake,” he said nervously. “I guess, it’s too late to stop it?” “As I understand, it’s already in motion. But, if Stone’s death was, as we all believe, a suicide, what’s the problem?” Brand asked, pretending he was an ally. “Nothing. It was just unexpected, that’s all. I was hoping that this ugly matter could be resolved quickly. Stone was a friend, I don’t want to see his reputation trashed.” “What’s the rush, Senator? After talking with, Mrs. Stone, I believe she concurs that her husband’s death was an unfortunate suicide.” “Why did you visit Professor Zlatamir then?” Brand had expected the question. “To give her ample reason for her husband’s suicide. I’m sure the professor indicated as much.” “Zlatamir is a highly suspicious man.” “Why is that? He said he was treating Stone for severe anxiety attacks. Just my feeble research indicates that it is usually accompanied by serious depression. I’m sure Mrs. Stone can understand that. In addition, she says that her relationship with her husband had become distant, and had no idea of what kind of stories he was working on. As you said, Senator, she just wants to put her mind at ease. And, to that end, I am doing the best I can.” “That’s good,” Kensey said and stopped pacing.
    • 75 J.Cross/Stone - “There are a few things, however, Senator,” Brand said feigning a nervous tone. “Mrs. Stone’s house was burglarized two nights ago, and there was an attempt to kill both of us in front of a restaurant last night,” Brand said wanting to see Kensey’s reaction. Kensey’s mouth dropped and started to stammer, but nothing came out except a few squeals. “What? I had no idea!” the words finally came out tortured. “What do you think is going on Senator? I’m trying to do the job that you hired me for, but these events have complicated things immensely.” Brand said as if he were an amiable friend. “I don’t know; it’s the first I’ve heard.” And then, as if something clicked on, his eyes widened and turned to Brand. “Mrs. Stone must be protected. I’ll pay you whatever you need to protect her,” he said, his voice trembled. “Not necessary, Senator. But, don’t you think that this has something to do with Stone’s suicide?” he asked, trying to sound as wimpy as he could. “I…I don’t think so,” he said agitated. “But, I’ll get back to you. Thank you for coming,” he said softly, turning away as his voice trailed off. Brand left more confused than ever. If Kensey didn’t know what was going on, and he believed that, then there was something more nefarious going on than he imagined. But what? Was it Zlatamir, the only other person he had talked to? If so, then why would Zlatamir tell him about his meeting, unless Kensey was being used as a dupe. But even that made no sense. Brand was at a loss as what to next. He called Barton on his cellular as he drove through heavy evening traffic; a slight drizzle sprinkled his windshield. Barton answered with a grumpy, “Hello.” “It’s Michael, anything I should know?” “Yeah, when’s the execution,” Barton said glumly. “Who’s?” “Mine.” “You’re so melodramatic.” “Melodramatic, my ass. They want to string me up. I’ve got twenty-fours to wrap this case up, or I’m out on my ear without a pension.” “Where’s the pressure coming from?”
    • 76 J.Cross/Stone - “Everywhere.” “Be specific, maybe, I can help,” Brand said adamantly. “Primarily, the mayor’s office.” “Doesn’t he know the law?” “He doesn’t care. Shit runs downhill.” “You think it’s from higher up then?” “Did anyone ever tell you that you were a genius,” Barton said, his voice tightening into knots. “I promise you, I’ll get you off the hook. Trust me.” “Yeah. Right. If you do, I’ll call you Santa Claus.” “Hang in there. Tomorrow’s another day,” Brand said and snapped off his cellular. He then placed a call to Tony Garza. “How’s it going, buddy?” “Buddy,” he reiterated. “What the hell have you gotten me into? Everywhere I turn there’s a stonewall. You’re right about one thing; they want this thing wrapped up, pronto.” “Who does?” “Not sure, but very high up.” “The President?” Brand asked. “Not that high, but plenty high.” “The Senate?” Brand asked shooting in the dark. “Could be. There’s a Senate Bill running around purporting to be a ‘Strategic Defense System’. It’s not worded that way, but you don’t have to be a genius to figure it out. The entire Congress is going to vote on it next week. If it passes, the President will sign it.” “What do you think it means?” “It means, it’s probably already up there. This Bill is written as an enhancement measure for secure military access and upgrades to what already exists. Simply put, it’s a military funding Bill. They need more money to do what they’ve already started.” “Who’s sponsoring the Bill?” “As you can guess, Kensey…and a Senator by the name of Garner.” Garza hesitated. “This is highly unusual…”
    • 77 J.Cross/Stone - “What is?” Brand interrupted. “This Garner is literally brand new on the job. He was just appointed to fill the remaining term of Paulsen, the Senator who was killed when his private plane went down a few months ago. He may not be considered a freshman Senator, but for him to hook up with Kensey on this Bill is without precedent.” “How does this fit in with Stone?” “It doesn’t, unless Stone knew that something was already up there.” “Is that enough to kill him?” Brand asked. “If it’s true, it’s enough to kill half the Congress.” “How can we be sure?” “We can’t. End of story. If General Radcliff were still around, maybe… but he’s retired.” “So, what you’re saying is that we’ve got nothing?” “That’s about it ole’ buddy, unless you can find another way into the labyrinth of Military Intelligence; the Senators behind this so-called Bill; or an exclusive club of secret NASA scientist.” “Thanks for your help. I’ll be in touch.” “I hope not,” Garza said. “Keep digging, I’m counting on you.” “So, what’s new?” If anyone had any ideas it would be General Radcliff, retired or not. Radcliff had been in charge of Military Intelligence, and assistant to the Joint Chief. Also, Brand had worked under cover for him for more than fifteen years, Their relationship had been more like father and son. He hadn’t talked to Radcliff in more than five years, which had been eating at his insides like a cancerous guilt. Brand hadn’t eaten so he decided to see if his friend Jose was still mad at him. As he entered the restaurant, it looked as if nothing had happened. Jose looked up from the cash register, but said nothing. “You still pissed?”
    • 78 J.Cross/Stone - “Only brothers can be pissed, strangers don’t count. I suppose you want something to eat?” he asked still not looking up. “Among other things.” “Like what?” Jose now looked up with a fiery stare. “After one of your famous Cuban salads.” “Go in my office, I’ll bring it there.” One of the waiters handed him a club soda on the way. Jose’s small office was a junk pile of papers and folders. His wife, Anna, had passed away a few years before. Brand reflected that if she were still alive the office would be neat with everything in its place. He had spent three days and nights with Jose when Anna died from a rare brain cancer. Jose walked in carrying a large salad bowl, set it down in front of Brand, and plopped onto a small stool. “No more shooting, Miguel. Understand? It’s bad for business.” “Looks like you’ve got a full house,” he said as he dug into the scrumptious salad. “Let me ask you a question, Jose. First though, let me emphasize, this is what Garza thinks is a possibility. I have my own thoughts about last night.” “I trust Garza,” Jose said. “I’m glad you do, so I’ll ask freely. He thinks that it’s possible that the shooting last night was meant as a warning for you to leave the area. He believes that there may be some who do not want to see a Cuban prosper in their part of town.” “Garza said that?” Jose ran his hands through his hair. “Have you had any trouble before?” “Nothing like this. A few cans turned over in the alley, but not even a brick through the window. Do you believe this is possible, amigo?” “The bullets last night were half-loads, they didn’t want to kill anyone, that’s why Garza thought it might be a possibility. If you feel there is any truth to this, I will have ten men guard this place twenty-four hours a day.” “Impossible,” Jose said. “I’ve been here three years.” “Then the warning was for me and the lady. I will not bring here again until I feel everything is settled.”
    • 79 J.Cross/Stone - “You are in much danger then, I saw the way you looked at the woman.” “You know me better than that.” “I know you better than you know yourself. You think I can forget the nights you stayed with me after Anna’s death?” A small tear welled up in his eye. “This woman is bad news, but you can’t help yourself. You can bring her here any time. I don’t care if they blow up the place.” “Bravado will get us both killed. But I may have to call on you for some special help.” Jose swelled his chest, “Whatever you need, me amigo, I owe you my life.” “You owe me nothing, except a good meal.” Brand said and swirled the fork in his empty bowl. “The only thing better than this would be a Dos XXs to go with it.” Brand got up to leave, but Jose grabbed him in bear hug. “Thank you for being my friend.” Brand was too choked up to speak. He patted Jose on the back and left.
    • 80 J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 10 The morning was crisp and clear; an easterly wind had swept away the clouds leaving the Capital in a soft wash of sunlight. Brand awoke at his usual time, but rolled over and slept until ten a.m. He showered and walked into the kitchen, and swigged from a bottle of orange juice. In the daylight, his apartment looked more filthy than he thought. He decided to call Mrs. Diaz, his housekeeper. Their arrangement was that she would only come over when he called. As he went to the phone, the red blinking eye stared at him. He had five messages. He called Mrs. Diaz first. The apartment would be clean by nightfall, she promised. He then listened to the messages. First was the frantic voice of Mrs. Stone, begging him to call. The second was from Barton, who reported that things were status quo. The third was from Kensey, who politely relieved him of any duties as regards to Mrs. Stone. The call was not unexpected; he assumed as much. The fourth call was from Garza, his voice sounded urgent. The fifth call was again from Mrs. Stone pleading for him to call or come over. Brand decided to call Garza. He didn’t recognize the number, so he presumed it was his cellular. “Garza here,” his voice sounding impatient. “This is Brand. What’s up?” Without hesitating he said, “Kensey was found in his underground garage early this morning with a vacuum hose attached to his tailpipe and into the front window of his car. Another suicide.” “That’s bullshit, and you know it,” Brand exploded. “Calm down. At least this is FBI jurisdiction, and I pulled some strings to take charge of the investigation. Only for you, brother. Only for you,” he repeated.”
    • 81 J.Cross/Stone - “Will there be an autopsy?” “Of course, it’s procedural.” “I need you to do me a favor,” Brand asked. “Like what?” Brand could imagine Garza’s face wince. “I want you to get Barton off the hot seat. His wife has an ulcer, and he’s about to get one. He can’t deal with all the pressure. Tell D.C. police and the mayor that you suspect the suicides of Stone and Kensey are related in some way. I want you to take over both investigations,” Brand pleaded. “You’re asking a lot.” “No, I’m not. You know they’re related. Besides, it’ll make our jobs easier.” “Our jobs?” Garza involuntarily coughed into the phone. “Aren’t we working on this together?” Brand asked. After a long silence, “You’re a mother-fucker, you know that?” “You’ve told me many times. But we need each other’s help on this.” “Alright. I’ll call when I have something; if I get something.” “Thanks, buddy,” Brand said with a sigh. “Don’t thank me yet,” Garza said. Aside from his initial response, he was glad to be away from the desk, and working again with his old pal, no matter how much it scared him. It was time to see Radcliff. He thought about calling first, but was afraid of Radcliff’s reaction after so many years. Brand drove up to an old Victorian house with the front of it mostly covered over with years of unattended ivy. He pushed opened the wrought iron gate that squeaked to his touch, and walked along a curved stone walkway and up a flight of stairs to small landing and pushed a black button recessed into a corroded brass circular ornament in the form of a small wreath. A dark, stained door with a glass window covered by an interior shade stood at eye level. The shade parted, but Brand couldn’t see anything but his own reflection. The door opened several inches, but no face appeared. He pushed it opened and entered into a dimly lit foyer, and shut the door behind him. “General Radcliff,” he called out.
    • 82 J.Cross/Stone - “What the fuck do you want?” A voice resembling Radcliff’s echoed through the almost bare foyer. “It’s Michael…Michael Brand,” he said timidly, not knowing what to expect after the less than agreeable response. “Just keep walking and turn left.” The voice ordered. Brand did as he was told. The house smelled musty, as if it hadn’t seen the light of day in years. As he entered the room, he saw Radcliff standing in the center with a shawl draped over a stooped set of shoulders. He looked as old as the brocaded furniture that filled the room. “Is this a bad time, General?” Radcliff turned and sat himself down on a cushioned rocking chair, which automatically began rocking in slow movements. “Are you going to sit down? Or shall I order you to do so?” “No, sir,” he said and sat down on a weathered sofa. “After five years you decide to visit me,” he said as the chair continued to rock. “I presume you want advice on the Stone and Kensey apparent suicides, and information on the bogus Bill that’s running around Congress dressed up as an ‘Strategic Defense Initiative,’ better known as ‘Star Wars’?” Radcliff might have aged more than Brand had imagined, but his mind was as sharp as a razor. “How did you know?” “Why else would you come to see a dying and useless man?” Brand started to apologize for the lost years he hadn’t seen him, but suddenly felt it would be an insult. “You’re still the best mind in the country. And, it’s true, I need your advice, and maybe help.” “I’m glad you’re still a man, not like so many before you who come here out of superfluous respect, and worse, pity.” “Pity? A man of your genius doesn’t need pity, he needs appreciation.” “Stop the silver-tongue bullshit. You were always so transparent at it.” “Can I speak on a personal note, Sir?” “It never stopped your stubborn ass before, why should it now?”
    • 83 J.Cross/Stone - Brand didn’t know how to begin. His eyes unexpectedly flooded with tears, and then the emotions rushed up like hot lava, he couldn’t stop them. He buried his face into his hands and wept. “Come over here,” Radcliff said softly, patting his frail knee. Brand obeyed like a child, and knelt next to the old man. “You’ve always felt guilty. Your marriage, your child’s death… but you will not feel guilt for me, or you can leave now. I couldn’t bear it, not after all that I asked you to sacrifice. It is I who have felt the weight of guilt, can you forgive me?” Brand stared at the old man. His face was creased with wrinkles and aged lines from a life of turbulence and war, but Brand saw only the man whom he loved so much.” Radcliff reached out and stroked Brand’s face, “So, how can I help you?” “You already have, everything else seems so immaterial,” Brand said as the tears still streamed down. He hadn’t cried since he lost his son. “Nonsense,” Radcliff roared. “You came here for help, and help you shall get…Sit here next to me,” he said pointing to a brocaded ottoman, “and tell me what you know or suspect.” “I know very little, but I suspect a lot.” “You’re instincts were always the best, tell me what you suspect?” “Even what I suspect, makes very little sense, except for one thing.” “And what is that?” “A man by the name of Professor Ivan Zlatamir, a physicist, and a psychiatrist seems to be a central figure in what’s happening. Do you know anything about him?” “Zlatamir is an elitist Russian. Like Stalin, he yearns for world dominance. He was recruited by the CIA, after the breakup of the Soviet Union.” “Why did we want him?” “We didn’t. But the CIA figured he would be better on our side than on the side of a remerging KGB. For the first few years, he was enormous help in counter-espionage. With his help we eliminated, at least, twenty-five Russian spies working in our Capitol. He was also instrumental in convincing our military that we needed a missile shield. After that, he became a professor, of all things, Economics, at Harvard. The CIA believed his new chosen profession was not a threat.”
    • 84 J.Cross/Stone - “What do you believe?” “I believe he never varied from his philosophy of world dominance. But I was in the minority.” “You said earlier, the apparent suicides of Stone and Kensey. Why?” “Obviously, because I don’t think they were. But proving it is another thing.” “But that’s exactly what I have to do. I believe Stone was murdered for what he knew, and Kensey because he was considered a liability and could not be trusted.” “So, know you know the why,” Radcliff said. “But, what I don’t know, at least, in Stone’s case, is how. And in Kensey’s case, why, when he was the pivotal Senator in getting this Bill passed.” “As for Kensey, I think you already know the answer,” Radcliff agreed. “He was a liability and could not be trusted with what he knew, maybe it was his conscience. As for Stone, that’s where the mystery lies. He obviously knew what was happening, but how he was silenced is the question.” “If both so-called suicides are investigated, I’ll bet we can find a common denominator.” “Who’s in charge?” “Anthony Garza, for now.” “Then you’ve got a chance, that is, until he gets too close to the truth, and then they’ll pull him.” “Who’ll pull him?” “That’s the question of the day. Who’s giving the orders?” “If you had to guess?” “I would suspect a group that is sanctioned.” “By whom?” “Take your pick, could be a black-ops group within the NSA, a fanatical group of Senators and Congress people who believe that might is right, even an extreme group of NASA scientist’s working for the CIA. Or all of the above.” “Do you still have any contacts within Military Intelligence?” “A few from the old guard, but they’re getting ready to retire. I’m sure they’re out of the loop.” Radcliff ran his hands through the few remaining hairs on his head. “There’s
    • 85 J.Cross/Stone - a reunion of sorts, actually more a retirement party for General Lester. I think I’ll go; you never know what they think they don’t know. Get ‘em drunk enough and maybe a few pieces to the puzzle will slip out through their slobbering lips. Now get out of here. I’ll call you after the party.” Brand started to reach out for the old man, but Radcliff would have none of it. “Beat it,” he said, “before I whack you with this cane.” Brand forced a smile, and gave the old man his card, and left. Brand had put off seeing Mrs. Stone, but now with Kensey dead she would probably be frantic. Maybe now she would be more cooperative, that is if she were in fact just an innocent bystander. Brand rapped the brass knocker, it was just after noon, and she was probably having lunch on the patio. Jonesy answered the door. “Mrs. Stone,” Brand said. Jonesy looked more agitated than usual. “I’m sorry, sir, Mrs. Stone isn’t here.” “Where is she?” Brand asked feeling a mounting concern. “She left early this morning just after she heard the news on the tele of Senator Kensey’s suicide. She said I was to give you this note if you came by.” “Thanks, Jonesy.” Brand read the note: If by chance you’re still interested in helping me, I’m at the farm. It was signed ‘S’. “Did you see here write this note?” “I did indeed,” Jonesy said. “She said I was to give it no one but you.” “Where’s the farm?” “Just outside of Richmond. Ask anyone, they‘ll direct you.” “Alright, Jonesy. If she should call, tell her I’m on my way. I’m leaving now, I’ll be there in a few hours.” Brand leapt into his car, and sped toward the interstate to Richmond, Virginia. Could he have been that wrong? Was she that scared? A feeling of guilt started to rise up from inside. If anything happened to her, he would never forgive himself. His arrogance had cost too many lives, but not this time. As he drove along the interstate, splotches of sunlight flooded down between the clouds, as well as, an intermittent soft rain. He decided to call Garza to let him know where he was going -- just in case. In case of what? All of a sudden a wave of fear
    • 86 J.Cross/Stone - flooded over him as he recalled Kensey’s last order, “Protect Mrs. Stone”. He stepped on the accelerator, and punched in Garza’s cellular number. An automated answering message came on, and then the disgusting beep. “I’m going to Mrs. Stone’s farm just outside of Richmond. I think she’s in trouble. I’ll call when I arrive.” Twilight was settling over the city as he reached Richmond. Lights flashed on like a giant arcade. He stopped at the first truck stop. He figured it was his best chance for directions. Brand approached a smallish looking figure pumping diesel into a large tanker. “Which way to the Stone farm?” he asked. “Never heard of it,” the man replied without looking up. “My mistake, I mean the York farm.” “Oh, that’s easy. Just stay the course for about twenty miles. Eventually, you’ll see a large steel silo, take the side road. It’s a bit bumpy, but you’ll find the farm after about five miles. Better hurry, you’re going to lose the light. It gets mighty dark in those parts.” “Thanks,” Brand said, and hurried back to his car. He stepped on it, hoping he wouldn’t meet up with a trooper. The last thing he needed was another ticket. The silo came into view just as the attendant had said, and swerved onto a slick, muddy road. The BMW performed as advertised, it hugged the road as much as it was possible. Without knowing it, he had been traveling along a white boundary fence. He slowed not wanting to miss the entrance. His bright lights caught sight of a huge archway, and stopped the car in front of it. When he doused the lights there was only black. He reached into the glove compartment and retrieved his 9mm Beretta, and a flashlight, hoping it was still operative; he switched it on. A beam shot out, and he searched for a name. After a few seconds, the light bounced of a metal mailbox, and next to it a hanging shingle that read: The York Farm. He scanned the light around for an intercom or bell, anything. He found nothing except a white painted gate. In the distance he thought he saw a light, but then it disappeared. He scrambled over the gate and trudged along a muddy road with the beam of the flashlight leading the way. He had traveled less than fifty yards when he heard the deep low growling of several dogs. He hated dogs as a general rule, but in the blackness it turned to fear. He flashed the light in the general direction of the growls, and found himself circled by a half dozen dogs. Their
    • 87 J.Cross/Stone - eyes flared an eerie red as the light flashed across their faces. He started to take a step forward, and the dogs did the same, but moved closer to him. He froze, and slowly pulled out his Beretta. He had no intention of shooting the dogs unless they attacked. A commanding sounding voice shouted, “Who are you?” “It’s Michael…Michael Brand,” he shouted back, and lifted the flashlight toward the voice. It sounded like Susan’s, but he couldn’t be sure. His flashlight revealed a figure about twenty yards away with what appeared to be a shotgun staring at him. “Is that you, Susan?” He heard a low trebled whistle and the dogs instantly disappeared into the blackness. He steadied the flashlight, and saw a figure rushing toward him. He tucked his gun away. “I’m so glad you came,” she said stumbling, almost knocking him over. He clutched onto her holding her up. Her voice trembled with fear, “I didn’t think you would come.” She put her cheek next to him. He could feel her tears moisten his face, “I’m sorry,” was all he could say. “Let’s go to the house,” she said in between sobs with her arm laced around Brand’s waist. Susan snapped on the lights as they entered the house, and laid down the shotgun on wooden table. The room was immense with large cedars beams criss-crossing a huge cathedral ceiling. The room, at first, appeared to be rustic, but on further inspection, it was as plush and ornate, in its own way, as the Georgetown mansion. A huge, walk-in stone fireplace graced one entire wall, which extended up to the ceiling at least thirty feet. “Some place,” Brand quipped. “It was built over a hundred years ago, but of course its been updated since then. Let me put on a fire, I’ve been sitting here mostly in the dark, waiting…waiting for God knows who,” she said with a shiver. “But I was praying that you would come.” Susan snapped on a switch next to the fireplace, which instantly lit a blue flame beneath an iron grate with an enormous pile of stacked wood on top of it. “As soon as the fire catches, I’ll shut off the gas fire… So, why did you come?” All of a sudden her voice turned icy. “If you want me to leave, just say so,” Brand replied, still standing in the center of the room.
    • 88 J.Cross/Stone - “I didn’t mean it that way,” Susan said softening her voice. “Yes, you did. But, to be honest, I don’t blame you.” Susan just stared at him. Maybe, it was the shadows from the fire that flickered over him, or just the relief that he was there, but he looked like one of the Greek statues in the library -- tall, strong and handsome. She removed her shoes, and curled up on a sofa near the fire, placing her legs under her and leaned against the pillowed arm of the sofa. “So, why did you come?” she asked softly. “For the same reason you came, I thought you might be in danger.” “Why don’t you sit down next to me,” she said patting the cushion next to her. Instead, Brand chose an overstuffed chair across from her. “I still have a lot of questions,” he said. “Not tonight… Please, not tonight. In the morning you can interrogate me as long as you wish…Would you like some tea?” “If it’s not too much trouble.” She fixed her favorite chamomile. “Please, sit next to me,” she said, and set the tea down on a huge glass coffee table in front of the sofa. “Why?” he asked. “I’ll feel safer then,” she smiled. Brand grudgingly obliged. “You still don’t trust me, do you?” “Not entirely. But in view of the facts, I’m leaning that way.” “What would it take for you to trust me?” “I’m not sure.” He stared at her; the shadows accentuated the graceful lines of her face. She was dressed in faded jeans with a mauve blouse. He promised himself again that he would check his emotions, and reminded himself that she was just a client. “So, why do you think, Kensey committed suicide?” “I don’t think that anymore than you do,” she said sipping on her tea. “Why not?” “I thought you were the expert in this field.” “Look, we can fence all night, or we can get to the bottom line.”
    • 89 J.Cross/Stone - “I thought we were talking about murder, not a profit and loss statement…I said I would answer all your questions tomorrow. Can’t we just enjoy a few minutes of peace?” Brand relented. “Okay. What would like to talk about?” “You. Your files didn’t tell me anything about who you are as man.” “What would you like to know?” Susan’s face lit up for the first time. “For starters, you must have led an interesting an dangerous life.” “I’ve led many lives, some of them interesting, some of them dangerous, mostly personal, and boring.” “I’d like to hear about all of them, especially, your son and your marriage.” “Both of them are very personal, and to be honest, too hurtful to talk about.” Susan thought about it for a minute. “You really are a very sensitive and caring man.” “Don’t confuse sensitive with hurt and guilt.” “I guess you just answered a lot of questions.” Brand didn’t quite know how to take her response. “I’m sure were both tired. Can we take this up in the morning?” “Of course.” She led him down a hallway to a guest bedroom. “I’ll be in the next room. It’ll make me feel safer. By the way, I do trust you as a man, and a gentleman.” “Good night, then. I’ll see you in the morning,” he said. Susan left, and he plopped down on the soft down coverlet. A digital watch on the bed stand read almost eleven. He checked out the room, it was as completely equipped as the guest room in the mansion. He showered, and crept beneath the bed covers. His mind was too tired to spin any plots and plans; he fell almost immediately to sleep. A nagging noise persisted him to wake up. It was the barking of the dogs. The digital watch read 3:30. He quickly became alert, and slipped on his pants and shirt, and reached for his Beretta. He then went to Susan’s room. She was sitting up in bed. “Did you hear the dogs?” “They might be chasing raccoons,” she said, half asleep. “They’re trained guard dogs, it’s unusual for them to bark.”
    • 90 J.Cross/Stone - “I’m going out to check. Lock the door.” He shoved the Beretta into the top of his pants and made his way to the main room with the help of a full moon. He located the shotgun. It held six rounds. “Good,” he said to himself. He squeezed open the front door, and crouching, let himself outside. He hid behind a tall potted plant on the porch, and waited. The distance from the front door to the road was at least two hundred yards. Where were the dogs? He was sure he had heard the dogs. He strained to see any motion in the moonlight. False alarm, he began thinking to himself. But then, off in the corner of his eye, he saw movement; it was to the left of the house. Maybe, it was the dogs, maybe not. Then suddenly, he saw one of the dogs leap into the air, it fell instantly to the ground. From that distance, he couldn’t be sure, but he thought he heard the sound of a silencer thudding into the dog. It had to be, or otherwise the dog wouldn’t have dropped so dramatically. Still crouching he made his way through the shadows to the tall grass. At first, he was glad for the full moon, now he despised it. He wondered if there were any dogs still left alive. He hoped so, as he squirreled deep into the wet grass, listening for any sound. He concluded that there were at least three, maybe four men, circling the house. He bellied along the grass with the shotgun mowing down a path in front of him. Suddenly, he heard a yelp. One of the dogs had been hit, but not killed instantly. He moved away from the house, letting the moonlight reveal any shadows. He saw the outline of three men approaching the house, the dogs must all be dead, he assumed. The three men were spread out, the shotgun would alert the other two. He was about twenty feet from the porch when one of the men came into range. He would have to take him down silently. The man kept coming closer to his position. When he was five feet away, Brand leapt at him, encircling his forearm around his throat and crushing his windpipe, and then twisting his head with a sudden jerk, breaking his neck. The assailant fell quietly to the ground. Two left, he presumed as he dropped back into the tall, wet grass. After a second, he peered above the grass and saw two men converging on the porch. He grabbed the shotgun by his side, and inched within fifteen feet of the two assailants. There were standing less than three feet apart, maybe the shotgun would be sufficient, but he didn’t want to take the chance. He snatched the Beretta from his waist, aimed and fired. The first man fell instantly, the second tried to run, but Brand cut him down in stride. He waited in the tall grass, which seemed like an eternity. There were no
    • 91 J.Cross/Stone - movements, and no sounds. If there was another assailant, he was either gone, or already in the house. He crawled his way to the front door, which was ajar. He checked to make sure that the two men were dead, and then slipped into the house. If there was another assailant he would have heard the two gunshots. Not knowing what had happened, the assailant would continue on to Susan’s bedroom, but she was not there, she was in the guest bedroom next to his. Brand edged down the darkened hallway, listening for any movement. One of the aged board’s squeaked. Was it Susan, or the assailant? A shadow moved across the moonlit hallway and entered a room; two explosions from his gun pierced the silence. Brand was up and running toward the room. A man stepped backwards into the hallway; Brand grabbed him with the full force of his arm around his throat and his hand to his forehead, and twisted violently snapping his neck. The man fell dead instantly. Brand soaked in fear and sweat, and breathing heavily wobbled down the hallway to where Susan was. He knocked on the door. ”It’s Michael,” he said half out of breath. There was no answer. Suddenly, a meek voice asked, “Is that you, Michael?” “Yeah, it’s me. Open up.” The door squeaked open, and two terrified eyes peeked out. “Are you all right?” “I am, but your friends do not reside in this world any longer.” Brand collapsed before he or Susan could utter another word. Brand woke automatically at six-thirty. His was lying, fully dressed on his back with his eyes trying to focus on the ceiling. Susan was lying next to him dressed in a pink robe, her head nestled in the crook of his neck, and her arm draped over his chest. Her blond flowing curls hid her face; she was sleeping peacefully. He lifter her arm gently away, and quietly got out of bed. She moaned and curled into a fetal position. Brand decided he would let her sleep for now, and walked into the kitchen, stepping over the dead assassin in the hallway. He opened the refrigerator and found a bottle of orange juice. He smelled it for freshness, and poured two glasses. He guzzled the first one, and brought the other back to where Susan was sleeping. Brand estimated they would still have a few more hours before whoever sent the assassins would discover that they had not returned, and perhaps send another team,
    • 92 J.Cross/Stone - which he doubted, at least for now. Then suddenly, he remembered, he had left a message for Garza. Damn! He turned back to the kitchen and found a phone and dialed Garza’s cellular. Garza answered, “It better be good,” he said annoyed. “It’s Michael.” “Where are you? I was just about to send a team over to Richmond.” “It’s a little late for that now. Where were you when I needed you last night?” Brand then recounted what had happened. “You took out all four out, huh?” Garza said envious. “You miss the action, don’t you? But never mind that for now. I need a safe house for Mrs. Stone.” “You still at the farm?” “Yeah.” “On your way back, call me. I’ll give you an address. All four?” he repeated. Brand hung up, and walked back to the bedroom. Susan was starting to stir. “Here drink this,” he said. Susan immediately bolted upright, fear flashed across her face. “Are we all right?” “For now, but we’ve got some cleaning up to do, and then we’re outta here.” “Like what? Let’s just get out of here.” “We’ve got some bodies to bury. Drink this orange juice, you’ll need the strength.” After three hours, they had drug the four bodies, and the six dogs out to a nearby pasture, and buried them. Susan wept as they buried the dogs. “I’m glad we buried the dogs,” she said, “But why are we burying the bodies?” “Eventually, whoever sent them, will send another team to see what happened. They won’t find anything. It’ll give us, at least, another day.” “Where are we going?” “To a safe house. It’s being arranged.” “I’m scared, Michael,” she said and clung on to him.” “Me too.”
    • 93 J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 11 On the way back both Susan and Brand were mostly quiet, except for Susan’s occasional crying. Brand snapped on the radio to see if there was any news -- only the beginning of a eulogy for the late Senator Kensey. Brand shut it off immediately. “Why are they trying to kill me?” “They think you know something, even you don’t remember anything now. It might come to you later, and they can’t take the chance.” “Why would they think that?” “Because you wanted to know the truth about your husband’s death.” “Then it’s all my fault. I felt it was my duty. I thought I was doing the right thing, but now Simon’s dead, my dogs, and I’m running for my life,” she said after blowing her nose into a handkerchief. “You do know something, even if you don’t think so,” Brand said matter-of- factly. “I almost got you killed last night,” she said scared, and then looked at him admiringly. “I can’t believe how you did it.” “Did what?” “Killed all four of those men. They were trained assassins.” “It comes from rescuing cats from trees.” “I know that you don’t like to talk about your feelings, but weren’t you scared?” “Shitless. Okay.” Susan waited a long time and then said, “Thanks for saving my life.” “If it makes you feel any better, I’m getting very close to trusting you.”
    • 94 J.Cross/Stone - “You’re impossible!” she said angrily. “Someone’s always mad at me…story of my life,” Brand said and dialed Garza’s number. They were about an hour away from D.C. Garza answered. “Got an address?” “Yeah…it’s…” “Hold on,” Brand said and told Susan to find something to write on. Brand repeated it and Susan wrote it down. “I also want to see Kensey’s car,” Brand said. “Why?” Garza asked. “Because I want to. Can you arrange it?” “I suppose. Call me when you’re at the safe house. The manager there is FBI, and he’s to answer to no one except me. This is our version of the Taj Mahal, I thought it might fit Mrs. Stone.” “You’re so considerate. Just make sure it’s safe.” “It’s like Fort Knox.” Brand and Susan arrived at the safe house, and drove the car into an underground garage. An attendant directed them to drive to an elevator. When the door opened, Brand drove the car in an over-sized elevator. The doors opened in front of them into a hidden garage area, which housed about three cars. They walked back into the elevator, and Brand pushed the button to the third floor – there was no indication of the secret garage on the elevator’s inside panel. As the doors opened onto the third floor, a man dressed in a casual suit was waiting. “I’m the hotel manager, my name is James. The Assistant Director said that this was top secret, so I don’t even want to know your names. Here are your key cards, I’m sure you’ll be secure and comfortable. If for any reason, you need your car, just push the garage button three times, and it will take you to your car. Drive the car to the elevator and it will open automatically. Room service is available twenty-four hours a day. This hotel is staffed only by FBI, but no one here knows the real guests from the house guests.”
    • 95 J.Cross/Stone - Brand nodded, as the hotel manager stepped through an exit door. He and Susan found number 315. The apartment was plush as promised, with two bedrooms and a commanding view of the area below. “I didn’t know the FBI owned hotels…especially, so nice? So, this is where are tax dollars are going.” And then Susan remembered, “What about our clothes?” “I’m sure you’ll find something to your liking in the closet.” “I doubt it,” she said. “You know, you’re a real brat,” Brand said shaking his head. “I was only teasing,” she said and started to laugh. “So, what bedroom would you prefer?” “One with a bed,” Brand quipped. “I’ll get use to your wry sense of humor someday.” “What makes you think we’ll live that long?” Susan turned toward Brand with a look of horror, “Are you serious?” “No, just teasing.” But he wasn’t. He was already making plans for another safe house. The set up was too convenient. He called Garza. “The apartment’s perfect. We probably won’t even think about leaving for several days. Thanks, buddy.” “Enjoy. Tell me when you want to see Kensey’s car, it’s at the fifth street Federal impound.” Brand hung up, and said to Susan, “I think we should take a shower, relax and order in.” “Sounds good to me,” she said. Brand went into the bathroom and turned on the shower, while Susan flipped through the clothes in the closet, found something comfortable, and walked back into the living room. “You first, or me?” she asked hearing the shower running. Brand put his finger to his lips, and then pointed to several areas in the room. “You, of course. I’ll just sit here and listen to some music.” He pushed a button on the radio, and it immediately filled the room with the sounds of ‘golden oldies’. Susan just stared at him in disbelief. “Go ahead and take your shower,” Brand put his hands on her hips and directed her into the bathroom, and closed the door behind them.
    • 96 J.Cross/Stone - Susan started to protest, but Brand put his hand gently over her mouth. Her eyes widened, as Brand looked around the bathroom. He found a knob and twisted it, and the music came on blaring an oldie, “Since I found you, baby…” Brand whispered, “This place is bugged. Take a shower, find some clothes, we’re getting out of here.” “You want us to take a shower together?” she asked whispering. “I don’t think my heart can take it. I’ll take one after you,” he said quietly. “Remember, we’re suppose to stay here for a couple of days. So, make the conversation light.” Brand moved toward the door, and eased it silently open and exited. When Susan emerged from the shower, Brand said, “Feel better?” “Much. I’m looking forward to just relaxing for the next few days.” Brand nodded his approval, and whispered in her ear. “Pick out some clothes for me. I’m sure there’s some plastic bags around here.” Susan nodded. Brand took a quick shower, and tried to sing along with whatever song was playing. He toweled off, and wrapped it around him, and walked into the bedroom where Susan was meticulously holding up clothes from his closet trying to decide what matched with what. She turned and saw Brand wrapped in a towel, and gave an approving smile. Brand frowned, and motioned her to hurry up. She threw some clothes at him, and left the room with a bundle of clothes draped over her arm. Brand dressed and walked into the living room. “These pajamas you picked out are perfect,” he said, as Susan stood in the center of the room ready to leave clutching two plastic bags of clothes. “Let’s see what’s on television, maybe there’s good movie?” He turned off the radio, and snapped on the television, keeping the sound loud. “What say we cuddle for awhile?” “Sounds great,” she said in a sexy voice. Brand gingerly opened the door, and then motioned for Susan to follow. Once outside the room, the door clicked closed almost inaudibly. He ushered her down the hallway, taking one of the plastic bags from her. They reached the exit door that James, the hotel manager, had taken, and opened it. They followed the concrete staircase down to the bottom that opened onto the lobby floor. Brand scanned both directions; the lobby
    • 97 J.Cross/Stone - was empty. He then saw an exit door at the end of the hallway leading away from the main lobby. He grabbed Susan’s arm and headed toward it. He shoved the bar on the door, and it opened into a back alley. The alley was dark, night was beginning to settle over the city. They hurried along the alley until they reached the sidewalk. The hotel was located in an exclusive shopping district; late shoppers and commuters flooded the area. Brand and Susan vanished into the crowd. After a few blocks, Susan asked. “Where are we going?” “I don’t know yet.” Brand spied a phone booth, and headed toward it. “Got any change?” “Are you kidding?” Brand reached into his pocket and pulled out a dollar. “See if you can get change?” “Me?” “They don’t give change to men. Only to women.” Brand grabbed the other plastic bag. “Hurry.” Susan frowned at him. “Please.” He feigned a smile. Susan left, and returned in minutes, and handed Brand some change. “Thanks. Now, wasn’t that easy?” She frowned again as Brand inserted the coins and punched in some numbers. The phone rang and then Jose answered. “Terrazzo’s, may I help you?” “This is Michael. I’m really in some deep shit. I’ve got Mrs. Stone, and we need a secure place to stay for a few days.” Jose understood completely by the tenor of Brand’s voice. “Not a problema. Go to this address…It’s not the best, but you’ll be safe.” “Thanks, I owe you.” “You owe me nothing. Be safe, my friend.” Brand grabbed Susan’s arm, and led her down the street looking for a cab. “What’s going on?” she protested. “We’re going to a place that’s really safe,” Brand said, and finally found a cab parked near one of the more exclusive shops.
    • 98 J.Cross/Stone - He opened the rear door to the taxi, and almost shoved Susan in. “You available?” “Of course, where would like to go, Senor?” “Do you speak, Spanish,” Brand asked. “Fluently, I am from Colombia.” Small world, Brand thought to himself, and then directed the driver to an address, speaking in Spanish. The area seemed run down, but it was clean and away from the downtown area. The tenements stood in dark contrast to the hotel that they were just in. Brand handed the driver the fare, plus a healthy tip. “Let’s go,” he said to Susan. Once on the sidewalk, Susan stopped. “I’m not taking another step until you tell me what’s going on. I thought you’re friend at the FBI had provided a safe place for us?” “So, did I. But, my friend is being used. We would not have survived the night, that I promise you.” “How do know?” “You read my file, fifteen years under cover for Army Intelligence didn’t make me stupid. I’m alive today, because of my instincts, like at the farm. I trust my instincts, and you better too, or we won’t be alive for me to say I told you so.” “Of course, I trust you, and your instincts. Just tell what’s going on?” “I don’t know; I only have suspicions. When we get inside, I’ll tell what I think. Okay?” “Okay. Lead on.” The room that Jose had provided was clean, but small, with only a rusted fan to circulate the air. “I’ll find us another place tomorrow. I know this is not up to your standards.” “You’re a boor, and an arrogant boor. You don’t know the first thing about me.” Brand was taken aback at her reaction. “I apologize. I’m sorry.” After what we’ve been through, I’d live with you in a cardboard box,” she said and started to quietly weep, and threw herself on the small bed. “I’ve never been good at understanding women, I’ve only been good at surviving. Please, help me to understand, especially myself,” Brand said, his voice choking up. Susan turned over and stared at him in the dim light. “Do you really want that?”
    • 99 J.Cross/Stone - “Everyone that I have really loved has been taken from me. After my son’s death, I decided it was better not to love. I refuse to feel the hurt again.” “Can you tell me about it?” Brand sat at the edge of the bed, and told her, as best he could, his entire life story. His emotions, at first, were subdued, but then became mostly agitated to the point it bordered on violent as he smashed his fist into his palm over and over again. Susan just lied there in amazed confusion, listening to a man wrought with pain and guilt. His tears choked up as he struggled to finish. “I’ll tell you the latest episode,” he said, and related his encounter with General Radcliff, and wept uncontrollably. She waited for his emotions to subside, and then asked, “What would it take for you to love again?” “I guess, for someone to love me.” “Like your General Radcliff?” “I suppose.” After a minute he said, “You know, this is only the third time I’ve ever cried. When my son died, and the other day with Radcliff, and now.” Susan sat up, and moved next to him, and laced her fingers around his neck and pulled him close to her. He laid his head on her shoulder, shedding a lifetime of hurt, grief, and guilt. “You are an exceptional man. I, too, have loved and felt the loss of that love when my parents and brothers died. I have loved only one man, but that love was out of respect for the kind of man he was. I have never known a romantic love, a love that I would cherish as precious for the rest of my life…Do you believe in love at first sight?” And then continued before he could answer. “When I first met you, my heart raced. I thought it was some form of emotional infatuation that I had not experienced. I dismissed it from my mind, but my heart would not let go. Every second and minute you were in my thoughts, I felt as if I would explode if I couldn’t see you again, and then you walked out on me. I understand, now, why you did that. You were as afraid as I was.” Brand hadn’t moved his head from her shoulder, until Susan raised it to look into his eyes. “Look at me,” she said softly. “I love you Mr. Michael Brand, and I’ll love until the day I die.”
    • 100J.Cross/Stone - He enveloped her into his arms, and whispered, “I loved you from the first moment I saw you. I was afraid of that love, but not anymore. He laid her down and kissed her in a way that he had never kissed any other woman. They made love with such passion, that they both felt as if they’re body, mind, and souls transcended into some sacred place. They remained in each other’s arms, silent, and in gratitude for having found the most precious gift of all -- real love. Brand awoke, but well past the time he had always awakened. It was nine-thirty by the clock on the wall. Susan stood with her back to him as she was preparing breakfast on the stove. The sizzling sound and smell of sausage filled the small room. She was dressed in a thin common print bathrobe. He quietly padded over to her, and slipped his arm around her waist, and nuzzled her neck. “I love you,” he said and spun her around. She smiled at him. “Aren’t you hungry?” “Famished,” he said and took the frying pan off the stove, and kissed her gently. Their lips melded, and he undid her robe; he caressed her body and let the robe fall to the floor. He marveled at her youthful body as he urged her toward the bed. She complied with a giggle, and then saturated her body with loving kisses. Their lovemaking was not the passionate kind from the night before, but it was gentle and sweet, the aroma of flowers filled the air. After, her studied her naked body, and caressed the contours gently with his fingertips. Her eyes were closed as he traced imaginary lines over her body. She moaned and purred like a cat, not wanting it to end. He kissed her gently and said, “After breakfast, I’ll find us a better place.” “Do we have to? This place is perfect,” she said with her eyes still closed. “I’d like to stay here forever, but there’s a mystery that must solved. Not only your husband’s death, but something more nefarious. So, it looks like we’ve got a double mystery on out hands.” She opened her eyes. “Then let’s get to it,” she said. They left as quickly as they could after finishing breakfast, and started walking toward a small Mexican shopping area. They both were dressed in a pair of jeans and white shirts; they looked like tourists who had lost their way. Brand spotted the Washington Post at an outside magazine stand, and motioned to Susan. “Read this,” he pointed to a story just
    • 101J.Cross/Stone - below the headlines. Susan read the caption, “Third floor of the Malaga Hotel explodes.” The story went on: “Police and fire officials blame the explosion on a faulty gas fireplace. Appears the room was empty at the time…” Susan put her hand to her mouth, “That was our hotel!” she said horrified. “You must be clairvoyant.” “You get that way after awhile. We’ve got to get to a phone. I need you to place a call to Assistant Director Garza. Make up a name. If they want to know why you’re calling, tell them you’re a tenant at the hotel Malaga. Use one of your famous accents.” They walked until they found a small diner, and ducked inside. Brand asked in Spanish where the phone was. The waitress pointed to the back. “Next to the restrooms,” she replied in Spanish.” Brand inserted some coins and handed the phone to Susan. “When he comes on the line, hand me the phone.” Susan did as Brand had instructed. When Garza answered, “This is Assistant Director Garza, may I help you?…Susan handed the phone to Brand. “Put the phone on the scrambler,” Brand said in Spanish. “Hold on.” He came back on the line in seconds. “Thank God you’re all right. Where are you?” he asked whispering. “Never mind. We’ve got to meet.” “Where?” “Take a cab to 12th and Mulberry, and start walking north, I’ll find you.” “I’ll be there at twelve-thirty,” Garza said and hung up. “Now what?” Susan asked. “In about an hour we’re going to have a talk with my esteemed friend, the Assistant Director of the FBI.” Brand watched from a narrow, dirty garbage alley as Garza exited the cab and walked in his direction. Brand ordered Susan to hide behind a dumpster a few feet away. Brand sidled up against the wall of a crusted brick building, when Garza passed he reached out from behind him and grabbed him around the neck with his forearm and pulled him back into the alley. Brand had put just enough pressure on Garza’s windpipe so that he couldn’t speak, and then placed his Beretta against his temple. “I’m going to
    • 102J.Cross/Stone - release my grip slightly, but if you make a move, friend or no friend, I’ll blow your brains out. Comprehende?” Garza nodded and then said without moving a muscle, “Are you crazy? This is me, Tony.” “Right now, you’re the enemy.” Brand said and released him. “Turn around.” Susan appeared from behind the dumpster, and watched from a safe distance. “You’ve got thirty seconds to explain, or I explain to your wife and kids why you’re not coming home for dinner tonight.” There was only one man on the planet that Garza would never fuck with, and he was standing in front of him now. “You think I had something to do with this? If you do, then shoot me now,” he said rubbing his throat. “Don’t move, Tony,” Brand warned. “Fuck you. Shoot.” “Are you armed?” “I don’t carry a weapon when I go out to lunch.” But Garza opened his jacket anyway. “Take it off and turn around.” Garza complied. “Satisfied. “No. Lift your shirt up above your chest, you might be bugged.” “And you might be crazy.” “Maybe crazy, but alive.” Garza was clean. “Go over there and sit on that orange crate,” Brand ordered. Garza sat down. “Of all the people in the world, why would you do this to me?” “Because you’re being used as a dupe. You didn’t pull any strings to get this case, the Director told you to take.” “You’re right,” Garza said. “I was trying to make you feel like we were partners again.” “With partners like you, who needs enemies.” Brand then turned to Susan and said, “You’re looking at a man that was meaner and tougher than me, now he’s just a dumb ox sitting on an orange crate.”
    • 103J.Cross/Stone - “You said he was your best friend, so why are you treating him like this?” she asked confused about what was going on. “Because he got stupid and lazy.” Garza just held his down. “He’s right, Mrs. Stone.” “Would like to know the truth, Tony?” Garza nodded. “Before President Nolan left office, he forced the then Director to give you this job. He knew you were getting married, and wanted you to be safe. When the new Director was appointed he kept you on because he felt you were too dangerous to be in the field. You were your own man, and he couldn’t have that, so he put a choker on you with a very short leash, and he domesticated you in no time. And now he’s using you to get to me, and Mrs. Stone. You were the only who knew where Mrs. Stone had gone. I told you, myself. And you were the only who knew what safe house we were in. It was you who told the Director.” “All that you say is true,” he said finally raising his head with tears in his eyes. “How can I make this up?” “Become the man that was my friend, my partner, my brother.” Garza nodded, wiping the tears away with the shirtsleeve of his arm. “This morning, before you called, I found out that four of our agents had not reported in.” “The Director should have sent better, they were amateurs.” “If he would have asked me, I would have told him so.” Brand broke into a huge smile, and then laughed. Susan sighed in relief. “I will take out the Director,” Garza said in a deep, angry growl.” “There will be time enough for that, but first we must find out what the Director knows. Play the dupe for now. If you remember, we were good at it. We were the best, and it kept us alive.” Garza nodded again. “I must have a safe phone for us to communicate.” “I’ll get you one.” “Tony?”
    • 104J.Cross/Stone - “If you don’t trust me, then shoot me. I would prefer that than you thinking I was your enemy.” “Alright, have your wife bring it to this address.” “My wife?” “You want me to trust you?” “Okay,” Garza conceded. “When and where?” Brand handed him the address where he and Susan had spent the night. “By eight o’clock, tonight.” “It will be done.” Brand went over to his friend who sat slumped on the crate, and lifted him up. “It is times like these that makes men out of all of us,” he smiled into Garza’s eyes. “Now go, your lunch is finished.” Garza left with a burning desire to kill Director Thames. But Brand was right, this was not the time. He wondered if he would ever be able to get over the betrayal that he felt and now burned inside of him -- innocent, or not.” Brand wracked his brain trying to find a place that he and Susan would be safe. A name suddenly jumped into his mind -- Father Antonio Salvi. But he was no longer a young Vatican priest, he was now a Bishop, and the Vatican Ambassador to Washington D.C. Brand hailed a cab, and instructed the driver to go to the Vatican Embassy. “The Vatican Embassy?” Susan enquired. “I have a friend there.” “It appears you have many friends,” she said. “Not as many as I would like, especially now.” “You have, at least, one friend, “ she said and turned Brand’s face toward hers and kissed him passionately. “Thank God for that,” he said as the feelings from the night before flooded his mind and heart. “Will you marry me?” he asked softly in her ear. “Well, I do declare! Isn’t this a little sudden?” “Then, I withdraw my offer.”
    • 105J.Cross/Stone - “You better not,” she said slapping his arm, feigning anger. “I accept, before you can take it back,” and smiled at him. “Before we can have cans rattling around behind our car, we’re in for a dangerous ride.” “You think I don’t know that?” she said and kissed him again. The cab pulled up in front of the Vatican Embassy. Brand and Susan got out and walked up to a towering wrought gate Two men were dressed in suits standing just inside of the gate. One of them asked, “May I help you?” “I would like to see Father Salvi,” Brand said. “Do you mean, Bishop Salvi?” one of the men asked suspiciously. “I’m sorry. Yes, Bishop Salvi,” Brand said apologetically. “Whom shall I say is asking?” “Oh… tell him, Michael Brand.” One of the men pushed a button inside a small security booth, and spoke into the intercom. A minute later, a loud voice must have answered, because the young man held the phone away from his ear. The man pushed another button, and the gate opened. “I guess the Bishop will see you,” he said perplexed. He and Susan walked toward the stately Vatican Embassy, and started up the steps. Just then the door bolted open and Bishop Salvi rushed out. “Michael… Michael is that you?” he asked running toward them. “None other,” Brand said. The bishop almost knocked him over as he embraced him. “Michael, Michael,” he said holding Brand’s arms, “it’s so good to see you.” Susan just stood there in amazement, and Brand felt slightly embarrassed. “Come in, come in. And who is this lovely lady?” “My name is Susan Stone,” she answered. “She’s the widow of Jamieson Stone, the worldwide news anchor.” “Ah, yes, I never missed his broadcast. Such a tragedy. My condolences,” he said and bowed. “What brings you here?” he asked Brand narrowing his eyes. “We need a safe place to stay,” he said bluntly.
    • 106J.Cross/Stone - “Me casa, su casa,” the bishop said. “But let us go into the parlor where we can talk.” The bishop sat down in his favorite chair, and leaned toward them anxiously. Brand and Susan sat next to each other on a soft burgundy sofa across from him. “So, why after more than five years have you decided to visit your old friend?… Don’t bother, I can guess, you are in trouble? Evil follows you like an ill wind. Am I wrong?” “No, Father…I mean, Bishop…” The bishop interrupted. “Please! Call me, Antonio.” “It’s been so many years, and now you are now an Ambassador…these surroundings…” “Forget them. You almost died because of Heaven’s mission. We are more than friends, we are brother’s. You think I can forget what we went through?” he asked, his voice turning sad. “What did you go through?” Susan asked. “I’m sure that the bishop can explain it all latter,” Brand said and patted her leg. “But first, we must know if we have a place to stay.” “I already said that you did. But that does not answer the question, does it? “No, it doesn’t,” Brand said. “There is an evil forming, and if I am correct, it intends to dominate the world.” “Whatever I can do, just ask.” “Aside from a place to stay. You are a very active Bishop…a respected person on the political scene in Washington. You attend parties. You hear things. General Radcliff introduced you to the most powerful people in the seats of our government. I need your help.” “And you shall have it. What do you want me to do?” “There is a retirement gathering for a General Lester tomorrow night, I would like you to attend.” “I have already planned on it. What else?” “General Radcliff will be there.” “Excellent. It will be good to see him.” “He’s going to be on mission. I would like you to be part of that mission.”
    • 107J.Cross/Stone - “Of course,” he said without hesitation. “I want you to call the General. You can coordinate your efforts.” “I’ll call him as soon as we’re finished.” Brand sighed a note of relief. “By the way, do you know a man by the name of Professor Zlatamir?” “Of course, he’s a well respected man in certain circles.” “What circles?” “Military mostly. Why?” “Because, I expect that he’s behind this, or is playing a major role.” “I’m glad you came to me, Michael.” “Your Excellency, you were my last hope.” “You can not bring yourself to call me, Antonio, can you?” “I guess not,” Brand said. “Then call me whatever you wish. It makes no difference.” “I have to go out later,” Brand said. “Maybe, if you are willing, you can explain ‘the miracle in the sky’ to Susan. She’s most interested.” “I’ll do my best…Dinner will be served at seven. Will you be available?” “I must leave at seven, but I should be back by nine.” “I’ll have a hot meal waiting for you,” the bishop said. “Father Guido will show you to your rooms, that is, if there’s nothing else.” Brand hesitated, and then said, “Mrs. Stone and I are to be married.” “Until then, Michael, “the bishop said, “you will have separate rooms on the second floor. But I must warn you that no one on that floor will be patrolling,” the bishop said, and smiled. Brand entered Susan’s room just before seven. She was dressed in comfortable tan slacks and a pink blouse. Brand was dressed in black slacks and a black turtleneck. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he said. “Do what you have to do, I’ll be waiting,” she said and hugged him and then kissed him. “I love you, and don’t forget it.” “How can I when my body and heart keeps reminding me.”
    • 108J.Cross/Stone - “Right answer,” and then she kissed him again. “I wouldn’t want to live if anything should happen to you,” Susan said, and immediately wished she hadn’t. “So, don’t lose your focus. I know how important that is to you.” “Because I love you, I’ll be especially careful.” The night was crisp as Brand exited the embassy, and dark clouds were gathering just east of the city. He hailed a taxi, and had it stop two blocks from his destination. He looked at his red digital watch; it was seven-thirty. He walked to the tenement, scrambled up to the second floor, and hid in the shadows awaiting Mrs. Garza. At ten minutes to eight, a figure appeared at their door, twisted the knob and entered. Within seconds, the figure emerged, and hurried down the stairs. Brand waited a few seconds, listening for any other footsteps, and then crept silently in to the room. The moonlight revealed a package on the table, he inspected it. It was a cellular phone wrapped in a piece of paper. It was too dark, so he took it and hurried down the steps watching for any suspicious intruders, there wasn’t any. Bishop Salvi had set up dinner on a in a small room next to his bedroom. It was seven o’clock. He called down for the one of the priest’s to see if Mrs. Stone was ready. In minutes, the priest ushered her in to the bishop’s private quarters. Bishop Salvi stood up, as Susan Stone entered. “Is everything to your satisfaction?” he asked. “Everything is perfect,” she said and looked at the table. It was an elegant setting for two. Embroidered lace graced the table, and a single red rose in a crystal vase stood in the center. Mrs. Stone sat down opposite the bishop, and the bishop did likewise. “We’re having quail and wild rice with a Sicilian salad. I hope that meets with your approval? What kind of wine would you like?” “Please choose for us,” she said graciously. Salvi walked over to a cabinet and selected a bottle of Merlot. “I hope this is to your liking?” “I’m sure it’ll be perfect, Bishop.” Salvi said, “I know you must have many questions. Michael is not one much for talking…Before dinner arrives, maybe you would like to ask something?”
    • 109J.Cross/Stone - “I have a thousand questions,” she smiled. “But only a few will do. How did you and Michael become such good friends?” “It goes back ten years,” he said. “Do you remember the assassination of Pope Francis, and what was called ‘the miracle in the sky’?” “The assassination was such a tragedy, but quite frankly, I never paid much attention to what you call ‘the miracle in the sky’. My husband said it was an anomaly, and it meant nothing.” “Then he did not do his homework, or he considered it, as many did, a mass hysteria. But the results cannot be disputed. Our mission was to end the drug trafficking around the world, which has been reduced by at least ninety percent, and as for the children, almost ninety-nine percent.” “My husband said that it was as a result of superstition.” “That is what many believe. As for Michael’s part, he was one of four men picked by Heaven to become a part of that mission.” “Michael?” she asked, as she sipped on her glass of Merlot. And who were the others?” “Michael, and some who shall remain unknown for now.” “What was Michael’s part in all this?” “He diverted the drug cartels until such time that Heaven could make itself known.” “It sounds all too mysterious for me?” “Michael was almost killed, he has two bullet wounds as a testament to his participation.” “He was an under cover agent for Army Intelligence. It was his job.” “When his son died from an accidental overdose of cocaine and bourbon, he tried to commit suicide and almost succeeded. It was then that Senator Artemis and the Pope gave him a mission to live.” “It is still a mystery to me,” she said. “And, too me, as well. But, I will tell you this Mrs. Stone… Michael has been blessed by Heaven. Who can say why he was chosen,” Salvi said. “But, I believe that Michael is still protected by the angels.”
    • 110J.Cross/Stone - “I was raised as a Baptist. Angels were not a part of my religion.” “This is all that I will say to you about the subject, except that the Angel of Death still protects him.” “The Angel of Death? I now have more questions than answers.” “I’m sure Michael feels the same.” A priest brought in the food, interrupting their conversation, and served it as if they were in one of the finest restaurants in Washington. The meal was sumptuous. Little was spoken during dinner. “I can understand now,” Susan said, “why he feels so guilty about his son.” “He feels guilty about much in his life.” “That much I know from what he has told me. But, let me make it clear, Bishop, I love him more than I do my own life.” “Then maybe, you can do what Heaven has not been able to do. You say that you cannot understand the mystery of the ‘miracle in the sky’, then how can you understand the mystery that causes you to love Michael in such short a time?” “I don’t know, but I know that I do.” “Love is truly a mystery, Mrs. Stone. Isn’t it?” Their dinner and conversation was at an end. Susan graciously thanked him and went to her room. Her mind was unsettled with the conversation with the bishop, but realized that life was not something that just passed by, but it was something that had to be chosen every second. She knew, only one thing, that she loved Michael more than she had ever loved anyone… and that truly was a mystery. Michael entered her room about ten minutes later. She jumped up at him, and held him close and kissed him all over her face. “It hasn’t been that long. Are you all right?” he asked. She just said, “I missed you that’s all. Did you get what you needed it?” “I’m not sure, “ he said, taking the wrapped phone from his pocket and laying it on a small desk. As he unwrapped it he saw a note written on the paper it was wrapped in. Brand read it: “This phone is a special issue, untraceable, and with a scrambler feature, but the best way for us to communicate is over a special website that I’ve
    • 111J.Cross/Stone - programmed at home and personally encrypted. The encoded password is five numbers less two, starting with 102. For short messages the phone is sufficient. For longer messages, use the website and type in ‘www. happybirthday.com’. I won’t be able to answer. If my website is bugged, they can trace my response. Signed G.” Susan read the message over his shoulder. “Everything is cloak and dagger with you guys, “ she said. “Cloak and dagger? This is spook talk.” “I don’t get it.” “It’s a way for under cover specialist to communicate without giving away their positions. But, if someone really wants to track us bad enough, they can, so we’ll have to change the website at least once a week. Next week it’ll be my turn, assuming I have a computer.” “I’m sure there’s one in the Embassy,” Susan said. “If we’re here that long. The untraceable scrambler phone should last a week, and the website e-mail another. We’ve got plenty of time. I intend to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.” “How?” “General Radcliff is going to a meeting tomorrow. It may reveal some interesting information. Bishop Salvi is also attending.”
    • 112J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 12 Radcliff had been provided with a limousine for General J. P. Lester’s retirement party. He was dressed in full uniform, medals and all. Radcliff, with the use of his cane, assaulted the few steps into the Pentagon. A lieutenant rushed a wheel chair over to him as he entered. “Not tonight, son,” he said, and strode to the elevator. The party was on the fifth floor. Radcliff struggled down the corridor to a registration table, signed in and handed his cane to a corporeal standing guard. “Watch this with your life,” he commanded and smiled. “Yes, sir. It’ll be waiting whenever you’re ready,” he said. Radcliff entered, hoping he had summoned up enough of his strength to walk upright and steady. He was on a mission, he reminded himself, and that gave him an invigorated strength. As he cautiously walked through the crowd, and saluted the lesser- ranked army veterans, his legs began feeling stronger. He would not let Brand down; there was information to be had, and he would have it before the night was out. He collared a Colonel that was passing by, “Can you tell this old grunt where he’s to sit?” The colonel looked around. “There you are” he pointed “two rows from the podium, a nice table, Sir. Table six, would you like me escort you?” “No thanks. I think I’ll mill around a bit first.”
    • 113J.Cross/Stone - “Have a good time, General,” the Colonel said and left to attend to other’s entering into the room. Radcliff was not only feeling strong, but in fact, he was feeling ornery. He pushed his way around the room until he found General Lester who was sitting up front, laughing uproariously. “You finally found something to laugh at, you old dog,” Radcliff said. “Ratzo,” Lester said, still laughing. “Sit down.” “Call me that again and won’t live to see you retirement.” “Don’t be touchy. Have a seat.” “I’m at table six.” “Forget it, you’re sitting with me, now sit sown.” Radcliff conceded, feeling that this was his first break. Whoever was attending would come by for short conversations. “Are you going to miss the action?” Radcliff asked Lester. “What action? I’m going fishing with my grandkids…the only thing I hate about tonight is that I have to give a speech. Hell, after this champagne, I don’t think that I’ll be able to remember a word.” “Don’t worry about it. Just ad-lib like you’ve always done.” “Right you are,” Lester said. “Bring me another glass of that bubbly,” he roared. For the next fifteen minutes, Radcliff sat silent and watched and listened to the men who ventured close with one liner’s that was supposed to mean something. Radcliff had gone through a similar party when he had retired and thought it was all absurd. Suddenly, a face he had never expected to see presented itself. It was Professor Zlatamir. “You must feel very proud after serving your country for so many years.” Lester cooled down to almost frigid. “My country is the only thing,” he said sternly to Zlatamir.” “I understand, General.” “No you don’t. Who in the fuck invited you anyway?” “Why your Pentagon of course. I have many friends here,” he said. “Well, I’m not one of them, and it’s my party. So, keep your distance.” “I only came over to congratulate you.” “Thanks. Now beat it,” Lester said unceremoniously.
    • 114J.Cross/Stone - Zlatamir left seemingly unfazed by the exchange. “You don’t like him?” Radcliff asked. “That Commie bastard, he’s got the entire Pentagon all excited about a new missile shield that will never work.” “How do you know it won’t work?” Radcliff asked. “Because, it just won’t work. There’s too many ways to thwart it. All the enemy has to do is to expend hundred of pieces of simple tin foil from the cone of their missile into the atmosphere, and once again into outer space, and our missiles won’t know what’s a target or not.” “So, why haven’t you been vocal about it?” “I’ve been screaming to high heaven, but no one’s listening. The Joint Chief’s believe that just by putting something up there it will deter the rest of the rogue nations.” “You don’t believe it?” “That’s one of the main reason’s I’m retiring. This world is turning to shit, and I’m going to spend the rest of my time with my kids and grandkids.” “If what you say is true, then you’re grandkids are in for one hell of a world. Sounds a little selfish to me.” General Lester’s eyes glared. “Come on, let’s take a leak.” Lester and Radcliff walked through the crowd as many slapped the general on the back wishing him well. A couple of restrooms came into view. “Not these,” Lester said. “There’s a private one around the corner.” Lester inserted a plastic card into a plain door.” We won’t be bothered in here.” “What’s up J.P.?” Radcliff asked as the door clicked shut. Lester checked the bathroom, making sure they were alone. “Have you heard about a black-ops project known as the ‘Cipher of Satan’?” “No,” Radcliff said, but it doesn’t sound angelic.” “It’s not. A memo accidentally ran across my desk. They’re going to equip the space station with six special weapons directed so that they cover the planet.” “Nuclear?”
    • 115J.Cross/Stone - “No. I’m not sure what they are. But whatever they are, they’re more deadly. I can assure you of that. It’s Zlatamir’s brain child.” “You have no idea what’s going on?” “I can only tell you that the Russians and the Chinese are part of it.” “What part of our government have they partnered with?” “Not sure. My guess is the NSA (National Security Agency).” “Why?” “It was in a NSA envelope. I destroyed it immediately; it was obviously not meant for me. Good thing I did, because my desk and files were ransacked by the next morning. Later that day, General Ramsey casually stopped by and asked if I had seen a memo from the NSA. I said that I hadn’t seen anything, but if something should show, I would let him know immediately. He said it was in a manila envelope for him and stamped ‘Eyes Only’.” “Was it?” “Of course, that’s why I destroyed it.” “So, what’s your best guess?” “Beats me. But whatever it is, it isn’t good.” “How do you know?” “I read the damn memo that’s why.” “So give,” Radcliff said. “What else did it say?” “It said that the weapons would be deployed within two months with the Russians and Chinese full cooperation.” “Why do you assume that they’re not nuclear weapons?” “If they were nuclear it would have to be approved by the President. This is a black-ops, as covert as I’ve ever seen.” “Did you report it to anyone?” “Are you crazy? I told you I want to go fishing with my grandkids. Besides, there’s no one left that I can really trust, except for you, and you’re retired.” “So, you’re just walking out?” “Damn rights. I’m telling you because you have no family. I just served the ball into your court.”
    • 116J.Cross/Stone - “So, what can I do?” “Stop them. Damn it. Stop them!” “We better get back to your retirement party,” Radcliff said. “I’ll do what I can.” Bishop Salvi entered General Lester’s retirement party as if he were a celebrity. Corporals and Colonels fussed over him, taking his coat and trying to show him to his table. “I’ll just say hello to a few friends first, if you don’t mind?” “Of course not,” one of the Colonels said. Salvi made his way around the room looking for Radcliff, as he did, he was greeted by Generals, Senators, and Congressmen alike. There were at least two hundred in attendance, most of which he had met at one time or another. He grabbed a small sandwich from a passing waiter, a salmon and mayonnaise, which tasted stale. Three Senators cornered him and asked if he agreed with providing funds to religious groups that worked for the social needs of their community. “We are all God’s children. We must take care of them, and educate them as to the evils and morals of this world.” “Whose morals?” one of the Senator’s asked. “Those that your Congress people can agree upon,” he responded. Salvi had learned the art of politics better than any of his predecessors. He was not about to engage in a moral or religious debate. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye he saw Radcliff and Lester emerging from a hallway into the main room. “Excuse me, gentlemen, I wish to offer my congratulations to General Lester.” The group nodded and Salvi made his way to their table just as they sat down. “General Lester,” Salvi said with bravado. “Such an auspicious occasion for such an auspicious man.” “Ah, Bishop. I’m glad you could make it,” Lester said. “And, you, General Radcliff, what a pleasure to see you again after so many years.”
    • 117J.Cross/Stone - Radcliff nodded. As Sherlock Holmes would have put it, “The games afoot,” Radcliff said to himself. “Good to see you, Bishop. I understand that you’re being considered for Cardinal.” “Then you must have the Pope’s ear. If offered, I would most graciously decline.” “Why’s that?” Radcliff asked. “Because, there is a mission left unfinished.” “And what mission is that your Excellency?” Lester asked. “Evil, General. Evil comes in many forms. But this is a conversation for another day. Tonight we celebrate your distinguished career.” “Career yes… but distinguished?” the words slurred. “The night is young, be careful of the champagne.” “Right you are, Bishop.” Lester shouted for another bottle. Radcliff asked. “Bishop, would you be so kind as to help this old man to the restroom?” “Of course. Can you lead the way?” “Follow me,” Radcliff said. As they turned the corner into the hallway, Radcliff sped ahead past the restroom until he found a private area to speak, and waited for Salvi to catch up. “It’s Zlatamir. He’s behind what ever is going on, and General Ramsey as well. I saw him earlier floating around,” Radcliff said, hardly able to contain himself. “I’ve talked to Brand. He also believes Zlatamir’s involved, but why Ramsey?” “It’s too complicated to go into right now. But there is a black-ops in progress, and Ramsey is deeply involved. It’s called ‘The Cipher of Satan’. Ramsey hates my guts, maybe you can get something out of him. The Russians and Chinese have signed a pact with our NSA to help equip our space station with weapons, but they’re not nuclear. Something insidious is going on, and we’ve got to find out what.” “Black-ops are part of our defense’s daily operation. Why do you assume it’s anything but?” Salvi asked, wanting Radcliff to defend his position. “Brand’s instincts are never wrong, plus I confirmed it with General Lester, who wants nothing to do with it. So, it’s up to us.” “And you’re positive that Zlatamir is involved?”
    • 118J.Cross/Stone - “Up to his eye-teeth.” “Alright,” Salvi said, “I’ll see what I can find out. There’s one thing that I do believe, Brand’s instincts are never wrong. That’s why I called you.” “What about mine?” “Yours have always depended on Brand’s. With the exception of Ramsey, Brand concurs that Zlatamir is pivotal.” “Then find out for yourself what this ‘Cipher of Satan’ is all about.” “I intend to,” Salvi said. “Be careful. If they suspect you know something, they’ll kill you.” Salvi smiled at him. “You think General that I’m that stupid?” “No. I think that you’re that naïve.” “I’ve been told that before. Remember one thing, General Radcliff, I have been chosen by Heaven to fight evil. And so has Brand. Before this night is over, I will know if evil threatens this world. And if so, I will give my life to stop it.” “So, will I,” Radcliff said. “You’re not the only saint around here,” he said offended. Salvi had only one parting statement, “Saints come, and saints go, but evil always remains. And, tonight, I intend to find out what you and Brand believe to be true.” “Then God bless you, Antonio Salvi.” The Bishop then left Radcliff to find out for himself what was real, or imagined. He returned alone back into the main room, General Lester’s head rested on his folded arms. Dinner was just being served. Salvi searched for Zlatamir. He was conveniently sitting with General Ramsey. Salvi approached the table and said, “It looks as if my seat has been given away, do you mind if I join you?” Zlatamir was the first to speak. “Please, Bishop, we would love to have your company.” “Thank you,” Salvi said and sat down in the only empty seat. Within seconds, a Colonel appeared with a plate of food. “I guess this place is taken,” he said, and trotted off to find another seat. “Bishop,” Zlatamir asked, “Do you find that this sort of thing has it’s place?”
    • 119J.Cross/Stone - “Do you mean, is it appropriate to honor a man who has dedicated his life in the service of his country?” “Bishop,” Zlatamir ignored his answer and asked another question, “Do you consider that arbitrary boundaries constitute a country?” “Are you referring to lines on a map?” “How about ideological boundaries?” “Depends upon the boundaries and the ideology,” he answered cagily. “I’m sure you’re aware that the Church supported the Nazis in the early days of the war, and gave up many Jews to the holocaust?” “It is a fact, however not totally supported by the evidence, but can be construed as true.” “As a spiritual man, would you consider a world without war, hunger or pestilence a holy place?” “Are you referring to the Garden of Eden?” “In a way, I guess I am.” “In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were tempted by the devil against God’s wishes.” “But, in so doing, they gained knowledge, is that not true?” “What is knowledge?” the Bishop answered. “And what about free will. Should we just dismiss it as one of God’s mistakes?” “You are too clever, by far, Bishop. What has free will gained us, except the warring of nation against nation. Could you not imagine a world without strife?” “And if so,” Salvi replied, “what would this world look like?” “A paradise of course. Everything and everyone in their place.” “Subject to whom or what?” “Order, of course. Something that your God has not taken into account.” “What do you propose? A world of automatons, subject to a world order without free will?” “If free will destroys a planet, then why not a world order that insures its security and tranquility?” “And who shall insure this tranquility? A world dictator?”
    • 120J.Cross/Stone - “If need be to save ourselves from our own ignorance.” “Ignorance and free will is our manifest destiny.” “Even to the destruction of the planet?” “If that is the result, then so be it. There are many houses in God’s mansion, and there is a universe of galaxies for Him to choose from.” “We are talking about this planet, Bishop Salvi.” “And so am I. It is God’s will who shall prevail, not man’s.” “If man has free will, don’t be too confident.” “If man has free will, I am completely confident.” General Ramsey interrupted. “This is not the time for a religious or philosophical debate. Perhaps, the two of you would like to continue this at another time. General Lester is about to speak.” General J.P. Lester, helped by one of his aides, struggled to the podium. He swayed in front of the lectern for a minute with his aide standing close by. “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away… And I’m fading fast,” he said slurring his words. “So, I’ll make this brief…Freedom comes from the individual, not from governments or military power; and those individuals have given their life for that freedom. Be vigilant, my friends.” Lester started to sway; his aide grabbed his arm and spoke a few words to him. “It’s time for me to go…Oh, and thanks for coming,” his words trailed off as his aide ushered him from the stage. The audience erupted in applause. Radcliff wondered if the general was really that drunk. “Zlatamir was like a dog with a bone. “So, Bishop, what is the cost of freedom?” Salvi parried the question to General Ramsey. “I think the General here can answer your question better than I.” Zlatamir scowled. Ramsey was caught off guard, but quickly recovered. “Freedom is something that has always been compromised. Sometimes survival supercedes freedom. “Do you equate freedom with free will, General?” Zlatamir jumped in. “Free will is an illusion.” Salvi had heard enough. “I appreciate your words, but it is time for me to go. Five a. m. comes around quickly.”
    • 121J.Cross/Stone - Those at the table rose in respect as Salvi started to leave, except for Zlatamir who said, “We are not yet done, Bishop.” “No, I suspect we’re not,” Salvi said and smiled. He tried to find Lester, but he was nowhere in sight. He would stay far away from Radcliff. Radcliff watched the Bishop exit. Tomorrow, he would call him. No one would suspect him of anything, he had been out of the loop for too many years. For the next while he sipped on a bitter tasting cup of coffee, and watched from across the room at an animated conversation with Zlatamir at the center of it. Suddenly, his old bones told him it was time for him to go. Brand and Susan had sequestered themselves inside the Embassy. Brand had been able to find Garza’s website, but sent no messages. The next morning Brand couldn’t wait to speak with Salvi about the night before. He hoped the bishop had found out something. Later he would talk to Radcliff. The phone rang in Susan’s room. It was a priest telling her that breakfast would be served in ten minutes in the Bishop’s private quarters. Brand knocked on the bishop’s door, and a voice said, “Come in.” As he and Susan entered, Salvi was standing next to a beautifully set breakfast table. “Please, come in and sit,” Salvi said. “Would you prefer coffee or tea?” “Coffee,” Brand said. “I’ll have herbal tea, if you have it? Susan asked. “So, what about last night?” Brand asked anxiously. “You were always so impatient,” the bishop said, as he poured the coffee and tea. “I hope you had a good night’s sleep?” “Sleep, hell!” Brand said. “I’m cooped up here until I know what you’ve found out.” “Relax,” Susan said, patting his hand. “You have a calming effect on him,” the bishop said to Susan.
    • 122J.Cross/Stone - “I don’t think so, Your Excellency. He’s like a tiger in a cage searching for a piece of raw meat.” “Then let us talk about last night.” “Good,” Brand said, not so politely. “Maybe Susan can teach you some manners? On second thought, that would be too much to ask of anyone.” “Antonio,” Brand said, “this is too important for chit-chat.” “Ah, the old days finally emerge,” Salvi said and smiled. “Father…Bishop, please… you’re driving me crazy.” “Patience may be a virtue, but in your case it may be liability. I apologize. I met with Radcliff last night after he had an interesting conversation with General Lester. Have you heard of a black-ops called ‘The Cipher of Satan’?” “No, but it sounds diabolical. What is it?” “According to Lester it’s a plan to outfit the space station with weapons that would cover the world.” “Nuclear?” “No, it seems to be something more insidious. Radcliff said the Russians and Chinese are also involved.” “And what about our side? Who’s pushing it?” “Radcliff said it was General Ramsey and the NSA.” “There’s got to be more people involved than that. I know for a fact that the Director of the FBI is involved; he sent a team to have Susan killed, fortunately I was there.” “The FBI?” Salvi asked. “Are you sure?” “Absolute confirmation from Garza, he’s now the A.D.” “I know all about Garza, they’ve chained him to his desk.” “Not anymore, but that’s another story. Is there anything else?” “A lot. I intruded myself on Zlatamir and Ramsey’s table.” “That should have been interesting.” “It was, and quite an eye opener. It seems that Zlatamir is in control of whatever is about to take place.”
    • 123J.Cross/Stone - “I already knew that,” Brand said becoming impatient. “The question, Michael, is not whether he’s in control, but what he’s in control of. You don’t stamp a project with the name of Satan unless it has damnable consequences.” “So, Zlatamir scared you?” “Enough for me to say an extra rosary last night.” “Sometimes, these project names are acronyms. Perhaps, with Radcliff’s help we might be able to figure out what it stands for.” “It has to do with free will.” “Why?” “Because, Zlatamir and Ramsey were reading from the same script. Zlatamir tried several times to trap me on the meaning of free will. He’s quite intelligent, you know. But when it comes to real power, he’s an amateur.” “Are you thinking about the Angel of Death?” “Not at all, unless he truly has made a pact with the Devil, but that would take everyone involved to agree. I think that Zlatamir has the Pentagon, or at least a powerful part of it, convinced that this project is the salvation of the world.” “Knowing those idiots, it wouldn’t take much. Radcliff also suspects that there are a number of Senators involved, some of our Security Agencies, as well as a secret group of scientist within NASA.” “It would take at least that many to pull off a worldwide coup.” “I think you just hit on it. They’re planning a worldwide coup, or otherwise, why are the Russians and Chinese involved?” “You may be right, but how? Especially, if the weapons are not nuclear.” “Zlatamir has found something more deadly. And, if you’re right, it involves free will in some way.” “God will not permit it,” Salvi said in no uncertain terms. “With all due respect, Bishop, hasn’t the Catholic Church limited man’s free will by its own doctrine and dogma over the last two thousand years?” “That is different,” Salvi said, bordering on anger. “Where was the free will when Heaven decided to send the Angel of Death to help destroy the worldwide drug trade?”
    • 124J.Cross/Stone - “You were there. You know why.” “And I also know, it took a miracle to inspire a world to stop it. Is Heaven ready to commit itself as before?” “Heaven was protecting its children.” “And, is not this world acting like children?” “Not the world, but a few that want to dominate it. You were one of the chosen.” “And so were you.” “So, what do you suggest?” “Where is Gallucci?” “He’s tending a vegetable garden with my father, taking long walks among the olive trees in Sicily, and listening to Caruso while smoking Toscanos. He’s a man at peace with himself, that is more than I can say.” “Who is charge of the Mastronini Family?” “Michael, Michael this cannot be.” “Who Antonio?” “His son-in-law, John Bruzzi.” “Are they a powerful Family?” “After what happened, they became the most powerful Family in the country, but this is not the way, Michael.” “It may be the only way. We need help. Wasn’t it Gallucci who said that evil must inevitably fight against itself?” “Yes, but…” “No buts. I need to talk with John Bruzzi. Capisce?” “I will not intercede,” Salvi said. “You will make the call for my introduction with the full facts of ten years ago, and set up a time that’s convenient for him to meet with me. His wife would not be alive today, if we did not do what had to be done.” “Alright, Michael. I will do as you ask, but against my better judgment.” “So, noted,” Brand said. “You had Gallucci and the Pope to hide behind, now you have only yourself. Perhaps, Gallucci should be the Bishop.” “Your arrogance is without mercy,” Salvi said.
    • 125J.Cross/Stone - “As you said, I was a chosen warrior of Heaven. And so were you.” “You were really rough on him,” Susan said as they sat in their room. “I know I was, but that was the only way.” “What is this Family you were talking about?” “The Bruzzi Family is now the most powerful Mafia Family in the country. It was that Family that helped rid most of the world of the drugs that were killing and enslaving the children.” “The Mafia! Aren’t they criminals and dangerous?” Susan asked in horror. “And you’re going to meet with them?” “If the bishop can set it up. If he does, I want you to wait here. It’s too dangerous for us to travel together. I should be back in two days, or less. I will stay in touch.” “I thought we were partners?” “We are. But, they don’t know you. I am the one, the only one that they will talk with besides the bishop.” “The Bishop is Mafia?” “His uncle was the head of the worldwide Mafia ten years ago, until he dedicated his life to Heaven’s mission. Antonio knows that I have no choice. While I’m gone, maybe he will tell you of things that are not of this earth.” “Is this the way it’s always going to be, Michael? If it is, tell me now, so I can prepare myself for this kind of life.” “When this is over, we’ll have a family if you wish, and live long and loving together,” Brand smiled and kissed her. “I accept whatever life brings us. I said I would love you and be with you forever. That will never change. Do what you feel you must do. But if you die, I will kill you myself.” Susan tried to laugh, but couldn’t, so she just cried. Brand held her until she quieted, and then made love to her. “If I had never met you, I would not be doing this,” he said. “If you ask me, I would move to Montana and raise horses.” “And, if I did, what would happen to you and our love?” “Nothing. But what would happen to the world?”
    • 126J.Cross/Stone - “In many ways, you’re like Jamieson.” Brand squinted. “I don’t know if I like the comparison.” “Not only do you fill my heart with love, which I had never felt until I met you, but you also fill me with that same respect I had for him…Make love to me again.”
    • 127J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 13 Brand put on a priest’s black cassock over his clothes, and was driven to Dulles airport where he took an Embassy plane to New York. A clouded skyline came into view as it banked over the Statue of Liberty. The plane bounced once onto the runway and then taxied to a secluded part reserved for VIP’s. A black Lincoln limo was waiting as he deplaned. A muscular man dressed in a black suit approached him. “I shall take your bag, and escort you to the Mastronini residence.” Brand considered that they had kept the name out of respect. The black Lincoln made it’s way through the cacophony of traffic through the city, and then entered a small two-lane road. He thought about what he would say as the tires thumped over the pavement, but the words sounded so melodramatic In less than two hours, the stretch Lincoln stopped in front of a huge set of iron gates. The day was rapidly conceding into night, but he could see a large house set back against a small forest of maples. The limo parked in front of the house, Brand waited for his door to open. Within seconds the huge man opened it and he got out. The house appeared to be a large lodge. There were several Mafia soldiers standing guard as he looked around. One of the soldiers approached and asked, “Are you carrying any weapons?” “Should I?” Brand realized instantly that was the wrong thing to say. “No, I’m not,” he said and smiled. The man searched him anyway. “If you’ll please follow me,” the man said.
    • 128J.Cross/Stone - They walked up a wooden flight of steps, and another man opened the door. “He’s clean,” his escort said. Brand walked inside to the foyer of a great room, which reminded him of Susan’s lodge. He stood in the foyer, and decided to take off his cassock. A small, balding man came over and took it from him. “Please have a seat, the fire is just starting to take the chill away.” “Thank you,” Brand responded and found a comfortable chair near the stone fireplace. He was dressed in black slacks and a purple Polo shirt. He looked around the room. It was immense, yet it conveyed a cozy feeling. After several minutes, a handsome man dressed in tan slacks and a burgundy turtleneck entered the room and walked over to him. “You are Mr. Brand, I presume.” “I am,” Brand said rising from his chair. “I hope your journey was a pleasant one. I’m John Bruzzi,” he said and extended his hand. Brand shook it. “So, Mr. Brand, what is it that you want?” “Didn’t Bishop Salvi make it clear?” “No. All he asked was that we listen to what you have to say.” “In that case, I hardly know where to begin.” Just then a beautiful woman stepped in from a side door off the main room, and stared at him. “Why don’t you start at the beginning, Mr. Brand?” “Do you want me to go back ten years when the Angel of Death entered this room, and decapitated one of the Mafia bosses’? Or, should I say that you are alive today because Don Mastronini believed in Don Gallucci and his mission from Heaven?” Brand was in no mood to play games. “I’m sorry,” she said. “My name is Anna Bruzzi, and this is my husband. I know that my father, if he were alive, would thank you for what you did. My father and my Godfather, Don Gallucci left me a letter. It contained four names, and yours was one of them. It said that whatever you ask I am to grant. This Family is now called the Bruzzi Family because that was my father’s wishes, but it was my Godfather, Gallucci who put me in charge. My husband has accepted this, and we are partners in the running of this
    • 129J.Cross/Stone - Family. But when it comes to the four names, I, and I alone, make the decisions. So, what is it that you need?” “Like before, the world is threatened by evil. I don’t know if you can help, but I come in hopes that we may find a way.” “Please tell me,” Anna said, and sat down next to the roaring fire. Brand told her everything he knew, and suspected. It took him forty-five minutes to relate all the details. “So, how can we help, Mr. Brand?” “Please, call me, Michael,” he said. “I don’t know exactly, but there must be a way…The NSA, Army Intelligence, the FBI, a group of Senators, and a secret cabal of NASA scientists are involved. I suspect more, but I’m not sure, except, as I said before, the Russians and Chinese are involved.” “This is truly complicated,” she said. “It is not only complicated, but exceedingly dangerous to our way of life on this planet. I believe, as I said, that they plan to take over… a worldwide coup that will render our free will useless. If they are successful, we’ll be nothing more than automatons subject to a new world order.” “This, of course, we cannot tolerate.” “It is urgent that we find out who these Senators are, and to uncover the intention of this black-op project that is referred to as ‘The Cipher of Satan’.” “We have Senatorial connections, as well as, FBI connections. But it will take a few days to find out the exact purpose of this project, assuming that we can.” “Whatever information you can uncover will be most gratefully appreciated. But there is another matter,” Brand said. “And, what is that?” Anna asked. “I need five of your best men to help me invade the Pentagon and uncover classified materials.” “You mean a Watergate?” “Let’s pray not. But it is most imperative. I have help to get into the Pentagon, but I need an efficient team. I came to you, because there is no one else I can trust.” “Who is your contact man?” Anna asked.
    • 130J.Cross/Stone - “General Radcliff, Army Intelligence, retired.” “Don Gallucci also listed his name. He wrote that he was a man to be trusted. When do you need this help?” “As soon as you’re able to get me the information that I spoke about.” Anna turned to her husband, “Do you have any questions?” “What if we get caught?” “It won’t make any difference, we’ll all be slaves then. Guns and insurrection will be of no use. We have a short window to stop, what I believe to be, the worldwide domination of the planet.” “And what if you’re wrong?” John Bruzzi asked. “Then life goes on as usual, but what if I’m right? Bishop Salvi believes that I am right, or else he would not have set up this meeting. “Enough,” Anna said. “We will comply. How long can you stay?” “Forty-eight hours, or I begin alone.” Brand thought about leaving Susan alone for that long, and asked. “Is it possible to bring my fiancée here, she’s staying at the Embassy with Bishop Salvi.” Anna looked at her watch. “Would tomorrow morning be all right?” “If you weren’t married I’d kiss you, in the Sicilian tradition of course.” “That won’t be necessary, she’ll be here in the morning. I’ll make arrangements with Bishop Salvi.” “Thank you,” Brand said. The next morning, just before nine o’clock, Susan arrived. He met her at the door, and they held each other for more than five minutes. Anna watched, and then stepped forward into the main room. “I remember when love was so touching. After you freshen up, Mrs. Stone, you might entice Michael to walk with you around the grounds. Everything is perfectly safe here. My name is Anna, whatever you need, don’t hesitate to ask.” “Thank you for everything, please call me Susan. You can’t imagine how grateful I am.”
    • 131J.Cross/Stone - “I’m sure we’ll be great friends. Now, have Michael show you to your room. I have provided whatever you may need. If not, please call me. I look forward to spending time with you, woman to woman.” “This is quite a surprise, Michael,” Susan said. “Bishop Salvi was in mood to talk, and the thought of you being in danger was making me crazy.” “I only had you brought here because I know you’ll be safe. In two days I must leave, but at least you’ll have someone to talk with.” “Where are you going? And for how long?” “Twenty-four hours, but it’s better that you don’t know where. If I get caught, I don’t want you implicated.” Susan sat down on the bed and folded her hands neatly on her lap. “My life had been one of boring duty, I use to pray that it were different. I guess we should be careful of what we pray for.” “Are you sorry you met me?” Brand asked. “My only regret is that I did not meet you sooner.” Brand sat down next to her, and held her close. “This will all be over soon, and then our life will probably settle down to a mild roar. Try to get some rest. I need to talk to Anna.” “She’s very beautiful.” “And very married.” Brand cocked his head toward her. “Are you jealous?” “Not really,” she said tentatively. She’s also the head of the most powerful Mafia Family in the country.” “A woman?” “Gallucci put her in charge. There was no one else he could trust. Her husband didn’t have the experience.” “And how did she get it?” “I guess it runs in the family. Mastronini was a brilliant and fearless man.” Brand kissed her gently, and made his way down the stairs to the main living room. It was empty. Brand looked around and tried to imagine the events that Antonio had described the night when the Angel of Death made its appearance. He couldn’t.
    • 132J.Cross/Stone - Anna walked into the room with the muscular man who had picked him up at the airport. “This is Georgi, you’ve already met. He’ll be leading the team, but you will be in charge. Our Consigliatories are meeting with our contacts tonight, maybe, we shall have news by morning.” “I know this may sound like a stupid question, but how can you be sure that your contacts can be trusted.” “It is not a stupid question, but let me just say that they value their lives and the lives of their families. Our Consigliatories are most capable at asking questions. If they feel they are being lied to, or misled, that contact will not see the sunrise.” “I see,” Brand said, and wondered if he might not have made a good Capo if he had been born Sicilian. “Then we wait. But I must use a secure phone to call Radcliff.” Anna pointed to a door. “It’s a small library with such a phone.” “Thank you,” he said, and went into the room. He dialed Radcliff’s number, and waited for him to answer. “Radcliff here.” “General, it’s Michael.” “I’ve been waiting for your damn call. Where are you? The Embassy said you had left, and Salvi was in his private quarters saying mass.” “I’m in New York at the Mastronini compound.” “What the hell are you doing there?” “Trying to save the world, if that doesn’t sound to grandiose.” “Not after what I’ve learned.” “Salvi had quite a bit to say about the other night. He told me what General Lester had said to you.” “That’s the just the beginning…” Brand interrupted. “You’re phone might be bugged.” “I’ll have to take that chance. Are you on a secure line?” “Yes.” “Well, at least this conversation can’t be traced to you.” “I’ll be back in D.C. in two days. Can it wait?” “Hell no.”
    • 133J.Cross/Stone - “Okay, so what have you got?” “The Pentagon, NSA, Army Intelligence, NASA scientists, and the FBI, as you suspected are all involved; maybe the CIA as well. This thing runs deep and is well covered under the Act of multi-national cooperation in regards to the space station. An old crony at Army Intelligence, who doesn’t know squat, said that there was a high level meeting with the Russians and Chinese that will take place in two days. He didn’t know where.” “I’m making an unscheduled visit to the Pentagon, and I need your help.” “When?” “About Polaris time.” The star Polaris represented midnight. It was one of the codes that he and the General had cooked up. Polaris will be waxing for the next three nights. Can you have access ready for all three nights?” Radcliff thought for a minute. “The infirmary will be your best bet.” “I’ll need access cards to the higher floors.” “How many?” “Six.” “I’ll have them sent overnight. You should receive them before noon tomorrow. My old crony should be able to handle that.” “Can you trust him?” “I don’t have to. To them, he’s like an old broom standing in a dark closet. Besides, General Lester is in charge of Army Intelligence until the end of the week. I’ll call him on a safe phone, if there’s such a thing anymore.” “Thanks, General. I owe you.” “You owe me to stay alive, you son-of-a-bitch.” Ten minutes after the phone call, all of General Radcliff’s phones were bugged. Brand went back into the main room, Susan was heading down the stairs toward him. Anna and her husband were sitting next to the fireplace. Brand looked out of the window and saw a cadre of gardeners bundled up protecting them from a chilled wind. Susan reached the main floor, and sidled up to Brand with her arm around his waist. “Want to take a walk?” she asked. In a few minutes, sweetheart, but you better get a coat, it’s a little cold out there.”
    • 134J.Cross/Stone - Brand asked Anna, “Do you have a computer I can use?” “It’s in the library as well.” Brand hadn’t noticed. “Would like to come, or stay here by the fire?” he asked Susan. “I want to be with you,” she said. Anna smiled, and reached over and patted her husband’s leg. He was deep into reading the newspaper and didn’t respond. Brand took Susan and went back into the library and found the computer and clicked it on. The computer whizzed alert faster than any he had operated. He typed in Garza’s website, it popped up almost instantly with a page full of birthday decorations. Brand clicked on to ‘Special Events’, and another page appeared on the screen. An arrow pointed to ‘Make your selection’. He clicked again, this time an order form appeared with the following notation: ‘Describe in detail your request’. Brand began typing furiously, “Request five toy soldiers available for infirmary duty; also, the star Polaris for a birthday party by tomorrow night. If possible, please confirm.” Brand hoped the message was not too cryptic. Polaris was one of the few codes he had shared with Garza, and he was sure that he understood the meaning of the infirmary. He knew he wouldn’t get an answer until six o’clock that evening. His return e-mail address would automatically appear on Garza’s screen. Brand clicked the mouse to ‘send’. “Now, we wait,” he said. “You guys live in a world of your own creation, don’t you?” Susan asked, more a statement than a question. “Only if we want to stay alive, and more times than not we don’t.” “Encouraging,” Susan said. “You say those things just to see my reaction.” “Absolutely, right.” Brand wished that were true. Maybe, he should be more cautious as to what he said. A civilian could never understand, and Susan was his most precious civilian. “If there’s nothing else, can we take that walk?” “Absolutely, and can you bring a jacket for me?” Susan walked up stairs, and Brand walked over to Anna. I am making arrangements for back up. A team of five which are most trustworthy.”
    • 135J.Cross/Stone - “Why don’t you use them instead of our men? I’m sure they’re more qualified,” John Bruzzi said. “Our men, if caught, would be identified immediately. Your team would take time to identify, allowing another team to try again.” “Even if you’re dead?” he asked. “Dead or alive, it makes no difference.” Anna just listened without saying a word, and wondered if Brand would consider becoming a Capo. She supposed not, even if an exception could be made. What he was doing was much more important than anything she could offer him. She understood now, why her Godfather Gallucci had commanded that anything that was asked by any of the four men would never be denied – under penalty of death. She admired Brand, and was jealous of his relationship with Susan. Had she chosen wisely, Gallucci didn’t think so, though he had never said a word. But by making her head of the Family, he had said it all. She vowed to herself that there would be changes made in hers and John’s relationship. Perhaps, she had been too demanding… it makes a man impotent, her father had once told her. “If you have doubts, and I’m sure you do. I can find others.” Anna held her breath waiting for John’s answer. “If Anna thinks we should do this, then we will.” “And what do you think, John?” she asked, ordinarily she would have stepped in. “If what you have said is so, then how can we refuse,” he said to Brand. Anna reached over and kissed him on the cheek. “My husband has spoken,” she said. Maybe, there was hope after all, she thought. Brand and Susan strolled around the compound, oblivious to the chilling wind. Colorful flowers breaching through the buds on the tress and bushes made it a perfect setting. They walked holding each other with their arms wrapped around their waist. No talk was necessary, only that they were together. After their walk they rested until dinner. Brand was deep in thought as he as lied on the bed, and suddenly he heard a soft rap on the door. A voice from the other side said, “Dinner will be served in thirty minutes.” Brand urged Susan awake. “Dinner in half an hour,” he said.
    • 136J.Cross/Stone - She moaned contentment. “I’ll be ready. If you want, I’ll meet you downstairs.” “I want to check the computer and see if Garza has responded. I’ll see you later then.” He headed for the library, hoping there was a message. He flicked it on. The computer read, ‘Mail waiting’. He clicked ‘Read’, it was a message from Garza. It read: “Toy soldiers will be delivered tomorrow night, as well as the Polaris star. Thank you for your order.” Brand leaned back into the chair, and thought to himself, I’ll kill you old friend if this is a set up. He shook the thought from his mind and went into the main room. Anna was standing with her hands on her hips. “I thought it would be nice to have a cozy dinner, just the four of us,” she said smiling. “Susan will be down in a minute. I’m sure she would like that. By the way,” Brand said, “I have confirmation for back up.” “One of our contacts has expired,” Anna said. “Not good news.” “On the contrary. Before he expired he divulged the time and place of the Russian, Chinese, and American meeting. Anna handed him a note. Brand looked at it. It was Zlatamir’s office address. “Two days from now,” he said and stuffed the note into his pants. “Do you know the address?” she asked. “The address is of a man that I believe to be the driving force behind this scheme.” “Will you need help?” “Not for this. You are doing enough. But I may, if necessary, call on you again for some special help.” “I understand,” Anna said. Susan walked down the staircase, to Brand she was the picture of a goddess. “She’s very beautiful,” Anna said. “That’s what she said about you.” “Really?”
    • 137J.Cross/Stone - “Really. And as a man I can vouch for it,” Brand said smiling, but not taking his eyes off of Susan as she gracefully walked the down the steps dressed in a flowing pink dress, and her hair meticulously coiffured with curls. “I must go and change,” Anna said immediately. “Does she always look that way? “She’s a socialite on the D.C. scene, it’s mandatory.” Brand and Susan sat down near the fire, and played patty-cake laughing all the while. John and Anna pranced down the stairs, she was dressed in a black slinky dress, while John wore a double-breasted pinstripe black suit. Anna had obviously talked to him. When they had reached the main floor, Brand said, “I feel so underdressed.” He had on a pair of tan slacks with a collarless pleated white shirt. “You look perfect,” Anna said. “We’ll be having dinner in a private room.” She led the way through the kitchen with smells of herbs and spices drifting through the air. The dining room was small, but elegant. “We haven’t used this room for quite awhile, but I think we’ll be using it more often,” Anna said. “I had our chef prepare a most Sicilian dinner,” she said as she pointed to where she would like everyone to sit. “The table is absolutely elegant,” Susan said. “Thank you so much, I hope you didn’t go out of your way just for us?” “This is a notable occasion. We usually have dinner with at least ten of our soldiers…I mean staff. The noise can be quite disconcerting.” “With so many, I can imagine,” Susan replied. “If you have time could you show me how to fix my hair like yours?” Anna asked. “Actually, it’s quite simple. I’d love to show you. Maybe, tomorrow if you’re not too busy.” “That would be great. I’ll make the time,” Anna said and smiled. Brand was beginning to feel like he was married. Not bad, he said to himself. Beats orange juice and toast. The dinner was an assortment of Sicilian dishes. “These are some of my father’s and Godfather’s favorites. I hope they please you,” Anna said.
    • 138J.Cross/Stone - “I can’t wait,” Susan said. After dinner the foursome went back into the main room, each pair sat on opposite sofas near the fireplace. “That was absolutely fabulous. Would you be willing to share some of your recipes?” Susan asked. “I’ll have several of them written down before you leave.” Brand’s mind was on what was going to happen tomorrow night. Breaking into the Pentagon was akin to a suicide mission. “When will you be leaving, Michael?” Susan asked. “We’re expecting some information by tomorrow. I expect about four.” Even if Brand hadn’t noticed the concern in Susan’s question, Anna didn’t miss it. “You’ll be back together in no time,” Anna said. “Sounds pretty routine to me.” “I don’t think so,” Susan said. “Let’s not dwell on that,” Brand offered. “I would like to hear some stories about your father, and Gallucci. You know… like how they met. Things like that.” Anna spent the next hour telling them about how her father and Gallucci met, and some of their escapades, leaving out any of the ugly details. “You never met Michael before then?” Susan asked. “No. At that time I was in boarding school graduating Summa Cum Laude with a degree in business.” “You must be very smart,” Susan said. Anna just shrugged. “Then you can’t tell me why Michael is so welcomed here?” “Yes, I can. My father and Godfather left me a letter with four names on it, and said that I should give them every courtesy.” “Who were the four names?” Anna looked to Brand for help He nodded. “The four names were, of course, Michael’s. The other three were Antonio Salvi, Gallucci’s nephew, and a Senator Alexander Artemis. The fourth name was General Radcliff. The original four who were chosen by Heaven included Gallucci. But he
    • 139J.Cross/Stone - insisted that Radcliff’s name be put in his place. I’m sure my Godfather had a good reason.” “He had an excellent reason,” Brand said. “It was the General who fought the hardest on behalf of your Godfather’s position. And he didn’t stop until Pope Francis went to Colombia. His assassination, and the ‘miracle in the sky’ changed everything. Gallucci and Radcliff were always of one mind. They respected each other. Both were Generals, but from different parts of the world. There is much you do not know of what went on. As far as I am concerned, they are both saints, and should be blessed by the Holy Mother the Church.” Brand stopped. “…Aah, that was then, and this is now. It was a time of incredible intensity and nobility…” Brand’s eyes had been fixed on the fire, as if peering into the distant past. “I’m sorry,” he said, his mind coming back to present time. “I apologize. That was a long time ago.” Anna said, “No, please do not apologize. You are the first person who has been able to tell me anything. My father and Godfather would not speak of it. It was only after my father’s death that I found the letter.” “Who can understand such things, certainly not me…I am feeling tired, and tomorrow I will need all of my senses,” Brand said. “Thank you for sharing that.” Anna said softly. Brand nodded. John Bruzzi got up, and went over and shook his hand. “I too am appreciative.” Brand and Susan went upstairs. They held each other closely, but never said a word, and fell asleep in each other’s arms. Susan understood something that night, and she would never forget it. The morning sun blasted through the curtains as Brand awoke precisely at six- thirty. Susan was asleep in her usual position; her head nestled in the crook of his neck and her arm over his chest. Brand slipped from her embrace. He kissed her cheek, and she turned over with a quiet moan. Brand showered and dressed and walked down to the living room. He looked out of the floor to ceiling windows, the sky was dark and the trees swayed rhythmically to a silent wind. Brand went into the library and checked for any other messages from Garza. There weren’t any.
    • 140J.Cross/Stone - He walked back into the main room and saw Anna coming down the steps. She was dressed in a black bathrobe. She walked over to where Brand was standing and said. “I have received the news we were waiting for. It’s not good.” “What have you learned?” “This is more complicated than even I imagined.” Brand waited in anticipation. “There is a conspiracy that runs deep into the levels of our government. ‘The Cipher of Satan’ is a plot to dominate the world.” Brand said, ”That much I already know. But how?” “When you told us of such a plot, I thought you were exaggerating, but you were telling the truth. All of our contacts have confirmed it, but none of them knew how.” “Nothing changes then. We go as planned.” “There is something that you should know.” She hesitated and then said, “General Radcliff died last night in a fire in his home. The reports said it was because of old faulty wiring.” Brand reeled backwards. “It was my fault, I called him.” “I had some of my experts, posing as insurance investigators, go over the place. They checked for bugs, their best estimate was that they were placed after you called him. He must have called someone else who was an enemy, but someone he trusted.” “The only calls he would have made were to General Lester, or Salvi.” “General Lester was also involved in an unfortunate accident. His car plunged into the Potomac… he drowned within minutes. His alcohol level was twice normal, both death’s have been ruled accidental.” Brand’s face puffed red with anger. “Impossible,” he said. “These were planned murders. The Bishop may be in trouble.” “Does this change anything?” “No,” Brand said vehemently. “It only intensifies the urgency. They’re getting rid of everyone that has, or might have any knowledge. There have been already two attempts on Susan’s life.” “She’ll be safe here,” Anna patted his arm. “I am truly sorry about your friend’s death.”
    • 141J.Cross/Stone - “I hope he had time to finish his last assignment as a soldier, or we’ll have to cancel our operation. We’ll know before noon. I’m expecting a package. I need to use the computer again.” Anna nodded as Brand headed for the library. He flicked on the computer, and prayed that there was a message from Garza. There was. The message read: “Your shipment will be delivered exactly as ordered.” He had no choice except to trust Garza, and hoped the package from Radcliff would arrive. Brand sped up the stairs and burst into the their room. Susan was just finishing dressing. He told he everything. She started to cry, “This is all my fault.” “This has nothing to do with you, it never did. This black operation has been planned for months, probably years. You husband’s death was because he was about to break it wide open. I know that it’s no consolation, but your husband deserves a medal, he was a great American.” “And is that what they’ll say when you turn up dead?” “I’m not going to die, Susan. You must believe that. I need you to be strong, I need you to have faith.” “Do I have a choice?” Her face flushed with tears. Brand held her close as she cried and trembled with fear. “And that poor man, Radcliff,” she said between deep sobs. “Please, go down stairs. I’ll be there in a few minutes. I need some time alone.” Brand sat on the sofa and looked out at a dismal gray sky. His mind raced for answers, but found none. Finally Susan came down the stairs. He went over to meet her. Her face was hard, even the makeup couldn’t hide the red blotches. “I want you to find who’s responsible and kill them.” “Whoa,” Brand said. “One of us in this family is enough. Anger will only tear you apart, and maybe us.” “Don’t say that, please… How about revenge then?” “Let’s just say that they’ll reap what they have sown,” he said. “But no more anger, understand?” “Okay. But just keep reminding me.”’
    • 142J.Cross/Stone - Anna walked into the room. “This may be the package you’ve been waiting for.” Anna saw the shape that Susan was in. She would talk to her. Anna knew a great deal about death and killing. Brand tore open the package. It contained security badges and plastic access cards. “Radcliff completed the assignment. We leave at four. We’ll take the Bishop’s plane to D.C. Can you make the arrangements, Anna?” “Of course,” she said. “Susan, if you feel up to it maybe you could show me how to do my hair?” “Now?” “There is much we need to talk about. And I can’t think of a better time.” Susan looked at Brand. He kissed her and said, “I’ve got a lot of planning to do. Besides, it’s not a good idea for you to be alone right now.” “Alright, Michael.” And then looked at Anna and said, “Thank you.” Before they left, Brand said, “I need to talk to Georgi and the rest of the team.” “John is bringing them. They’ll be here in a few minutes.” Anna took Susan’s arm and led her away. Brand was glad that Susan had come to the compound, especially now. He then placed a call to Bishop Salvi. After a few interminable minutes, Salvi answered. “Did you hear?” Michael asked. “The deaths are more than tragic.” “You the murders. You, also, may be in jeopardy. Did Radcliff call you?” “No. Besides, if they kill me it would cause an investigation that would probably stop whatever timetable they’re on. I’ll be safe.” “Accidents happen, Bishop.” “I’ll stay here at the Embassy.” “A wise choice. I’ll contact you again when, I feel it’s safe.” Brand walked back into the main room. John Bruzzi entered with five men. “Let’s go into the library where we can talk,” he said. The five men, including Georgi, were dressed in black suits. When they entered the library Brand instantly turned into the team leader. “This is not a Mafia operation. This operation will be unlike anything you have ever done. If we are to succeed, let alone
    • 143J.Cross/Stone - stay alive, you must follow my instructions without hesitation.” He turned to John Bruzzi, “If not, I will go alone.” John Bruzzi said, “You are in charge. These are the best of my men, I’m sure if they want to stay alive they’ll follow your orders to the letter…Is that not true,” he said looking at each man individually. “It is understood,” Georgi said. “What communication devices do you have?” Brand asked. “We have the latest in technology. High frequency two way radios tuned to a specially designated band.” Brand was impressed. “Good,” he said. “Have you used this equipment before?” Georgi shook his head no. “It’s not a problem, before we’re done you’ll be experts.” The five men, including John Bruzzi, sighed. “I’ve been doing this for more than twenty-five years. This is my arena. I’m sure you can teach as much in yours.” The men nodded, appreciating Brand’s comment. “In the next few hours, I will go over our plan. But a plan is an ever changing set of circumstances depending upon the unexpected events that will unfold. And, I promise you that no plan runs smoothly.” The men nodded again, this time their understanding was based on their own experience. Brand laid out a map of the Pentagon, the infirmary and the upper floors. “These are the two floors that will contain the black-ops classified documents we’ll be looking for. You are to retrieve any or all of the following: ‘The Cipher of Satan’, anything pertaining to the space station, especially any references to weapons, or other Nation’s involvement, in particular Russia or China, and finally, anything with the names of Thames, Ramsey, or Zlatamir. If you can’t find anything that pertains to what I have just described, then grab any documents that read ‘Top Secret’. Maybe, we’ll get lucky. Two Generals have already been killed just because the enemy suspected they knew something. There have been two attempts on my fiancée’s life, which I was able to thwart. There is a deadly plot to dominate this world by three nations. If they succeed,
    • 144J.Cross/Stone - our life will not be worth living. Our operation is vital to the defense of freedom. Don Mastronini was involved in such a mission, now it is your turn.” Brand studied the group; each had been paying rapt attention. “Before I go into more of the particulars, and the back up that I have arranged for, are there any questions?” “When do we begin, Mr. Brand?” “Call me Michael or Brand. Tonight, I am one of you. When I am an old man you can address as Mister. We will make our entry at midnight.” After an exhaustive session, which lasted three hours, the men emerged from the library. Susan and Anna were standing in the living room. The rest of the men left, and Georgi said, “We will not let you down, Don Branderos.” Brand was taken aback. John Bruzzi said, “There is not much about you that we do not know. The men decided on there own, to make you an honorary Don. This is a special privilege of trust.” John then looked at his wife, “You look ten years younger,” he said. Anna did not like the implication, but accepted the compliment. “How do you feel the meeting went?” she asked John. “I would like to go, if that is possible?” Anna looked at him suspiciously. Brand rummaged through the package from Radcliff. “I’ll be damn, Radcliff always did over prepare. There are seven badges and access cards.” “Do you really want to go, John?” Anna asked. “If Brand will have me.” “Why?” she asked. “Your father and Gallucci never felt I was fit for leadership. I would like to go and prove my worth, especially to you.” “This is something completely foreign to you. Are you sure?” “Not any more than to the rest of the team… I have watched since we were married, mostly as an outsider, but it is now time for me to put my life on the line.” For the first time Anna felt fear for her husband. “It’s not necessary that you go.”
    • 145J.Cross/Stone - “For me it is. Our marriage depends on it. And if I should die, you will remember me kindly.” Anna broke into tears. “You don’t have to go John.” “You know that I have to.” Susan interrupted. “Remember what you said to me, Anna? Everyman must do what he is called to do, and we must accept that fate no matter what it brings.” Anna rushed over to husband and held him and whispered in his ear. “I love you.” It was the first time in over three years she had said that to him. “Then, it is settled, if Brand agrees.” “I would welcome your help,” Brand said. John and Anna left holding each other with her head on his shoulder. “It’s almost time for you to leave,” Susan said. “I have some time. Let’s go up to our room.” Susan smiled, but deep inside her she was already feeling fear and anguish.
    • 146J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 14 The flight to D.C. was silent. The Embassy plane circled over the most powerful area in the world as it approached and then thumped on the runway and taxied to the VIP area. Brand had a Diplomatic passport provided to him by Bishop Salvi. He ushered his small group through a newly created Custom’s area. They were carrying no guns, and the communication devices would be considered standard. Before leaving New York, Brand had called the bishop again and told him what time they would be arriving. Once again they exchanged feelings of sorrow over Radcliff’s death, and then Salvi made arrangements for a limo to pick them up. As they left the airport, Brand said, “Take us to this address,” and handed the driver a note. “Park two blocks away, and wait. I want you to stand watch across from the restaurant. If anyone suspicious should stop or drive by, call me at once.” The driver nodded. “What should I be looking for?” “A car with government license plates, especially a black Lincoln sedan.” Brand had ordered the men to dress in casual wear, and instructed John Bruzzi to wait ten minutes, and then have the rest of his men enter at two-minute intervals, one at a time, into the restaurant called Terrazzo’s. They should ask to see the ‘special of the day’, and the man at the cash register would take care of the rest. Brand hurried through an alley that led around to a private entrance into Terrazzo’s. He entered through the kitchen, and said to one of the cooks who knew him, ”Tell Jose that I am here, but do it quietly,” he said in Spanish. The cook immediately left. Seconds later Jose appeared. “What is going on?”
    • 147J.Cross/Stone - “I have a party of six, plus myself. They will ask to see the ‘special of the day’, take them to the wine cellar. I’ll be waiting there.” “Is there going to be trouble?” Jose asked, afraid of the answer. “No. Just routine stuff,” Brand lied. “But I need the key to the cabinet.” “This is not routine stuff, amigo.” “We’ll be here a few hours, and then we’ll leave, of course with the necessary knives and forks.” “Michael, you will be the death of me yet.” “No one lives forever,” he said and laughed. “Not to worry, we’ll be gone before you know it.” “Are you and your party expecting to eat in the wine cellar?” “If it’s not too much trouble?” “I’ll get the key, and prepare something for your party when they arrive.” “Thanks, Jose. When this is all over. I’m sure you’ll get a big bang out of it.” “A big bang, that’s what I’m worried about.” “Don’t be. It’s just an exercise. But they will be hungry.” One by one, starting with Bruzzi, Jose led them down into the wine cellar. Jose ordered a table and chairs to be brought down. Brand looked at his watch. “We’ll be here for three hours. Jose, the owner of the restaurant, is preparing a meal for us. Help yourself to the wine, but not too much. I will be watching, and I’ll have to kill anyone who drinks too much,” Brand laughed. But the rest of them took it serious. Bruzzi said,” You heard him. If anyone drinks too much, I’ll kill you myself. Georgi, keep watch,” Bruzzi ordered. Jose finally came down with the key to the cabinet, and Brand opened it. There was an assortment of Uzi’s and handguns. “Take your pick,” Brand said. “I don’t think we’ll need them, but just in case.” The group opened a few bottles of wine, but was very careful to consume a moderate amount. Jose served huge platters of pasta, vegetables and French bread with butter. The group dug in. Georgi said, “This is delicious. Thank you Don Branderos.” “It’s the least I can do.”
    • 148J.Cross/Stone - Georgi watched the amount that each of his men drank. “Paolo, you’ve had enough,” Georgi ordered, and leveled a .357 Magnum in his direction. Paolo got the message. John Bruzzi looked at his watch. “The time is getting close,” he said to Brand. “In a few minutes, I will leave out the back. After that have your men leave as they entered, one by one, at two minute intervals.” Bruzzi nodded. “Get ready,” he said to Georgi. “We’ll be leaving soon.” Brand exited through the back door into the alley, and circled around to the limo. The driver was walking to the car as Brand approached. “Here,” he said, “I’m sure you must be hungry and handed him a plate of pasta. “Thank you,” he said. “I was sort of getting hungry.” “Nothing suspicious?” Brand asked. “A lot of black Lincoln sedans speeding by, but none of them slowed. And no sign of any cars with government plates.” “Good man,” Brand said. “I’ll tell the Bishop how well you performed. Within minutes, the group arrived. “Take us to the Pentagon,” Brand said to the driver. “Stop two blocks away, and wait. We should be about an hour, maybe more. But under no circumstances should you leave, unless, of course you are arrested.” “Arrested,” he said shocked at the pronouncement. “I’m only teasing,” Brand lied. “We have complete permission. There is a surprise party for one of the Generals, and we’re the surprise. We were part of his infantry in Vietnam.” “So, why are we parking so far away?” the driver asked. “Because, it’s a surprise. Now don’t ask any more questions. Park where I tell you too.” “As you wish, the Bishop’s instructions were explicit.” When they arrived near the Pentagon, Brand said, “Stop here, and wait for us.” The driver complied. The seven men exited the vehicle, and were led by Brand to the entrance. Two guards stood sentry.
    • 149J.Cross/Stone - “We’re here to see Sergeant Major Anderson. He’s in the infirmary. A nasty fall on one of your linoleum floors,” Brand said and showed him a Colonel’s badge that Radcliff had sent. “I have no such orders.” The sentry said. “Besides, it’s after midnight.” Brand knew the guard would have no records of any of the patients. “Orders,” Brand shouted. “What the hell do you know about orders? We’re talking Vietnam, here. He was one of my infantrymen. We just finished visiting the sites, and my platoon is here to cheer him up. You got a problem with that soldier?” “I guess not, as long as your platoon have entry badges.” “Of course they do.” The group whisked through the entrance without incident. After several yards, Brand looked around for Garza, but it wasn’t until they were half way to the infirmary when he heard a soft whistle. It was Garza. Brand stopped the group, and waved them back. He followed the direction of the whistle, Garza stepped out. “You’re five minutes late,” he said. “So shoot me,” Brand said. “Don’t tempt me. I’m in a lot of shit here if something goes wrong.” “Have your men surround the infirmary entrance. If we make it out of the building, there’s no problem. If we’re chased out by gunfire, make sure you shoot the right people. You can always claim you had a tip, but in the dark you couldn’t tell who the enemy was.” “You’re full of bullshit, you know that.” “Radcliff and Lester are dead. Are you going to argue with me now?” “No. Do what you have to do. I just hope my men can tell the bad guys from the good guys.” “The good guys will not be firing at you.” “Buena Suerte,” Garza said. Brand motioned to his group to follow. They reached the infirmary entrance -- no one was there. Radcliff had done his job. They entered and hurried to the first bank of elevators. Brand pushed the button, and almost immediately an elevator door opened. The
    • 150J.Cross/Stone - group hustled inside, and Brand pushed buttons seven and eight. “We’re going to the classified floors. Remember what I told you to look for.” Bruzzi got off on the seventh floor with three men. The rest of the group, led by Brand, including Georgi got off on the eighth floor. Brand had instructed the men to start with names that read Colonel or higher. “Use your access cards, or this place will sound like a five alarm fire. Do not insert the card more than three times, or we’ll get the same result. Break into any locked cabinets, but try to be quiet.” The group split up. Brand found General Ramsey’s door. It was his best bet he thought, and inserted the access card. The door clicked open, and Brand entered turning on a flashlight. The beam searched the room, a group of gray cabinets stood against the wall. Brand found three drawers locked, he withdrew a small version of a crowbar and inserted it next to the lock, and bent the drawer back until it broke open. Brand pulled out all the documents, and sorted them, putting aside the one’s that read ‘Top Secret’ or ‘Classified’. He then checked the desk drawers, until he found one locked, and broke into it taking out all of the documents. The first folder was stamped ‘Cipher of Satan’. Bingo, he said to himself, and took the entire drawer of folders. If there were a hidden safe, there would be no way for him to get into it without setting off alarms. He prowled around the room, but found nothing of interest. He then went to the next rooms along the corridor, and did the same. His arms were bulging with folders. Georgi, with a similar load was just coming out of a room. “Get the rest of your men, it’s time to leave,” Brand ordered. “We’ll meet at the elevator.” Georgi rounded up his men, all carrying similar bundles. Brand was already holding the elevator door open when they all arrived. He stopped at the seventh floor picking up Bruzzi and his men and the elevator whizzed them back down to the infirmary. There was still no one in sight. Brand the smelled the odor of drying paint. That’s how Kensey did it. He must have ordered a repaint of the infirmary. An order that would go unnoticed.
    • 151J.Cross/Stone - The group with their stacks of folders made their way out of the back of the infirmary. Brand heard a low whistle, and followed it into the shadows. “Did you get what you need?” Garza asked. “We’ll find out. Now how do we get out of here?” “Have your men follow me, there’s a gate just over that grassy knoll, it’s open.” Within minutes they were safely back in the limo. What Brand didn’t know was that Garza was alone; he had decided he couldn’t trust anyone. “We’ll be splitting up now,” Brand said to Bruzzi. “I’ll instruct the driver to let each one of your men off at a different hotel. Tomorrow, each of you take separate planes back to New York, I’m going to the Embassy and see what I can make of all this.” John Bruzzi nodded. “It we’ll, didn’t it?” “You and your men performed perfectly. I’m sure Anna will be proud of you. I know I am.” “Thank you,” he said, “for giving me this opportunity.” “That’s because it went smoothly, if it went otherwise, I’m sure you would feel differently.” “If we all had died, I would still feel the same.” Brand grabbed his hand, “John, I owe you more than I can say.” John replied, “It was my pleasure, my friend.” “Then let me impose one last time. Can you get Susan back to the Embassy safely?” “Without question. She’ll be back tomorrow. But I have a feeling that, as you say, we’ll be imposing on each other in the future.” “I hope only as friends, “ Brand said. “But this is not over, I may have to call on you again.” “We will be waiting to provide you with any help that you might need…I am truly sorry about your friend. I wish I could have met him.” “I wish you had too.” The Bishop’s limo crawled through the Embassy gates. It took three trips for them to bring the folders into the Embassy.
    • 152J.Cross/Stone - Two priests and the bishop eventually appeared; they were more asleep than awake. Salvi asked, “Is all this classified?” “I won’t know until I go through it tomorrow. I’m too tired tonight. Have you heard from anyone about Radcliff’s death?” “Just a few old friends.” “Susan will be back tomorrow. We’ll be out of your hair soon.” “Nonsense. Stay as long as you need. It’s the safest place in town…But you understand that by having these classified folders here, I have broken every Embassy rule.” “Rules are meant to be broken. You should know that better than anyone.” “I’ll see you in the morning, Michael.” Salvi said and walked up stairs. Before sleep came to brand, he wondered why it so easy to penetrate the Pentagon. Had Radcliff and Kensey done such an outstanding job? He didn’t see anyone except Garza, was he alone? If it were a trap, they would all be dead by now. Tomorrow would bring some answers, he hoped, and then drifted off pretending that Susan was sleeping next to him. The morning came too fast, but Brand was anxious to get started with the pilfered documents. He went downstairs and found them strewn around the sitting room just as he had left them. He started with anything that was stamped ‘Cipher of Satan’. The only folder he found was the one that he had taken from Ramsey’s office. He opened it and read: “The Russians and Chinese are preparing for an all out nuclear attack against the United States. Both countries have agreed that it would constitute an acceptable number of casualties, especially on China’s side. A nuclear war would be more devastating on the United States than on there own countries. We must do something to mitigate this prospect. Professor Zlatamir has proposed a way, he has a developed a weapon that would accomplish a safe means for the world to live in peace. His proposition is not the best, but his logic cannot be refuted.” That was the end of the memo. Brand spent two hours going through every classified document, some of it he found interesting, but none of it pertained to the ‘Cipher of Satan’ or to the weapons that Zlatamir had conceived. He was virtually back at the beginning. He sat on the sofa,
    • 153J.Cross/Stone - closed his eyes, and tried to imagine what kind of a weapon that would insure the tranquility of a world. Bishop Salvi finally came down. “I had a restless an ominous sleep,” he said. “When I awoke, I said a special mass for the peace and tranquility of the planet.” Brand replied, “Those are the exact words Zlatamir proposed to the Pentagon.” Salvi thought for a minute, “His answer for peace and tranquility will take away our free will.” “Why do you assume that?” “I assume nothing, he and Ramsey said it in plain English. Free will is an illusion, and freedom must be compromised in order to have peace and tranquility without the threat of wars.” “They’re going to circle the space station with weapons that are not nuclear, but will insure our peace and tranquility, is that it?” “That’s what Kensey concluded.” “And what do you conclude?” “Weapons that somehow control the minds of men.” “What kind of weapon could that?” Brand scoffed at the idea. “I don’t know, but there was no mistaking Zlatamir and Ramsey’s questions and responses.” “We’ve got to find out more.” Brand slammed his fist into his palm. “We’ve got to find out if these weapons exist, and if they do, we must destroy them. But how to find out is the question?” “I can find out,” Salvi said. “If my guess is right, I suspect that Zlatamir would like the Pope to agree, or at least, acquiesce.” “And if you disagree with him, you’ll be dead.” “He needs me. He will do everything to convince me. I’ll play along until I find out exactly what he has planned.” Brand considered the proposition. “It might mean your life, if you make a mistake.” “Then, so be it. If Zlatamir succeeds, everything that we know will be turned on its head. And, I for one, would not like to live in a world without free will.”
    • 154J.Cross/Stone - “What can the Pope do?” “I don’t know, I haven’t asked him.” “Well don’t you think it’s about time?” Brand asked exasperated. “I’m sure the Pope and Heaven are not casual observers. Heaven proved that ten years ago.” “When and why Heaven intercedes is beyond our understanding.” “Well, it sure doesn’t hurt to ask!” “I’ll call the Pope. Satisfied?” Brand just shrugged. “As long as I live, I’ll never understand this Heaven thing.” “It is not for us to understand, but to accept.” “Accept what?” Brand said tossing one of the file folders. “Accept that there are forces that we do not understand.” “Like the forces of Zlatamir’s weapons?” “I’ll arrange a meeting with him.” “Make it soon. The Russians and Chinese are scheduled to meet in two days.” Salvi phoned Zlatamir. “You made some interesting points the other night,” Salvi said. “I wonder if we could meet, and discuss them further.” Zlatamir was more than agreeable. “I have some time this afternoon, if it’s not too inconvenient. The rest of the week looks horrendous. I’ll be leaving for Rome for an enclave of Bishops. It seems the Pope wants to discuss Church Doctrine.” “You’re timing is perfect,” Zlatamir said. “The Embassy or my office?” “There will be too many interruptions here. I’ll be at your office around two.” “Two will be fine,” Zlatamir said with his distinctive Russian accent. Brand had been listening. “You’re playing a dangerous game,” he said. “Not as dangerous as those weapons might be.” Brand decided to go through the folders again, thinking that he might have missed something. This time he would be more meticulous. As he explored the documents further, the name of Dr. Edward Zimmer, a NASA scientist appeared on a regular basis. There was nothing unusual in the memos, only innocuous references to military satellites and of course the space station. But because his name appeared so often, Brand assumed
    • 155J.Cross/Stone - that Zimmer was the inside man in charge of the weapons that were going to be attached to the space station. Who could he call to find out more about this Dr. Zimmer? Maybe Garza would have an idea, but then decided not to call him. All hell would have broken loose this morning when it was discovered that classified, top secret documents had been stolen from the Pentagon; and that was exactly what he had intended. He wanted them scared and guessing about what kind of group could have pulled off such a bold and unexpected assault on the supposedly impenetrable Pentagon. Brand started to laugh within himself as he imagined the looks on their faces when the ‘Top Brass’ arrived at work that morning. Scared people panic and make mistakes. He hoped Ramsey was the kind of man that would panic. He then thought about Zlatamir; he must be made of ice, there was not even a hint of concern when Salvi called him. However, years of playing in the ‘cold war’ could make a man frigid. Or maybe, he was just that good of an actor. Both he assumed. It was just after eleven-thirty in the morning when Susan entered the Embassy wearing a nun’s habit. Even if someone was watching, they could only get a glimpse of the Embassy. It was the perfect hiding place. If anyone attempted to invade the grounds, the Embassy was as secure as the Vatican itself. Salvi had ordered the guards to shoot first, the Embassy in that way, was not much different than the Mastronini compound. Salvi, in his own way, had become a Capo. He took after his uncle, Gallucci, an incisive and fearless man. Susan shed her nun’s clothing as Brand was approaching, and then ran to him kissing him all over his face. “I was so afraid,” she said, “until John came home this morning and told us that things went well…Anna was so proud of him, and relieved as much as I was.” “I’m sure they’ll be fine together now,” Brand smiled. “Why is it that we must be faced with danger before we can face ourselves?” “And face what is important to us,” Brand added. Bishop Salvi came down the stairs. “It’s good to see you, Susan.” “And you too, Bishop.”
    • 156J.Cross/Stone - “You must be hungry. Lunch will be served shortly. I’ve prepared a table for the two of you on the back patio. The sun is out, it’s going to be a lovely day. I have a meeting to attend.” “Thank you,” Brand said, and thought to himself that the bishop must be made of the same ice as Zlatamir. Brand waited on the back patio as Susan went to freshen up. He tried to put the pieces together. It was like a puzzle with half the pieces missing. But, nonetheless, a picture was forming, a picture that Brand didn’t like. But he was missing something important, something obvious, but what? He understood, to some extent, why our military would concede to Zlatamir’s logic. A nuclear holocaust for the U.S. was unthinkable, but why was it so acceptable to the Russians and Chinese? China, perhaps, he could understand, getting rid of a third of their population made some kind of perverted sense. But to the Russians, it would mean complete annihilation. Were they that convinced that the Chinese threat was enough for the U.S. to concede? Or did Zlatamir have his own agenda? And the most important question – was the President of the United States aware of what was going on? And if not, why not? President Barkley was not a man to concede lightly to anything. Brand believed that the president didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. He knew only one person that could reach the president on an informal basis. It was Susan. But to do so, would make things much more complicated and dangerous for her, not to mention the president, if Zlatamir and his group were totally committed. Who else? The Bishop? There would no way for the bishop to visit the president, or he to visit the Embassy. Both would be assassinated within days…There were only two people who would not be suspected of any agenda – ex-president Nolan and Alexander Artemis, who were in the California headquarters running the country’s largest drug rehab centers. He would talk to Susan about it. Susan finally appeared in a blue jogging suit. “Wow,” Brand said, “you’d be sexy in a sack cloth.” Susan smiled, but then said, “Do you think it’s inappropriate here in the Embassy?” “Maybe, after lunch, something a little less tight fitting.”
    • 157J.Cross/Stone - “Okay,” she said and bent over and kissed him, and settled into a chair next to him. “I’m starving.” “During lunch, Susan asked, “Did you find out anything from the classified papers?” “Not much, except that I now know why the military has agreed to go along with Russia and China.” “Why?” she asked between mouthfuls of Canadian bacon. “Russia and China were planning a nuclear attack on the United States, and Zlatamir conceived a plausible solution, a special kind of weapon that would stop the holocaust of a nuclear war.” “Sounds like a good idea,” she said. “That’s what our military thinks. And they have recruited a cadre of people throughout our government that also obviously agrees.” “But you don’t?” “Zlatamir has an agenda, and his using the situation to his advantage. I don’t know what his agenda is, let alone, the weapon that he has created. But it must be something that all three countries have accepted, as an agreeable alternative.” “But, you don’t believe any of it?” “On the contrary, I believe all of it. But, there is only one person who can verify that this alternative is the only way.” “Who’s that?” “The President of the United States.” “I can talk to him, if you’d like?” “Only if you’re tired of living.” “I have another way,” Brand said. “If you can get the president to meet with you at the National Rehab Center in California, I can do the rest.” “Who’s there?” “I’ll have ex-president Nolan and Alexander Artemis call him, and invite him to see the progress that is being made. It’ll be good PR for him.” “Why would they do that?”
    • 158J.Cross/Stone - “Because they’re friends of mine, and I can trust them. Remember, Anna said Artemis was one of the four names?” “How does Nolan fit in?” “He was part of almost everything. One of his closest friends, Pope Francis was assassinated. He definitely will be interested.” “So, what do you want me to do?” “After I contact Alex, I want you to call the president. But it must be so secret that even he can’t know what the meeting will be about.” “I think I can do that. I only have to have a good reason.” “The autopsy has been finished. I’m sure they’ve found nothing unusual, but I assume they’re waiting for you to tell them what to do with the body. If cremation is okay with you, tell them that you want to spread his ashes in the Pacific ocean.” “Actually, I’ve been thinking about what I would do. I was going to talk to you about it.” “Then, it’s okay with you?” “I think it’s a fine idea,” she said. “Tell me when you want the funeral, and I’ll have him there.” “Let me make some calls. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, how about I give you one of my Latin massages.” “I’d love it. But is that all?” “Let’s see where it takes us.” Bishop Salvi sat in a chair, while Zlatamir sat behind his desk smiling like a Cheshire cat. “So, you want to continue our conversation from the other night?” “The other night, there were too many people present to engage in the finer points of our discussion,” Salvi said, and then wondered how his uncle would handle it. He would be cagey, fearless, and threatening, if not by deed, then by word. He then prayed to God, and came up with the same answer. “We were talking about free will, and it occurred to me, that free will was an individual thing. Being that the Pope has convened an assembly of the Bishops to discuss the doctrine and dogma of the church, I’m sure that free will, will become a central topic. After all, the world is an ever-changing place of
    • 159J.Cross/Stone - needs and circumstances. I thought that it might be appropriate for us to talk, you have a sharp mind with an aptitude to see the obvious, which we of the clergy are not ordinarily exposed to.” Zlatamir sat back in his chair, and pondered what the bishop had said. “You know, of course, I am an atheist. My God is science, and that which proliferates from it. I have never been able to understand the blind faith that man puts into a God that let’s a world squander it’s resources, and allows billions of people to suffer everything from natural disasters, to famine, plagues, and nuclear obliteration. We are a planet of rebellion with nations whose only concerns are their own individual existence.” “And how would you account for the desperate need that people have to believe in something greater than themselves?” “You mean a creator, Bishop?” “I have studied all of the philosophies, Professor, but none accounts for the need too believe in a Creator. Perhaps, there is something more than our logical mind can perceive, but innately trusts in.” “An errant gene in the brain that causes the populace to pursue such fantasies.” “You have studied much, why do you think that is so?” “An aberrant of nature.” “And the universe with its methodical movements, and predictability, are they too an aberrant of nature?” “We are going far a field from free will, Bishop. Let us stay closer to home.” “If we do not consider the entire cosmos, are we not taking this planet out of context? Perhaps, this planet is imbued with a higher consciousness?” “This planet’s consciousness, from the beginning, is one of evolution and survival. Can you deny that?” “Of course not, but in no way does it negate our free will. Our evolution and survival are part of it. Do you not agree?” “Illusion and desperation for a better life can answer your question.” “And what is illusion professor? When President Kennedy said that we will go to the moon before the decade ended, was that an illusion?”
    • 160J.Cross/Stone - “It was science, Bishop. The determination that science, not God, would get man to the moon.” “Is there any place in your philosophy that allows for a spiritual intervention?” “None.” “What about the ‘miracle in the sky’ ten years ago. Do you believe it was just the Aura Borealis that was seen around he world? And is there no possibility of an other worldly presence?” “Of course not, the event was nothing more than a physical anomaly. And I anticipate your next question. Yes, I believe it was a mass hysteria that inflamed a planet to rid itself of the drug plague.” Antonio Salvi considered his next question seriously before he asked it, “Professor, you mentioned at dinner the other night, a world free to leave in peace and tranquility. What did you mean by that?” “It is a matter of options. If, as you say, that man has freewill then why can’t he choose peace and prosperity?” “Of course, he can.” “Then where is our argument?” “If it is the people’s choice then none, but if it is the choice of a few over the many, then it is abrogating our freewill.” “And what if it was brought to a vote?” “I believe the people would choose their own course of events.” “Even if it meant a nuclear holocaust?” “Even if it meant the destruction of the planet, freewill will always remain supreme.” “We have come full circle, haven’t we Bishop?” “I would say that you have enlightened me to some interesting observations. I am most grateful, and I shall take them to the Vatican. Is there anything else you would like to convey to the Pope? I am scheduled to have a private audience with him.” “Tell your Pope that science and not God rules here.” “You must tell me more, or else he will dismiss me.” “Tell him the world hangs in the balance.”
    • 161J.Cross/Stone - “I do not understand, nor will he. The world has always hung in the balance, especially between good and evil.” Zlatamir considered his response carefully. “Ask your Pope what is his preference, a world controlled by God or man?” “The question is ambiguous. Can you state it more plainly?” “Would your Pope agree to let man rule the planet instead of his God?” “Of course, he would say God. But if you could make your plans clear, he might be willing to listen.” “Ask him this then. Would he prefer a nuclear holocaust, or peace on the planet?” “Why do you assume a nuclear holocaust?” “Because, that is what’s going to happen.” “How do you know?” Zlatamir tilted his chair back and said, “I have it on high authority. The world will either become a wasteland, or a paradise.” “God’s paradise, or yours?” “Don’t play with me, Bishop. Make my sentiments known to your Pope. I’m sure he’ll decide for peace.” “You haven’t given me enough for him to decide.” “Let me just say, I have given you enough, fill in the blanks.” “I can’t unless I know what other countries are involved?” “The countries are irrelevant. The future of mankind is all that is important.” “I will convey your sentiments, but without specific information, I know what the Pontiff will say.” “Our meeting is at an end, Bishop. It is either a nuclear holocaust, or it is peace on earth. I leave you and your Pope to decide which.” “Thank you for seeing me, it has been most informative. I will convey the possibilities to the Pontiff, as you have presented them.”
    • 162J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 15 Brand called Alexander Artemis at the National Rehab Center in Los Angeles. Alex finally answered. “Artemis speaking.” “Alex, this is Michael Brand. I need you not to speak my name. Just listen as if I were one of your rehabilitated junkies.” “Alright,” he said. “Sounds serious. You must be in trouble again.” “Deeper than you can imagine. It is imperative that I meet with you and Nolan.” “When?” “When I can find a way to get there. Hopefully by tomorrow night. Before I get there I need you to do me a big favor.” “Anything.” “I need you to make arrangements at a local mortuary to receive a body anonymously.” “Whose?” “Jamieson Stone, the news anchor that mysteriously killed himself on worldwide television. Bring him in as a John Doe. His body will be coming from the D.C. police department. I’ll let you know when to expect the body. If everything goes right, I’ll be with President Barkley, and Mrs. Stone, the widow. Again, if everything goes right, you and Nolan should be getting a call from the President who would like to see your facility.” “You’re not telling me anything,” Alex said. “I’ll tell you everything when we meet. It’s imperative that no one knows that I, or Mrs. Stone is coming.”
    • 163J.Cross/Stone - “I’m looking forward to seeing you,” Alex said. “Me too. It’s been too long.” Brand hung up. Michael turned to Susan. “It’s your turn. If we’re wrong about the president, we’ll be dead before we get to California.” “We’re not wrong. He’s a good man. I know a lot about him. Janet the First Lady, and I are both involved in a lot of so-called ‘causes’ in this town. She doesn’t have anyone close to her that she feels she can talk to, so she picked me. I even have his private number to the Oval Office.” “Well, let’s see if he’s the good man you think he is.” Susan frowned and picked up the phone and dialed the president’s number. After a couple of rings, “Janet, is this you?” Barkley asked, his voice sounding perturbed. “No, Mr. President it’s Susan Stone. If there’s anyone in the room, please do not call me by my name.” There was a long silence. Susan heard some muffled conversation, and finally, “You’ll have to excuse me, this is personal. After another minute, “Susan where have you been? I’ve been trying to find you, but you just disappeared.” “Someone is trying to kill me, I need your help.” “Who is?” “Not on the phone, but it’s because Jamieson knew something and was about to expose it. Whoever they are they think I must know something.” “Where are you? I’ll have my Secret Service men pick up.” “I’m safe for now, but I don’t know who to trust. The FBI sent a team to kill me at the farm. I’m scared Mr. President.” “How do you know it was the FBI?” he asked incredulously. “Because the man who saved my life knew who they were.” “Let me bring you to the White House, you’ll be safe here, and I’ll check into this FBI matter. “Please don’t tell anyone that you’ve talked to me. Especially the FBI.” “What would you like me to do?” “I’m having Jamieson’s body sent to Los Angeles, he’s going to be cremated. I’m going to spread his ashes in the ocean. I would like you to be there.”
    • 164J.Cross/Stone - “Why L.A.? There’s an ocean a lot closer.” “I need you to get me to L.A. I want you to meet with former President Nolan. He’s waiting for your call. You can visit the rehab center. It’ll be a media event. They’re doing some good work out there.” “Susan you’ve got me completely baffled. You want me to attend your husband’s funeral, and you want me to do a media event at the same time?” Susan started to cry. “I need you to help me. If you can’t I’ll understand.” “Of course I will. What do you want me to do?” “Can you take me and a companion to Los Angeles tomorrow?” “Just a second, let me see what I’m scheduled for…I can clear my calendar. What time do you want to leave?” “The earlier the better,” Susan said still weeping into the phone. “I’ll make Air Force One ready whenever you like.” “How about ten tomorrow morning?” “Done. But what about Nolan?” “If he doesn’t call in the next ten minutes, then call him and tell and tell him you’re coming. If you can’t reach him, talk to Alexander Artemis.” “Alright, but how are going to get here?” “Is there a back entrance to the White House?” “Yes, I’ll have five secret service men waiting. What time? We’ll take the helicopter to Andrew’s at nine.” “We’ll be there by 8:45. I’ll be wearing a nun’s habit so I won’t be recognized.” “Who’s coming with you?” “Michael Brand.” “I know who he is,” Barkley said. “Are you sure about him?” he asked suspiciously. “You may know who he is, but you don’t know him. Ask Nolan about him?” “Aright, I’ll see you in the morning. Don’t be late.” Susan hung up. “You should have been an actress,” Brand said. “You think I was acting? I’m scared to death.”
    • 165J.Cross/Stone - “So am I,” Brand said and held her close. “From now on we’re running on pure trust and instincts.” Bishop Salvi returned from his meeting with Zlatamir, and immediately went upstairs to his quarters. It was forty-five minutes later when he returned. Brand and Susan were going over which classified folders that they were going to take with them. “Do you want to talk about your meeting with Zlatamir?” Brand asked. “What are your plans?” Salvi asked concerned. Brand told him what they were planning to do. “Good,” Salvi said. “Maybe you can head this off before it becomes a worldwide crisis.” “What did you learn from Zlatamir?” Brand asked. “If we can’t stop what he has planned, then there’s not a lot of hope.” “I ask you again,” Brand said. “What did you learn?” “He’s committed to his process, which he believes in. He’s a cunning man. I did a bad job at finding out anything that would help us beyond what we already knew or suspected.” “What about the weapons, Bishop?” “He was to smart to reveal anything pertinent.” “Well, at least you tried,” Brand said sympathetically. “It was not enough. I let all of us down.” “What did you expect, that he would divulge his entire plan?” “Something like that,” the bishop’s voice trailed off. “We’re going to see Artemis and Nolan tomorrow. I’m sure they’ll have some ideas. President Barkley is taking us to L.A. If he’s not a part of this diabolical scheme then we have a chance.” “I’ll pray that Heaven sends us help,” Bishop Salvi said softly. Brand stared at him and then said, “I think this one’s up to us, Bishop.” Brand and Susan entered the Bishop’s limo and drove to the rear entrance of the White House. A cadre of Secret Service men met them, and whisked them into a waiting car.
    • 166J.Cross/Stone - “I’m agent Kelley,” a tall man wearing an earphone said. “We’ll be driving directly to the helicopter at the rear of the White House. The president will meet us there.” The agent then spoke into a lapel microphone. “Call the president. His guests are on the way. Start the copter.” Susan and Brand never spoke a word. When they arrived at the huge helicopter, Susan thought it looked like a big, black beetle. Two agents escorted them up the stairs and into the belly of the metal flying insect. The rotors were already at a mild roar. “Sit here,” Agent Kelley said pointing to a semi-circular sofa around a small table near the rear of the copter. “The president will be here shortly.” Tense minutes passed as Brand sat looking out of the small window waiting to see if the president was actually coming. He sighed in relief as he saw Barkley approach surrounded by three secret service men. As they entered the helicopter the rotors started to roar. One of the men pulled shut the door and latched it, immediately the roar of the engines seemed almost to vanish. The president sat down across from them. “Buckle up,” Barkley said, as the copter started to tilt upward. Five secret service men were all in their seats as the big metal insect whooshed up at an angle and sped toward Andrew’s, and Air Force One. “I don’t know how to thank you, Mr. President,” Susan said. “This is Michael Brand, he’s saved my life at least three times.” Barkley gave Brand a spurious look and nodded, but did not reach out to shake his hand. “You don’t trust me, do you, Mr. President?” “Not really,” he said. “But working under cover for Radcliff for fifteen years, and Nolan’s endorsement says that I should…But enough of that…So, what the hell is going on, Susan? Why all the mystery?” “First, because someone is trying to kill me, and more important is that this country and the world is in grave danger.” “What are you talking about?” Barkley asked as his eyes widened. “It’s better if Michael explains.” The president turned to Brand. “So?” “Have you ever heard of a black-ops called the ‘Cipher of Satan’?”
    • 167J.Cross/Stone - “No. What is it?” “Are you telling me that you’ve never heard of any covert operation called the ‘Cipher of Satan’?” Brand asked again, raising his eyebrows. “I said I didn’t. If there was any such operation my National Security Advisor, the FBI, or CIA would have informed me.” “Well, FBI Director Thames knows, General Ramsey knows, your NSA, Randall knows, and I’m sure there’s a group within the CIA that must know.” “Are you crazy?” The president asked in utter disbelief. Brand just glared at Barkley. “You really are a dupe, aren’t you?” Barkley was a man quick to anger. His hand resting on the table turned instantly into a fist. Susan put her hand over his. “Mr. President!” she said alarmed. And then turned quickly to Michael. “I told you he didn’t know what was going on.” “I apologize. I had to see your reaction,” Brand said. “You haven’t seen it yet. I wasn’t a Navy Seal for nothing,” the president’s nostrils flared. “I’ll calm down long enough for you tell why you’re making these absurd allegations.” Brand reached into his briefcase and pulled out several documents and handed them to the president. Barkley read them, and then reread them. “Where did you get these files?” “From the Pentagon.” “They just handed them over to you?” “No. I broke into the Pentagon and stole them two nights ago. I suppose you hadn’t heard that the classified floors in the Pentagon had been penetrated?” “No, I didn’t, and I don’t believe it,” he said emphatically. “What you have in your hands is all the proof that you need.” “These all could be forged.” “You know better than that. I’m sure you recognize the signatures on those memos.”
    • 168J.Cross/Stone - The president studied them again. “I can’t believe it…I just can’t believe it,” he said quietly as he fell back limp into his chair. “What else do you know, and who else knows about this?” “I don’t know all the details, but I can you tell you who has been murdered because they knew at least part of it. First Jamieson Stone, then Senator Kensey, General’s Radcliff and Lester.” “Suicides and accidents.” “All murders, Mr. President.” “Can you prove it?” “If I had to? Yes. But that’s not what is important at the moment. This black-ops project, the ‘Cipher of Satan’ is about to be implemented. We’ve got to find out exactly what it is, and what kind of weapon they have constructed that will supposedly bring peace to the world. I estimate we have a month. That’s when NASA has scheduled the next flight to the space station. When we meet with Nolan, I’ll lay out all the facts, as I know them. It’s best that we have people we all can trust before we can start coming up with a plan.” “You’ve just presented me with a scenario that implicates some, if not most, of the Security Agencies.” “You haven’t heard the half of it,” Brand said. “When we get on the plane, I’ll fill you in on some of the finer details about this Professor Zlatamir.” FBI Director Thames and General Ramsey had twenty of their top subordinates in a locked room as if they were prisoners of war with several soldiers standing guard. Ramsey’s face was flushed with a hue of purple anger. “How in the hell could this place be penetrated by anyone without special knowledge and inside help? Since the Pentagon was built it has never been penetrated. Not only was classified documents stolen, but they didn’t just want us to know it, they shoved it in our faces. I’m going to get to the bottom of this. And, if anyone in this room had anything to do with it, there won’t be a Court Marshal, because I will shoot you myself. Now, I want suggestions as to how this could have happened?”
    • 169J.Cross/Stone - For a time there was silence, and then one of the Colonel’s spoke up, “It’s obvious that they entered through the infirmary, we have the sentries confirmation of that. We also know there were seven men. That is fact. The supposition: they also had to know that the infirmary would be empty. General Lester ordered it to be repainted, but he’s dead. They also had to know what floors held classified documents. In addition, they must have left by the rear gate with a security key, otherwise the sentries would have seen them leave. But the gate was locked, which insinuates inside help.” “Thank you, Colonel, for nothing. You have just stated the obvious.” “What the facts suggest is that General Lester was, in some part, involved.” “We’re not going to blame a dead man who can not defend himself. Are there any other possible scenarios?” “A terrorist group?” one of the men asked. “After they stole the documents, why didn’t they blow the place up?” The man just hung his head. “Anyone else with any other brilliant deductions?” Everyone remained silent. “I want all of your statements as to where you were last night. And, I might add, that saying you were at home with your wife, asleep, may not be enough. There will be lie detector tests from you and your wives.” The General knew that would be at least ninety percent of the alibis. He was stuck, and he knew it. The only thing he could do was bully his men in to making a mistake, if in fact, any of them were involved. The General had no choice but to release the group. As they left the room, Garza’s mind was reverting to his covert days. He would expand the General’s scenario into a myriad of confused possibilities. That night Garza had dinner with his family, played a game of Monopoly with his children, and was in bed by ten. At midnight, with his wife sound asleep, he crept from the bed, dressed and left the house. He drove to Director Thames’ residence, a street with a row brownstone houses standing like ancient edifices. He parked his car in the shadows of overgrown maple trees a half a block from the house, hidden from the street lamps that splayed a muted yellow light along the street. He screwed a silencer onto a .22 caliber pistol, exited the car, and peered down both sides of the street. Everything was quiet, only
    • 170J.Cross/Stone - a slight breeze rustled the trees. Garza made his way to Thames’ house. What he was about to do was something he done for twenty years as a covert operative – eliminate the enemy. He found the security alarm box and unscrewed the cover, and then withdrew a small pencil shaped object from his jacket. It was special issue FBI laser that would fuse the wires together, making the alarm inoperable. He then inserted two blades into the lock of the front door making a V and twisted. The door clicked opened, and Garza stepped inside. The house was silent and dark except for a grandfather clock that clicked in the foyer. He turned on a small mag-light, and the narrow beam searched for the staircase that led to the second floor landing. He had been to the Director’s home before and was acquainted with the layout -- the master bedroom would be at the end of the upstairs landing. He padded across the tiled foyer on crepe-soled shoes and mounted the carpeted staircase. At the top of the landing, he shut off the mag-light, listened for any noise, and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Satisfied, he snapped on the light again and followed the beam along on a beige colored carpet making sure that nothing was in the way, which would cause him to stumble. Not doing so was the downfall of many an amateur. He reached a set of double doors, and doused the mag-light, and waited until his adjusted again to the darkness. He assumed the door on the left to be locked by a sliding vertical bolt at the bottom of the door, so he chose the door on the right and gently twisted the knob and pushed. It opened silently. Light from a yellow street lamp penetrated the curtains casting an eerie amber glow into the room. As Garza entered the bedroom he heard Director Thames snoring. By the third snore he was at the bedside, and pumped an almost silent bullet into his temple. He lurched, as a sickening gurgle emerged from his throat. The Director’s wife moaned and rolled over closer to her side of the bed. Garza slipped from the bedroom, scampered silently down the stairs to the front door. He was back in his car in less than a minute. Before he started the car, his eyes searched up and down the street for any other vehicles. There weren’t any. Garza started the car and slowly left the area and went home. His wife was still asleep as he crept back into bed. Director Thames was dead, and now he would become the acting Director of the FBI until a permanent Director was chosen, and that would take
    • 171J.Cross/Stone - weeks, maybe months before the president selected one, and the Senate confirmed the new appointee. He didn’t want the job, even if offered, but for now he would be in charge, and that’s all he needed. The rest of the Agencies would have to deal with him, and he would now be privy to all classified documents. He couldn’t wait to see who would attempt to recruit him. He was now the acting Director of the FBI, unless the president fired him, and that was unlikely. He could visualize the headlines, and the wall-to-wall TV coverage of the Director’s assassination, and, of course, he would start an investigation immediately. At six a.m. Garza was casually reading the newspaper in the kitchen as his wife was preparing breakfast. His private phone rang. “This is Garza,” he answered it calmly. “Garza, this is General Ramsey. Thames’ been assassinated. Get over here immediately,” Ramsey ordered in a gruff, but excited voice.” “Where?” Garza asked shocked. “In his bed,” he said impatiently. “No, I mean, where do you want me go?” The General was obviously in shock, which made Garza smile. “Oh…sorry. I’m at the Director’s house.” “When did it happen, and how is his wife,” Garza asked. “No questions. Just get over here,” Ramsey said half yelling into the phone. “On my way, General.” When Garza arrived at the residence there was a group of military police guarding the entrance. A small crowd was gathering outside. Garza showed the M. P.’s his FBI credentials and entered the house. Ramsey was sitting with the Director’s wife, but quickly excused himself when he saw Garza. Ramsey motioned him to a side parlor off the foyer. Once inside, Ramsey bolted the door. “This is one hell of a thing,” Ramsey said and started pacing. “First, I want a complete news black-out. We’ll tell the media that Thames has had a stroke and is critical condition, and you’re taking over for now…” Ramsey started to ramble. Garza interrupted. “What the hell happened here, General?” he asked as if he were about to explode. “We don’t know, except that it was a professional hit.”
    • 172J.Cross/Stone - “How do you know?” Garza asked. “I’m not stupid. I know a professional hit when I see one.” “Sorry, General. Old habit. So, how do you want to handle this within the Bureau?” “You’re the acting Director now, what do you suggest?” “Business as usual. Only our top people should know. However, it’s going to be difficult to investigate a murder that’s not a murder.” “What do you mean?” Ramsey asked. “As far as anyone will know, Thames is in intensive care.” “Yes, I see what you mean.” “I think we should call the president,” Garza said. “I’ll handle that,” Ramsey said as if talking to a subordinate. “With all due respect, General, I feel it’s my duty to report this to the president.” “Yes, of course it is. I’m not thinking very clearly…he was one of my closest friends. This is such a shock.” Garza thought to himself, in more ways than one, General. Ramsey then asked, “Could you give me a few hours before you call the president?” “Why?” Garza asked. Ramsey had no real answer. “Professional courtesy.” Garza hesitated an appropriate amount of time. “For you General, not a problem. Tell me when to call the president.” Garza smiled. “Now, I’d like to see the murder scene.” “Yes…Yes, of course,” Ramsey said looking out the window and falling deep in to thought. Garza walked out of the room and saw a Colonel who seemed to be directing traffic. Garza showed him his credentials and then asked, “What can you tell me about what, when and how it happened?” “The Director’s wife found him dead next to her in bed about five a.m. She claims that she never heard a thing.” “Do you suspect otherwise?” Garza asked going into his investigative routine.
    • 173J.Cross/Stone - “If you think that she had something to do with this, I doubt it. Look at her, she’s still hysterical.” “Go on.” “The rest is up to the medical examiner. This is outside my line of expertise.” “I understand. But let me ask you a question. Why do you suppose she called the General instead of the police?” Garza asked flipping open a note pad. “That’s something you’ll have to ask her,” the colonel said. “Call the Pentagon infirmary, have them send over an ambulance. Make sure that they put a resuscitating mask over his face. He’s supposed to be in critical condition, not dead. I’m going up to the bedroom.” “Yes, sir,” the colonel started to salute, but stopped himself. Garza entered the Federal Building about an hour later. Ainsley, Thames’ personal aide rushed up to him, “Will the Director be all right.” “Too soon to say. He’s in critical condition and in a coma.” “Then you’re the acting Director,” Ainsely said. “Then, I presume you’re my new aide. Call a meeting of the staff.” “Of course, Director. We’ll have it in thirty minutes in the Director’s conference room. Excuse me…I mean your conference room.” Less than thirty minutes later, a staff of thirty top echelon agents was assembled. Before Garza could begin General Ramsey entered. “I was just about to have a staff meeting, General. Is there something you would like to say?” “At the moment, no. I’m just an observer,” he said. But Garza could hear the anxious tone in his voice. “There seems to be a multiplicity of assaults against our government,” Garza began. “What I am about to say must stay within this room. If it leaks, I won’t even investigate, I’ll fire everyone in this room. Is that clear?” Everyone nodded their head. “First, we had the Pentagon break-in, and now, for reasons, at the moment, which do not concern you, we’re withholding the fact that Director Thames was assassinated some time this morning while he slept in his bed.”
    • 174J.Cross/Stone - Shocked faces and murmurs swept the room. “For the time being, we are reporting that he is a coma from a stroke.” Garza paced the length of the room before continuing. “We are the first and usually the last line of defense against this kind of terrorism. And, make no mistake ladies and gentlemen, we are being assaulted by terrorists. Director Thames must have had information as to their identity. I believe the Pentagon break-in and the Director’s assassination are related. Does anyone have any ideas that we might pursue?” One of the agent’s spoke up. “Obviously, this is a concerted effort.” “By whom?” Garza asked. “Do you have any evidence, or are your ideas speculative?” “It has been my experience that when these kind of events happen, there is usually a history to go with it.” “And what do you suspect…Agent..?” “Cummings, sir.” “Go on.” “In the light of what’s happened, I would say that a covert enemy operation was in effect. The Pentagon break-in was to gather proof. The assassination of the Director meant that he had knowledge of what the enemy was up to.” “I’ve already said as much.” But Garza filed his comments away. Perhaps, he was someone who could be trusted. “Any other possibilities?” The room was silent. “As General Ramsey has said, we shall get to the bottom of this. I want a special team to investigate the Director’s assassination. Special Agent Cummings I want you to head up the investigation. Be discreet, the Director’s not supposed to be dead yet. The announcement will come soon enough, so get your team together.” Cummings nodded with a surprised look and said, “Yes, sir, Director.” “Alright,” Garza said, clapping his hands together, “let’s get going. I want reports at the end of each day. If not, you’ll be replaced.” The FBI people left the room, but Ramsey stayed behind. “Is there something I can do for you, General?” Garza asked.
    • 175J.Cross/Stone - “Do you know anything about what Director Thames was involved in?” “He kept his agenda to himself. Why?” “He was involved in a very top secret operation with Army Intelligence.” “I was not aware of that. As head of Army Intelligence, if you have any information about it, I would suggest that you tell me. It might help our investigation.” Ramsey hesitated and then said, “The Director was involved in a project called the ‘Cipher of Satan’.” “Sounds ominous. What’s the project about?” “I can’t say at the moment. But I would like to talk to you about it in private.” “When?” Garza asked. “Tonight, at my house,” the General said. “It sounds like something we should discuss now. This is as private as it gets, General.” “I was thinking of something less formal.” “General,” Garza said, “If you know something, now is the time, or I’ll be forced to have you speak with the president. This is a matter of national security, and he must be informed of all covert operations. However, I’m sure he’s aware, even if I’m not, about…what did you call it…the ‘Cipher of Satan’?” “It’s a top secret operation. All of the pieces are not yet in place, we were planning on telling the president as soon as we had it all put together.” “That’s not how our government works, General. The president must be informed.” “His National Security Advisor is well aware of our plan.” He said defensively. “But the president’s not?” “It was just a matter of days.” “And you would like me to hold off until then?” Garza asked looking askew at the General.” “I know I’m asking a lot, but I need you to trust me.” Garza walked away from the General and strode along a row of chairs tapping his fingers on them as he moved in a circle around the room that led him back to the General.
    • 176J.Cross/Stone - “If I can’t trust the head of Army Intelligence, who can I trust?” Garza said smiling, and then turned to a harsher tone, “But tonight, I must know what you know, so that I can better decide on what you have asked me not to report.” “Until tonight then, Garza…I mean Director,” Ramsey said and quickly left the room. Garza walked down the hallway to Agent Cummings’ office, knocked once and then entered. Cummings was on the phone. “I’d appreciate that. Call me when you’re finished,” he said and hung up, looking surprised at seeing the Director. “I was just on the phone with the medical examiner at the Pentagon hospital. He’ll call me back with the details as to time of death and weapon.” “You don’t waste time, do you?” “No, sir, I don’t.” “I haven’t seen you before,” Garza said. “Tell me a little about yourself.” “I recently transferred in from the Chicago office.” “Why?” Garza asked. “I helped solve a politically sensitive corruption case. I’ve had a request in for the D.C. office, I guess this was my reward.” “Did they get rid of you, or transfer you?” Garza asked sharply. “That’s a good question, Director. I’ve wondered that myself. Even though I am a complete team player, my protocol was not always in conformance. If you call them, I’d like to know the answer myself.” “You’re not afraid to say what’s on your mind,” Garza said, thinking about when he was an agent. “Some would say that I’m a little too blunt.” “Going by the book will get you advancements, but it rarely solves a crime.” Cummings looked stunned. “Can I ask you a question, Director?” Garza nodded. “Why did you ask me to head up this investigation? I’m new, and it must have occurred to you that it would cause a lot of discontent among the other agents.”
    • 177J.Cross/Stone - “I’m counting on it,” Garza said. “I, like you, am not always inclined to follow protocol. But that does not give you free reign. This is not Chicago. This town has some strange peculiarities. So when in doubt, talk to me first.” “I wished I had worked for someone like you a long time ago,” Cummings said. “Don’t be grateful, too soon. Those other agents will crucify you the first chance they get. If this investigation flops, you’ll be working in the land of the midnight sun.” “Am I being set up, Director?” he asked with a sour expression. “Of course, but don’t let that stop you,” Garza said and grinned. “You’ve got great instincts, you’ll find a way to deal with it. Let me know what the M. E. comes up with.” Garza had no idea where Brand was. He had called the Embassy and talked with Bishop Salvi. All the bishop would say was that Brand had left and didn’t know if he would return. He assumed Ramsey would have him watched, so he decided to remain in the office for the rest of the day and see if he could find anything that pertained to the ‘Cipher of Satan’. Garza searched through Thames’ files, he couldn’t anything. Someone had cleaned out the files. Ramsey didn’t miss a thing. He felt he was safe enough for now. Two assassinations would be too much. Whoever the enemy was they were going to have to recruit him, which he would gladly let them do. He had played the game for most of his career, and his adrenaline was peaking. He felt rejuvenated. Even if he didn’t survive, at least he wouldn’t go sitting behind that damn desk.
    • 178J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 16 Air force One was a flying office. Agent Kelley came over to where Brand, Susan and the president were sitting. “We’ll be landing in two hours, Mr. President.” Barkley just nodded, and went back to his conversation with Brand. “So, let me see if I understand what you’ve told me. “Jamieson Stone was somehow murdered because he was about to disclose this ‘Cipher of Satan’ operation, but you don’t know how it was done. Then Senator Kensey supposedly commits suicide, but you think it was murder. Then the unfortunate death’s of Radcliff and General Lester, which were determined to be accidental, but you believe were also murders. Now, we come to the ‘Cipher of Satan’, which you believe is a weapon, invented by this Professor Zlatamir that will control the minds of every person on the face of the earth, and it’s going to be mounted on the space station with the help of the Russians and the Chinese. And the purpose of this weapon is to stop the Russians and Chinese from an all out nuclear strike against the United States. Is that about the size of it?” “You’ve missed a few salient points.” “Like what?” “The roles of Director Thames and General Ramsey, for one. The attempts by the FBI to have Susan Stone killed.” “Supposition.” “No, fact. Anthony Garza, the Assistant Director of the FBI, confirmed the FBI team that was sent to kill her.” “But he’s a friend of yours.”
    • 179J.Cross/Stone - Brand ignored the remark. “Then the bombing of our supposed safe house apartment…” “I’m not disputing the assaults on her life,” Barkley interrupted. “only who the culprits are. You’ve got to admit that from where I’m sitting, everything looks suspicious, including you.” Brand looked over at Susan for help. “Thomas,” Susan said, “I know that it’s impossible for you, or any president, to believe that some of his most trusted advisors have betrayed him, and that there is an unknown kind of weapon that will subvert freedom for everyone on the planet.” “Susan, if I thought it were true, I’d have them, and all their associates arrested.” “And if it is true, Thomas, who could you trust? They may be planning your assassination as we speak. If what Brand believes is true, your role as president would become obsolete.” “I couldn’t have said it any better,” Brand smirked. “You know, Brand, you’re an arrogant son-of-a-bitch.” Brand yawned, “So I’ve been told.” “I should have you arrested for breaking into the Pentagon, assuming that’s true?” “Do what you like, Mr. President,” Brand said sitting upright. “Have me arrested, then you’ll have to believe that these documents are not forgeries.” “And if I put aside all of my prejudices, which is a monumental task, what do you suggest?” “We need an investigative team that in no way could be compromised to verify this ‘Cipher of Satan’ operation.” “The ‘Cipher of Satan’,” he scoffed. “Even the name sounds like a Steven King novel.” “That may be so, but you can’t dismiss the possibility that I might be right.” “Because of Susan, and the slimmest of possibilities, I intend to see this through, and hope to prove you wrong.” “Believe it, or not, Mr. President, I would like nothing better than this was all a mistake, and the attempts on Susan’s life are completely unrelated.” “I don’t believe you. I think you have an agenda.”
    • 180J.Cross/Stone - “And what would that be?” “I see the way the two of you look at each other, I’m not blind. Susan is very vulnerable right now, and I believe you’re taking advantage of her.” “Mr. President!” Susan exploded. “If you believe that then stop the plane because I want to get off.” “Relax, Susan,” Barkley said softly. “I didn’t mean to offend you, but it’s a possibility that I must consider.” “If it were Jamieson telling you this, you would have no doubts,” she said as tears started welling up. Barkley had to admit to himself that was true. “Susan, I said I would see this through. What else can you expect? I’ve cleared everything from my calendar to do as you’ve asked. We’re flying to California to bury your husband. I’ve agreed to meet with Nolan and Artemis, what else can I do?” “You can believe, as I do, in Michael Brand.” “That I cannot do,” he said trying to sound sympathetic. The president had called ahead letting Nolan know when they would be arriving at LAX. The plane landed in a secluded part of the airport. Nolan and Artemis were waiting, and immediately drove them to the headquarters of the National Rehab Center. Agent Kelley went with them and the other four agents followed in a car that Nolan had provided. The car with Agent Kelley and the president carried on with only small talk until they were alone in the joint offices of Nolan and Artemis. Once inside, Alexander Artemis jumped at Brand grasping him in a huge bear hug that lifted him off the ground. “I should really be pissed,” Artemis said still clutching Brand. “It’s been almost five years. There’s no excuse.” Artemis said and released him. “I didn’t know you cared so much,” Brand said as he straightened his jacket. Nolan then came over and shook Brand’s hand. “It’s good to see you,” he said smiling. “I’m sorry, Mr. President,” Artemis said, “but it’s been awhile since we’ve seen Michael.”
    • 181J.Cross/Stone - Artemis and Nolan then went over and shook Barkley’s hand. Barkley had gone into a mild shock at seeing what had just transpired. “This is Susan Stone, widow of Jamieson Stone,” Brand said. Both Nolan and Artemis shook her hand. Alex said, “We’re truly sorry for your loss.” Susan was almost as shocked as Barkley. “Thank you,” she said. “And thank you for being so accommodating.” “Okay, enough of the love fest. Is there somewhere we can talk in private?” Brand asked. “The conference room,” Nolan said. “It’s sound proof.” “Good. Let’s go,” Brand ordered. “You haven’t changed a bit, Michael,” Artemis said. “The day I do, is the day you’ll find me dead in some back alley.” On the way to the conference room Susan and Brand were lagging behind in conversation. Barkley took the opportunity to ask Nolan and Artemis, “You really trust this guy?” “With my life,” Alex said, and Nolan nodded. “By your question, I assume you don’t?” Alex asked. “He’s such an arrogant ass,” Barkley said. “Well, all I can say is, to know him is to love him, and I don’t mean that as a cliché. He’d sacrifice his life for you if you were on the same mission.” “And what about you, Nolan, do you feel the same?” “I must admit that I agree that he’s an arrogant ass, but what Alex has said goes for me as well.” “Wait until you hear his story,” Barkley said. “You might have the same difficulties that I do in believing him.” “All I can tell you, Mr. President,” Artemis said, “is that Michael Brand is one of a kind, and his instincts have never been wrong.” “That’s quite a statement.” “Let’s wait and hear his story, and then we’ll all decide whether he’s off the deep end.”
    • 182J.Cross/Stone - The conference room was pleasant and air-conditioned. The group sat around one end of the conference table. “So, what have you got, Michael?” Alex asked. Brand told his story from beginning to end, especially the documents from the Pentagon, but excluded the help he had from the Mafia. After an hour of recital, and Artemis and Nolan reading the pilfered documents, Brand asked, “So, what do you think?” Alex answered, “It’s hard to believe.” “If it were easy, I wouldn’t be here,” Brand retorted. “Relax, Michael. I didn’t say that I didn’t believe it, but that it’s hard to believe,” Alex responded. “What do you think, John?” Alex asked turning to Nolan. “I believe it,” he said flatly. “This is exactly how it would happen if our enemy nations got their hands on a weapon like this.” Barkley stammered,” Then…then you think this is possible?” “Not only do I think this is possible, I think that it’s probable. It’s not the first time that the President of the United States has been excluded from covert operations. Remember Iran/Contra? If I were you, Mr. President, I’d take this very seriously.” Barkley was dumfounded. All he could ask was why? “Because the scenario fits perfectly into a scheme that would involve the Russians and Chinese. And it is not out of the question that some factions within our government would concede to this scenario. What we have to find out exactly what this weapon is capable of. According to Brand, this Professor Zlatamir has conceived of a weapon that would render free will impossible, and a rogue group of scientists within NASA are constructing it, and planning to install it on the space station.” Brand chimed in. “The NASA scientist’s may not know that the Russians and Chinese are involved. They may just believe that this weapon is part of our defense shield, and are not aware of its full implications.” Barkley fumed with indecision. “How could our scientist not know what this weapon is?” “I know a scientist that worked for me when I was president, he’s teaching at Poly Tech right up the road. Maybe he can shed some light,” Nolan offered. “Call him,” Barkley said.”
    • 183J.Cross/Stone - “I’ll have him here by dinner.” Alex said to Susan. “This may not be a good time, but your husband’s body was delivered to a mortuary in Santa Monica. I know an isolated place in Malibu where the ocean is beautiful and serene…Would you like to visit the mortuary?” “I don’t think I can handle it. I would rather remember him as I knew him.” “I understand. Sunset tomorrow would be a nice time, if that’s all right with you?” “Sounds perfect,” Susan said, trying desperately to hold back her emotions. “You all must be tired,” Alex said. “I’ve arranged for rooms here at the Center. They’re actually quite nice.” Nolan’s mind was spinning in a different direction. “Who knows you’re here, Mr. President?” Barkley thought. “Only my chief of staff, my secretary, and of course my wife, who I’m sure is still pouting because I refused to let her come. My chief of staff is making arrangements for the media to be here tomorrow, so that I can offer praises for the work that is being done here.” “I’m sure you’ll be impressed, Mr. President,” Alex said. About seven o’clock Dr. Peter Santini arrived at the Center. Nolan greeted him, and hurried him into the conference room. It was the just the two of them; Nolan felt it would be quicker for him to brief Santini without the entire group present. Besides, he wanted the focus to be solely on the weapon. “What’s the urgency, John? I drove here without even changing my shirt.” “Peter, What I’m going to tell you is top secret. President Barkley here’s, and I want you briefed before we all meet. You’ll stay for dinner, offer your suggestions, and then I want you to go back home tonight.” Nolan described as best he could the plausibility of a theoretical weapon that would render free will impossible. Santini scratched his head. “How much time do I have to think about this?” “Half an hour. Work here in the conference room, this is where we’ll be having dinner.” “You think you’re still president, don’t you?”
    • 184J.Cross/Stone - “Sorry, old habit. But the real president will be here, and if you think I’m tough wait ‘til you meet him.” “I can’t wait,” Santini said shaking his head. Nolan rounded up the group and escorted them to the conference room. Santini was bent over and writing furiously on a yellow legal pad, several pages were strewn about the table. Santini collected the pages as the group entered the room. Nolan made the introductions, and specified where everyone should sit. “Susan said, “You would make a great hostess.” “I learned from my wife,” he said sarcastically. When Nolan had everyone seated he began. “When any of the staff enters, our conversation should turn to more mundane things.” “Like what?” Brand asked, loving to tease Nolan. “Talk about your cat, I don’t care,” he said starting to get pissed. “Michael, we don’t have time for this. Dr. Santini has to be home tonight. So, let’s take advantage of the time we have with him.” “Sorry,” Brand said and squirmed in his chair. Nolan addressed the group. “As you know, I’ve invited Dr. Santini, and he was gracious enough to come and meet with us, and I might add, at great inconvenience. So, let’s keep things concise. I’ve briefed him and asked him to give us his thoughts and suggestions about a theoretical weapon that would negate free will. Doctor, have you come up with anything?” “In thirty minutes, you must be joking.” Barkley frowned. This was going to be useless. “Peter,” Nolan frowned as well. “You must have some suggestions?” “You need a brain expert or a psychiatrist, not a scientist. I can tell you how to deploy such a weapon, but how to build it would take someone who had extensive knowledge of brain chemistry, especially the pineal gland.” “Zlatamir,” Brand said out loud. “Zlatamir!” Santini slammed his pen on the table. “Is he involved in this?” “No,” Nolan said. “It was just a name that came up. What do you know about him?”
    • 185J.Cross/Stone - “Zlatamir is an evil genius.” Santini hesitated. “Come to think of it, he proposed something like this to a symposium of scientist that I attended.” “What was his proposal?’ Barkley asked. “For most of us it was all Greek. He should have been talking to experts with a knowledge of how the pineal gland works.” “Do you know how the pineal gland would affect behavior?” Barkley asked. “Actually to some extent, I do. The pineal is a vestige of what is called the third brain. It resides in the center of the forehead, and if properly stimulated it could secrete certain hormonal enzymes that could affect behavior.” “How so, Doctor?” Barkley asked again. “We’re not exactly sure. It could run the gamut from subservience to violence. There’s a colleague of mine who is doing experiments. You should be talking to him.” “Would you offer any suggestions on how this pineal gland can be stimulated?” “This is just a guess of course, but it appears that some forms of electromagnetic fields might have an affect.” “How would they be delivered? Could it be done from outer space?” “It could be done form anywhere. But it would require a type of microwave with a specific frequency and intensity. At the moment, this is all science fiction.” Barkley asked another question. “Assuming, this was possible. Would it affect the entire populace of the planet?” “Given a properly directed system, intensity and frequency it would affect at least ninety percent of those exposed. But, we’re in the realm of science fiction, not real substantiated science.” Everyone looked at each other. They were no more questions. ‘We’ll have dinner now, and doctor, you should be home in time for a good night’s sleep,” Nolan said. “Why do I get the feeling that there’s a lot more about this that you haven’t told me?” “You’ve been immensely helpful, Doctor, and we are most grateful,” Nolan said. “I’ve heard bullshit before.” “On the contrary, Peter. This was just a theoretical discussion.”
    • 186J.Cross/Stone - “No, it wasn’t.” “Peter,” Nolan said. “I say this in all sincerity, this meeting never took place. Understand?” “Completely,” Santini said. “Now, let’s have dinner,” Nolan said and pushed a button on the phone. The dinner was modest, but adequate. Nolan walked Santini to his car and asked. “What’s the name of this professor that’s doing experimental brain and behavioral research, and can he be trusted?” “Trusted?” Santini asked surprised. “You mean is he the kind of guy that will play your dangerous game?” “Something like that.” “He would probably like nothing better.” “What’s his name?” “Dr. Richard Bittlemen.” “You know the drill,” Nolan said. “Not a word.” “I can’t wait to forget this meeting.” “Good. You always did understand.” “I’ll never understand why I got involved in politics.” “Because you were my friend, and still are, and the nation needed you.” Nolan went back to the conference room. The group was conversing among themselves. “So, what do you think?” he asked. “I think its psycho-babble,” Barkley said. “Which part?” “All of it,” he retorted. Nolan persisted. “You mean that you place no credence in what Santini had to say? …What about his response to Zlatamir?” “Santini was outside the realm of his expertise. As far as Zlatamir is concerned, all I got was that he’s a nutty professor who gave an unintelligible presentation.” “Would you allow me to head up a task force to investigate the possibility that this ‘Cipher of Satan’ is for real?” “I’ll have to think about it,” Barkley replied.
    • 187J.Cross/Stone - “Does anyone else have any comments about what was said?” Nolan enquired feeling frustrated. Brand wanted to say something, but decided against it. The rest remained silent. “All right then, tomorrow, Mr. President we’ll give you a tour of the facility and the progress we’ve made with victims of drug addiction.” “I can’t wait,” Barkley said. He hated the way drug addicts were coddled. Nolan ignored his response. “Then you’ll have your news conference, and we’ll all immediately go for the spreading of Jamieson Stone’s ashes into the Pacific Ocean. If there’s nothing else, we’ll see you all in the morning.” The group went to their quarters, but Nolan and Artemis remained in the conference room. “What do you think?” Nolan asked Artemis. “I think were in a world of trouble. We’ve got to convince Barkley that this is not science fiction, but a real threat to our national security.” “I agree. I’m going ahead with this. I’ll be contacting a Dr. Bettlemen, the man that Santini said was working on brain and behavior research.” Susan was quiet as they entered their room. Brand didn’t want to intrude, but said anyway, “Is there anything you would like to talk about?” “No, not really,” she said. “But, could you please hold me, I need your strength.” “You know that I love you beyond any words that I could say.” “Me too,” she said and held onto him in a desperation of emotion. “Everything’s so confusing.” Regardless of the time zone, Brand was awake at six a.m.; his internal clock rarely malfunctioned. Susan was still asleep. She had tossed and turned most of the night. Brand wished he knew how to comfort her, but some things can’t be comforted, which he knew from his own personal experience. After a quick shower he dressed, and walked out into the fresh salt air that was floating in from Santa Monica Bay. The sun filtered sunlight over the mountains and through the early morning smog that blanketed L.A. His thoughts were mixed. He wished he were sitting on a beach with Susan in Costa Blanca, Spain
    • 188J.Cross/Stone - where the real world, like the serene surf, was drifting by without a care. Someday, he thought to himself, but not now, he was thrust into another war of good versus evil. He wondered if he had chosen it, or that it was chosen for him. Either way, he was in it. When he arrived back at the room, Susan was getting dressed. “How are you feeling?” he asked. “Like the world is coming apart, and me with it.” “Do you feel the same about us?” “Without you in my life, and the love I feel for you, I would have been hospitalized by now. You’re the only anchor I have, I don’t know what I would do without you.” That’s all Brand needed to hear. He reached out and held her close, “I love you more than I do my own life,” he said softly. Susan shifted her head so that she could look at his face; it was filled with tears. “Why are you crying, my love?” she asked. “Because, I know how much you hurt, and your hurt is my hurt. And I can’t do anything to make it stop.” “You already have. You told me how much you love me, and that makes the hurt go away.” Brand forced a smile and said, “If it were only that easy.” “Believe me,” she said holding his face in her hands. “It’s natural to feel grief for someone you’ve known for almost half of your life. But I can’t imagine a future without you.” She held him in a tight embrace. “I love you,” she said in a whisper, but with an intensity that penetrated to Brand’s soul. Breakfast was held in the conference room. As they ate, Nolan asked, “Are they any left over questions from last night?” Brand asked, “So, what are we going to do? Sit around and wait for this thing to fall on us like a ton of bricks?” “I know a group that we can trust and count on,” Barkley surprisingly said. “Who’s that?” Nolan asked. “I was part of the Navy Seals for twenty years. I would trust them with my life.” “Who’s in charge?” Nolan asked.
    • 189J.Cross/Stone - “Admiral Infanti. He’s close to retirement, but I’m sure he would like one last chance at the enemy.” “Have you changed your position from last night?” Nolan asked. “I don’t think I expressed any position,” he said pushing a fork full of pancakes into his mouth.” “You seemed somewhat negative last night,” Nolan said. “Sometimes you have to sleep on it until you can make a decision.” “And what, Mr. President, have you decided?” Nolan asked. “If there’s a possibility that any of this is true, then we must act swiftly. When I get back to Washington, I’ll call Infanti.” For Barkley, the tour dragged by like a boring movie. Half way through the tour he said he was too tired to continue and went to his room. At four o’clock about a hundred media people were waiting in front of the National Rehab Center. Barkley went to a bank of microphones, and did his best to praise the Center for their good and necessary work. After the media event, Artemis went to the mortuary and picked up Stone’s ashes, and put the urn into a red velvet bag. When he arrived back at the Center, the sun was already descending toward the ocean. “It’s time to go,” Alex said to Susan. “I’m ready,” she said. The same group who rode from the airport piled into the limo, and the other four agents followed. The ride to the secluded Malibu beach was somber, but thankfully short. Both cars parked along the side of the road next to a small embankment that led to the beach. The sun was about to set into a dark blue ocean as they walked between a series of sand dunes. The small group reached the ocean’s edge as the soft foaming surf washed the sand into a golden color. Alex handed Susan the red velvet bag. She removed her shoes and waded in up to her ankles. The breeze was soft and gentle, and the clouds were being painted in to an orange red as the sun dipped into the horizon. Susan removed the urn from the bag, and stood motionless as the surf gathered around her feet. She opened the urn, and let the
    • 190J.Cross/Stone - ashes flow silently out. They floated for just a second before they disappeared into the darkening ocean. Susan just stood there looking out as if in a trance. The rest of the group waited on the sand, while the four agents stood near the embankment in an elongated semi-circle. Susan finally turned and waded back to the sand. Brand started toward her, and then all hell broke loose. The staccato firing from Uzi’s ripped up the sand around them, Agent Kelley instantly grabbed the president, tackling him to the ground and covering him with his body. He looked around to find where the firing was coming from; he spotted five, maybe six men on the embankment, which was about fifty yards back. Two of the secret service agents were already on the ground; the other two were returning fire from a huge boulder. He saw one of the assailants fall from the embankment. The assault team concentrated their fire on the two remaining secret service men, which gave Kelley time to hustle the president to a nearby sand dune. When Brand heard the first shots whizzing by, he grabbed Susan forcing her down into the edges of the surf. They would be harder to detect from the embankment. Besides, Uzi’s were unreliable from that distance. “Stay still,” he said to Susan as the surf washed over them. Kelley was on top of the president, and Nolan grabbed Artemis and ran to a nearby sand dune. Brand couldn’t see the secret service men, but heard them returning firing, and then saw Kelley rushing the president to an opposite sand dune. The assassins fire was concentrated on the secret service men, “Now,” he said to Susan lifting her up, “Run.” Brand shielded her as they ran down the beach away from the fire to an outcropping of rocks that extended into the ocean. They splashed frantically for safety finding a small cave, the waves were now coming faster and higher. Brand and Susan were soaked. He wondered how long before the incoming tide would prevent their escape. “Are you all right,” he asked Susan. “Just scared and wet,” she said shivering. “If you have to, do you think you can swim out of this cave if it fills with water?” “Don’t worry about me, I can swim.” Brand started to leave, but Susan held on to him with a death grip. “Where are you going?” she asked, “They’re trying to kill us.”
    • 191J.Cross/Stone - “I’ve got to help. The president and my friends are trapped,” he said. “You’ll be safe here. I’ll come back and get you, or you swim out and run like hell until you’re far away from here.” Susan stared at him as her hair dripped across her face. “I guess you have to do what you have to do,” she said releasing him. “But if you get killed, I swear I’ll kill you myself.” Brand forced a smile and left retracing his way back to the beach. The gunfire was still blazing. He crouched low, peering into the darkening beach searching for Nolan and Artemis. Soon it would be black, it might be to their advantage. He saw Nolan and Artemis hiding behind the sand dune, and ran to them. “Are either of you hurt?” “No,” Nolan said, “but I think were outnumbered.” “Well, this will teach you not to give up your secret service detail,” Brand quipped. “So, what are we going to do?” Alex asked. “Kill the bastards, that’s what.” “How?” Nolan asked. “I’ve got to get to Kelley and the president. They’re the targets. If Kelley’s smart enough, he’ll have another weapon strapped to his leg. If not, it’s hand to hand combat, just like the old days.” “Be careful,” Alex said. “Careful doesn’t always win wars.” The fire from the Uzi’s continued to blaze at the secret service men. Brand raced as fast as could along the wet sand until he found Barkley and Kelley huddled behind a sand covered boulder, and slid as if he were heading for home plate. “How’s Susan?” the president asked. “She’s safe for now.” And then asked Kelley, “Do you have a spare gun?” “Never leave home without it,” he said. “Good. Give it to me,” Brand demanded. “What are you going to do?” Kelley asked as he handed Brand a snub-nosed .38. “I’m going to help your friends, and kill the bastards.”
    • 192J.Cross/Stone - “Two of my agents are down, but I think they got one of the assassins,” he said, “but they’re closing in on the other two.” “Then I guess, I better hurry.” Brand left and made a wide circle around the cove. The night was coming fast. “He’s crazy,” Barkley said. “That crazy son-of-a-bitch just might save your life, Mr. President.” Kelley said. “I wish he were on my detail.” Brand was now less than thirty feet from the remaining two agents who were squirreled behind an outcropping from the embankment, when he saw a figure closing in from behind them. In the assailant’s haste, he concentrated only on the agents. As he approached within firing distance, he passed by Brand who was now less than five feet away. From a crouched position Brand lunged at the man from behind, encircling his forearm around his throat and depressing his windpipe, and with his other hand he grabbed the man’s forehead and twisted violently. The man crumpled at his feet, and Brand picked up the assassin’s Uzi. Now, how to get to the agents without them firing on him was the question. He crept as close as he could, hidden just out of sight of the agents, and called out, “This is Brand, I’m here to help. Don’t fire. I’ve taken out one of the assassins.” There was no response. “Look guys, you’ve got trust me,” Brand said hoping that they heard. “If you’re Brand then walk over with your hands in the air,” a voice finally came back. “Are you crazy? I want to help, not get killed. How ‘bout I crawl over to you, I’m about ten feet away?” “I’ll have my gun trained on you, so don’t make any sudden moves.” “Okay,” Brand said, as another burst from the Uzi’s ricocheted off the rocks. The agents returned fire, not knowing exactly where to aim. Brand crawled within three feet of the agents and asked, “How you guys doing?” The agent finally recognized Brand. “How’s the president?” “Safe at the moment.” “I’m okay,” the agent said, “but my buddy’s shoulder is ripped up badly.”
    • 193J.Cross/Stone - “I can still shoot,” his buddy said. “There’s only four of them left.” Brand handed the unhurt agent the Uzi. I don’t know how much ammo you’ve got left, but keep them occupied, I’m going to circle around and come in from across the road.” “You’ll need the Uzi,” the agent said. “No. Fire a few bursts at ‘em. That’ll confuse them. But watch your back, I took one out just thirty feet from here.” “Got it. And good luck,” the agent said. Brand ran in the opposite direction along the embankment about fifty feet and then scaled up to the two-lane highway, and to his amazement he saw a long line of traffic clipping by. They must be listening to some very loud music, Brand thought. The traffic was too heavy to cross the street, so he decided to skirt along the embankment keeping to the shadows as much as he could. About twenty feet from the shooters, he hid behind the agent’s car. He could only see two men, which meant, they were either trying to get to the agents, or they were hunting for the president. He assumed the latter. He knew now he didn’t have much time. His approach was muffled by the traffic as he neared the men who were firing alternately at the rocks, which kept the agents pinned down. He felt confident that Kelley could protect the president, but Nolan and Artemis was another matter – they were helpless. He reached for the gun Kelley had given him, and sidled along the side of the car closest to the street. The gunmen were in plain sight as he cradled the gun on the hood and fired. Both of the assassins dropped instantly. Brand then headed down the embankment, hoping that the agents wouldn’t fire at him. “It’s Brand, don’t shoot,” he shouted and made his way in their direction. “Just in time,” the agent said, “we’re out of bullets.” “There are two left hunting the president. I’m going after them. Take care of your friend,” Brand said, and hurried off scampering between sand dunes. The moon was just coming up, which was either good or bad depending on who had the advantage. He removed his shoes to give him more mobility over the sand, and raced crouching in the shadows of the dunes. Somewhere near the water, he saw two silhouettes searching. They were moving toward Nolan and Artemis. He shot at them, but the snub-nose was useless at that range, but it caused them momentarily to go in the opposite direction toward
    • 194J.Cross/Stone - Kelley and the president. But instead of pursuing that direction, they fell flat on the sand, which made them impossible to see. The moon was rising, which was just as bad for them as it was for him. Brand was at least a hundred feet from the assassins, so he hunched down in the sand and crawled toward them. He hoped his aging body would not fail him as he pushed forward on his elbows along the sand. Suddenly, a burst of fire illuminated the area, it was directed at the president’s position. Gunfire was returned, and one the assassin’s dropped. Brand hoped it was because of Kelley, but he couldn’t be sure if the man just hadn’t dropped to avoid the gunfire coming from Kelley’s position. As the night lit up for a few seconds from the exchange of gunfire, Brand realized he was closer than he thought. There was no more exchange of gunfire, only the sound of waves starting to pound on the beach. A half moon cast a lone silhouette crouching toward the president and Kelley. Brand, from a prone position, aimed and fired three times at the man, hoping the snub-nosed .38 would be accurate. It was. The man fell sideways. Brand ran the distance and found that both assassins were dead. Breathing heavily, he approached the sand covered rock that the president and Kelley were hiding behind. In the moonlight, he saw Kelley lying prone as the president was applying pressure to Kelley’s shoulder. Brand reached down and put his finger on Kelley’s neck for a pulse. It was beating smoothly. “He’ll be all right, Mr. President,” Brand said, and then jogged over to Nolan and Artemis. “We’re okay,” Nolan said, “but what about the president and Kelley?” “The president’s fine, but Kelley is going to need some stitching.” Suddenly, he said, “I’ve got to find Susan,” and ran off in her direction. The tide was up to high to wade to the cave. “Susan,” Brand yelled, “it’s Michael. Are you all right?” A large wave slammed into him sending him under with a mouthful of water and sand. There was no answer from Susan. Brand started to panic, and was just about to dive into the water toward the cave, when Susan emerged about ten feet in front him. “I’m okay,” a breathless voice said. Brand rushed out into waist deep water, and carried her to shore. “I told you I was a good swimmer,” she said coughing up salt water. “Thank God you’re all right,” he said kissing her all over.
    • 195J.Cross/Stone - “I heard you call, but I was up to my chin in water. I figured the best way out was to swim. You know, they have some nasty currents here, I almost didn’t make it,” she said, and then fainted in Brand’s arm. “You’re all right now,” Brand said, and carried her to where the president and Kelley were. Artemis and Nolan were already there helping to attend to Kelley. “Is Susan all right?” Alex asked anxiously. “She’s okay. I think she just fainted from exhaustion after swimming against the currents,” Brand said and laid her down. “Hey, secret agent man, you okay,” Brand shouted toward the embankment. “I think we’ll make it,” a voice came back barely audible over the pounding surf. “Let’s get out of here, before another team comes to take us out,” Brand ordered. Everyone started to scurry at Brand’s pronouncement. Nolan and Barkley carried Kelley. “Put him in one of the cars, and let’s take our men out of here,” Brand said. “What about the assassins?” Barkley said. “Leave ‘em for the seagulls.” “Let’s take at least one, it’ll give us a clue as to who they are,” Barkley said. “Okay, put him in the trunk.” Susan revived, and the rest of the group brought up the wounded and dead. When they arrived back at the Center, the able bodied, minus Susan who Brand had put to bed, met in the conference room, including the lone, unhurt secret service agent. “So, Mr. President, you still think this is all bull?” Brand asked, enjoying the moment in his unique perverted way. “You’re still an arrogant ass,” Barkley said. The unhurt agent said, “I don’t care what you think he is, Mr. President, he took out four of those bastards all by himself. Personally, I’d call him an arrogant saint.” Barkley just smiled, “You should have been a Navy Seal,” he said to Brand. “I’m not anyone’s seal, Mr. President.” “You’re impossible.” Nolan stepped in. “Michael, we are all grateful…”
    • 196J.Cross/Stone - “Stop it, I did what I do best. And the rest of you do what you do best, so let’s just leave at that.” Alex understood completely. “The wounded agents will be well cared for in our hospital here at the Center, Mr. President.” “Tomorrow we leave at dawn, and we’ll bring that assassin with us,” Barkley said. “And then there’s going to be hell to pay. I’m going to…” “Hold on, Mr. President,” Brand interrupted. “With all due respect, you’re letting your emotions dictate the game plan. Nolan, here, will find out who the assassin was. But you must go back to your Oval Office as if nothing has happened. It’ll confuse the enemy, and give us an advantage.” “Brand’s right,” Nolan said. “It’s got be business as usual.” “But what about the men we left back on the beach?” “Leave it to the police. There’s still gang wars in L.A.” “So, what’s your game plan?” Barkley asked Brand. “Do as you intended, call Admiral Infanti and get me the best Seal team he has.” “Give ‘em to you? They’ll never go for it.” “I thought you just said I should have been a Seal. Besides, they won’t have a clue where to begin.” “And, of course, you do?” “If I’m not mistaken, Nolan will discover that the team that tried to kill you is attached to covert Army Intelligence operations, but obviously not very good at it.” “You think this is Ramsey’s doing?” “Who else? And I’d take a hard look at your vice-president and National Security Advisor.” Barkley just slumped in his seat, and closed his eyes. “And too think I was stupid enough to want be president.” “Those were my exact words ten years ago when I was president,” Nolan said. Barkley bolted upright. “Aright,” he said slamming both hands on the table, “I know what to do.” “What?” Brand asked. “As you said, you do what you do best, so let me do what I do best.”
    • 197J.Cross/Stone - “Alright, Mr. President, it’s your show.” “No. It’s our show. But, until I can assemble a Seal team, I’m assigning you three secret service agents.” “I only need one,” Brand said and pointed to the agent still shaken from the ordeal. “Are you up to it, secret agent man?” “You want me?” he asked pointing toward himself. “You’re the only one I can trust, and you you’ve got a score to settle, don’t you?” “You’re damn right, I do. When do we start?” “We already have. What’s your name?” “William Kidd.” “Billy the Kidd,” Brand grinned. “I hope you’re as good with a gun as your name implies.”
    • 198J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 17 Garza arrived at General Ramsey’s house at eight o’clock, and was ushered into an office with military mementos, plagues, and medals hanging on the walls, plus an American flag standing behind his desk. The General offered him a chair. “I’m glad we could have this chat, Garza.” The General said starting to light up a cigar, “Do you mind?” “Not at all.” “Would you like one?” “I enjoy a good cigar.” “Good. How about a little Irish Whiskey to go with it?” “A little scotch would be nice, if you have it?” The General poured the drinks, and sat down on a leather sofa after handing Garza a cigar and a quarter filled glass of scotch. “So, how was your first day as Director of the FBI?” “Acting Director,” Garza corrected. “Could be permanent if you like,” Ramsey said as he puffed a billow of blue smoke. “That would be up to the president and the Senate.” “I have a few friends in the Senate that could persuade the president.” “You’re a powerful man, General,” Garza tipping his glass to Ramsey. “Perks of the job, nothing more.” “You were going to tell me about this ’Cipher of Satan’,” Garza said puffing on his own cigar.
    • 199J.Cross/Stone - “I’ll get to it, but first, a few personal questions, if you don’t mind?” “Not at all.” Ramsey sipped on his whiskey. “You knew General Radcliff, didn’t you?” “I met him once before he retired.” “And what about Bishop Salvi?” “Never heard of him until he became the Ambassador from the Vatican.” “And Michael Brand?” “We worked on some cases during the drug wars, but that was more than ten years ago. Why the questions General?” “Mostly curious.” But then added, “We suspect that Brand might have had something to do with Senator Simon Kensey’s death.” “I thought he committed suicide,” Garza asked surprised. “At least that’s what the report indicated. Do you know something, General?” “We know…” Garza interrupted. “Who is this we, General?” “Some of my staff uncovered that he was hired by Kensey to investigate the Stone suicide.” “Was there something to investigate?” “Not that we can tell, but Kensey hired him on behalf of Mrs. Stone.” “You’ve lost me, General. How do you connect Brand with Kensey’s death?” “We can’t, except that Kensey is dead, and Mrs. Stone and Brand are missing.” “I still don’t see the connection. Do you have any evidence that something’s irregular?” “No. My hope is that you can locate them.” “Why should the Bureau be concerned, unless you suspect that Mrs. Stone is somehow involved in Kensey’s death?…But I must say, General, this seems a little far fetched.” “There is evidence that Mrs. Stone was kidnapped by Brand.” “Speculation, General?” “We know that Brand was the last person to see Mrs. Stone at her farm in Virginia, and now they’re both missing.”
    • 200J.Cross/Stone - “And what would you like me to do about it?” “I would like you to report them both as missing with the possibility that Brand kidnapped Mrs. Stone.” “Without evidence, I can’t do that.” “Could you at least issue a missing report on both of them?” “That I can do,” Garza said. “Good. Now, let me change the subject, which will lead us to the ‘Cipher of Satan’, a covert operation that Director Thames was involved in. We believe his assassination was directly connected to the Pentagon break-in.” “An unknown terrorist group is the theory, unless, you believe that Brand is involved as well,” Garza took a shot. Ramsey’s eyes widened. “It’s not out of the realm of possibilities.” “Why is Brand a possibility? From what I know about him, he left the intelligence community more than ten years ago, furthermore, he was a patriot.” “As we delve further, the possibility will become clearer.” “Please, go on, General.” “The CIA, FBI, and the NSA uncovered an international plot that would put our nation at risk.” “From what?” “A simultaneous nuclear attack from Russia and China.” “That’s some plot, General,” Garza said pretending to be shocked. “Do you know what the consequences of such an attack like that would mean?” “I suppose the annihilation of at least half the planet.” “Exactly, but the United States would be completely obliterated.” “So would Russia and the military complexes of China.” “That may be true, but China plans, not in quarterly results, but over generations. After a nuclear holocaust, the Chinese would inherit the earth. Out of over a billion Chinese, enough would survive to gain control of the world.” “And, you believe this to be true?” Garza asked. “I know it’s true,” Ramsey said adamantly. “When is this nuclear holocaust to begin?”
    • 201J.Cross/Stone - “We uncovered the plot two years ago. The timetable for the attack was within a few months, that was, until we came up with a compromise.” “What kind of compromise?” “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Each piece that I relate will eventually unfold into a complete picture.” Garza nodded, puffed on his cigar, and sipped on his scotch. “Continue, General, this is most fascinating.” “When we discovered what the Russians and Chinese were up to, we informed the National Security Advisor immediately. He suggested we meet with Professor Zlatamir. At the time, we assumed that the president would be informed. We found out later that he was not, but in the interval we had met with Zlatamir, and he presented us with a plan that would avoid a nuclear disaster. As you can imagine, we were all eager to hear.” “And what was his proposal?” Garza asked. “Actually, it was a very simple plan, depending upon how you looked at it. He had conceived of a non-nuclear weapon that could be directed toward China and Russia and would eradicate free will.” “Sounds like science fiction to me,” Garza said. “But, it’s not. I’m sure you’re aware of the HARP project in Alaska.” “To some degree.” “It was initially designed to redirect or mollify weather conditions, but we soon realized that he it could be used as a missile shield defense system.” “How would it work?” “The technology is complicated, but the easy answer is that after detecting an enemy missile heading toward the U.S. we would send and electro magnetic microwave beam at it which would interrupt the detonation sequence causing the missile to become harmless.” “Sounds like a good plan.” “Except that it didn’t work, that is, unless the weapon was out of the earth’s atmosphere, and with simple modifications of the HARP system we could neutralize any enemies’ missiles.” “I still don’t understand the problem.”
    • 202J.Cross/Stone - “Time. Time was our problem. We couldn’t construct such a weapon and put it into orbit in time. It would take two years, well beyond when the Russians and Chinese would initiate what they called the ‘Final Solution’.” “Right out of the Nazis play book,” Garza said. “You’re not far off. So, we had to look for a compromise.” “What I don’t understand, General, is why you and the others involved believed that the Chinese and Russians were serious about such an attack.” “Because we had confirmed satellite reports that a massive build up of nuclear arsenals in Russia and China was going on. They didn’t even try to hide it.” “Sounds like a shell game, General, pretend one thing, but do another.” “Would you take that chance, given a choice?” “I can’t say, I don’t know enough yet.” Ramsey up and poured himself another whiskey. “We arranged for Zlatamir with our top Army Generals for a secret meeting with the Russians and Chinese.” “And the president wasn’t aware of the meeting?” “We didn’t know for sure, but we had clearance from his National Security Advisor. As I said, time was of the essence. So, we met with them.” “Were you there?” “Of course, I was head of the Joint Chief’s.” “But only the Army was involved?” “That was our instructions from the NSA. They said to keep the circle small; if the other branches were brought in it would complicate matters. It was then that we were informed that the president was unaware of what was going on. His National Security Advisor said that Barkley was too impulsive, and might decide to attack first, which would end in the same result – the annihilation of the United States.” “Continue,” Garza said. “At that time, we thought we were negotiating a peace treaty to stop a mutual destruction scenario. But the Chinese had other thoughts. By the end of our discussions, we were convinced that the Chinese and Russians would launch a nuclear attack.” “And the Russians agreed, knowing that their country would be annihilated?”
    • 203J.Cross/Stone - “The Chinese had promised that a million of their most important Russians would be given safe harbor in China during the attack.” “And you believed them?” “It wasn’t important what we believed, only what the Russians believed. The Russian military would do anything to regain a world power status.” “So, what was the compromise?” “The planet would be divided equally into three parts. All of Western and Eastern Europe to the Russians, the Chinese would take all of Asia, except for some parts that the Russians wanted, and the United States would have control from the Artic to the Antarctic, which included Alaska, Canada, and North and South America.” “Then what? I mean how would the planet be ruled?” “A triumvirate of three nation states. Each one separate, but tied to a tribunal that would make the world free to pursue their own interests, and free trade without economic and manufacturing restrictions.” “And what would prevent the Chinese from taking over the world when Russia and the United States was reduced to rubble?” “Now we get to the genius of Zlatamir’s plan. He proposed a weapon that would neutralize free will. Russia, China, and the United States would each have the ability to control their own weapons that would ensure planetary peace and tranquility.” “How?” Garza asked. “This still sounds like science fiction.” “The space station will be fitted with six weapons. Two each to the reformulated planetary nations.” “And what effect will these two weapons have on Russia and China?” “None. But their own two weapons will also have no effect on us.” “But, your only assurance was from Zlatamir? And what role will he play in this triumvirate of nations?” “I suppose he’ll want a prominent position on the Council.” “And that doesn’t bother you?” “So what if he has his own agenda, the world will be in peace for the next millennium.” “Tell me, General, do you know how this weapon is able to subvert free will?”
    • 204J.Cross/Stone - “As I understand it, it has to do with a certain frequency and intensity of electro- magnetic microwaves which affect the pineal gland and the medulla oblongata causing a numbing of the nervous system and cessation of the decision making processes within the brain.” “Has anyone ever checked out this theory?” “I have seen experiments first hand. Using the weapon properly, it becomes a tool that can subvert anyone’s free will to the point that the individual can be induced to accomplish any command. It only requires a simple triggering device.” “Which is?” “That, for now, must remain classified.” “If I might, General, I have a few questions.” “If I can answer them, I will.” “Where is this weapon being built, and when is it going to be deployed?” “It’s at a top secret installation in the U.S., and it’ll be ready to be deployed within a month.” “What’s to prevent the Russians or Chinese from redirecting this weapon against us?” “Why would they?” “It seems obvious to me that half the world is better than a third.” “There is a simple method from stopping its effects. We have designed a specially insulated baseball looking cap that will shield the wearer.” “Any known side effects?” “Not that we’re aware of.” “So, there are two choices,” Garza said. “One is a nuclear holocaust, which the Chinese will eventually become the winners, or we give up our free will and have peace on earth.” “That’s about it. Besides, we don’t have any real collective freedom now.” “That may be true, General, but it’s a far cry from being automatons.” “Haven’t you noticed, we’re already automatons. We eat, sleep and work only to survive. I don’t think anyone will even know the difference.” “So you want me to join your cabal, is that it?” Garza asked.
    • 205J.Cross/Stone - “That’s the idea.” “And if I refuse?” “Then you’ll become, as you said, an automaton… or worse,” Ramsey said, and narrowed his eyes. “I get the point, General. All I can say is that it’s always best to be on the winning side. So, what do you want from me?” “Find out who this unknown terrorist group is and eliminate them. I’m convinced that Brand is involved. Find him and Mrs. Stone, we’ve got to find out what they know.” “Leave it to me, General, I know exactly what to do…Oh, by the way, it’s a good thing that Zlatamir is on our side.” The next day President Barkley was back in the Oval Office, and Brand and Susan were ensconced behind the walls of the Vatican Embassy with his new recruit, Billy the Kidd, as he referred to him. Brand related the events in L.A. to Salvi. He crossed himself and said, “This is a race with the devil, isn’t it?” “Don’t worry, we’re going to win this race, Bishop,” Brand said. “I’ve got to contact Garza.” Brand said anxiously. “Oh, while you were gone he called. I told him you were gone, but didn’t know where.” Susan went up to the bedroom, and agent Kidd was escorted to a guest room. Brand went to the computer and typed in a message to Garza: “The toy soldiers malfunctioned, I need a replacement, or refund. Please, reply.” Brand would now have to wait for an answer. He walked back into the main room, and picked up the newspaper that was laying on the table. The headlines read: “FBI Director Thames in Coma.” The article went on to describe the Director’s condition as serious, and the probable cause a stroke. Brand had to sit down. Garza was now acting Director of the FBI. Brand smiled to himself, “It’s bonus time.” President Barkley was unusually pleasant to the people who were going and coming from his office. After a somewhat normal morning, Barkley punched a button on his phone,
    • 206J.Cross/Stone - which rang at his secretary’s desk. “Maggie, hold all my appointments and phone calls until you hear otherwise.” “You have a meeting with your chief of Staff in ten minutes,” she replied. “Tell him I’ve got some personal business to attend to. You know my wife,” he said,” he said, “it’s probably another crisis. Tell Randall we’ll have lunch in an hour, here. Order in some of that Chinese food we like.” “Yes, Mr. President.” Barkley scrambled to find his private phone book. He located it in one of his bottom drawers, and leafed through until he found Admiral Enfanti’s private number. He dialed it quickly, and a female voice answered, “This is the Admiral’s office.” “This is President Barkley, why are you answering his private phone?” he barked. “I…I was here in his office. It was a mistake, Mr. President. I answered it out of habit, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.” “Where’s the Admiral?” “He should be back in a minute.” “Where is he?” he ordered. “Mr. President, he’ll be back shortly.” “That’s not an answer. Where is he?” “Well, if you must know, he’s in the bathroom. Do you want to wait on the line, or shall I have him call you back?” “Go pound on the door, and tell him to get off the pot, I need to talk to him.” “Mr. President! I can’t.” “You can and you will. Don’t argue with me, just do it.” “Okay, Mr. President, if you say so.” Barkley could hear the pounding on the door, and voice saying that the President was on the line. After a couple of minutes the Admiral came on the line, “Can’t I even take a crap in peace? If you were still under my command, I’d have you Court Marshaled.” “I’m sorry Admiral.” “You’ve got my secretary in tears.” “Apologize for me, but this urgent.”
    • 207J.Cross/Stone - “Well let me finish buckling my pants,” he said grumbling. “So, what’s so urgent? Are we being attacked?” “Something like that, Admiral,” Barkley said. Enfanti immediately calmed down. “What is it Tom?” “Make sure no one can hear you.” “The room’s sound proof, go ahead.” Barkley related all that he knew. Enfanti said, “Wow! So, you think Ramsey’s behind this?” “Among others.” “What about the Air Force and Marines?” “I think it’s just the Army Generals, but I can’t be sure. You’re the only one I can trust.” So, what do you need from me?” “For now, I need a team of Seals at my disposal. The best and most trustworthy.” “I’ll hand pick’em. How many?” “I think ten will do.” “Where do you want me to send them?” “I’ll let you know. Thanks Admiral.” The president hung up. Nolan fussed with his thoughts and then finally called Bettlemen. He had to find out if this weapon was real or science fiction. Bettlemen answered in a groggy voice, “What do you want?” “This is John Nolan from the National Rehab Center.” “I don’t do drug cases. Call someone else.” “Do you know who I am?” Nolan asked. “No, and I really don’t care, I’ve been up all night doing experiments.” “I’m the former President of the United States, and I need to talk to you.” Bettlemen all of a sudden came to life. “I’m still half asleep, Mr. President, but if you’ll give me a minute to get some coffee.” Nolan waited impatiently for him to come back to the phone. “So, what can I do for you, Mr. President?” Bettlemen asked a little more lively.
    • 208J.Cross/Stone - “I understand you’re involved in brain research.” “Until my grant runs out, which may be any day now,” he grumbled. Nolan ignored his comment. “I want you to drive down to the Center in Santa Monica. It’s urgent, or I wouldn’t have called.” “Give me two hours to rest so that I can have a clear mind, and I’ll drive down.” “See you about noon then,” Nolan said. “I’ll be there.” Cummings poked his head into Garza’s office. “Got a minute?” “What have you got?” Garza asked. “Close the door, and have a seat.” Cummings flipped open a folder. “The medical examiner estimated from the lividity of the body that death occurred about one a.m., give or take an hour. The bullet was from a twenty- two caliber, and the screw pattern suggests a silencer, which was already an obvious conclusion.” “Entry to the house?” “The security alarm was compromised by fusing the alarm’s wires. The only device capable of that is an FBI issue.” “Your conclusion?” “Someone had access to some very privileged technology.” “Or?” “I’m not going to suggest an FBI agent, if that’s the question.” “Why not?” “I need more evidence than a FBI issue laser device.” “What about the Pentagon break-in?” “I’m being stonewalled at the Pentagon.” “How so?” “They said that Army Intelligence was handling the matter.” “Who said?” Cummings flipped a page. “A Colonel by the name of Swartz.” “You’re conclusions?” “Off the record?”
    • 209J.Cross/Stone - “If you prefer.” Cummings shifted in his chair. “As the Danes say, ‘Something smells rotten’.” “Like what?” “I’ve got nothing but speculation, and no hard evidence, but I suspect a conspiracy.” “How so?” “Well, we have a presumably unknown terrorist group operating that knows one hell of a lot about the Pentagon, and now the Director’s assassination. I would say it’s too coincidental.” “Elaborate.” “In my opinion, Thames must have known something about the Pentagon break-in which meant he had to be eliminated.” “Conjecture?” “Of course, but there’s something going on that is very dangerous to our national security. No one breaks into the Pentagon without knowledge, and help. Then the Director of the FBI is assassinated, seemingly without cause. As I said, I suspect a conspiracy, or…” “Spit it out,” Garza said. “Or there’s a concerted effort to cover up a national security crisis.” “That’s quite a leap, Cummings. You’re talking about FBI involvment.” “Yes, Sir, I am.” “Speculation or instinct?” “Both, and I’m rarely wrong.” “You’re also arrogant.” Garza felt like he was talking to Brand. “I’ve been told that before,” he said. “Then follow your instincts, and let’s hope it takes you somewhere.” “Yes, Sir,” Cummings said. “Is there anything else?” “Have you picked a team yet?” “Not yet.” “Why?”
    • 210J.Cross/Stone - “I don’t know who to trust, considering I suspect a conspiracy and FBI involvement.” Garza felt it was time to take a leap of faith. “Have you heard of man by the name of Michael Brand?” “I took the liberty of going through some classified documents. He was an under cover agent for Army Intelligence, and I just received a memo that he’s a missing person with an asterisk after his name. That means he’s suspected of a crime.” Garza started to fume. “We don’t really know each other, but I presume you trust me, or you would not talk so freely, because if I were involved you would know that you’d be dead before morning.” Cummings felt his mouth go dry. “As I said, my instincts are rarely wrong. I believe you’re the only person here that I can trust.” “To tell you the truth, until now, I’ve been kept out of the loop, but I’m a fast learner. I was also an undercover operative before I took the insane job as Assistant Director, “Garza said and settled back in his chair. “I’ve known Michael Brand for twenty-five years. Not only is he a patriot, he’s my best friend with instincts that go far beyond both of us. I am going way out on a limb by telling you this, but life is crapshoot and I’m going to trust you. I’m going to arrange a meeting with you and Brand. If you lie to him, or even hold anything back, you’ll be dead within minutes of your meeting. Are you willing?” “Yes, Sir.” “Do you have reservations?” Cummings hesitated and started to think about what Garza had just said. “But what if he’s wrong about me?” “You said that you were rarely wrong. Well, Brand is never wrong. Do you still want to meet with him?” “I won’t compromise the Bureau or my country,” Cummings said. “Fuck the Bureau. I’m talking literally about the survival of life as we know it on this planet.” “I’ll do whatever you ask,” Cummings said as his mind was going numb.
    • 211J.Cross/Stone - “Good. Now go turn in your cell phone, and get a new one. It should be secure for about a week. Call me at this number and leave me your new number. I change my phone every two days, but Brand will know how to reach me. I hope he trusts you as much as I do. Call me, and I’ll give you instructions.” When Garza got home he check his e-mail, and read Brand’s message. Garza figured he had two days left before he had to change his website, so he typed in a message to Brand: “Your toy soldier should be replaced by tonight. Have a nice dinner.” Cummings finally called Garza on his new cellular. “What do you want me to do?” he asked. Garza replied, “Go to Terrazzo’s, it’s a Mexican restaurant, and wait. Brand will find you.” Cummings was there on time, and sat nervously in a booth waiting for the mysterious Michael Brand. After ordering a couple of beers, trying to calm his nerves, he wondered if Brand would show. The man who had seated him came over to his booth and said quietly, “The gentleman you’re expecting is waiting for you in another room. If you will follow me, please.” Cummings grabbed his beer and followed, first through a red velvet curtain and then down some stairs, which ended into the wine cellar. The man who led him there disappeared back up the stairs. Cummings stood alone in the dimly lit cellar and looked around at the racks of wine bottles, as he twisted his beer anxiously between his palms. After several seconds, a voice called out. “If you’re armed, place your weapon on the table in front of you and the beer bottle as well.” Cummings did as he was told. “Now, walk five steps and turn around,” the voice said. Brand ordered agent Kidd to approach from behind and apply a death hold. In seconds, Cummings was gasping for air. “Don’t kill him, we might need him,” Brand said emerging from the shadows. Kidd released him, but held him in his grasp. Cummings coughed several times as Kidd loosened his grip. “Director Garza sent me to meet with you,” he said still coughing from the chokehold. “What’s your name?” Brand asked.
    • 212J.Cross/Stone - “Cummings, Sir,” he said. “Well, Mr. Cummings, what can we do for you?” Brand asked. “Director Garza asked me to meet with you,” he repeated.” I assume you got his message.” “What else did he say?” “Nothing, only that I was to come to this restaurant. He said you would find me.” Kidd was still holding him from behind. “Release him,” Brand said. “Why did he send you?” “I don’t know. He said I would find out when I met with you.” “Have a seat,” Brand ordered. Cummings sat and looked at Brand who was still standing in the shadows, but there was no mistaking the menacing look on the man who was standing next to him. “Tell me what your connection to Garza is?” “I’m an FBI agent. He put in charge of Director’s Thames’ assassination…” Brand cut him off. “I thought he was in a coma from a stroke?” “No, that was just a cover story for the media. He was assassinated in his bed.” “How, and what about his wife?” “A .22 caliber, but his wife was not hurt.” A few more seconds passed, and the Brand asked, “Are you hungry?” “A little, but that’s not why I’m here.” “Ask Jose to bring us down three specials,” Brand said to Kidd. Kidd nodded and walked up the stairs. “What do you think you know about what’s going on?” Brand asked. Cummings really didn’t know how to answer, and instantly became afraid of saying something wrong. “You’re afraid you’re going to say the wrong thing, aren’t you?” “As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what I was thinking,” and thought Brand might be clairvoyant as well. “Don’t be. Just tell me what you know and what you suspect,” Brand said trying to put Cummings at ease.
    • 213J.Cross/Stone - It didn’t help. Cummings was thinking of what Garza had said about Brand’s instincts. Just tell him what you think, he said to himself. “I believe there’s a plot that involves the national security of this nation.” “Assumption,” Brand asked. “I think there may be a connection between the Pentagon break-in and the assassination of Thames.” Cummings had no experience in being interrogated. “Mr. Brand, I’m out of my element here. I don’t have any experience in covert activities, so, if you want to shoot me, please get it over with.” “You really don’t know what’s going on, do you?” “Not a damn thing,” Cummings said boldly. “I know only one thing, the Director sent me here to help you. He said our nation’s security, and probably the world’s, was at stake. That’s why I’m here.” “Relax, agent Cummings. If Garza sent you here, then he must trust you.” “That’s what he said.” “Well then, who am I to argue with Garza.” Cummings remained silent. “If Garza trusts you, then so do I. But for now, your job is to be a conduit between me and Garza. Understood?” “Completely.” “Your first, and maybe most important assignment, is to tell Garza that the President of the United States was almost assassinated in California, but with the help of a few secret service agents, we were able to prevent it.” Cummings said, “Why isn’t this all over the news?” “Why isn’t Thames assassination all over the news?” “I don’t understand this cloak and dagger stuff, I’m not an undercover agent.” “You don’t have to be, there’s enough of us to go around. Just do as you’re told and you’ll come out alive, hopefully.” Cummings had never been more scared in his life, but mustered up the courage to ask, “Mr. Brand, can you tell me what’s going on? I would like to be more than a conduit. If my life is at risk, then please let me know what I might be dying for?”
    • 214J.Cross/Stone - .Brand laughed to himself at the agent’s naivete. “Garza must be desperate, if you’re the only one he trusts?” “Apparently,” Cummings said. “How’s your memory?” “Fine, actually, it’s exceptional,” Cummings responded. “Good, because what I’m going to tell you must be repeated exactly as I tell you.” Brand then related most of what he knew, but left out what agent Cummings did not need to know. “Got it?” Brand asked as Kidd brought down a tray of food. “Got it,” Cummings repeated.
    • 215J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 18 Bettlemen pulled into the parking lot of the National Rehab Center. The hot Santa Ana winds’ were blistering in as he crossed the almost deserted parking lot to the entrance of the Center. The cool breeze freshen him as he entered. “I’m Dr. Bettlemen,” he said to the receptionist, “President Nolan is expecting me.” The receptionist punched a button and said, “There’s Dr. Bettlemen here to see you.” Nolan replied, “Show him into the conference room.” Nolan and Artemis were waiting for him as he entered the room. “I’m John Nolan. Have a seat, doctor.” The abruptness flustered Bettlemen, expecting something more cordial. “And whom might I ask is this gentleman?” he asked referring to Artemis. “You really do live in an cloistered world,” Nolan replied. “This is former Senator Alexander Artemis, head of the Armed Services Committee.” “I apologize, Senator, for my lack of knowledge,” and sat down opposite them. “What do you want to know?” “First, what area, or areas, of research are you’re involved in?” Bettlemen cleared his throat. “My research and experiments are involved in determining how the pineal gland is affected by certain stimuli.” “What kinds of stimuli?” “Low frequency electro-magnetic microwave beams.” “Why?” “Am I on trial, here?” Bettlemen asked, not appreciating the tone of the questions.
    • 216J.Cross/Stone - “I’m sorry, Doctor. Forgive my rudeness. But before you can be of help to us, I must know what you’re working on.” Bettlemen relaxed only slightly. “My research is highly technical, and hard to explain to layman.” “I understand,” Nolan said, and then asked, “Are you familiar with Professor Zlatamir’s research?” “My research was stimulated by one of his books, which the scientific community rejected out of hand.” “But you didn’t?” “I believed his conclusions were erroneous, but his basic facts were plausible. I was intrigued by his ideas.” “And which ideas were those?” “That man’s free will could be subverted by numbing the pineal gland.” “Explain numbing?” “Simply put, the pineal gland excretes certain enzymes that allows the frontal lobes to function in a way that produces what we call the conscious decision making process. If I could verify his theory of numbing, then I could find ways to stimulate the pineal gland, which would be of immense importance to autistic children as well as dementia, and maybe even sever cases of by-polar individuals.” “I can appreciate the scope of your research, Doctor, but we’re only interested in how you can subvert free will, and have you accomplished it?” “Yes I have in numerous experiments. I was just about to write another grant detailing my success.” “Well don’t. From now on you’re working on behalf of the United States,” Nolan said adamantly. “You mean you want to wok for the military that will turn this is into some kind of a weapon. No thanks!” Bettlemen said just as adamantly. “On the contrary. Zlatamir has already constructed such a weapon, we want you to develop a way to stop it.”
    • 217J.Cross/Stone - Bettlemen sat stunned for a minute. “That son-of-a-bitch did it,” he said half under his breath. “If you’re on the level, I don’t think what you’re asking would be very difficult. But I need assurances about what you’re asking.” “What kind?” Bettlemen thought for a minute. “I really don’t know, but you guys will say anything to get what you want.” Artemis finally chimed in, “I don’t blame you. As the former head of the Armed Services Committee, I was taken in several times.” Artemis turned to Nolan, “We’ve got to tell him. I don’t think we have a choice.” Nolan said to Bettlemen, “I’m placing you under a secrecy oath as of now. If you break it, you’ll spend the rest of your life at Leavenworth. Am I clear?” “Your threats don’t scare me,” Bettlemen protested. “Then how about your life?” “That scares me.” “Do we have your promise, or not?” “Just assure me that I’m working for the good of this country, and it will not be used as a weapon.” “You want me to write in blood?” Artemis interceded, “John, we’ve got to tell him what’s going on. Or he’s not going to be any good to us.” “Alright,” Nolan said. “This is what’s happening.” And explained as much as he knew about the ‘Cipher of Satan.” “Wow!” was all Bettlemen could say after Nolan finished. “The solution is simple, all it requires is simple tin foil placed over the head.” Nolan considered what Bettlemen had said. “We need to know how to stop this weapon on a world wide scale.” “How many hats can you produce?” he asked sarcastically. “On a global scale, if this weapon is used from beyond the earth’s atmosphere, and sequenced properly it can’t be stopped, unless you destroy it before it’s deployed.”
    • 218J.Cross/Stone - Nolan nodded his understanding. “Thank you for coming…” But then remembered a question. “I assume by your statement that you have tested this on numerous individuals.” “That is correct, and it never failed.” “Other than what you’ve told us, you’ve said nothing about your experiments. Is there a triggering device, or is the electro-magnetic microwave beam enough to produce the shut down of the pineal gland?” “As a matter of fact, you’re right. It does require a triggering device. It was only by accident that I discovered it. The experiments were only halfway successful until one of the volunteers went into a zombie like state, which at first, I was unaware of. It was only after I asked him to stand up, which he did and stood there erect and would not move. I then asked him to walk around the room, which he did promptly without stopping, but all the time his eyes were fixed on the coffee pot. At first, it made no sense, then I realized he was staring at the red light on the coffee machine. I shut it off, and he stopped walking. That was the triggering device. It’s much too complicated to detail, but suffice it to say, I found the trigger that completed the loop.” “Anything special about the red light?” “No, any constantly illuminated red light would trigger the process to the complete subversion of the neurological system that controls free will. The individual then becomes immersed in to a total hypnotic state.” Nolan nodded without any reaction. “Well thank you again Doctor for your time. Send your grant proposal to me, and I’ll make sure it will be funded in totality, provided you keep your promise of secrecy as to our discussion. Do I make myself clear?” “Completely, Mr. President. You can rely upon my discretion.” “I’m relying on your secrecy, not your discretion. Now go back to the university, and forget we ever talked.” “I’ve already forgotten it,” Bettlemen said, just happy about getting his grant. After the doctor left, Nolan said, “We must get this information to Brand.” “How?” Alex asked. “I don’t know. Maybe the president knows how.”
    • 219J.Cross/Stone - Brand and Susan walked around the cloistered areas on the Embassy grounds’. She nuzzled her head into his shoulder as they walked. “What do you think is gong to happen?” she asked concerned. “I don’t know,” he said holding her closer, as the sunlight darted in and out through the canopy of trees. “I love you,” she said softly. “Do you think this will end well?” “Do you mean for us?” “For us and the world.” “For us I have no doubts,” he said tenderly. “But for the world is another question.” “You’ve got to stop them,” she said anxiously, and pushed away from him. “Of course I do, and I will,” he smiled. “Evil always becomes its own destruction.” “It won’t happen without your help. Bishop Salvi said you were a chosen warrior. I still have no idea of what that means?” “Neither do I. So, let’s enjoy our walk before I have to leave. “Where are you going?” she asked anxiously. “I’m not exactly sure, but I’ll be gone for awhile. You’ll be safe here.” “I don’t care about being safe, I just want to be with you.” “As I said to you once before, we can go to Montana and raise horses, if that’s what you want?” Susan dabbed at her eyes, which were starting to drip with tears. “I know you have to go, but it doesn’t mean I like it. I can go with you,” she said hoping. “You said yourself that we make a good team.” “If you were with me, I’d be more worried about you than the mission.” “I took care of myself on the beach, didn’t I?” “We didn’t have a choice then. Please, understand that knowing you’re safe is the most important thing to me, or I won’t be able to do my job. Have trust in me Susan. I’ll be back, the world will be saved, and we’ll have any kind of life that you would like.” Susan grabbed him and kissed him hard. “You better come back to me. I can’t lose you,” she said as her tears began cascading down her face.
    • 220J.Cross/Stone - Cummings met with Garza in his office and related what Brand had ordered him to report, especially the way he had been treated. “So, what did you expect?” Garza asked. “Not almost being murdered,” Cummings responded. “I had some very tense moments in that damn wine cellar.” Garza laughed. “You were in no danger, he was only testing you.” “Well, the next time you talk to him, tell him I didn’t appreciate it.” Garza laughed again. “I’m sure you don’t want me to tell him that.” “No. I guess not. But it would help if I knew more, I could be more help then.” “You know enough for now. The more we trust you, the more you’ll be involved.” “I know enough to blow your whole operation apart, why not tell me the rest?” “You said you were a team player. Live and learn. It’s an education of a lifetime.” “He wants to meet with you right a way,” Cummings said. “Alright, figure out a safe meeting place.” “Chicago was much easier.” “Well, you’re in D.C. Find a way and let me know. You’ve got an hour.” Barkley called the Vatican Embassy, and when Brand got on the line the president started speaking so rapidly that Brand had a hard time following him. “Slow down, Mr. President we’re on a secure line.” Barkley expelled a deep sigh and started over. “I just got a call from Nolan. After talking with an expert from Poly Tech, he said the weapon was unstoppable. He also said that it took a red light source to trigger what he called a total hypnotic state.” “If that’s true, then the only solution is to find the weapon and destroy it.” “My sentiments, exactly.” “Do you have any idea of where the weapon is?” Brand asked. “There could only be four sites. I’ll investigate quietly, and I’ll get back to you.”
    • 221J.Cross/Stone - Cummings rushed into Garza’s office. “I’ve thought of a place where you can meet without suspicion.” “Where?” Garza asked apprehensively. “At the zoo. It would have to involve your family though.” “My family! Are you crazy? You got any other brilliant ideas?” “I’m telling you, Director, it’ll work. I’ll watch out for your family, while Brand’s agent watches both of your backs.” “I don’t like it.” “Your family won’t actually be involved, they’ll be far away when you meet with Brand in the Lion House.” “In the what?” “The Lion House. Feeding time is at 3:00 p. m. There will be a lot of people and noise. You and Brand can talk while his agent watches for anybody suspicious.” “Is that the best you can come up with?” Garza asked, still not liking the idea. “In an hour, yes.” “When?” “Tomorrow’s Saturday. The zoo will be crowded. It’s the perfect cover, you’re just taking your family to the zoo.” “I was thinking more of an isolated place. I hate getting my family involved.” “Don’t worry. Besides if someone’s following you, Brand’s agent will know and stop the meeting.” “Alright,” Garza said, “I’ll set it up. But nothing better go wrong, or you’ll be the first one I shoot.” “I’ll take good care of your family.” The Washington Zoo was thick with people. It was impossible to get close to the exhibits, let alone get a decent look at the animals. The sun seemed to skirt above the clouds. The day was hot, and getting close to an unbearable humidity, which didn’t appear to bother anyone, except Garza. Sweat had already soaked him from the inside out. Mexican’s are supposed to love the heat, he thought to himself, and then cursed his heritage.
    • 222J.Cross/Stone - He checked the time. It was twenty minutes to three. The Lion House was, at least, a ten-minute walk from the Panda exhibit, which his two kids and wife were determined to see. He looked around for Cummings, and spotted him eating popcorn on a bench some twenty feet away with a camera hanging from his neck. “I’ve got to go to the bathroom,” he said to his wife. “Don’t leave, I’ll be back shortly.” His wife nodded, “Hurry back, or you’ll miss the Pandas.” “I doubt it,” he answered. As Garza walked toward the Lion House he decided not to try and see if anyone was following him. It would be too easy for them to spot. As he approached the Lion House, a huge sign read: Lion’s feeding at 3:00. All the entrances to the exhibit were open, but he was still stymied by a long line, and a longer line gathering behind him. Suddenly, a man approached and said, “Excuse me, could you tell me the time?” Garza instantly became wary, but looked at his watch. “It’s ten to three.” The man was holding a coke with his watch hand and bent it to look at his own watch, and in the process, spilled coke all over Garza. Garza jumped back, and the man attempted to dry his shirt with a napkin. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I guess you’ll have to change your clothes.” Garza understood immediately. “It’s okay, the coke actually feels good. It’s so damn hot anyway.” “Look at that stupid man in the entrance trying to control traffic,” the man said and turned around. It was Brand. Garza instantly turned and left, but the man remained in line as if nothing had happened. Brand watched Garza leave and then ducked inside. After about ten minutes, agent Kidd was standing just inside the entrance. He saw the two men who had been following Garza. One went to the left, the other to the right. He was closer to the one on the right, so he made his way through the crowd and stood directly behind the man, and whispered in his ear, “General Ramsey sent me.” “I just saw Brand,” the man said turning his head slightly. “So did I, let’s go.”
    • 223J.Cross/Stone - “Where is he?” “I saw him by that palm tree near the side exit.” The two men shoved their way through the throng of visitors with Kidd following. About two feet from the palm tree Brand stepped out, and Kidd tripped the man sending him sprawling to the floor. Brand picked him up by the arms so he couldn’t reach for his weapon. There was a green painted bench near the exit door. “Sit down, and you might survive,” Brand said. “Make a move for your weapon, and my friend here will kill you.” Kidd smiled an ugly grin. “Do as your told,” he said. The man sat down. “Put your arms over the back of the bench.” Brand and Kidd sat on either side of him. Brand asked, “Why are you hunting me?” “Actually we were following Garza,” he said. Brand could see fear creep across his face. “Why are you following Garza?” “Orders.” “From Ramsey?” Brand asked. The man remained silent. Brand had his answer. “But you want to kill me? Why?” “Because you’re the son-of-a-bitch whose is fucking everything up.” “Is that what your General Ramsey said?” “I’m not saying anything more.” Agent Kidd already had his hand on his gun with a silencer attached. “Are you a soldier?” Brand asked. “You want my rank and serial number?” he said with an ugly look. “No. I want you to send a message to General Ramsey. Tell him I’m not part of his game. There’s a terrorist group that’s hunting me as well.” The soldiers face went flaccid. “You mean you’re not the enemy?” he asked confused. “No, and neither do I know what’s going on, nor care to know. Is that clear?” “As a bell,” he said.
    • 224J.Cross/Stone - Brand reached over and extracted the soldier’s weapon from its holster. “Just in case you still believe I’m the enemy.” Brand and Kidd exited the side door leaving the soldier amazed and confused. If Brand were the enemy, he thought, then surely he would have killed him. He found his partner and relayed the event, and then called Ramsey on his cellular once outside the Lion House. “General, we have to meet,” he said agitated. Within an hour, they were standing in front of the General in his office at the Pentagon. “I’m telling you, General, I don’t honestly believe that Brand is involved,” the soldier said. Ramsey had a desk full of file folders, and threw the bunch at him. “If stupidity was a viable commodity, you’d be worth a fortune. Of course, he’s involved. Garza led you directly to him, so he could fill with confusion.” “With all due respect, General,” the soldier replied, “I believe he was telling the truth. If Garza wanted to meet with him, there was nothing that could have prevented it. His The man that was with him could have taken us both out.” “So, why did Garza leave?” “Someone spilled coke on him. It was hot and the line was long. My guess is that he wanted to get back to his family at the Panda exhibit.” “You guess,” Ramsey said, and started pacing. “I suppose this was all a coincidence?” “No. I believe that he had someone following Garza, and his man spotted us following Garza.” “You’re more stupid than I give you credit for,” Ramsey growled. “He said nothing about the attempt on the president’s life, or anything that would connect him to a terrorist group. I believe he’s scared, and trying to protect himself.” “You should be his defense attorney,” Ramsey said and sat down running his fingers through his thick gray hair. “No matter what you believe, Brand is involved.” The other soldier finally spoke up, “I think we should concentrate on this terrorist group.” “You do, do you?” Ramsey flashed a menacing grin at him. The soldier cowered at the General’s look, and said nothing further.
    • 225J.Cross/Stone - “For now, you’re both relieved of duty. Report to Colonel Latimer for reassignment. Dismissed.” Ramsey wondered if what he had heard was true. It had a ring of authenticity, but on the other hand, Brand was a seasoned operative. The problem was, that if Brand was involved, who was helping him. Maybe he underestimated the secret service agents? He probably should have sent in a larger team, and then started to blame himself. But, what confused him the most was why the president hadn’t said anything to anyone. No, something was amiss, but what was it? He would never know, none of his team survived. But, he was now convinced that Barkley was hiding Mrs. Stone. And then a nasty thought entered his mind – Could Brand be working with the president? Ramsey decided to talk to Garza later. For now, the meeting with the Russians and Chinese that night loomed ahead of him; the meeting would be crucial step in the next phase of the operation. But, what would he say to them about this unknown terrorist group? They had to know that there was a group who knew about the ‘Cipher of Satan’, which posed a definite threat. Maybe, the weapon should be launched after the terrorist group was terminated? But who in the hell where they? Brand, Kidd, and agent Cummings watched Zlatamir’s office from a secluded place. It was seven o’clock when two limos stopped in front of the office. They had tried to bug the room, but were unable. Two other cars parked a distance away, one closer to their position. “This is going to be useless,” Brand said as two men each emerged from the limos wearing dark suits. The four men climbed up the steps of the posh building straddled by two other men, one of them pushed the entry button. Kidd trained a pair of night binoculars on them. “Looks like two Russians, but I can’t be sure. But the other two are definitely Chinese. I presume the men with them are security.” “You guys go home and get some rest,” Brand said. “I’m sure that Ramsey is already up there. I’m going to meet with Garza at his home.” “Is that wise?” Cummings questioned. “They’re certain to have the house staked out.”
    • 226J.Cross/Stone - “You don’t think I can enter without being seen?” he asked. “On second thought, I think it’s a great idea,” Cummings said, feeling foolish. “Good. I’m glad you agree,” Brand said. “I’ll call you in the morning, now get me to my car.” Brand dialed Garza. When he answered Brand said, “I’m coming over, have a pot of coffee ready.” “You know they’re going to be watching,” Garza said. “Never stopped me before.” “Alright, I’ll leave the back door open. The lights will be off, but I have a basement where we can talk. When are you coming?” “When I get there,” Brand said sarcastically. Brand parked two blocks away from Garza’s house, and walked through the shadows of a back alley toward Garza’s house searching for any suspicious automobile. He saw a black sedan sat parked next to a trash dumpster. Staying low he approached the car from behind with his silenced Beretta ready for business – the license plates were government issue. A yellow streetlamp up ahead revealed two silhouettes sitting in the vehicle. Brand silently made his way to the trunk of the car, rose up and fired four shots through the back window. The window shattered with only a slight noise, as the two figures inside lurched forward. Brand checked them. They were both dead. He then hustled over the fence into Garza’s backyard and into the opened back door. “What took you so long?” Garza asked in the dimly lit kitchen. “A little business. Let’s go to the basement,” he ordered. Once inside the basement, Garza snapped on a light. “It’s an all purpose room, the sofa’s on the other side of the ping pong table, and be careful of the kid’s school uniforms drying on the hangers,” Garza said. “So, here we are,” Brand said as they tip toed their way over to the sofa. “Who’s going first?” Garza said, “I am,” and relayed with as much accuracy as he could remember from his conversation with Ramsey. When Garza finished, Brand relayed what had transpired in L.A.
    • 227J.Cross/Stone - “You mean they tried to assassinate the president right there on the beach during a funeral?” “Sure as shit,” Brand said. “We took some casualties, but we got them, and Nolan tied them to General Ramsey.” “Ramsey’s got some big balls, but why would he want the president dead?” “Diversion. The country would be in an uproar, and his secret plan goes under the radar screen. He’d have every security agency looking for an unknown terrorist group.” “You want me to take him out?” “You mean the way you took out Thames?” “It was the best of scenarios. I got the bastard who tried to kill you. Now, I’m the Director of the FBI, and Ramsey’s doing his best to recruit me.” “So, has he recruited you?” “I can’t make it too easy for him, but the answer will be yes. I’ve got to find out where the weapons is.” “You’re going to get yourself killed,” Brand said. “You think you’re the only one who knows how to play the game?” “No, my friend. You’re as good as they come. But don’t take any chances. When are you going to tell the president that Thames is dead?” “When Ramsey says I can. I presume after his meeting with the Russians and Chinese.” “They’re meeting as we speak.” “I guess I’ll be talking with the General tomorrow,” Garza said. “Maybe he’ll be ready to fill me in on a few more things.” Brand sat silent for a long minute. “What’s up, buddy? Why the long face?” “I haven’t told you everything.” “You mean why you stopped our meeting at the zoo?” “The meeting was never intended to take place.” “I don’t get it.” “The meeting was a ruse. I wanted to make sure that the men who were following you were Ramsey’s men.”
    • 228J.Cross/Stone - “Is that why you were standing in the entrance of the Lion House for them to see you?” “Exactly. And that’s why the man spilled coke on you to stop the meeting.” “That was obvious, but why?” “As I said, our meeting was not the purpose?” “Then what was it?” All of a sudden Garza had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. “Shit. Ramsey’s going to connect me with you. And you used me and my family. Why?” “I wanted to talk to the men who were following you, and to send a message to Ramsey.” “What kind of a message?” Garza was becoming angry and apprehensive. “To convince them that I had nothing to do with any terrorist group, nor did I know anything else, or cared about what he was doing.” “And for that you used me and my family?” “I know it appears bad, but let me finish. You know I wouldn’t do anything that would put you or your family in danger, don’t you?” Garza just stared at Brand. “Your explanation better be good.” “His men by now would have reported to Ramsey what I told them, and hopefully cast some doubt that I’m involved.” “Ramsey’s not stupid, he’ll know it was a charade.” “Of course, but he’ll wait until he talks to you before having you killed.” “And you call me your friend? Is this your revenge for not sending a team to the farm in time?” “Relax, I told you I had a plan.” “So, what are you not telling me?” “There were two of Ramsey’s men watching your house from a car in the back alley. I took them out, I didn’t have to, but it was part of the plan.” “What kind of a plan is that? Two of his men dead will leave no doubt in Ramsey’s mind that I’m involved.” Brand pulled out his Beretta with the silencer still attached, and pointed it at Garza. “I’m going to make sure you have a perfect alibi.”
    • 229J.Cross/Stone - Garza’s eyes widened with fear. “Amigo, this is Tony, your best friend. At least give me a chance with Ramsey, it will give me time to get my family out of the country.” “Stop your pleading, it doesn’t become you.” “It’s not for me, it’s for my family.” Brand started to laugh, “You think I’m going to kill you?” “That gun your holding speaks for itself,” Garza countered. “Oh, this,” Brand said. “On the contrary, it’s your ticket into Ramsey’s inner sanctum. I have to shoot you, but it’ll only be a flesh wound. He’ll assume his men were killed by the unknown, notorious terrorists, and that you were shot by them, but not without a valiant fight on your part.” Brand showed Garza a roll of gauze. “After I shoot you, we’ll stop the bleeding, and you’ll stage a gun battle in the kitchen. I’m sure the Bureau will pay for the repairs. Now, go get your gun,” Brand ordered. “If I get my gun, I might just shoot you,” Garza said. “Go get your gun,” Brand repeated. “The next time you see Ramsey, you’re going to be a hero.” Garza got up without saying a word, and returned within minutes pointing the gun at Brand. “How does it feel?” “It feels like nothing. Let’s go upstairs to the kitchen.” Garza hesitated for a second and then said, “Okay, let’s go.” Once in the kitchen, Brand pointed his gun again and Garza. “This is going to hurt.” “Fuck the pain, just shoot, and try not to kill me.” Garza closed his eyes, and Brand fired. The bullet penetrated into Garza’s arm closer to the bone than Brand had intended. Garza twisted as the bullet ripped into him and fell to the floor. “Are you okay,” Brand asked as he rushed over to Garza. Garza moaned, after a few seconds, he said, “I’m okay, but it hurts like a son-of- a-bitch. I hope my family didn’t hear my falling.” Brand wrapped Garza’s arm with several yards of gauze, and pressed down on the wound to stop the bleeding. “I’m sorry, but it was the only way. I know you understand.” “Help me up,” Garza said.
    • 230J.Cross/Stone - Brand lifted Garza to a standing position. Once he was up, Garza swung his unhurt arm and smashed a violent fist into Brand’s jaw knocking him over a chair. “I feel better now, let’s shoot up the place.” Brand rubbed his jaw, “I guess it’s not a fair trade,” he said getting up from the floor. “Do you have any other guns?” “Yeah, I got a closet full of them.” “In about an hour,” Brand said, “use the two other guns, as well as your own, and start shooting up the kitchen as if you were in a fire fight, hide the guns and then call the police.” “Get the fuck out of here before I shoot you. I know how to stage a gun battle better than you can ever imagine.” “I’m sorry,” Brand said, “it was the only way. Keep the pressure on your arm, and you’ll be fine.” Brand left and Garza waited in the darkness of the kitchen. He could feel the blood draining from his body. The gauze and the pressure he applied was not stemming the blood flow, he began to feel weak. He didn’t know how long he had waited, but if didn’t start firing now, he was afraid he would pass out. After a fusillade of bullets ripped up the kitchen, Garza replaced the two guns and called 911, and fainted. When the ambulance arrived with a paramedic team, his wife was frantically applying pressure to the wound as his two children looked on. The paramedics took control, and whisked him to Washington Hospital. Garza had lost a lot of blood, and was put into intensive care, and listed in critical condition. .
    • 231J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 19 The Russian and Chinese Generals entered Zlatamir’s office, while the security guards remained posted outside the door. Zlatamir, Ramsey, and Randall, the president’s NSA advisor greeted the Generals. Zlatamir rushed over to them with abroad grin and shook their hands, but Ramsey and Randall only smiled and nodded their heads. “It’s good to see you again,” Zlatamir said still grinning. The four Generals returned a slight smile, but none of them spoke. “Come, let’s go into the conference room where we can be comfortable,” Zlatamir said. The conference table was circular so that no one held a dominant seating position. Ramsey, acting like a waiter, set down a tray of elaborate liquors in the center of the table. “There should be something for everyone,” he said and sat down. General Kang spoke up with a thick accent, “Let’s get down to business. How’s the assembly going?” he asked reaching for a bottle with Chinese writing on the label. “We are on schedule,” Zlatamir said. The remaining Generals each selected a bottle from the tray, while Zlatamir and the two Americans waited courteously until they were finished, and then made their own selections. “No problems?” General Restinov asked with his own stiff accent. Zlatamir had agreed with Ramsey and Randall before the meeting that the Generals had to be informed about the unknown terrorist group. “Not with assembling the weapon, but we do have a problem,” Zlatamir said. “I think General Ramsey can it explain it better than I.”
    • 232J.Cross/Stone - Kang and Restinov just stared at each, and waited for Ramsey to explain. It was obvious that they were the Generals who were in charge. The other two Generals remained silent, and poured themselves another drink. Ramsey wondered if they understood English, by their reaction he concluded that they didn’t. “We believe there is a small group within the Pentagon that is aware of the project.” “How do you know?” Kang asked. “I believe that General Lester found out accidentally from a stray memo, and told someone before we could eliminate him.” “What damage have they done?” Restinov questioned. “So far, very little. They eliminated Thames by stupidly killing him while he slept in his bed, instead of kidnapping him.” “What else?” Kang asked, as he narrowed the slits of his eyes further. “They broke into the Pentagon, and stole some meaningless documents. But the fact that they were able to break in convinces us that this group is working from the inside.” “How big is this group, and do you have any suspicions who they are?” “The group is small, no more than ten. We have a suspect, who we believe is the leader, but so far we have been unable to find him.” “The most important question is does your president know?” Randall chimed in. “I’m sure he doesn’t. I’m in daily contact with him. He would have said something.” “Unless he suspects you.” “Impossible,” Randall retorted defensively. “I see he’s still alive,” Restinov said. “Why?” “We under estimated the number of secret service agents,” Randall lied. “Our men were all killed in the assassination attempt.” “So, why was it not on the front pages of your free democratic press,” Kang asked slamming his fist on the table.”
    • 233J.Cross/Stone - “There was no press around, and like you, we do not create chaos in our country for no reason. The president is a man who wants our country to believe that everyone is safe. He would never go public with an attempt on his life.” “You Americans are stupid and arrogant, and above all careless.” Kang said. Zlatamir intervened, “Generals, why don’t you kill your own presidents?” Kang was unprepared for the question, so he had to think before he spoke. “Our presidents are obsolete, there is no need to do so.” “So is ours, but you insisted as a sign of good faith.” “But he is still alive, and yet we must trust you?” “To try again would be foolhardy. He will be prepared.” “Our nations are ruled by the military,” Restinov said, “But yours is run by civilians. Democracy upsets the balance of power. Military rule is the only successful way to control chaos.” Ramsey said, “The president is isolated. He knows nothing, and I’m in charge of the Army, the scientists, and the space station.” “But your security is shameful,” Kang said. “Our security is sufficient to successfully complete what we have started.” “I hope you’re right, or your nation will be a pile of rocks.” Restinov asked, “What about your CIA?” Randall answered, “Director Belson is power hungry, but he knows how to misdirect the focus away from the project. He has directed all available agents away from your countries and have them concentrate on mid-eastern terrorists. We sent a false memo through Army Intelligence that ten of our Embassy’s will be attacked within the next month. No one suspects anything about the project.” “Except for your small group of Pentagon insider’s.” “We should have them all eliminated before launch time,” Ramsey said emphatically. “And after that Director Belson will be neutralized.” “By the way,” Randall asked, “how did you get into the country?” “If you must know, “Kang said, “we posed as accountants for routine inspections. Our Ambassador’s would not report our arrival to anyone, it would be unthinkable to question a General in disguise.”
    • 234J.Cross/Stone - “Then let us toast,” Zlatamir said raising his glass, “to the Triune Council that will rule the world.” The next day, Garza’s eyes fluttered open. His mouth felt as if it were full of cotton. His wife Maria was standing next to the bed, her heart pounded with excitement as she saw his eyes open. “Tony,” she asked quietly, and caressed his arm, “how do you feel?” Garza pointed to a plastic tube that was inserted into his mouth. She removed it gently, and then he pointed to a bottle of water with a flex straw extending through the top. She guided the straw to his lips, and he sucked on it. Swallowing was painful, but at least he felt he could talk. “I’m fine, Maria,” he said with a raspy voice, and then reached out to hold her hand. “You’re not all right, “ she said. “You’re son Pablo had give you blood so that you could live.” “I knew I brought him into the world for something,” he said trying to make light of the situation. “Don’t joke, you almost died. I think this job of yours will get us all killed.” “It’s not what you think, Maria,” Garza said, and then thought about Brand. One day I should kill him, just for fun, he thought to himself. “After they pick a new Director, I promise I will retire,” he said, trying allay his wife’s fears. “I will hold you to that promise,” she said squeezing his hand. “Ouch!” he responded as if it hurt. Maria bent over and kissed him. “I’m sorry, my love, but your family needs you.” “And I need all of you.” Just then General Ramsey walked in to the room. “Don’t worry, we’ll take good of your husband, Mrs. Garza.” Maria gave him an indifferent look. Garza squeezed her hand. “I’ll see you later,” he said softly as his throat began tightening up. “Just remember your promise,” she said and kissed him and left without acknowledging the General. Ramsey sat down on a chair next to the bed.
    • 235J.Cross/Stone - “A little water, if you don’t mind, General,” Garza asked. Ramsey reached over and handed him the plastic bottle. Garza drew in the water, and swallowed again painfully. “You had a quite a night,” Ramsey said. “When I catch the bastards, they’ll wish they never came out of their mother’s womb,” he said with his voice still raspy. “You were lucky, how did you escape, and how many men were there?” “Two. But they were amateurs. The minute the back door opened, it triggered a silent alarm next to my bed. I don’t know if their intentions were to kill me, or search for documents. I must have made a noise, because they scurried from the den to the kitchen. I saw a shadow of a figure and fired. I think I hit him, but I’m not sure. The other one fired back catching me in the arm. I unloaded the rest of my clip shooting in all directions hoping to hit him, but they returned fire, and then I heard the back door bang. I managed to get to the phone in the den and dial 911 before I passed out.” “They killed two of my men in the alley that were there to protect you.” “Why would you do that General?” “After Thames, I wanted you protected.” “So much for your protection,” Garza tried to sound angry. “I apologize. I’m truly sorry for what happened.” “General, if my life and the lives of my family are in danger, then you must tell me what I’m up against?” “A group that assumes you know something.” “I’m only the acting Director, why would they assume that?” “This group is out to gather information with the intention of stopping our project, and it looks as if they’re willing stop at nothing.” “General, I’m asking you again, I need to know what’s going on if I’m going to be of any help?” “I already told you everything you need to know, there’s nothing else.” “You must have some suspicions of who this group is?” “Are you still certain that your friend Brand is not behind all of this?” “If I had to take a lie detector test, the results would be inconclusive.”
    • 236J.Cross/Stone - “Then you think it’s possible?” “Right now, I believe anything is possible. If you still want me on your black-ops project, I’m willing. This government has fucked me for the last time.” Garza’s voice was fading fast from the strain of talking. “I need to get some rest, General. But before you go, is there anything that I should know?” “All you need to know is that the project’s on schedule, and soon we’ll have a new world order. When you’re able to leave come and visit me, I’ll fill you in on the next step.” Garza nodded. Brand had called the hospital and knew about Garza’s condition, and told Susan what had happened as they sat in their quarters within the confines of the Vatican Embassy. “I almost killed him,” Brand said as a sick feeling rushed over him. “He’s your best friend,” Susan said. “It was the only way, otherwise Ramsey would have had him killed. It was dark, I must have shot him too close to the bone, but the doctors say he’s going to be fine.” “It’s one hell of a way to save his life,” Susan said trying to sound sympathetic. “I’ll make it up to him.” “How?” “By saving the world, so that we can all live free.” Susan went over and kissed him and held him tight. “I know you did what you thought best,” she said, and then felt his tears on her cheek. Barkley had called Director Lassen, the head of NASA and the space shuttle program the day before and asked him to fly up to the White House from Cape Canaveral. He expected him any time now. He punched the intercom to his secretary. “Any news about when Dr. Lassen’s arriving?” “Just talked to agent Kelley, he said the Director was on his way up.” Barkley exploded, “Agent Kelly? What the hell is he doing here?” “Oops,” Maggie said, “I wasn’t supposed to say anything. Please don’t tell him you heard it from me, okay?”
    • 237J.Cross/Stone - “Is everything a goddamn conspiracy around here?” “What?” “Never mind. I’ll deal with Kelley later. Show Lassen in when he arrives.” “Will do, boss.” Within a few minutes, Lassen poked his head in the doorway of the Oval Office. “Come on in, Chet. Have a seat,” Barkley was sitting his favorite chair. Lassen went over and shook the president’s hand, and sat down on the sofa across from him. “It’s always a pleasure to meet with you, Mr. President, but things are really hectic at the Cape right now.” “You mean there’s a time when its not?” “No, I guess not,” Lassen said and squirmed. “This is only the second time I’ve been in the Oval Office, this must be important.” “The lives of our men and women that fly in those space shuttles are always important to me.” “I can assure you, Mr. President, that the space shuttles are perfectly safe.” “Tell it to the families of Challenger,” he said, but then added quickly. “But that’s not why I asked you here.” Barkley paused. “I’m more interested in the up coming mission.” “What would you like to know?” “Everything from purpose to payload.” “Basically, it’s a routine mission to the space station. We’re about to attach some high-tech modules for weather experiments.” “What kind of experiments?” “I was told you were briefed and signed of on it.” “Just tell me in your own words.” “Is there something wrong, Mr. President?” “You’re a scientist. Don’t you have any concerns about playing around with the climatic conditions of this planet?” “Of course, I do. But I don’t argue when the head of the Joint Chief’s gives me an order signed off by you.” “Chet, just tell me what you know.” Barkley was getting impatient.
    • 238J.Cross/Stone - “Actually, I don’t know very much. The Army is charge of supplying the experimental modules. Our job is to attach them to the space station.” “What are these experiments supposed to determine?” “I was told it was an experiment to see if we could help replenish the ozone layer.” “That’s all?” “General Ramsey did mention in passing that it might have some strategic defense applications that’s why the Army was in charge.” “Whose’ building this experimental equipment?” “I was told it was being built by several unnamed sub-contractors, and assembled by military scientists. This mission is on their budget, and when that’s the case we don’t ask questions.” “You’re the Director of NASA, and you don’t ask questions?” “General Ramsey is very influential when it comes to our budget. We cooperate as much as possible. Besides, all of the other countries involved in the international space station also signed off, including the Russians, which is especially important.” Suddenly, the president’s intercom buzzed. Barkley picked up a phone on the table next to him. “What is it, Maggie?” “Admiral Enfanti is here to see you.” Barkley hesitated, and then said, “Show the old coot in.” Enfanti entered and saw he had company. “Bad timing, Mr. President?” “No, not at all. I’m sure you’d be interested. You remember Director Lassen, head of our NASA program.” “This old coot’s eyes aren’t what they use to be. Of course, how are you director?” “Just fine, Admiral,” Lassen said. “We were just talking about a new weather experiment that the army has ordered, and paid for.” “Really,” Enanti said. “I just came from our monthly Joint Chief’s of Staff meeting, and General Ramsey never mentioned it. I would most certainly be interested.” “Then have a seat,” Barkley said. “Director Lassen was just telling me about it.”
    • 239J.Cross/Stone - Enfanti wobbled to a vacant chair and sat down. Lassen became more agitated. “As I was saying, I really don’t very much. You’d have to ask General Ramsey. It’s his project.” “Being that I’m completely uninformed,” Enfanti said, “could you give me an overview?” Lassen started to tremble. “I’m between a rock and hard place here. I truly don’t know anything, but I’m sure General Ramsey can answer any of your questions.” “Relax, boy,” Enfanti said, “we’re all one big happy family here. Now tell us what you know. Whatever climatic experiments are intended, it will surely affect the oceans and the Navy’s ability to function. So, let’s hear it, or I guarantee that NASA will be scrubbing for Martian meteorites on the ice fields of Antarctic.” Barkley was glad his old friend showed up. He just sat back and listened. “What exactly do you want to know?” Lassen asked perplexed. “I’ve already told the president that the Army is in charge of this shuttle mission.” “I know, son,” Enfanti said as he shifted his aged body into a more comfortable position. “What did our fine General say why we were doing these experiments?” “As I told the president, the General said it was to see if we couldn’t rebuild the ozone around the planet to stop global warming.” Barkley interrupted, “You also said you were told that it might have some strategic defense value.” “It was just an off-handed remark.” “Ramsey doesn’t make off-handed remarks,” Enfanti said. “What kind of defense value would there be in replenishing the holes in the ozone layer?” “Admiral, I can’t begin to answer that. You’ve got ask the General.” “Bullshit! You’re a scientist. Now you may not know what the General is up to, but you said the Army was paying for this mission, so I want you to speculate on the strategic defense implication of these experiments.” “Other than restructuring the atmospheric jet streams to create tornadoes and hurricanes in specific places, I can’t imagine.” “Do you know where the modules are being assembled, or where they’re coming from?” Enfanti asked.
    • 240J.Cross/Stone - “No, and I don’t ask. I presume a secret military installation.” “Just one more question Dr. Lassen. What do you know about a Professor Zlatamir?” Barkley asked. “I know he’s considered a genius. I met him once, but his ideas are on the edge of radical science fiction.” Lassen paused and then said, “Come to think of it, he proposed something like this several years ago, and a few years later the army constructed project HARP in Alaska, which was supposed to do the same thing. However, we all had our suspicions that it had military applications otherwise the army would never had built it. It’s still functioning, but my guess is that it’s not working the way they hoped.” “So now they’re trying it from outer space?” “That would be my guess, Mr. President.” “I know you must feel that you’ve just been interrogated, but the international space station is of the utmost concern to us,” Barkley said, and then added. “I want you to forget about our conversation, and just go about your business as usual. I’ll have a talk with General Ramsey.” Lassen said thank you and headed for the door but stopped. “If I hear of anything suspicious, I’ll call you, Mr. President.” “That would be appreciated, especially if you find out where these modules are being assembled.” Lassen nodded and left the room. “What do you think, Admiral?” “I think Ramsey has a very nasty plan in mind.” “Any speculations?” “If the Russians and Chinese are involved, it can’t be good… When do you want the Seal team? I’ve put together ten of the best men I could find.” “Thanks, Admiral. I’ll let you know when I find out where the weapon is. The last time we talked you said that there were four top secret installations capable of assembling a weapon. Have you narrowed it down?” “I was just about to tell you I received a memo that the army was increasing security around Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. Something’s going on there.”
    • 241J.Cross/Stone - Barkley considered it for a minute and said, “ No. It’s too obvious. It has to be a diversion. I’d place my bet on Area 51, or commonly known as Dreamland.” “Why?” Enfanti asked. “Because, it’s the perfect place. It’s isolated. And more importantly, they’re so compartmentalized that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. Each segment reports to their individual commanding officers, and none of them communicate with each other, let alone the Congress or the President. It’s a top secret military installation all to it’s own. God only knows what kind of diabolical weapons they’re developing. Past presidents, and even Congress have tried to penetrate the installation. When they had to provide a tour, the Congress people were only shown what they wanted them to see. They take national security beyond the bounds of government. Say what you will, but the military is in charge of this country.” “I know they’ve come up with some exceptional aircraft. The rumors are that they were developed from back engineering crashed extraterrestrial spacecrafts. Personally, I think it’s a bunch of bunk, but I can’t argue with your logic that the weapon is being assembled there…Well,” Enfanti said, “This old coot better be leaving before someone gets suspicious.” “It’s not polite to ease drop, Admiral,” Barkley said, referring to the ‘old coot’ comment. “I didn’t have to, half the office heard it.” “You know it’s a term of endearment,” he said feeling embarrassed. “Up yours, sonny. It’s beyond me why anyone voted for you.” “You going to leave mad?” “No, I’m just going to leave. Call when you need this old coot’s help.”
    • 242J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 20 The night sky had turned ugly, massive dark clouds gathered over D.C. and sent a cold howling wind throughout the city. Brand and Susan had a quiet dinner within the protection of the Embassy; neither of them exchanged anything more than small talk. Susan was afraid to ask any questions, for fear of the answers, and Brand was afraid to tell her what he was about to do. He knew had no choice and decided to tell her after dinner. The main room in the Embassy was quiet, only a small lamp cast the room in subdued shadows. “Would you like a fire?” Brand asked as Susan sat down on the sofa. “That would be nice,” she said. “The room feels cold.” “That’s quite a wind,” Brand said as he heard the ancient windows rattle. “The fire will take the chill out.” After making a fire in the stone fireplace, he shut the drapes and joined her on the sofa. They watched the fire grow into a mild roar. Susan caressed Brand’s leg, “I know you decided something, and the longer you put off telling me the more it scares me.” “I didn’t want to spoil our dinner.” “I just hope you’re not going to spoil our life,” she said and started to tremble. Brand put his arm around her. “Now would I do that?” “Not intentionally, but I know whatever you’re up to will be dangerous, so you might as well tell me now.” Brand had never learned the art of subtlety. “I’m going to New York, and take out more of Ramsey’s men.” “And you’re going to use yourself as bait?”
    • 243J.Cross/Stone - “It’s the only way. I’m going to have Garza tell Ramsey that I’m going to meet with the terrorists to tell them that I’m not involved.” “He’ll kill you anyway,” Susan said. “I’ll have help. I’m calling John Bruzzi in the morning. Ramsey’s men won’t try anything. They want the terrorist. He’ll send his best team. The more of them I can take out the better our chances are when we found out where the weapon is.” “You say it like you were going to play a game of golf.” “Their amateurs at this game. I’ll be back in two days. I’m hoping it will disrupt Ramsey’s plan.” “And what about me? Bishop Salvi has left for some conclave of Bishops in Rome. So, I’m just supposed to wait here until you get back -- if you get back. I can stay with Anna. I’ll…I’ll take another plane. Please, Michael, please let me come.” “I won’t be able to think clearly if I’m worried about you.” “I’ll be safe with Anna,” she pleaded. Brand was developing a bad habit of not being able to say no to her. “If I agree, “ he said, “you promise to do everything I tell you?” “Yes, Sir,” she said and saluted. Her face lit up like a child on her way to the circus. And then kissed him hard. “Let’s go up to our room.” Brand couldn’t believe that he had agreed. “I should take you over my knee and spank you,” he said. “Promises, promises,” she smiled sexily, and guided him up the stairs. The next morning Brand called Garza at the hospital. “You alone?” he asked. “Oh, is this the assassin extraordinaire?” “I’m sorry. It was dark. But don’t forget I saved your life.” “You almost killed me.” “Stop complaining. Ramsey would have killed you, but now you’re a hero, and probably in the inner circle of you he feels he can trust. You should thank me.” “I should shoot you.” “I don’t have time for this repartee. I want you tell Ramsey what I’m up to. I’m going to take out a few more of his men.”
    • 244J.Cross/Stone - “How am I supposed to know this when he asks?” “You’re a bright guy, you’ll figure out a way.” “Alright, what am I supposed to tell him?” “I’m going to New York to meet with the terrorists, and try to convince them that I’m not involved. I’ll be checking in at the Ritz.” “When are you leaving?” “Tomorrow. That should give you enough time to talk to Ramsey.” “Good luck,” Garza said, and hung up and the called his wife and told her to come and pick him up. After a shouting match with the nurses and doctors, Garza released himself from the hospital. Aside from the pain and the residue effects from the drugs he had been given, he felt he could better conduct business from home than from the hospital. After Maria set up the sofa for him to lie down on, and fix a small table he could use as a desk, he called Cummings to come over immediately. The next call was to Ramsey. “Director,” Ramsey answered, “how do feel? I hope they’re taking good care of you.” “I checked myself out of the hospital. I’m at home.” “What?” “I can’t do my job from a hospital bed, but I can from home…” Ramsey grumbled, “You should still be in the hospital and…” Garza interrupted, “General, I’ve just received information that Brand is going to New York to meet with the terrorists, and try to convince them that he’s not involved in our plans.” “How certain is the information, and where did it come from?” “The information is absolute, but as to the source, you know that every good operative cannot reveal his source.” “You’re not an operative,” Ramsey scolded. ”You work for me.” “The minute I was shot, I became an operative.” “Alright, alright,” Ramsey said. “Do you know when and where?” “All I know is that he’ll be checking into the Ritz sometime tomorrow.”
    • 245J.Cross/Stone - “Good man,” Ramsey said. “Now get some rest. I’ll handle everything from here on.” “Get the bastards who shot me,” Garza said. “Count on it,” Ramsey said and hung up. Cummings arrived and Maria let him. Garza was laid out on a sofa in the den. He felt weak, but vital at the same time. “Sit down,” he said to Cummings. “Have you talked to Brand?” “He said he was going to call, but he didn’t.” “He’s going to do something very stupid, and he’ll need your help. He’s at the Vatican Embassy with a secret service agent.” “I know him, his name is Kidd, but I didn’t know he was secret service. That means the president must know.” “The president assigned him, but what’s important is that you get over to the Embassy. I want you to protect him.” “What if he says no?” “Tell him I said I want you to be part of this mission.” “What’s the mission?” Cummings asked. Garza told him and then said, “He’s the bait. Ramsey will send a team of at least twenty, and follow him.” “How does he know these terrorists?” Cummings asked. “There aren’t any terrorist. Never has been.” “The more I’m involved the less I understand.” “This is not Chicago, this is the twilight zone where anything is possible.” “I’ll go right over to the Vatican Embassy.” “Before you do, there’s something I’ve got to tell you,” Garza said beginning to feel too weak to talk. “Do whatever Brand asks. Don’t ask questions. You most likely will be involved with what you consider to be a criminal element. But reserve your condemnation; they have worked with us on numerous of occasions. I trust them completely.” Garza’s eyes began to close as his voice trailed off. “Remember, trust Brand, and don’t let him down,” he said just before falling into unconsciousness from a sedative that Maria had given him in place of an aspirin.
    • 246J.Cross/Stone - Cummings hurried over to the Vatican Embassy, and asked to see Brand. “I’m sorry, but there’s no one here by that name,” the guard at the gate said. “Tell him that Director Garza of the FBI sent me here.” “I’ll check, sir,” the guard said. “Just a moment, please.” The guard returned as the gates began to open. “Park in the visitor area, and someone will meet you.” As Cummings parked his car, a priest was waiting and escorted him into the Embassy. “If you’ll please wait here,” he said. Cummings looked around at the old Victorian mansion, which was now an Embassy. How did Brand know the Bishop that was also an Ambassador? He assumed he would find out soon enough. Brand walked down the stairs. Agent Cummings watched him as he stood in the foyer. “What the hell are you doing here?” Brand asked. “Who told you I was here?” “Director Garza sent me. He said you would be needing my help on your mission in New York.” “Garza’s got a big mouth,” Brand said with a menacing look. “Regardless of the Director’s orders, I am here to help,” Cummings said stolidly. Brand considered sending him back to Garza, but Cummings knew too much now. He had no choice. “Alright, agent Cummings, have a seat,” Brand pointed to a chair in the main room. Cummings sat down and marveled at the exquisite beauty of the ancient statues that embellished the large room. “What did Garza say?” Brand asked as he stood over him like a perched eagle. Cummings instantly became nervous. “He said you would need my help.” “Help for what?” “Somehow, he checked himself out of the hospital, and called me to meet him at his house. He was a little unclear, but he told me to get over here, and that I would be working with some criminal elements, but to suspend my judgment.” “I only have one question,” Brand said. “Are you ready to die?” Cummings’ mouth went instantly dry. He tried to muster up enough saliva to answer, but couldn’t. He coughed twice, and finally managed, “I’ll do whatever you ask.”
    • 247J.Cross/Stone - Brand began to feel sorry for Cummings, who was acting out of duty, but had no real idea about what he was committing himself to. “You’re here, so I don’t have much of a choice. I’ll have one of the priest’s find you a room. I’ll tell you at dinner. We leave first thing in the morning,” Brand said and walked into the library after talking to one of the priest’s. He made his second call to John Bruzzi. “What have you decided?” Brand asked. Bruzzi responded, “There was nothing to decide, Georgi has already put together a team.” “How many?” “Twenty, unless you think we need more. And I might add, “Bruzzi said, “they all consider it an honor to help you.” “They may not feel the same when this is all over.” “You really do care about the men you work with,” Bruzzi said. “They are not just pawns to be traded like a chess game.” Brand didn’t know if that was really true, but said, “I don’t like my friends being killed… But you must understand that some of them will not survive this mission.” “Then they will die with honor, my friend.” “I’ll call you when I get there. Two of my own men will be joining us.” “The more the better,” Bruzzi said. “Make sure you take good care of Susan,” Brand added. “As I would, Anna. Don’t worry. We’ll talk when you arrive.” Brand walked freely around the airport, first confirming his ticket, buying a magazine, and then having a cup of coffee before boarding the plane. He had spotted at least four men he assumed were Ramsey’s. He requested a seat in the third aisle so he would have a good view of the people boarding. Brand smiled to himself as he watched the four men board the plane mixed in with the other passengers. Susan, dressed in her nun’s costume, would board two hours later on a different airline escorted by two nuns. Kidd and Cummings would be on the same flight, but sitting in separate parts of the plane so they could watch for anyone suspicious.
    • 248J.Cross/Stone - The problem was how to meet with Bruzzi once he checked into the hotel. His mind spun several scenarios until he landed on one he liked, hoping that the man he needed was still alive. As the plane circled for it’s landing, the New York skyline was majestic with a crisp, blue-sky overhead. He debarked and hustled through the airport. After finding a cab, he ordered the driver to the Ritz. During his other life as Branderos in the New York barrio, he had met many unsavory characters. But there was one who he had been especially close to, a Manny Chacon, who never asked anything of him. They just liked the same things -- Drinking, women and dancing. Chacon had been a leader of a gang with a line of prostitutes. He had overstepped his territory, which had angered several other gang leaders. Chacon was raised in the barrio, and had seen what drugs had done to his people. He vowed that neither he nor his gang would ever deal in drugs, but prostitution was another matter. He only accepted those women who were clean from drugs, but needed the money to better their lives. He never recruited any of them. The women came to him because they knew they would be safe. Chacon often said he modeled his business after the whorehouses in Nevada where the women would be free and clean, and could quit anytime they wanted. Chacon was becoming too big for the other gang leaders, but more importantly, they were losing their women to him. Gang warfare would have brought too much heat from the police, so they framed him for dealing drugs. They had scared one of his women to set him up. He was arrested, and about to go to trial when Chacon called and told him what had happened. Brand, at the time, did not recriminate him for his prostitution enterprise, but knew he was not guilty of the charges of dealing drugs. Brand convinced one of his professor’s he was close with to call a certain Congressman, which Brand knew had been one of Chacon’s customers. He also knew that Chacon would not call the Congressman, he had too much honor to indict anyone. But the Congressman was not so sure, so he got the charges dismissed. Later, Brand found out that the prosecutor was also a customer. Soon after, Brand had gone to D.C., and the episode had become part of his past, a past that had no relevance in his new world of politics.
    • 249J.Cross/Stone - But now, how to find Chacon was the question. There was a hundred Manuel Chacon’s in the phone book. So, he called the District Attorney’s office to see if Manuel Chacon was incarcerated. And even if he were, Manny would find a way to help. Brand was desperate. A female voice answered, “This is Childress’ office, how may I help?” “This is agent Cummings from the FBI, I would like to speak with Mr. Childress.” “Hold on,” she said pleasantly. A moment later, “This is Childress, what can I do you for you?” “Agent Cummings, FBI, were on a search and locate for a Manuel Anthony Chacon.” “Hold on,” he said and the line went silent. A few minutes later Childress came back on the line. “Okay, you check out. The only Manuel Anthony Chacon I know of is a superior court judge in the Bronx.” “We’re looking for someone who is involved in prostitution, and may be incarcerated. We need his help in identifying certain parties.” “Hold on,” he said sighed impatiently. After a moment, “No one in the system by that name.” Brand paused and then asked, “Could you give me Judge Chacon’s phone number?” “He’s in the phone book.” “What the hell is your problem? You hate the FBI, or are you just an asshole?” There was a long pause before Childress answered and gave Brand the number, and immediately hung up. This was too impossible too imagine, but Brand dialed the number any way. “Judge Chacon’s office,” an accented Spanish voice answered. “Judge Chacon, please.” “The judge is in conference, may I take a message?” “I don’t care if he’s in conference or not,” Brand said testily. “Tell him that Miguel Branderos is on the phone.” “Just a minute, please,” she replied with her own testiness.
    • 250J.Cross/Stone - Brand felt the exercise was fruitless, but waited anyway. Suddenly, a voice said, “Miguel, is this really you?” Brand’s mind went numb, and the finally said, “Manny?” “Who else? Where are you? Where have you been? Why haven’t you called?…” The questions came in avalanches before Brand could say a word. “Manny, I can’t believe it’s you.” “Of course its me. But why wait thirty years to call?” “I thought you might be in jail,” Brand said, not knowing what else to say. “After you left, I had no idea where you went, you just disappeared.” “I went to D.C. and entered the world of political prostitution.” Chacon laughed. “For which you were best suited. But why didn’t you call?” Brand remained silent, not knowing what to say. “Aah, so you wrote me off, and then left feeling you had done your obligation to a friend, but who was no longer worthy of friendship.” “Manny…” Chacon cut him off. “I don’t blame you, Miguel. Actually, you did me a favor by leaving, it gave me an opportunity to re-evaluate my life. I decided to go back to school and of all things, I fell in love with the law and became an attorney. Now, I’m a respected judge.” Brand sucked backed his emotions of guilt. “I need your help,” Brand said. “Whatever you need.” “I need you to check in to the Ritz. I’m in room 307. Call me when you’re in your room.” “You’re in trouble, eh amigo?” “Not the kind you’re thinking of. I know you’re an officer of the court and would not violate your oath of office.” “I would violate anything, if it meant helping you.” “That will not be necessary. I’m not in that kind of trouble. I’ll tell when we meet.” “When?’ “Tonight at six, if you can make it.”
    • 251J.Cross/Stone - “I’ll be there. Don’t worry, we’ll work it out.” “I must warn you that it could be dangerous,” Brand said. “I have known danger my entire life. I’ll be there at six.” After hanging up, Brand clapped his hands and laughed hysterically, eventually falling on the bed. Maybe the other side is helping after all, he mused to himself. Anna was waiting for Susan as she left the plane. The other two nuns nodded and said goodbye, and quickly melded into a crowded airport. “It’s good to see you again,” Anna said and hugged Susan. “I know I’m a lot of trouble,” Susan said. “But waiting for Michael would have been torture. At least I have you.” Susan started to cry. “This is not the place to cry,” Anna said sternly. “You can cry when we get to the compound.” “I’m sorry.” “Let’s go. Do you have any luggage?” “No, just this bag.” Kidd and Cummings watched from different positions as the women strode off, but kept a sharp eye for any one following. They trailed from a distance until the two women were safely settled into a black limo, and then they individually headed for the Ritz. Both were dressed in casual wear, Kidd got to the Ritz first and waited for Cummings in the lobby. When Cummings arrived with a bag slung over his shoulder, Kidd approached him and gave him a big hug and whispered in his ear, “We’re going to register as a gay couple. Do you have a problem with that?” Cummings hugged Kidd back with an obvious enthusiasm. “Don’t over do it,” Kidd said as they walked to the registration desk with Cummings’ arm around Kidd’s waist. Kidd wondered if he hadn’t made a mistake, but it was too late to change his plan now. They registered, and Cummings swished as they walked to the elevator. Kidd had chosen the charade, because he knew the military team would be watching, but he also knew that they hated gays and would turn away from two men showing affection toward
    • 252J.Cross/Stone - each other. However, once in the elevator, Cummings stood a comfortable distance away from Kidd, which made Kidd feel better. “If you’re going to act gay, make it look real,” Cummings said. “You took to it like a duck to water,” Kidd said. “It was your idea.” “I figured it was the only way we could stay in touch without the problem of communication.” “It’s a good plan. I never would have thought of it myself.” Both Kidd and Cummings began to feel a slight hostility growing between them. The hallway was deserted as they exited the elevator and entered their room. Kidd immediately called the front desk and asked to be connected to Brand’s room. Brand had registered under his own name. The phone rang twice before Brand answered. Kidd said, “We’re in room 708, boss.” Cummings saw Kidd fidget uncomfortably as Kidd listened on the phone. Cummings instinctively knew what Brand was asking. “Tell him we saw two, but suspect others nearby.” Kidd conveyed what Cummings said. He had been too preoccupied with Cummings’ swish to notice anything. Kidd nodded and then said, “Got it. We’ll be here.” After Kidd hung up Cummings said, “For a man that has a problem with gays, you came up with a very bold plan.” Kidd suddenly noticed that there was only one bed. “You sleep on the couch.” “Good idea. You’re not my type.” “Do we have a problem here?” Kidd asked. “You’re damn right we do. Just because I don’t have your secret service training doesn’t mean that I’m not a good operative. As a matter of fact, I just proved that I’m better than you. You got distracted by your own plan.” Kidd took a menacing step toward Cummings. “Come on,” Cummings said. “The last time you had the advantage from behind. Let’s see how good you are face to face.” Kidd rushed him, but Cummings using Kidd’s power, grabbed his arm and flipped
    • 253J.Cross/Stone - him into the air sending him crushing to the floor. Kidd got up and circled Cummings, and then sent an open palm toward Cummings’ face. Cummings ducked and hit Kidd in the solar plexus causing him to crumple to his knees out of breath. “We can do this all night if you like. But I don’t think Brand would appreciate our frolicking,” Cummings said. “You’re right,” Kidd managed, trying to catch his breath. “If I were serious,” Cummings said, “ you’d be dead by now.” “We’ll continue this when the mission is finished.” “It’ll be my pleasure.” “You still sleep on the couch.” “That was my intention all along.” “Look,” Kidd said, “let’s put this hostility aside until the mission’s over.” “I would like nothing better.” “Okay,” Kidd said rising to his feet. “We’re partners. Our assignment is to keep Brand alive. We’ve got to be of one mind here. I’m in charge, so you’re going to have to do what I tell you.” “If we’re going to be partners that means we both have to agree. Two heads are always better than one.” “Okay, we’ll see how it works…What the hell is your first name anyways?” “Robert, as in Robert Cummings, the actor.” “Who?” “Never mind. What do you want me to call you?” “My friends call me Billy, but you can call me William.” “I like Kidd better.” Kidd gave him a snarly look, “Whatever.” “So, what did Brand say?” “He said he was meeting with someone at six o’clock. I’m hungry, how about you?” “Yeah, let’s get room service.” “Why don’t we go down stairs and eat and check out the lobby?” “That’s a better idea,” Cummings said. “See it’s working already.”
    • 254J.Cross/Stone - Cummings and Kidd went down stairs. They found a tropical looking restaurant surrounded by a low wrought iron fence and dotted with palm trees at the end of the lobby that gave it the illusion of being outside. A waitress seated them at a table that was next to the railing with a view of the entire lobby. “This is perfect,” Kidd said. “We can see everyone.” “We can see who’s down here, but not who’s watching Brand’s room.” Kidd looked at his watch. “It’s five o’clock. Brand said he was meeting someone at six. Do you think we should give him a call?” “If he needs our help, he’ll call. Let’s order.” They ordered a couple of steak sandwiches, and scanned the lobby. Cummings saw the same two men he had seen when they registered, and indicated them to Kidd. “There must be at least three of them watching Brand’s room.” “You think I should call Brand?” Kidd asked again. “Not yet. I’ll bet my meager salary that Brand calls within ten minutes, and then it’ll be showtime. Let’s think of a diversion.” The steak sandwiches arrived. “Let’s eat up, and go to Brand’s floor,” Kidd said. “Not until he calls. Is your cellular on ready?” “Of course.” “Then we wait. Brand knows what he’s doing, but we don’t. If he needs us, he’ll call within ten minutes. You got a diversion plan?” Cummings asked. “Yeah. We go up there and kill them.” “Not a bad idea, but what do we do with the bodies?” “We throw them down the laundry shoot.” “Works for me, unless Brand has another plan.” Within the time that Cummings had predicted Brand called Kidd. “Where are you?” “We’re in the lobby. Two guys watching, we suspect at least three on your floor.” “Then get rid of them,” Brand ordered. “You want them out permanently, or temporarily?” “Are you kidding? I want them gone.”
    • 255J.Cross/Stone - “We’re on our way, by five to six they’ll be gone,” Kidd said. “Let’s go, we’ve got fifteen minutes,” he said to Cummings. “Pay the bill.” Kidd and Cummings took the elevator to the third floor, and stumbled out as if they were two drunken gays having a good time. “What a place, beats Venice beach any time, “ Cummings said loudly as they both wobbled down the corridor. Kidd had his hand on a silenced Beretta. He motioned Cummings toward an exit door. Kidd crouched and opened it; two silenced shots thudded into the door. Kidd rolled sideways and fired twice at the assailant. The man fell head over heels down the concrete stairwell. Kidd looked at the dead man as a pool of blood oozed around him. “I guess he’s going to be a job for the janitor.” Cummings nodded as he put his own gun away. “Two to go,” he said. The duo continued they’re drunken act down the corridor. Cummings started to sing something unintelligible as he spotted a man holding up a newspaper, but staring at them. Kidd appeared to pay no attention as Cummings started to approach the man. “What floor are we on?” Cummings asked. “Get the fuck away from me,” the man said opening his coat revealing the butt of a gun. “So sorry,” Cummings said as he whipped out his gun and fired. The bullet ripped into the man’s heart, hurling him backwards onto the floor. “Fuck the laundry shoot,” Kidd said. “Let’s stuff him behind that potted bush, and go see if there’s anyone else.” Kidd and Cummings kept up their act as they rounded the hallway. They spotted a man at the far end near another exit door, and stumbled down the corridor toward him. As they got close, the man pulled his gun. “Stop where you are, or I’ll shoot.” “Stop where?” Cummings asked. “We’re on our way to our room. Would like to join us?” They were within ten feet of the man when Kidd appeared to trip concealing his weapon beneath him as he hit the floor behind Cummings. Cummings raised his hands,” All right, I’m going,” he slurred, and stumbled out of the way toward the wall.
    • 256J.Cross/Stone - The man moved his gun toward Cummings, and Kidd from a prone position instantly fired a single shot into the man’s forehead splaying blood and brains everywhere as the hollow point bullet exploded. “Another job for the janitor,” Kidd said. “Let’s circle the floor once more before we go to Brand’s room, and tell him it’s clear.” “Goddamn, you sure are messy,” Cummings said as he glanced back at the dead man. Kidd knocked on 307. Branded jerked open the door. “Did you take them out?” “Yeah, but I suggest we find a new hotel; there’s three bloody bodies split into parts laying around,” Kidd said. “After my meeting, I’ll call you.”
    • 257J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 21 Brand entered the first exit door he found and instantly saw the bloody body on the landing below, and started up the stairs to Chacon’s room. “I’ve got to get Kidd to get rid of that damn cannon,” he said to himself. Chacon opened the door within seconds of Brand’s knock, and pulled him in by his coat. “Sorry, amigo, but I can’t have anyone see me with you.” “I’m not in any legal trouble,” Brand said straightening his jacket. “It’s not that. But if I’m going to help we can’t be seen together. Brand hardly recognized his old friend. “You’ve put on weight, and what happened to your pony tail?” “The years have given me pounds, but took away my hair,” he said rubbing his shaven head. “But you, you’re as beautiful as ever, and the gray streaks have added a distinguished touch.” “With that Zapata moustache you look very menacing for a judge,” Brand quipped. “That’s the idea. I want the punks who come before me to be afraid. But enough, how can I help you?” “Sit down…Have a drink. This is going to take some time,” Brand said and began, trying to abbreviate the past events. When he finished, Chacon asked, “So, how can I help?” “I need you to provide a way for me to meet with my friends.” Brand purposely left out who his friends were.
    • 258J.Cross/Stone - Chacon paced around and fixed himself another drink from the mini-bar. “If there was another way,” Brand said, “I wouldn’t be asking.” “I know, I know,” Chacon said waving his hand for Brand to stop. “Give me another minute.” Brand waited patiently. With his mind completely focused on the meeting with Chacon, he had forgotten to ask Kidd if Susan was all right. He assumed she was, or Kidd would have said something. Chacon finally sat down. “Let me summarize. A secret group within the army, headed by General Ramsey, in concert with the Russians and Chinese, is about to deploy a weapon on the international space station that will take away our freedom of thought and turn our world in to three nations in exchange for an all out nuclear attack by the Russians and Chinese…” Brand started to interrupt. “Let me finish. You don’t where this weapon is, but Ramsey has sent men to kill you because he thinks you’re part of a terrorist group that wants to stop this ‘Cipher of Satan’ thing... You think they could have picked a better name for they’re project,” he added. “I think it’s an acronym,” Brand said. “Okay, but let me go on. You say that the President of the United States knows, but isn’t doing anything about it?” “I told you he was almost assassinated, and doesn’t know who he can trust, except an Admiral Enfanti. They’re trying to find out where the weapon is being assembled so that we can take it out before it’s launched.” “And your mission here in New York is take out some of his men?” “Correct.” “So, what will that accomplish?” “He wants to destroy the terrorist group that doesn’t exist.” “Miguel,” Chacon said, “this makes no sense.” “Oh, but it does. Ramsey may delay the deployment of the weapon if his men are taken out. He’ll fear for his life, and not know how many are against him.”
    • 259J.Cross/Stone - “What you have said sounds like science fiction, and what you propose is illegal, not mention you’ve decided to lay this at the feet of New York City.” “It’s already begun. Three of his men are dead on the third floor. By now, they’ve probably been discovered. Your NYPD will be going from room to room.” “You bastard,” Chacon screamed. “You have put me in the middle of this.” “Call your wife. A little romantic interlude will enhance your standing with her as well as your reputation. In the meanwhile, I’ll be gone. Can you, or will you help me?” “You’re as impossible and arrogant as ever,” Chacon chided. “Will you help me, or not?” Chacon poured himself another bourbon, and gulped it down. “I owe you my life. Call me tomorrow,” he said. “My Conchita will love a romantic evening. It’s been too long… Go now, I’ll have a plan by tomorrow.” Brand left Chacon’s room and called Kidd on his cellular. “Where are you?” “Were in the lobby.” “Have the bodies been discovered?” “About a ten minutes ago. The two men in the lobby just entered the elevator The NYPD is starting to crawl all over the place. I can see a dozen blue and white police cars gathering around the entrance of the hotel. An ambulance just parked in front. What do you want us to do?” “We’ll use our I.D’s to get out of here. I’m taking the elevator down. Meet me, and we’ll go together.” “I suspect there’ll be a team outside waiting for us to show.” “We’ve got to chance it. They won’t enter the hotel, and the commotion will give us cover.” “I hope you’re right, boss.” “Just me at the elevators. We’ll get out of here.” Kidd and Cummings walked over to a bank of elevators in time to see Brand exit. The two of them flanked Brand, and muscled their way through the police showing their credentials. Once they exited the hotel, they found a cab trapped by police cars. Brand and Cummings jumped in, while Kidd went to find out who was in charge. He
    • 260J.Cross/Stone - approached a police lieutenant with a name tag that read Lt. Johnson. “You in charge here?” Kidd asked and showed him his Secret Service badge. “What’s the secret Service doing here,” he asked. “Security purposes. The president wanted me to check out the hotel for an upcoming UN meeting. Our Ambassador doesn’t like surprises. But, obviously, this not the hotel he should stay at.” The Lieutenant just gave him a blank stare. “I guess not,” he said. “Our cab is blocked. Could you make a way for us to get through?” “Yeah…yeah, I suppose so,” he said and called over a couple of officers. “Make way for this gentleman’s cab.” By the time Kidd returned to the cab, the officers were already making a path. “Where to?” the cabbie asked, grateful to get out of there. “Toward the Bronx. I’ll tell you where to stop,” Brand said. “What’s going on back there?” the driver asked as the cab pulled out into traffic. “A foreign dignitary had a stroke,” Brand replied. The taxi drove for twenty minutes, but neither Kidd nor Cummings said a word. Brand saw a lighted neon sign that read ‘Vacancy’. “Pull into the motel,” he said. “Here?” Kidd asked. Brand put his hand over Kidd’s mouth. “This will be fine,” Brand said to the driver, and gave him a twenty-dollar tip. The trio exited and watched the cab drive off. “Call a cab,” Brand said to Kidd. Another cab arrived in minutes, the trio got in and Brand said, “Take us to Trump Towers.” Neither Kidd nor Cummings said a word. The cab dropped them off. Brand ordered Kidd to call another cab. After it arrived, Brand told the cabbie to take them to the Regency. When they arrived at the Regency, Brand said, “I’m registering under the name of Branderos. Wait ten minutes, and then register using your gay charade. Call me when you’re in your room.” About twenty minutes later Kidd called. “What now, boss?” “We want until tomorrow. What’s your room number?”
    • 261J.Cross/Stone - Kidd told him and hung up the phone. “I’ve been an operative for many years, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said to Cummings. “That’s just it, we’ve been operatives. Brand was covert, he has skills we can’t even imagine. His mind doesn’t work like ours. He anticipates, while we react. This a lesson we never learned.” Kidd nodded in agreement. Brand called John Bruzzi. “We’ve encountered a few problems, but nothing unexpected. Tomorrow, I’ll call and tell you where we can meet in safety.” “I’ll wait for your call.” “I’d like to talk with Susan if she’s still awake.” “Are you kidding? She’s been waiting all night for you to call. She’s worse than Anna when she’s agitated. I’ll get her.” Susan picked up the phone. “Are you all right, Michael? I’ve been going out of my mind with fear,” she clamored in his ear. “I’m fine,” he said. “The news said that three men were shot to death at the Ritz. I was so afraid, you can’t imagine.” “Well, as you can tell, I’m fine. I’m glad you’re with Anna,” Brand said. “It doesn’t help if I think that something has happened to you.” “I told you this would be dangerous.” “Knowing that doesn’t change how I feel.” “You’re not at the Embassy, you’re among friends. Talk to Anna.” “I have. But all she says is to have faith.” “That’s a good start. Have faith that I’ll be all right. I know what I’m doing. Sleep well tonight, I’ll call you in the morning.” “I’m worried about you. I love you. I can’t bear the thought of losing you.” “Don’t worry, as Bishop Salvi said, I’m a warrior chosen by Heaven.” “But that doesn’t mean you can’t be killed. You’re not Superman.” “Then believe this,” Brand said. “Believe your love will keep me safe.” “I will,” she said softly. “I love you.” “I love you too,” Brand said, as he imagined holding her in his arms.
    • 262J.Cross/Stone - “Don’t forget to call me in the morning.” “I won’t,” Brand said hanging up and wishing he could be with her, nuzzling and making love. Brand forced his mind to concentrate on finding a way to meet with Georgi and his team. If Chacon could not come up with a way, he would have to create a scheme of his own. He lied down on the bed and began going through the possibilities, but couldn’t shake the feeling he was wrong to get Chacon involved; especially after he found out he was a Superior Court Judge. Maybe he could find a way without Chacon. At that moment, he wished he was still drinking, alcohol always seemed to bring clarity, or at least that’s what he thought. WASHINGTON, D.C. Garza lumbered out of a deep sleep, and stumbled to the bathroom. He looked in the mirror, his face was ashen and his eyes bloodshot. I need a shave he said to himself as he rubbed the stubble still feeling woozy. Just then Maria walked in. “Take a bath, you stink.” “You’ve been giving me sedatives instead of aspirins, haven’t you?” “You need rest, not work,” she retorted unapologetically. Garza was not a man to raise his voice to his wife, but he was tempted. “You give me another sedative, and I won’t take another pill until the day I die.” “Be quiet. Your bandages need changing.” “I mean it, Maria. There are people who will die if I don’t do my job.” “But it’s okay for you to die, is that it?” “You’re worse than my mother,” Garza said. “If your mother was alive, God bless her soul, she would slap you silly,” she said and began filling the tub, and took off his bandages. “Don’t get soap into the wound.” “I’m head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, not some child.” “Then don’t act like one,” she said and left. After his bath and a new set of bandages, Garza felt better even though his arm still pained. He settled onto the couch in the den, picked up the phone and called the
    • 263J.Cross/Stone - White House. “This is Deputy Director Garza of the FBI, it’s urgent I speak with the president.” “Hold on, Director,” the voice said matter-of-factly, “I’ll transfer you to his secretary. “This is Margaret Williams, the president’s secretary, how may I help you, Director?” “You can’t. I need to speak with the president. It’s urgent.” Garza hated bureaucracy, but understood its necessity. “Director,” the president answered…” Garza interrupted. “Don’t mention my name unless you’re alone.” “I’m sorry, I absolutely forgot about the alumni meeting. Give me a minute.” The line went silent. When Barkley returned he shouted into the phone, “Where’s Brand and Susan?” “Mr. President, just listen and then I’ll answer your questions.” “Alright,” Barkley responded impatiently. “The media has reported that Director Thames is in a coma from a stroke, not true, he was assassinated in his bed four days ago.” “Why hasn’t anyone told me?” he said shocked. “General Ramsey ordered Thames’ condition to be covered up.” “Then why didn’t you tell me? Or is this your friend Brand’s work?” “When Thames was murdered he was on the beach saving your ass, and for the last two days I’ve been in a daze from a gun shot wound I received in a battle with Ramsey’s men in my fuckin’ kitchen. Get the picture, Mr. President.” “I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” he said apologetically. “Are you still in danger?” “No. Ramsey thinks I believe it was the terrorists. I don’t think they were there to kill me.” Garza hated lying to the president. “I found them searching the den. Ramsey’s trying to recruit me for his black-ops project, but he doesn’t trust me.” “So where’s Brand?” “Brand’s on a goddamn suicide mission to give you time to find out where the weapon is being assembled.” “Where is he? Maybe I can help.”
    • 264J.Cross/Stone - “You can’t. He decided to make himself the bait by drawing Ramsey’s men to New York. He’s going to try to take out as many as he can. He’s got Kidd and one of my agents with him.” Barkley expelled a deep sigh into the phone. “You’re right, they are on a suicide mission. But why take Kidd?” “Because they’re all patriots who care about our country.” “I apologize. After what has happened, it’s good to know we still have men like you in our government.” “Don’t kiss my ass, Mr. President. Find the weapon, and pray that Brand’s around to help you.” “As you said, I get the picture. Admiral Enfanti and myself have narrowed down the assembly site. He should have confirmation in a couple of days.” “If you hear that I’m working for Ramsey, just know better.” “Is Susan safe?” “Knowing Brand, she’s safer than you are. Be careful, Mr. President, the freedom of this world is in your hands,” Garza said and slammed down the phone. Barkley sat back in his chair, and was actually inspired by the conversation. He then punched the intercom button, “Maggie, have Randall and my chief of staff report to my office immediately.” As a Navy Seal he had been considered the best poker player around, he hoped he still had the skills. Chandler, his chief of staff entered first. “What’s up, boss?” “We’re waiting for Randall. Have a drink if you like.” “Don’t mind if I do,” he said and sauntered over to the liquor cabinet and poured an ounce of scotch. “Want something?” “No thanks,” Barkley said. Randall entered clutching several file folders under his arm. “I was just about to go over to the Pentagon,” he said. “Have a seat. Would you like a drink?” “A little too early for me, Mr. President. I’ve got a full day.”
    • 265J.Cross/Stone - Barkley swiveled his chair toward the windows, the sun was shining and the rose garden was starting to bloom. “You know how rumors and gossip fly around here,” Barkley said. “So, what’s the latest?” Randall asked. Barkley swiveled back around. “Director Thames is dead,” he said flatly. Chandler almost dropped his drink. “When?” “I’m not sure. But you know how it goes, someone calls someone and somehow it ends up here,” Barkley said, and watched Randall’s reaction. “As a matter of fact,” Randall said, “I received a memo from the Pentagon infirmary as was about to confirm it when Maggie called. I’ve got the file right here.” “What does it say?” Barkley asked. “Of course it’s not complete, but it says that Thames died last night without regaining consciousness.” “Does it say that he died from a stroke?” “Yes Sir. It’s right in the memo.” “Can I see it?” Barkley asked. “Of course,” and handed the file to Barkley. Barkley studied it. “The memo’s not signed, and it’s typed. Procedure is that it’s hand written by the certifying doctor with cause of death attached.” “Seemed strange to me as well,” Randall said, “that’s why I was going over to the Pentagon.” “I’d like to go with you and see the body,” Barkley said. “Mr. President, with all due respect, I don’t think that’s necessary. I’ll bring over some pictures, and we can quietly put the Director to rest.” “I appointed him, and I want to see his body,” he said emphatically. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Randall said nervously. “My grandmother always said it was best to remember them when they were alive.” Barkley picked up the phone and buzzed his secretary. “Maggie, could you have two secret service agents come into my office, please.” Within seconds, two agents entered the Oval Office.
    • 266J.Cross/Stone - “Place Mr. Randall under arrest. Read him his rights, and have him sequestered in the basement of the White House. He’s to have no contact with anyone. Do I make myself clear?” “Yes Sir,” the agents said. Randall went white with fright. “What are you doing, Mr. President? What have I done?.. What have I done?” he kept repeating as the agents took him away. Chandler was shaking as he asked, “What’s going on, Mr. President?” “Sit down, Chandler,” Barkley said sharply. Chandler put down his drink and started toward the sofa. “No. Sit here, right in front of me.” Barkley leaned over the desk, “Tell me everything you know, or you’ll never see the light of day again.” “Mr. President, as God as my witness, I don’t know anything. I have no idea why you just had Randall arrested, or anything about Director Thames.” Barkley leaned back in his chair. “Tell me what you know, and I might be able to help you.” “Mr. President, I have discharged my duties to the best of my abilities. If that’s cause for arresting me, then so be it. I have done nothing wrong.” “If what you say is true, then you have neglected the trust that I placed in you.” “How? We’ve been friends for twenty years. For God sake’s, I ran your campaign and helped get you elected.” “As my chief of staff, why have you neglected to tell me what was going on?” “I have no idea about what’s going on. I asked some questions at the Pentagon, but was stonewalled.” “Why didn’t you tell me that?” “I had no evidence of anything. General Ramsey said to leave it alone. He said he would tell you when the time was right” “Leave what alone?” “I don’t know. I’ve been too concentrated on the political front. The economy is slipping, and I wanted you to be prepared for the media.” Barkley picked up the phone and asked Maggie to send in two more agents. This time the agents burst through the door.
    • 267J.Cross/Stone - “Arrest him. Read him his rights, and sequester him in the basement. He’s to have no contact with anyone. Call his wife and tell her he’s on a special assignment for me.” “What are you arresting me for?” Chandler asked trembling uncontrollably. “For stupidity,” Barkley said. “I’ll release you after I have confirmed your story.” “What story?” he asked as the agents were removing him from the office. “The story of neglect and incompetence.” Barkley sat alone in the Oval Office, and for the first time in his life he had to decide who were his true friends – the one’s who catered to him, or the one’s who would give their lives to protect their country, and maybe even the world.
    • 268J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 22 Brand awoke as usual, six-thirty sharp. He had spent a restless night waking several times, but during the times he was awake a picture of a plan began forming in his mind. Brand dialed Kidd and Cummings’ room. Kidd answered. “Sleep all right?” Brand asked. “No. Cummings snores like a bear.” “I want you and Cummings to go down to the lobby and see if you can spot any of Ramsey’s men, and then come to my room.” “Will do,” Kidd said. Brand needed time to formulate his plan before calling Chacon, and wanted both Kidd and Cummings to hear the conversation. An hour later both of the agents were at Brand’s door. He opened it, and they entered quickly. “See anyone suspicious?” Brand asked, as Kidd closed the door. “Two guys who looked nervous, so we watched them until two ladies joined them. The guys were really pissed; I guess they were late for the airport. Women will do that to you.” “You know, Kidd, you’ve really got a long of hang-ups,” Cummings said. Kidd gave him a dirty look. “You guys getting along?” Brand asked not liking what he was hearing. “Yeah,” Kidd answered, “like two flakes in a snow storm.” “Actually,” Cummings said, “in between arguments we do very well together.” Brand just stared at them, and then said, “Take the next plane back to D.C.”
    • 269J.Cross/Stone - “You…you can’t mean that,” Kidd stammered. Cummings just stood there in shock. “I can’t use you. Go home,” Brand said and turned his back to them. “Mr. Brand, its all my fault,” Kidd said. “I guess I’m a little too competitive. Send me home if you want to, but Cummings is the best I’ve ever worked with. He’s got great instincts, you’ll need him.” Brand turned around. “You think you can handle it, Cummings?” “Not without Kidd, Sir.” Brand started pacing as if contemplating his decision. He had intention of sending them home. “Alright, you both can stay. But no more squabbling like two hens in a barnyard. Got it!” “Yes, Sir,” they said in unison, and sighed in relief. “Order breakfast, I’m hungry.” “Which one of us, Sir?” Kidd asked. Brand ran his fingers through his hair, and shook his head. “I need operatives who can make decisions, and I’ve got two teenagers with hormones.” Kidd instantly moved to the phone and picked it up. “Anything special, Sir?” Brand gave him a look that would melt lead. “Sorry, Sir. I’ll take care of it.” When room service knocked, Kidd opened the door and stepped out of the room, leaving the door cracked open. “I’ll take it from here,” he said and handed the waiter a substantial tip, and started back into the room. “Sir,” the waiter said with an Iranian accent, “you’ve got to sign.” Kidd scribbled something unintelligible, and pushed the cart into the room. Brand said, “Kidd search the cart. Cummings, follow the waiter and make sure he’s part of the staff.” Cummings cracked the door open, and followed the waiter. Cummings thought it was a useless exercise, but followed the waiter until he entered the kitchen. Cummings was about to go back to the room, but decided to take it one step further, and entered the kitchen. Several cooks were near the front concentrating over hot stoves preparing breakfasts. He spotted the waiter at the far end of the kitchen and watched him take off
    • 270J.Cross/Stone - his coat. Cummings thought he saw a shoulder strap as the waiter entered what Cummings assumed was the freezer. He walked the length of the kitchen to the walk-in, pulled his gun and entered. A blast of cold, misty air greeted him. Cummings crouched low and made his way down one of aisles looking for the waiter. The sound of hissing air coming from several ventilating shafts muffled his steps as he traveled toward the back of the huge freezer when suddenly he saw the waiter donning a jacket. Cummings moved in closer, but the freezing mist became thicker. He slid to the floor for a better look, and saw a body laying at the waiter’s feet. He immediately scurried back to the front of the aisle and waited. He heard the man’s footsteps coming quickly, and when he reached his hand toward the door, Cummings leapt from his position putting an arm around the man’s neck and knee in to his back and bent him backwards. The man tried to reach for his gun, but Cummings fired. The man slumped to the floor, and Cummings fired again. He then dragged the body to the back of the freezer where the real waiter was laid out on the floor, and covered both bodies with several empty potato sacks. It would take sometime for them to be discovered. Cummings exited the freezer glad for the warm air of the kitchen, and entered the lobby. He casually strolled around to the sundry store, which gave him a perfect view back into the lobby. Seated in the alcove near the entrance, Cummings spotted one of the men he had seen at the Ritz. “Shit,” he said to himself. “How could they have followed us? They couldn’t have, they must be staking out all the hotels. But how did the waiter know? He must have recognized the name Branderos when Kidd ordered breakfast. Cummings hurried back to the room and knocked hard twice on the door. Kidd opened it, and Cummings rushed in. “The waiter was working for them,” he said half out of breath. “One of the men we saw at the Ritz is sitting in a alcove near the entrance, but I don’t think he knows were here. I watched him for a while; he made no attempt to call anyone. I think he was waiting for the waiter.” “Where’s the waiter now?” Brand asked. “He’s dead. I stowed him under a bunch of gunny sacks with the real waiter in the back of the kitchen freezer.” “How did they know we were here?” Kidd asked. “My guess is that he recognized the name Branderos.”
    • 271J.Cross/Stone - “How much time do you estimate we have?” Brand asked. “Half an hour, maybe an hour if we’re lucky.” “Let’s get out of here,” Brand ordered. “We’ll take the elevator and exit through the garage.” “What about the phone calls?” Kidd asked. “I’ll make them from a pay phone, and then we’ll hide out in a small motel somewhere.” The trio walked down the crowded street and found a taxi sitting at the curb of an intersection. Brand poked his head into the opened passenger’s window, and saw that the driver looked Mexican. “Habla Espnaol?” “Perfectamente. Pero, I prefer English,” he answered. “Are you available?” “Si.” “I thought you preferred English?” “Whatever floats your boat,” he said sarcastically. “Where do you want to go?” “To the barrio,” Brand said. “Get in. The meters running.” “Don’t say a word while we’re in the cab,” Brand whispered to Kidd and Cummings.” They each nodded as they entered the cab. “Are you in hurry, or would you like to sight see?” the driver asked. “Take us straight to the barrio. Comprehende?” “Si, Senor, whatever is your pleasure.” The taxi driver drove expertly through the congested streets until he reached the barrio. “Where would you like me to stop?” “At the next corner will be fine.” No one had said a word during the trip. The taxi pulled over in to a yellow loading zone. “Have a good time in the barrio,” he said. Brand gave him a generous tip, and the driver pulled out into traffic. “Now what?” Kidd asked.
    • 272J.Cross/Stone - “We find a phone,” Brand replied. “I’m hungry,” Cummings said, “If anyone cares.” “There’s a restaurant across the street. You can eat there.” The restaurant was narrow and long with a generous counter and a few booths along the wall. “Sit here,” Brand said pointing to one of the booths. “I’ll be back after I make a call.” Brand walked to the counter and asked in Spanish where the telephone was. The waitress pointed to the back. Of course, where else, Brand thought to himself, and walked to the back of the restaurant. He reached into his pocket, extracted Chacon’s number and some change and inserted them into the slots. When Chacon answered, Brand asked, “Got a plan?” “Yeah, take your battle somewhere else. You’re gong to get a lot of innocent people killed.” “I have a plan. How well do you know the chief of police?” “Well enough to know he’ll put in jail.” “I want you to have him clear out a section of Central Park, and have it cordoned off by night fall.” Chacon started to laugh. “Amigo, you really are loco. The chief would never do it. It would require at least five-hundred men.” “I don’t care if it takes a thousand. There’s going to be a battle in that park tonight. And you’re right about innocent people that’s why you’ve got to get the chief to agree.” “Miguel, you can’t do this,” Chacon said as he voice rose to panic. “I can’t stop it. These people will stop at nothing, they must be eliminated.” “What can I tell the chief to convince him?” Brand thought for a second. “I want you to have him call the President of the United States. He’ll convince him.” “The President?” Chacon almost choked. “Here’s the plan, and the things I’m going to need.” Chacon listened carefully taking notes. “You don’t want much do you?”
    • 273J.Cross/Stone - “Just what I need. Oh, and make sure that the police chief tells the president that Michael Brand is heading up a team of secret service agents.” “You’ve got some big pelotas, Miguel. I’ll call the chief now. Call me back in a couple of hours.” Brand walked to the booth where Cummings was just finishing eating. “Let’s find a room where we can hold up, and make some calls.” They left the restaurant and mixed in with a group of Latinos who appeared to be on a guided tour of the barrio. “Over there,” Kidd said, pointing to a bodega with a sign that read vacancy up stairs. “Good,” Brand said. “Let’s go.” Cummings and Kidd waited in the shadows of what they assumed was the entrance to the upstairs rooms, while Brand entered the small store. Brand returned with a key. “It’s upstairs.” The room was clean, but sparse. A Formica table with wooden chairs stood between a black-stained sink and a bed that looked like an army cot with a green blanket covering it. Brand told them the plan. “That’s some plan,” Kidd said. “You don’t like it?” Brand asked. “Sounds good to me,” Kidd said, but had his doubts. “I’ve got to call the judge in a couple of hours, and then said to Cummings, “I want you to call Garza. Assume his phone is tapped. Tell him the meeting is going down tonight in Central Park.” “Got it,” Cummings said and called Garza on his cellular. Garza answered it. “Director, this Cummings. I did as you asked and followed Brand to New York. He met up with a couple of guys at the Ritz. Three guys were murdered there. Can’t say if he was involved, but I lost him in the commotion. I just got off the phone with a local FBI agent, who is a friend of mine from Chicago. He said one of his undercover
    • 274J.Cross/Stone - informants told him that a suspected Iraqi terrorist group was meeting somewhere in Central Park tonight.” “How reliable is the information?” “Enough so that the FBI is considering sending in a special team. Brand’s got to be involved. You were right, Director, I think Brand’s a traitor. What do you want me to do?” “Nothing. I’ll handle it from here.” Garza knew exactly what Cummings meant, and immediately called Ramsey and told him what Cummings had said. “Good man,” Ramsey smiled. “Call the FBI in New York, and tell them were sending in a military team, and to hold off their men.” “I still can’t believe Brand’s a traitor, General.” “I can, and you better start looking for Susan Stone’s body.” “Anything else, General?” “Yeah, get some rest.” Ramsey immediately called Lieutenant Aimes. “Repeat the phone call Garza received from Cummings.” Aimes repeated it verbatim. “Do you still want the tap, General?” “No. You and your men can go home. I think that’s all we’re going to get.” Ramsey then called Colonel Armstrong in New York. When he got him on the phone he started screaming, “Why didn’t you tell me that three of your men were down?” “I was just about to call you, General,” he said nervously. “Never mind. Where’s Brand?” “He’s disappeared. The son-of-a-bitch is like a ghost, but we’ll find him,” he said trying to sound confident. “Don’t bother. I just received information that he’s meeting tonight in Central Park with an Iraqi terrorist group.” “Where? I’ll have my team waiting.” “We don’t know. That bastard is clever,” Ramsey said as he gritted his teeth. “I’ll find out and call you.” Ramsey called Garza. “Central Park is a big place, can you find a way to narrow it down?”
    • 275J.Cross/Stone - “I’ll call Cummings, maybe he’s heard something. Stay by the phone, General.” Garza called Cummings’ cellular. Cummings jumped as his cell phone rang. “Should I answer it,” he asked Brand. “Of course, it’s probably Garza. He’ll need to tell the General where we’re meeting,” Brand said just finishing up a map. “Cummings here.” “It’s Garza. Do you have any idea of where the meeting’s taking place? Central Park’s a big area.” “My source just confirmed it,” he said as Brand handed him a map. “Let’s see…the meeting’s taking place in Central Park North around ‘The Great Hill area’ near West Drive.” “Thanks,” Garza said. “Everything okay, Director?” “Yeah, I think we’ve got ‘em pinned down. Stay out of the area.” Garza called Ramsey immediately, and the General called Colonel Armstrong with the information. “I want Brand dead,” Ramsey told Armstrong. “As a matter of fact, I want them all dead. Don’t fuck this up, Colonel, because you can’t begin to imagine your consequences if you do.” “Don’t worry. We’ll take them out, General,” Armstrong said emphatically. “See that you do. We may not have another chance.” Ramsey considered calling Zlatamir, but decided against it. Judge Manuel Chacon had called Police Chief Alexander, and laid out the scenario as Brand had explained it. The Chief was skeptical, but knew his friend of many years was not one to exaggerate. “I’ll call the FBI,” Alexander said. “Not the FBI, call the President.” He was not looking forward to calling the President of the United States, but placed the call anyway. After being shuffled around, the president finally answered. “What can I do for you Chief Alexander?” the president said calmly.
    • 276J.Cross/Stone - A huge lump began to swell in the police chief’s throat. He tried to speak but nothing came out. “Are you there?” Barkley asked. Alexander finally cleared his throat, “Mr. President,” he squeaked. “I’m here chief. What can I do for you?” Alexander did his best to control his nervousness. “What I’m about to say may sound a bit preposterous, but absolutely necessary,” he said gaining momentum. “Does this have anything to do with Michael Brand?” Barkley asked. “Yes, it does, Mr. President.” “Is he in trouble?” “I would say he’s in a lot of trouble. He’s asked, through a very respected Superior Court Judge, who is a friend of mine that I trust implicitly, that the New York police clear out a section of Central Park. I believe he intends on having a gun battle with a terrorist group.” “He’s going to do what?” Barkley asked disbelieving what he was hearing. “The information I have is that he’s heading up a team of secret service agents, and we’re to supply them with black clothes, flak jackets, and night goggles. Not to mention, that it would take more than five hundred police and numerous ambulances to clear out and cordon off the perimeter. Mr. President, without your permission, the mayor and governor will have my badge in the morning.” “Hold on a minute, chief,” Barkley said, putting down the phone and leaning back in his chair to think. Brand was either crazy, or he was a genius at tactical maneuvers. He decided on the latter, and picked up the phone. “Chief Alexander. The office of the Presidency asks you to supply agent Brand with any and all requests. Is that understood?” “Yes, Mr. President.” “Let’s all pray that it goes well,” Barkley said and hung up. Brand looked at his watch, the small room was stifling. “Open a window, let’s see if we can get a breeze in here.” Kidd struggled with the window. “Give me a hand,” he asked Cummings. “I think the window is glued to the paint.”
    • 277J.Cross/Stone - Eventually, they got it opened, but only a hot breeze washed over the room. “One more call, and we’ll find a more pleasant place,” Brand said and called Judge Chacon. “So, where do we stand?” “I just talked to the chief of police, he said you can have anything you want. Are you sure you don’t need help,” Chacon asked. “No, but thanks anyway. Tell the chief that his men must not interfere, even if they hear gun fire. It is imperative that your police not be involved. Also, tell him that when his police encounter anyone with military credentials to let them stay in the park.” “You’ll have help then?” Chacon asked. “Not the kind you’re thinking of. But, yes I will have help. Make sure the bomb squad is ready with what I’ve asked for.” The chief has made all the arrangements, they’re beginning to clear out the section of Central Park you instructed me,” Chacon said and then asked, “How is it that you’re so close to the president?” “That’s another story for another time. Thanks again for your help. We’re more than even -- now I owe you,” Brand said. “The only thing you owe me is to stay alive.” “One other thing,” Brand said. “This is all very top secret, so no matter how many bodies they take out from that Park, it must never be revealed to anyone. This is a matter of national security.” “I don’t like this mess in my city.” “It can’t be helped, but by tomorrow your city will be business as usual.” “And what do we do with the bodies?” “Everyone’s a John Doe, unless the president says otherwise.” Brand and Chacon said their goodbyes. “Okay, let’s go and find a cooler place,” Brand said. “I know a hotel close by.” “So, why have we been sitting here sweating?” Kidd asked. “Just to piss you off,” Brand laughed. The Hotel Matador was a few blocks away. The room was cool, spacious and relatively nice.
    • 278J.Cross/Stone - “At least I can take a shower,” Cummings said. “Don’t use up the all the hot water,” Kidd responded. Brand called John Bruzzi. “We’re on for tonight, get your men ready.” “They’ve been ready. We’ve just been waiting for your call.” “I’m sorry, I’m a little late, but it’s been a hectic morning.” “Tell that to Susan. She’s been crying for the last two hours. Not even Anna can help her.” “I’ll talk to her after I tell you what I want Georgi and his team to do.” “I’m heading the team,” Bruzzi said. “John, this is a very dangerous mission. Are you sure?” “Anna and I have talked. If our way of life is threatened then I must do my part. After all, I am an American citizen.” “I’m not going to argue with you, so this is the plan.” When they had finished talking, John Bruzzi said, “I’ll see you at midnight. Susan wants to talk to you,” he said, and handed her the phone. “I understand,” Susan said, “why you couldn’t call this morning. I just wanted to tell you that I love you, and be careful. I need you, Michael.” “Don’t worry. This will be just a walk in the park. I’ll see you before dawn.” “Anna and I will be waiting for all of you.” Brand knew that there was nothing he could say that would make her feel better, so he simply said, “Tell Anna that I will take care of her husband.” “And who will take care of you?” “You’re love will.” Brand huddled over the map he had drawn. Cummings and Kidd listened intently. “We, and our team of men, meet the bomb squad van here at Douglas Circle…” “What team? Who are they?” Cummings interrupted. “I’d like to know who I’m working with.” Brand steeled his eyes at him. “Shut up and listen, and you might just survive the night.” Cummings just nodded, and Kidd didn’t say a word.
    • 279J.Cross/Stone - “After we’re outfitted, we’ll enter here,” Brand said pointing to Central Park West and 106th Street. I expect that Ramsey’s men will be waiting for us at The Great Hill area. They’ll have a team of men watching for our approach, however, all the lights in that section will be turned off. They won’t be able to see a thing unless they have night goggles.” “And if they do?” Cummings asked. “Well, then I guess we’ll all be able to see each other because our team will have night goggles as well.” “How many of us will there be?” Kidd asked. “Including us, twenty-three.” “How many of them?” “The same or more,” Brand said. “But we’ll have the advantage.” “Not if they’re waiting for us,” Cummings said. Brand threw the map across the room. “That’s it,” he said disgusted. “You either follow my orders, or the both of you can stay here. “Or better yet,” he said drawing his gun. “Why don’t I just shoot the both of you, and tell the president I thought you were traitors.” Kidd said raising his hands, “Now, Mr. Brand, I didn’t question anything.” “So, you want me just to kill Cummings?” “No, Sir. But being properly briefed in any operation is a necessity.” “And you don’t think you’re being properly briefed, is that it?” “If agent Cummings, or I, have some questions, why can’t we ask?” “I’m going to take a walk. When I get back, have all of your questions ready. And if none of them are suggestions as to how to better the operation, I don’t want hear another word.” “Do or die, is that it?” Cummings said. “That’s about the size of it. I know you’re both expert at what you do, but you don’t know squat about what I do.” “That’s why we’re asking questions, Sir,” Kidd said.
    • 280J.Cross/Stone - “I have twenty men waiting who do not ask questions, and they do as they’re told. Kidd, would you ask the president what, why, and where, after he’s told you his plan. And Cummings, would you ask Garza the questions that you’ve asked me? If your answer is yes, then when I get back, you better both be gone, because you’re a detriment to this operation,” Brand said and walked out of the room. “Do you really think he means it?” Cummings asked. “I know one thing,” Kidd said. “After being in the Secret Service, I would never question any order.” “So, you think we’re wrong then?” “As you said, Brand doesn’t think like us. I bet he’s lost a lot of men who questioned too much and got themselves killed…I’m staying, but you do what you believe is right.” “I don’t know what to do,” Cummings said. “After all we’ve been through, you still have doubts?” Kidd asked. “Let me ask you, would you question Director Garza the same way?” “Probably not,” Cummings said. “You wouldn’t because you would be part of a greater group, and if they didn’t question, neither would you.” “So, what do you suggest?” “Brand saved my life, so I’m the wrong person to ask.” “Is that why he trusts you?” “Brand doesn’t trust anyone. But I know he wants to stay alive.” “He acts like he doesn’t care whether he lives or dies.” “I can tell you this. I know he’s in love and plans to marry. So, I presume that what we’re doing is more important than his own life.” “Well, if we’re going to stay, do you have any pertinent questions about the operation?” “Me. None. I do as I’m told.” “Without question?” “He saved my life and the president’s life, what questions could I possibly have?” “How about staying alive?”
    • 281J.Cross/Stone - “Is that why you took this on this mission? Weren’t you warned by Garza?” “I guess I was,” Cummings said thoughtfully. “Then you’ve answered your own questions. Besides, we’re not talking about taking down just a bunch of criminals; we’re talking about saving this nation. What else is more important? And if the president has authorized Brand, why should we question anything that he asks?” “You should have been an attorney.” “Like you, I was. Is there anything left to talk about before Brand gets back?” “I guess not.” “We both know that Brand is a little crazy, but he’s as smart as they come. I guess he’s craziness comes with the territory.” Brand walked around the block not thinking about Kidd or Cummings, they would come to the right decision. He was thinking about Susan and the kind of life that would be possible for them, but couldn’t imagine what one would be like. Brand mounted the stairs and entered the room. “So, you’re both still here,” he said. “I assume you’ve come to terms with this assignment, or do I have to kick the shit out of both of you. There’s a part of me that would like nothing better, I just happen to be in the right mood.” “I’ve seen you in action,” Kidd said. “You’ve got my full attention.” “Can I ask you just one impertinent question?” Cummings asked. “And then I won’t ask another question unless you want one.” Brand walked to the bathroom and splashed water on his face. When he returned he said, “Alright agent Cummings, but only one.” “Why don’t you stop this macho bullshit, we’re all on the same team here. We know you’re smart, tough and dedicated.” Brand knew the criticism all too well. He was actually glad that Cummings had reminded him. “Okay, Cummings, I apologize for my attitude. I’m not used to men I haven’t worked with before. Satisfied?” “No, Sir.” “No?” “I mean yes, Sir, I understand.”
    • 282J.Cross/Stone - “Were either of you actually in the military?” “I was in ‘Desert Storm’,” Kidd said. “Almost got blown up from an Iraqi missile.” “And you Cummings?” Brand asked. “No, Sir.” “Then why do keep calling me Sir?” “I don’t know what else to call you.” “My name is Brand. Not Mr. Brand, or Sir. Got it?” “Got it,” Cummings said. “So, what do you want us to do?” “Just listen. But if you have a suggestion that would better the operation, don’t hesitate to ask. Okay?”
    • 283J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 23 Starting at one p.m., the NYPD had begun closing off the perimeter from Central Park North and then south down Central Park West to the intersection of 97th Street, and from the eastside of the park down 5th Avenue including all of 97th Street. It took two hours to secure the perimeter. Then, the painstaking task of eliminating everyone from the area with bullhorns blasting throughout the section, “We have reason to believe that a bomb has been planted in the area. Please evacuate immediately. This is the New York Police asking you to leave the area.” For another two hours a hundred police officers walked the area blaring the same message over and over again. Chief of Police Alexander thought it was about time for him to cover his ass, so he called the mayor and the governor telling them that he had information that a bomb had been planted in a section of Central Park, but that he was in complete control of the situation with a bomb squad, sniffing dogs, and ambulances at the ready. He estimated that the area would be evacuated by six p.m., and then he would send in a team. Colonel Armstrong and his men watched from the 97th Street entrance. “I’ll bet the NYPD received a tip that there was a bomb planted here,” he said to Lt. Walker. “That son-of-a-bitch is clever all right. Brand thinks he’s going to have an undisturbed meeting with his terrorist buddies, but I’ve got news for him.” “What’ll we do?” Lt. Walker asked. “I’m going to have a chat with whosever in charge. We’ll get in.” Armstrong walked up to an officer with sergeant’s stripes. “Whose in charge,” he asked flashing his military badge.
    • 284J.Cross/Stone - Chief of Police Alexander, you’ll find him over there near the bomb squad van,” the sergeant said and pointed toward a large white van. “Thanks,” Armstrong said and walked over to the van. Finding a police officer leaning on the van he asked, “Where can I find Chief Alexander?” “What’s your business here?” the officer asked straightening up. Armstrong showed him his credentials. “None of your business,” Armstrong replied in a nasty tone. “Where’s the Chief?” “Standing at the front of the van. You can’t miss him,” the officer retorted in the same tone as Armstrong. When Armstrong reached the front of the van he saw the chief surrounded by a group of men. He blustered his way through the circle holding his credentials high. “I’m Colonel Armstrong of Army Intelligence, and I’m taking control of this operation by orders of General Ramsey, head of the Joint Chief’s. Is that clear?” “Not to me, Colonel,” Alexander said defiantly. “This is my jurisdiction, and I’m in control.” “We suspect a terrorist group is having a meeting here, and this bomb scare is a charade.” “They could meet anywhere. Why create a bomb scare?” “Because we have impeccable information, and it’s our business to know that’s why I’m taking control.” “You still don’t have jurisdiction. No one except the President of the United States is going to relieve me of my jurisdiction. Have him call me, and the party’s all yours.” “Call General Ramsey, head of the Joint Chief’s. He’ll tell you who has jurisdiction.” “Only the president. You get him to call me, and we’re out of here. But I have no problem with you going in after these terrorists you believe are having a meeting. As a matter of fact, I welcome the help. How many men do you have?” “Twenty-five highly trained anti-terrorist specialist.” “What equipment do you have?” “You mean fire power?”
    • 285J.Cross/Stone - “I assume you have weapons, I’m asking what else do you have?” “Look Chief…Alexander is it?” “That’s what the name tag reads.” “Well Chief, these terrorist are planning a meeting, not a battle, so I believe we’ll be more than armed enough for them.” “After this section of the park is cleared of all civilians, and my men have swept the area, the section’s yours.” “Good,” Armstrong replied. “What time do you expect your men to be finished?” “I expect about eight o’clock.” “We’ll be here.” “Dressed like that?” the chief started to chuckle. ”You look like a tourist.” Armstrong fumed, “Don’t worry, we’ll be dressed for the occasion,” and stomped off. Brand rested on one of the twin beds, and flipped the remote through the TV news channels. He’d been out of touch for two days; maybe there was some news that was actually important. Kidd watched the TV from the other bed, while Cummings sat writing at the desk. Brand put the TV on mute, the amount of commercials were staggering. No wonder there was so little news, every channel looked like a home shopping network, and then noticed Cummings writing. “What are you writing Cummings?” Brand asked. “A letter to my wife.” “You know this is all top secret.” “It’s nothing like that. It’s just…well, it’s just if I don’t make it through tonight, I want my wife and kids to know that I died for what I believed in. I’m not going to send it, I’ll have it on me. If I survive, I’ll tear it up.” “How long have you been married?” “Six years. We’ve got two of the greatest looking kids.” “And you’re still as much in love with your wife as when you married her?” “More, if that’s possible.” “She doesn’t mind your job?”
    • 286J.Cross/Stone - “Not until I was assigned to D.C. You know how it is, friends left behind, new surroundings for the kids to use to. I had pretty much of a set routine that gave me time for the family. Since all this began, I haven’t been able to spend with them. She’s scared because she doesn’t know what I’m doing or where I am.” Before Brand met Susan, he could never relate to a home life. Maybe it was time he found out. “You’re a lucky man Cummings.” He turned to Kidd, “And what about you?” “Me?” Kidd asked. “Yeah, I was married once. When I got back from Desert Storm, I found an empty house and a note. It read, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ She signed it only with her initials. I haven’t seen her since. But I came home with one thing -- a pot full of medals, so I applied for a Secret Service job, and was accepted.” “Why the Secret Service?” Brand asked. “Good question. I guess, I didn’t have much to look forward to, and if I took a bullet for the president, at least, I’d die with a few more medals,” he laughed with a kind of irony. “I’ll tell you this,” he continued. “The only meaningful experience I’ve ever had was that night on the beach when you saved our lives. I felt alive, and helping to save the president’s life was the most important thing I had ever done.” “I’m curious Kidd, what have you learned from all this?” “Have no fear, let nothing get to you.” That was something that Brand could relate to, that was, until he met Susan. He was now scared, and that was not good. “You have a lot to be proud of,” Brand said sympathetically. “You mean like the ‘Proud and the Brave’?” “Yeah, something like that.” Suddenly, Kidd said, “Turn on the volume that’s Dr. Lassen, Director of NASA.” Brand pressed off the mute button in time to hear the reporter’s question. “Director, can you explain exactly what the next shuttle mission entails?” “The intent of the mission, as usual, involves a series of experiments.” “Can you be more explicit, Director?” “I can say that some of the experiments will be to monitor the ozone layer and see what shape it’s in.”
    • 287J.Cross/Stone - “Are you sending any special equipment?” another reporter asked. “Yes, a series of highly sensitive instruments that will give us more detailed information,” Lassen said without giving out any real information. “Is the mission on schedule, Director?” “As far as I know,” he said, and walked off the platform. “As far as I know,” Brand repeated out loud. “There’s something going on, maybe our little maneuver here is giving Ramsey second thoughts.” “I doubt it,” Cummings said. “This is only a skirmish.” “Ramsey will be waiting to see if he kills me and our fictional terrorist before he gives the go ahead. After tonight, he won’t know who the opposition is, or how high up it goes. If he suspects that it’s gone up to the president, we can expect another attempt on his life. Tonight is more important than I imagined.” “Am I out of line by asking who’s helping us tonight?” Cummings asked. “Garza said it was a criminal element.” “The only criminals you need to worry about are Ramsey’s men.” Kidd said, “If they’re willing to die with us, then I personally don’t care who they are, as long as they’re good.” “They’re good,” Brand emphasized. “You’re scared, aren’t you, Cummings?” “I’ve never worked under these conditions, of course, I’m scared.” “Me too,” Brand said. “So, I guess Kidd’s the only one with no fear.” “I guess so,” Kidd said. “Then you’re lying to yourself. I saw the fear in your eyes on the beach that night. It was the adrenaline of fear that kept you alive.” “It was the fear of my friend’s dying that pumped my adrenaline.” “Then fear for our lives,” Brand said, “and we’ll survive to have breakfast in the morning… Get some rest, we’ll need it.” A military truck pulled up next to the bomb squad van, and twenty-five men dressed in fatigues jumped out of the back. Colonel Armstrong approached Chief Alexander. “No bomb, eh Chief?”
    • 288J.Cross/Stone - “My men are just finishing, they haven’t found a thing. But it doesn’t mean that it’s not there. This is a lot of terrain to cover.” “You’ve been duped. Get your men out. I know where the terrorists are meeting,” Armstrong said sarcastically. “Be my guest, the park is yours. I hope you find the terrorists.” “We will, and then General Ramsey will have your ass.” The soldiers outfitted themselves with automatic rifles and side arms as they scurried around and finally fell into formation. “Men,” Armstrong said, “you have your orders. It is imperative that we capture two of the terrorist alive. The rest I want dead. Is that understood?” He then turned to Lt. Walker, “Take them out lieutenant, and have your men assume their positions.” Chief Alexander watched in amazement. He knew what he was told by Judge Chacon, but he couldn’t believe it was actually happening. What next, he thought to himself, as he watched the soldiers march off into the park. Brand called John Bruzzi. “It’s ten o’clock now, we’ll meet you at Douglass Circle at eleven.” “Everything is ready. I’ll see you then,” he said. “Do you want to talk to Susan?” “No. Just tell her that I love her, and I’ll see her at dawn,” he said and hung up. Brand asked Kidd and Cummings,” Are you ready for our skirmish in the park?” “We’re ready,” they both said. “We leave in half an hour. Make sure you leave nothing behind, and wipe down everything as if we were never here.” “No problem,” Kidd said, as he and Cummings began cleaning the room. The trio exited the semi-hotel, and entered in to the late night crowd, and walked several blocks until Brand spotted a taxi sitting alone. “This one will do,” he said. “I remind you not to say a word,” as he opened the rear door of the taxi. “Where to?” the driver asked. “Douglass Circle,” Brand answered. “There’s no action there,” the driver replied. “You want to go to the red light district?” he asked in broken English.
    • 289J.Cross/Stone - “We’re meeting some friends there. After that who knows,” Brand said. When they arrived near Douglass Circle, the driver said, “Must be something going at Central Park. I don’t think I can get much closer with all this traffic.” “This is fine. It’s only a few blocks,” Brand said and paid him as they exited the cab. “How are we going to find your friends?” Kidd asked. “This street is a mess.” “We’ll find them. Look for a van with a sign that reads ‘The Plaza’. The police will help them through the traffic. Just then Brand spotted three black vans with the name of the Plaza Hotel written on the side. “That’s them,” Brand said. “Cummings, use your badge and get the police to make a way for them to Douglass Circle. Kidd you come with me.” Brand approached the lead van and pounded on the window. Bruzzi rolled it down. “It’s one hell of a jam here,” he said. “My partner will make a way for us. Do you have room in the van for me and my friend?” “Of course, get in the side door.” The door slid open, and Georgi reached out his hand. “It’s good to see you Padrone.” “And it’s good to see you. This is my friend, Kidd. He’ll be helping us tonight.” Georgi smiled as he pulled Kidd into the van. “It is my pleasure.” “Mine too,” Kidd said as the sliding door of the van shut. Brand looked around in the dimness of the van, and saw six men seated on benches in the cargo area. They were all smiling at him. One of them said, “Do you remember me? I was on the last mission. It is an honor to serve with you again.” “Of course, I do,” Brand lied, not remembering his face, but shook his hand. Kidd began to understand immediately. “My friend here will help make our mission a success. There is one more who will be joining us. Right now he’s making a way for us through the traffic.” Kidd smiled at the group, and then saw a heap of weapons laying in a pile on the floor of the van. “We’re already then,” Kidd said, rubbing his hands together.
    • 290J.Cross/Stone - “Si, we are ready,” a voice came from the back of the van. “It is my pleasure to be with you on this mission,” Kidd said, understanding completely who the men were. Cummings frantically waved his badge around at any police officer, but they only moved on not wanting to be bothered. After three attempts he found a sergeant. “I’m an assistant Director of the FBI, and it is urgent that I get three vans to the Plaza Hotel,” Cummings said as he showed him his credentials. “Any help you can provide will be greatly appreciated.” “Not a problem, always glad to help the FBI,” the sergeant said and ordered a group of officers who were standing around. “Follow this man, he’s FBI, and he’s got a job for you to do.” “Thanks, Sergeant. I won’t forget this.” “Yes, you will,” the sergeant laughed. “Don’t be surprised if I don’t,” Cummings said, and turned to toward the officers approaching. “I’ve got three vans that desperately need to get to Douglass Circle.” The officers went in to motion, stopping on coming traffic from the other lane, and forcing several cars over to the side of the road. “You’re vans should be able to get through now,” one of the policeman called out to Cummings. When Cummings arrived at the lead van, the door was already open. “Get in,” Brand said. Cummings jumped in, and Brand slid the door shut. This is my friend, Cummings, “ Brand said to the men in the van. Cummings looked around; even in the darkness of the van he could see the faces smiling at him. “Good to be here,” he said not knowing what else to say. “It’s good to have you with us,” a heavily accented voice said. Cummings now knew who the criminal element was. To his amazement he was not actually surprised. A policeman waved at their van. “Move it,” Bruzzi ordered, “But slowly.” And then looked back to see if the other vans were following. They were. Within minutes the three vans were parked in the Douglass Circle parking area.
    • 291J.Cross/Stone - “All right, everyone out,” Brand barked. The parking area was dark, except for a few lighted areas a distance away. They were on the other side of the crowded traffic. The street to the bomb squad van was empty. “Kidd, take one of the vans, and back it up to the bomb squad van. Find Police Chief Alexander, tell him you’re heading up the detail for the president.” “I know what to do,” Kidd replied. “Georgi,” Brand said, “unload all the guns from the van.” Within seconds it was done. “Okay, Kidd, go do your thing.” Kidd spun the van out of the parking area and sped the short distance to the bomb squad van and backed it up. Several officers were approaching as he jumped out. “I’m Agent Kidd, Secret Service,” he said showing his credentials. “I need to find Chief Alexander.” “We’ve been waiting for you,” one of them said. “We thought you weren’t going to show.” “It was hard to get through the traffic,” Kidd said, noticing the military truck parked across the street. “You’ll find the Chief in front of the van,” he said but then stepped in front of Kidd. “A word to the wise, this hasn’t been a stellar day for the chief. Catch my meaning?” Kidd nodded. “Got it, and thanks.” Kidd found the police chief pacing nervously. “Chief Alexander?” he asked, waving his credentials. “Let me see those credentials,” he growled. “Goddamn, are you guys late or something? The military’s been here for hours,” Chief Alexander said frustrated, handing them back to Kidd after studying them. “No, Chief, we’re right on time. The president sends his apologies and gratitude for the inconvenience and your help,” Kidd said trying to take the edge off. It didn’t help. “Get that stuff out of my van,” he ordered. “Oh,” Kidd said, “the president asked if you and your wife would like to spend a night in the Lincoln bedroom?”
    • 292J.Cross/Stone - That did it. “The Lincoln bedroom? Well, shit son,” the chief said smiling, changing his mood instantly. “How can I help?” “How many military are there?” “About twenty-five,” the chief said. Kidd made no comment, but said, “I need everything unloaded into my van. Leave the ambulances in place, and a small contingent of your men. After the fireworks, they’ll have to take out the bodies. Oh, and don’t forget to have the lights in this section turned off in ten minutes.” “No problem,” the chief said and ordered everyone in sight to help. The task was accomplished in minutes. He then asked Kidd, “So, you guys are really after a terrorist group?” “Can I tell you something ‘top secret’, Chief? I mean between you me and the president?” “Of course,” Chief Alexander beamed. “The only terrorist in this park came out of that military truck over there.” “I knew something was not right with that asshole Colonel Armstrong.” “Remember, Chief,” Kidd warned, “the bodies you take out tonight must all be listed as John Doe, unless you get orders from the president, himself. Understand?” “Completely,” the chief nodded. The van was loaded. “Thanks for everything, Chief.” Kidd started toward the van and turned back and said, “Remember Lincoln.” As Kidd screeched the van down the street, the chief took his hat off, and scratched his balding head. “I think, I’ve just been had,” he said out loud. Lieutenant Walker who was standing close to him asked, “What?” “Never mind. Send everyone home, except for about fifty you can trust, and leave the ambulances, looks like we’re going to need them.” “You going home, Chief?” “Not on your life. I want to see how this charade plays out.”
    • 293J.Cross/Stone - Kidd squealed the van to a stop in the Douglass Circle parking area. Before he was out, Brand was already ordering everyone to outfit. “Any problems?” Brand asked Kidd. “Not unless you consider the Lincoln bedroom a problem.” “What?” “Never mind, I’ll tell you later.” “How many of Ramsey’s men?” “The chief said about twenty-five.” Kidd and Cummings helped the team put on the flak jackets, and how to use the night goggles. “I think we’re ready,” John Bruzzi said trying to see through the night goggles. “They’re only good in almost total darkness, he said. “By the time we enter the area all the lights in this section will be turned off. You won’t be able to see a few feet in front you without the goggles.” “Will our enemy have the same night goggles?” Bruzzi asked. “I don’t know. Depends on how arrogant and confident they are. But, right now, I need you to assemble the team.” Brand strode in front of them like a general on inspection, refitting equipment as he walked along the semi-circle of men. When he had finished he addressed them. “Compatriots,” he began, “this is a war, and like all wars we will have casualties. If any of you want to leave, now is your chance. John Bruzzi has given his word that no harm will come to you. It will not be a disgrace if you should decide to leave.” No one moved. “Alright then,” Brand said. “About five hundred yards from here is our enemy. They’re numbers are about the same as ours. In that respect, we have the advantage. But, if they’re wearing the same night vision goggles, then they have the advantage.” Just then all the lights in the surrounding area went off. “Lights out is part of the plan, or otherwise we would not need the goggles. If our enemy doesn’t have any goggles then we have the advantage. Their only advantage, with or without the night goggles, is that they’ll have The Great Hill circled. Our job is to clear a path up the hill, and take them out. I want two teams: one to follow me up the hill, the other to circle around to the other side. When we
    • 294J.Cross/Stone - start firing, their men will move toward our position leaving you free to climb the hill. Triangulate you positions so that you’re not shooting in our direction. Are their any questions?” Georgi asked. “You’ll be taking the brunt of the fire then?” “Yes,” Brand said. “Then I would like to be on your team,” he said. “That’s up to Don Bruzzi.” “Georgi,” Bruzzi said, “you have more experience, you lead the other team. I will go with Brand.” “As you wish, Padrone,” Georgi uttered. “Pick your team, Georgi,” Brand said. “We will assault the hill in ten minutes.” On top of the hill Colonel Armstrong spoke to his lieutenant. “I guess they shut the lights off at midnight.” “Sir, if I might. We’ve been waiting for hours, I don’t think they’re going to show.” “Don’t be stupid. Of course, they’re going to show. They’ve just been waiting for the lights to go out.” “We don’t have night vision goggles, how are we going to see them?” “They have no idea that we’re waiting for them. Remember, this is supposed to be a meeting. There are picnic tables on either side of us. They’ll probably have flashlights. We have the high ground, and the advantage.” “I can’t see a damn thing,” the lieutenant said. Armstrong pushed the button on his communicator. “Listen for footsteps, but don’t fire until I give the order.” Brand said, “Kidd, you go with Georgi.” And then to Georgi, “Split your team in two. You take one; Kidd will take the other. Wait five seconds after you hear the firing before you rush up the hill.” “We know what to do, don’t we Georgi?” Kidd said. “Si.”
    • 295J.Cross/Stone - “Don’t get arrogant on me, Kidd. We’ve got friends to protect.” “Yes, Sir, I understand,” Kidd said remembering Brand’s lecture to him. “Make sure the teams have their goggles on right.” “I will.” “Alright then, head out. We’ll wait five minutes before we make our approach toward the hill. And for Christ sakes, be quiet!” “We’ll be as quiet as a church mouse,” Georgi said. Brand walked over to Bruzzi and his team. “It will take us five minutes to reach the hill. Georgi’s men are their way now. When we get to the bottom, it’s about a hundred feet to the top of the hill, but we won’t have to go that far before we start shooting. But don’t shoot until I fire first. Understand?” He could barely see the heads nodding. “Spread out, but stay in the tree line. When you begin to fire shoot at what you can see, if not shoot at the ridge, it will send the enemy back toward Georgi’s team. One last thing, if the enemy is smart they’ll have at least two men posted lower down on the hill. If you encounter one of them, it must be a silent kill, no guns.” Bruzzi then shook each man’s hand and checked their night goggles. “Okay, let’s go.” Brand led the team to the bottom of the hill. “Wait here until I signal.” “Where are you going?” Bruzzi asked. “To take out the men that will be waiting for us lower down on the hill.” “How will you know where they are?” “They’ll be watching the picnic tables over there. They shouldn’t be too hard to find.” “And if you cannot signal?” “You know the plan, continue without me,” Brand said and slid on his belly, and began crawling up the slope. Suddenly a brisk wind whipped through the top of the trees. Brand smiled, and began moving faster up the hill. The wind would cover his thrashing through the grass. About a third of the way up the hill, he saw one of the soldier through his night goggles leaning against a tree. The soldier was not wearing any goggles. “Amateurs,” Brand said to himself, and approached the man from the side. He found a pebble, and crawled within
    • 296J.Cross/Stone - five feet of the man and threw it over his head. When the man turned, Brand lunged up and attacked. The man was dead almost instantly. One more he thought as he moved closer to the picnic tables. Sure enough, another soldier came into view. Only this time Brand was above him. The black wind seemed to whistle along the grass as he made his move grabbing the man from behind and breaking his neck. Brand waved his arms toward Bruzzi’s team, hoping they would see his signal. But suddenly, he heard a noise and instinctively crouched as he felt a blade slash his shoulder. Pain seared throughout his body, but he managed to whip his leg around knocking the assailant down the hill. He sprang with the full force of his body the three feet that separated them, and plunged a serrated knife into the man’s stomach and twisted upward while holding his hand over the man’s mouth. The gurgling sound of death muffled through his hand, and the acrid smell of blood filled his nostrils. Brand rolled over on the moist grass, spent from his ordeal. He felt light headed; he knew it was from loss of blood. He struggled to his knees, undid his belt and strapped it tight above the wound, hoping it would stem the bleeding. Bruzzi’s men must have seen his signal because he heard the thrashing of feet coming from below. Thank God for the wind, or they’d all be dead by now. Bruzzi and Cummings reached him and saw the soldier lying on the ground, and started to lift Brand to his feet. Bruzzi felt the blood oozing from his shoulder. “Stay still,” he said and reached into his jacket and extracted something and rubbed it vigorously into the wound. “The pain will ease, and the blood will begin clotting. You’ll be all right.” “There was a third man, I got sloppy,” Brand said. “What now?” Cummings asked. “We go another twenty-feet. We should be able see the enemy and then we start firing.” Brand got to his feet, adjusted his goggles and led the way. The pain hadn’t lessened, but he had mobility. Through his night goggles he saw the enemy spread out, only their heads and rifles peered over the ridge. Brand flattened into a prone position and started firing his automatic rifle along the ridge; the rest of his men did the same. Dirt kicked up along the ridge with sounds of screams. A few volleys were returned, but
    • 297J.Cross/Stone - mainly they retreated away from the ridge. Then a barrage of gunfire swallowed up the night and cast a crimson glow over the hill. Within twenty seconds it was over, leaving only the stench of smoke and blood. Kidd rushed down the hill. “We got ‘em. All of them,” he said proudly. “Brand’s wounded,” Cummings said. “We’ve got to get him out of here.” “How many casualties?” Brand asked. “As far as I can tell, only three, but not seriously, the flak jackets took most of the fire.” “Get us out of here before the police come,” Brand ordered. “Bruzzi yelled something in Italian, and within minutes they were safely back in the vans and heading toward the Mastronini compound. Brand had passed out. “Is it serious?” Cummings asked Bruzzi. “He’s lost some blood, but he’ll be fine in a few days. I have a doctor waiting for us.” Kidd wanted to celebrate, but under the circumstances it would have to wait. No one spoke a word until they reached the compound. Several men and a doctor were waiting to carry the injured into the house. Susan stood on the steps as she watched them carry Brand into the house. “Is he going to be all right?” she asked through her tears at seeing the man she loved being carried. “He will be fine,” John Bruzzi said, and put his arm around her. Anna and John helped Susan into the house. She struggled to get free wanting to be with Brand. “It will be best if the doctor attends to his wound first,” John said. Susan collapsed to her knees. “He’s going to die, isn’t he?” she screamed. “No. I promise you he will be fine. You will see, in the morning, he will be his usual self.” Anna and John helped her to the couch and laid her down. “Get me some strong Cognac, Anna.” “Drink this,” Anna said when she returned.
    • 298J.Cross/Stone - Susan forced the Cognac down, and shuttered from the taste. “But he promised me…he promised me.” “What did he promise?” Anna asked, stroking Susan’s hair. “That he would be all right, and my love would keep him safe.” “And, so it has. He is safe. Now rest.” Susan was spent from her own emotions, and the Cognac was taking affect. Anna grabbed John’s arm and led him into the library. “What happened?” she asked. John told her briefly, but she was not satisfied. “Our men sustained minor injuries, while Brand is fighting for his life. The Capo is not supposed to get hurt. You promised me that you would protect him,” Anna said as her eyes flashed anger. John Bruzzi slumped into a chair. “What do want me say, Anna, that I wish it were me instead of him?” Anna hesitated. “Of course not, I love you. It’s just that I feel for Susan. I would be hysterical if I were talking to Brand instead of you.” “He’ll be fine, Anna. I reached him in time to apply the herbs that your father gave me to stop the bleeding.” “I’m sorry,” she said. “I know you did your best.” “Brand is not a man who can be stopped. He has courage and endurance beyond any man I have ever met. He killed three of the enemy, silently, and wounded, he scrambled toward the enemy like a man possessed. Who can stop that? – Without him tonight we would all certainly be dead. His friend Kidd, and Georgi killed most of them, Brand’s plan was perfect… I can use a glass of Cognac myself.” “Of course, my darling. Right away. I’m sorry for anything I said. I took on Susan’s feelings, and prayed I was glad it was not you. For that I feel guilty.” He held her hand, “If it were not for Brand I would not be alive. Now, get some Cognac, and pray for him.”
    • 299J.Cross/Stone - CHAPTER 24 During the gun fire Chief Alexander held his men back. “That’s one hell of a meeting,” he said. “Should we stay here and do nothing?” his lieutenant asked. “Precisely,” the chief replied. “In about twenty minutes we’ll send in the ambulances and collect the bodies.” “Everything we’ve done is not according to any procedure I know of.” The chief smiled, “It is when it comes from the President of the United States.” It wasn’t until morning when General Ramsey got the news. “Who in the fuck are these guys?” he asked Bridges, a Major General. “I don’t know, but they must be good.” “You’re a lot of fucking help, aren’t you?” “No matter,” Bridges said. “Admittedly, this is disconcerting, but in no way does it alter our schedule. This was a ploy to put our plans in doubt. A few of our soldiers are dead, but it is nothing as compared to what we have to achieve.” “You sound like Zlatamir,” he said, crushing out a cigar. “My advice, General, is to forget about these so-called terrorists, and concentrate on the project. These episodes are just distractions.” “I suppose you’re right. They can’t really stop the project.” “The information came from Garza, maybe it was a trap. Do you trust him?”
    • 300J.Cross/Stone - “Right now, I don’t know who to trust. If he’s playing the game of double agent, I’ll find out soon enough. I have a plan.” “You want to share it?” “Not at the moment, Bridges. Not at the moment,” Ramsey said as he leaned back in his chair, and unwrapped another cigar. President Barkley was receiving the news from Chief Alexander about the same time as Ramsey. “The only casualties were military, is that right?” he asked the Chief of Police. “That’s all we found, unless your men took out their own casualties before we arrived. I was told that the bodies should be listed as John Doe, is that correct?” Barkley was deep in thought, but answered, “That’s correct. You did a good job Chief. I won’t forget it.” “And what about the Lincoln bedroom, Mr. President?” “The Lincoln bedroom?” Barkley wondered what Brand had promised. “Oh, that. I’ll have to get back to you, Chief,” he said and hung up immediately. Barkley sat back and thought. I have two men incarcerated, let’s see which one the General asks about. Enfanti is trying to locate where the weapon is being assembled. What next? And then wondered if Brand was all right; and who he in the hell did he have helping him? If he could find Kidd, he might get an answer. But, somehow, he doubted it. Once Brand got a hold of you, there was no telling. He was very persuasive. His main concern at the moment was if Ramsey would attempt another assassination to take him out of the equation. And if Ramsey did, what about the vice- president? How did fit into all of this? He decided to call him in for a chat. “Maggie, find Vice-President, Malcolm, and tell him I would like to meet with him as soon as possible.” “Yes, Sir,” she said. Barkley wished he knew how and where Susan was. But knowing Brand, he would keep that to himself. Neither one of them completely trusted the other, even though Brand had save his life. He swiveled his chair around to the window and looked out. A blustery wind combined with a blistering heat. Not the norm. Maybe there was something to this unusual weather, the ozone layer, and the green house effect. Could we
    • 301J.Cross/Stone - be tampering with the climate, or was it a natural cycle? He thought about asking Director Lassen, but thought otherwise, at least until this was all over. Barkley then focused on the most possible scenario: even if they stopped the weapon, which could easily be done at Cape Canaveral before the launching, would the Russians and the Chinese carry out their threat to simultaneously attack the United States with their considerable arsenal -- which they had promised to do. The probable scenario was that it was all an ingenious bluff engineered by this Professor Zlatamir. But could he take the chance? He wondered if the President’s of Russia and China were part of the conspiracy. He doubted it, and that gave him an idea. The intercom buzzed. “Mr. President, the Vice-President’s here,” Maggie said. “Well, tell him to come in,” he thundered. If Maggie lived for a hundred years, she doubted if she would ever understand the president’s moods, so she just shrugged it off as she usually did. Vice-President Malcolm entered. “You wanted to see me?” he asked tentatively. “Burt,” Barkley said. “It seems we haven’t talked much lately. I was just telling that to my wife the other day. So, how in the hell are you?” Malcolm never really did like Barkley, even though they agreed on many of the issues; at the time, it seemed politically expedient for him to accept the second spot. “I’m fine,” he said. “I’ve been concentrating on the environmental issues. We’re taking a beating in the media.” “Sit down, Burt, have a drink, take a load off. Would you like a cigar?” “Jim, we haven’t talked alone in the last six months. We seem to communicate only through memos after a cabinet meeting.” “My fault, not yours. I apologize,” Barkley replied. “Let’s cut the shit. What do you want? I know your style; you can be charming if it suits your agenda. Is there something messy you want me to handle?” “Not really. I’d like your thoughts on the upcoming shuttle mission though.” “I think it’s an important mission. It will give us a better understanding of the ozone layer, and maybe some way of diminishing it’s effect.” “I assume you’ve been working closely with Dr. Lassen then?” “Actually, he really doesn’t know much than I just said.”
    • 302J.Cross/Stone - “Why not?” “General Ramsey’s in charge of this one. The most I could get out of him was that the climate experiments may have military applications. I assume Randall has more information. By the way, where is he?” “In a minute, Burt, but…” “How long is this going to take?” Malcolm interrupted. “Why? Do you have somewhere to go?” “No, but if we’re going to have a serious conversation, I don’t want it interrupted like a hundred times before.” Barkley pushed a button on his phone. “Maggie, we are not to be disturbed unless World War three breaks out. Understood?” “Yes, Mr. President,” she answered and just shook her head. “Burt, you’ve got my full attention for as long as you want it.” The vice-president squirmed in his chair. “I think I’ll take you up on that drink.” “Fine,” Barkley said. “I’ll join you. Bourbon or scotch?” “Scotch with a little ice.” “Good choice,” Barkley said and fixed himself one. “Let’s get more comfortable.” Barkley walked over to an opposing set of sofas, and set down the drinks on the coffee table that separated them. Malcolm walked over, picked up his drink and plopped down on the opposite sofa. “Can I loosen this damn tie?” “As I said, let’s get comfortable.” “Are we off the record, or are we being recorded?” “No bugs in this room,” Barkley replied. “It’s just you and me.” “So, what do you want to talk about, how many soccer games I’ve missed, or the numbers of birthdays I was too busy to attend?” “None, but I do sympathize.” Burt took a healthy swig of scotch. “Jim, you haven’t been sympathetic to anyone, and that includes you wife. You treat her as if she were a nuisance.” “Criticism accepted, and understood. If I said I was sorry, and that I would put forward my best effort to change, would that make a difference?”
    • 303J.Cross/Stone - “No,” Burt said, but I’ll take another scotch.” Barkley fixed another for the vice-president. “I really do want to discuss a few things with you, will the scotch interfere?” “Stop me at three. After that I won’t care.” “When you were a Senator on the Armed Services Committee you were considered to be the brightest on foreign affairs. That’s one of the reasons I chose you.” “You could have fooled me,” he said taking a sip of scotch. “The reason is,” Barkley began, “and in part an apology, I was a Navy Seal for twenty years, and I thought I knew everything. Well, I don’t. As a matter of fact, I now find out that I know very little.” Burt Malcolm looked around the room. “Will the real President Barkley please stand up?” “I’m serious, Burt, I need your help.” “Well that’s a first,” he said and laughed. Barkley was starting to become impatient, but controlled himself. “Burt, if you don’t want to be part of this administration, just say so.” “That’s all I ever wanted, Mr. President, nothing more.” “Then listen to me,” Barkley said half-leaning across the coffee table. “Do you know what’s happening at Army Intelligence, or what General Ramsey is up to?” Barkley knew he was sticking his head in a noose if Malcolm was part of the plot. “Haven’t a clue,” he said. “I stopped getting involved when it became clear to me that you were not interested in my input.” “Okay, I understand that. What are your feelings about Ramsey?” “He’s a megalomaniac with an agenda.” “What kind of agenda?” “He thinks the world should be run by the Army.” “And what do you think?” “Is that a trick question?… Can I have another drink?” “No, not until we finish, and then you can have as many as you like.” “So, what’s the question?” “Have you ever heard of a project called ‘The Cipher of Satan’?”
    • 304J.Cross/Stone - “No, have you? It sounds like the name of a bad movie.” “As a matter of fact, I have. And the people behind it have tried to assassinate me, and I think they’re about to try again.” Malcolm bolted upright. “Is this on the level?” “You know me, at least, you know I wouldn’t make up a story like that.” “Whose behind it?” “General Ramsey. He’s made a deal with the Russians and Chinese to deploy a weapon onto the international space station that has the ability to render most of us into some kind of zombie like state. Their plan is to divide the world into three parts between Russia, China, and Ramsey assuming control of the U.S. portion.” “Why would Ramsey agree to this? It makes no sense. Why don’t you ask Randall, your NSA advisor?” “Because he’s under house arrest in the basement of the White House.” “You can’t be serious?” “Oh, but I am, and I need your help.” The vice-president shoved his glass of scotch away from his reach. “Let me be clear about this -- Ramsey has colluded with our enemies to take over the world. I know he’s a little twisted, but this is insane?” “A professor Zlatamir has concocted a scheme with the help of our enemies.” “He’s a bad one,” Malcolm said. “What do you mean?” “This guy is certifiable. He’s nuts; he makes Ramsey look like a schoolyard kid when it comes to power and control.” “I’m going to tell you everything I know,” Barkley said. When he had finished, Malcolm just said, “WOW!” “Can I count on your help, Burt?” “Of course, but where do I begin?” “For starters, we’ve got to find out if the president’s of Russia and China are part of the plan, because, if they’re not, their lives are in great danger, as well as my own. But what is most important, the lives of every citizen on this planet will lose their free will and be subservient to a tribunal dictatorship. And I don’t believe for a minute that China
    • 305J.Cross/Stone - will stop there. They’ll eventually take out Russia, and what’s left of the United States. China has long awaited a time when they can rule the world.” “This situation is all new to me, what do you suggest?” “I suggest a meeting with the presidents of Russia and China. What do you think would be the perfect cover or reason for calling such a meeting? It must be set up immediately. You’ve got to come up with a plausible reason.” “Let’s just find this weapon and eliminate it,” Malcolm said. “We can do that,” Barkley replied, “But if the Russians and Chinese are not bluffing, it would mean the end of civilization as we know it. Would you take that risk?” “Only if you suspect that’s it’s truly a bluff.” “Maybe by the Chinese, but certainly not by the Russians; they’ve been duped by Zlatamir and the Chinese to believe that they will rule a third of the world. I believe the entire Russian army is convinced that they will return to world power – a very strong incentive, wouldn’t you say?” “Absolutely, but what excuse can we offer that would sound legitimate enough to convene an urgent meeting?” “I’ve got some ideas, but I’d like to hear yours first, after all, you’re the expert.” “All right, Mr. President, by eight tomorrow morning I’ll have some options,” he said and stood up. Barkley rose and moved around the coffee table and held out his hand, which Malcolm grasped. “I can’t apologize enough,” he said, “but this country needs your help… no, I need your help.” “You were ready to arrest me, weren’t you?” “If I didn’t believe you, yes. “Why do you believe me?” “Because you’re an honest man, and honest men don’t lie. It’s good to have you back on board,” Barkley smiled. “I was never really on board, Mr. President.” “Burt, I know you don’t like me, but at least help me to become a President that you can be proud of,” Barkley said with as much sincerity as he could. “You might find that after you become president, everything seems to take on a life of its own.”
    • 306J.Cross/Stone - “Why are you planning to die?” he asked sarcastically. “No, I’m stepping down at the end of my term, and I’m planning to endorse you.” Malcolm just stood there with a blank face. “You’ll make a great President,” Barkley said slapping him on the shoulder. “But right now the country needs your help.” Malcolm, still in shock, replied, “I’ll do my best, Mr. President.” Even in his dazed stupor, Brand awoke at his usual time. The faint gray of the morning sifted into the room. As he tried to turn, the pain from the deep knife wound shot through him. He grimaced, and then saw Susan sleeping in a chair next to the bed. At seeing her, the pain relented and he reached out to touch her. With the tip of his fingernails he lightly scratched her leg. She moaned a sweet smile, but then bolted awake. “Michael, how do feel?” she asked as a deep furrow creased her brow. “Aside from a little pain, not bad.” Susan moved over and sat on the bed and kissed him. “You lost a lot of blood, you almost died.” “Not even close,” he said reassuringly. “Your impossible! But I am glad that you’re feeling better,” she smiled. “Would you like something to eat?” “Not right now, but I would like to talk with John, if he’s awake.” “If you must.” “I need to know what happened last night.” “You don’t remember?” she asked alarmed. “Things are a little fuzzy. After, we’ll spend as much time together as you’d like.” “Promise?” “I always keep my promises. Now kiss me, and then please get John.” Brand just lied there trying to recall the events from the previous evening. His mind stopped at the point when Cummings and Bruzzi arrived. He then tried to think about what to do next, but his mind wouldn’t cooperate. It must be the drugs, he thought, and then convinced himself he would remember after they wore off.
    • 307J.Cross/Stone - John Bruzzi entered the room in his bathrobe. “Susan says you’re as perky as ever,” and smiled. “I doubt she said that,” Brand replied. “Maybe a little more colorful,” John said. “But, seriously, how do you feel?” “Weak, tired, drugged and hurt. Satisfied?” “Susan was right about…” “Never mind,” Brand said cutting him off. “I can’t remember anything after you found me. What happened, and don’t leave anything out.” “I put some special herbs into your wound that eased the pain and temporarily stopped the bleeding.” “Then what?” “Then you led us up the hill, and you started firing at the enemy as we all did. Your plan worked perfectly.” “How many casualties?” “You were the most serious; they were three others with minor wounds. Your man Kidd and Georgi took them all out, just as you had predicted.” “All of them? And we only sustained a few minor wounds?” “That is correct, except for you.” “I don’t count, only the men count.” “I must tell you, Michael, that I have learned a great deal from you. And for that I will always be in your debt.” “Nonsense, it is I who is in your debt, you made it possible.” “I also must tell you that Georgi and your man Kidd were magnificent. I know that Kidd wants to tell you himself.” “He’s as arrogant as I am.” “Maybe that’s what makes you both so good at what you do.” “Arrogance will also get you killed.” Bruzzi ignore the comment. “So what is your next move?” “Mine, I don’t know. But your part is finished. From here on it gets too dangerous.” Bruzzi frowned.
    • 308J.Cross/Stone - “Don’t let this skirmish go to your head, or you’ll end up dead.” Bruzzi nodded his understanding. “By the looks of all your wounds, I’m amazed you’re still alive.” “So am I,” he said feeling the pain from his shoulder. “Could you please send Kidd and Cummings up here, and a secure line if that’s possible?” “I’ll have one up here immediately. Anything else?” “Tell Susan to be patient, I told her I would spend the day with her.” “Anna and I will entertain her, until you’ve finished with your business.” “Thank you,” Brand said. “Thank you for everything.” “We repay our debts,” he replied, and left the room. Kidd and Cummings entered the room almost immediately. Kidd said with a smile, “I’m still on a high from last night.” “Then you’re stupid, as well as arrogant,” Brand chided. “It was a waste of good lives. The men you killed had girl friends, wives, and probably children. Go tell them how great you feel after slaughtering their loved ones.” Cummings nodded his agreement, but said nothing. Kidd hung his head. “I didn’t mean it like that.” “Of course you did. Just because you believe you’re fearless wonder and have the right to kill, you justify it -- Chief Seattle once said, ‘You believe they are dead, but the dead are always with us’.” Kidd and Cummings just stared at each other. “Don’t worry, I’m not going over the edge. Sometimes, after a battle, a little perspective is in order.” John Bruzzi knocked and entered with a phone. “This line is secure, it cannot be traced.” “Thank you, again,” Brand said as Bruzzi left the room. “Do we go after Ramsey now?” Kidd asked as if he hadn’t heard a word that Brand had said. “No, that’s the president’s job. Hand me the phone, I’m going to call him to see what the fall out is from last night.” Brand punched in the numbers to the president’s private phone in the Oval Office.
    • 309J.Cross/Stone - “Brand is this you?” Barkley asked abruptly. “You must have ESP,” Brand said. “No, just hoping. How is Susan?” “She’s fine, and very safe.” “Good,” he sighed. “I’m calling to find what the fall out is from last night.” “Nothing. Not a word. You did a good job. But I expect there’s a lot of consternation at the General’s headquarters…By the way, I received a strange call from Chief Alexander, he wanted to know about the Lincoln bedroom.” “The Lincoln bedroom?” Brand asked as his eyes widened in surprise. Kidd held up his hand. “Your man, Kidd, seems to have done a little bribery to get what he wanted.” “Well, tell him he’s not the president,” Barkley barked into the phone. “Don’t be too hard on him, he did a good job last night.” Barkley just growled. “Have you found out where the weapon’s being assembled?” “I’m waiting for a call from Admiral Enfanti any time now. But, we can dispose of the weapon at the Cape if necessary. The weapon is not the problem; an all out assault nuclear from the Russians and Chinese is the problem. My assumption is that the president’s of Russia and China have been cut out of the loop as I have.” “That’s quite an assumption, Mr. President.” “If I’m wrong, we’re in no worse shape than we already are. But, if I’m right I think this can all be handled.” “I’ve never known you to be an optimist,” Brand inserted. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” he retorted. “I’m learning. So, what’s the plan?” “Vice-President, Malcolm is devising a way for me and the other two president’s to meet. I’ll know by tomorrow.” “You trust, Malcolm?” “As much as I trust you.” “Well, that’s a ray of sunshine,” Brand quipped.
    • 310J.Cross/Stone - “Let me talk to Kidd, if he’s there,” Barkley said. “He’s right here, Mr. President,” Brand said and handed the phone to Kidd. Kidd frowned. “Kidd here, Mr. President…only three minor casualties on our part, except for Brand, he was seriously wounded, but he’ll live…” Kidd then held the phone several inches from his ear as Barkley shouted at him. “…I understand, Mr. President. It was the only thing I could think of…Yes, I’ll talk to Chief Alexander…Yes, Sir…No, Sir…Yes, Sir, and thank you, Sir…I will,” he finally said and hung up. “The president can certainly be a piss-ant when he has a mind to.” “So, did he order you back to Secret Service detail?” Brand asked. “No. He said that if I let you get hurt again, he would send me to the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’.” Cummings laughed, and Brand tried to but it hurt too much. “Relax, Kidd, I’ve got a plan,” Brand said, but he didn’t. “In a couple of days we’ll be back in action. In the meantime, there are some great restaurants in New York. No one knows who you are. Do some sight seeing, and take Cummings with you. Go to some of the lounges, the women here are fantastic, but leave Cummings out. I don’t think his wife would appreciate it.” Kidd nodded. “I’m going for a walk, I’ll be back,” he said sounding dejected. “I should call Director Garza, what do you think?” Cummings asked Brand. “By all means, maybe he knows something. Just remember that his phone may be tapped.” “Right.” Cummings dialed Garza’s number. Garza answered, “Who’s calling?” “It’s Cummings, Sir.” “What can I do for you?” His voice sounded distant and stilted. “I told you not to call me about trivial matters, take care of it yourself, especially when I’m in conference.” “You have company then?” Cummings asked. “Of course.” “General Ramsey?” “Absolutely,” Garza said and hung up.
    • 311J.Cross/Stone - Cummings put down the receiver. “Ramsey’s with Garza, and he sounded scared.” “Don’t worry about Garza, he knows how to handle himself,” Brand said confidently. “That may be true, but Ramsey’s unpredictable. If he suspects Garza, he’ll have him killed,” Cummings replied concerned. “Did he say anything to the effect about seeing you soon?” “No.” “Then he’s okay. The rascal’s getting inside,” Brand said and smiled. “I don’t think so,” Cummings said. “I’ve never heard him speak like that, he’s scared alright.” “Are you sure?” “I’ve got this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach.” “What do you suggest then?” “I don’t know, but I’m not going to let him become another casualty. I’m going back to D.C., I’ll find a way to help him.” “What if your going back precipitates his death?” “I won’t let that happen… Give me that damn phone, I’ve got friends too.” “If by happenstance, you take out Ramsey, what do you think it’ll do to the president’s plan?” “Right now, I’m only concerned about Garza. He trusted me, and I’m not going to let him down.” Cummings punched in some numbers on the phone. It rang twice before it was picked up. “Braden residence,” a young voice answered. “Is your father there?” “Whom shall I say is calling?” “A friend from the office,” Cummings said. “Hold on, please.” It was Saturday; Cummings knew his friend would be home. After a few minutes, “Hello, Braden speaking.” “Ray, it’s me, Robert…Robert Cummings.”
    • 312J.Cross/Stone - “Bobby, good to hear your voice. How’s the big bad D.C.?” “It’s getting badder by the minute.” “What’s up?” “I believe that Director Garza’s life is in jeopardy,” Cummings said immediately coming to the point.” “You can’t be serious,” Braden said, not knowing whether to be shocked or laugh. “That whole damn town is full of Feds,” he quipped. “Assemble a protective screen around him.” “I can’t, he’s involved in a covert operation for the president. Right now, I’m the only one that the Director can trust.” “This is a joke, right?” Braden asked. “I wish it were,” Cummings said. “So, what do you expect me to do about it?” “I need you to bring two guys you trust and meet in D.C. tomorrow.” “I can’t do that, even if I wanted to. I’ve got some heavy case loads here.” “Ray, if Garza is assassinated like Thames was, you’ll never be able to live with yourself.” “Thames? I thought he died from a stroke?” Now Braden started to take Cummings serious. “That was just a cover story. That’s why the president has instructed me to get help,” Cummings lied. “Our national security is at risk. There’s already been an attempt on the president’s life; a coup is in the works. Garza is the only one standing between him and a national disaster.” “I don’t know, Bobby,” Braden said hoping this was really a bad joke. “None of this makes any sense. Who’s trying to take over the government?” “I’ve already said too much. I need you, Ray, you’re the only one I can trust. Meet me in D.C.” There was a long silence before Ray answered. “How long will this take?” “Two days, tops.” “I’ve got a case I’m working on that has ties to D.C., and I can take a couple of men with me. Bobby,” he said sternly, “this better not be a joke.”
    • 313J.Cross/Stone - “You know me better than that.” “Okay, where do we meet up?” “Go to the Vatican Embassy, and tell them a man by the name of Brand sent you. I’ll meet you there with a member of the president’s secret service detail.” Brand grimaced at hearing the Vatican Embassy. But Salvi was in Rome, so he concluded that it would be all right. “The Vatican Embassy?” Ray asked almost choking. “Bobby, if this doesn’t make any better sense than it does right now, we’ll be on the next plane back to Chicago. Got it!” “I understand. I’ll see you tomorrow. Make sure you don’t tell anyone where you’ll be staying. Oh, and dress like tourists, and remember to tell the guards at the Embassy that Mr. Brand sent you.” Cummings hung up. “You really think,” Brand asked, “that you’re doing the right thing?” “You can order me to stop if you want to.” “Personally, I think you’ve got great instincts, and how can I order you not to protect our friend, Garza.” “You don’t mind if I ask Kidd to come, do you?” “No, I think it’s a great idea. He’ll be excited to go – and so will I.” “If you need us, just call.” “The only thing I’m going to need for the next couple of days is peace and quiet,” Brand said, but then his voice turned icy cold. “Cummings, if you need help and you don’t call me, I’ll personally rip your head off. Understand?” “I got it,” Cummings smiled. “Don’t let Kidd get out of control. If you have to, threaten him with me, or the president. That’ll suck his scrotum up.” Cummings laughed. “I’m going to find, Kidd. We’ll talk again before we leave, just in case you have any other words of wisdom.” “Get out of here,” Brand said, wishing he could throw something at him. “Do that, I just might have an idea.” Brand didn’t, but he wanted to say good-bye. In this business you never know.
    • 314J.Cross/Stone - Ray Braden called two of his closest friends at the Bureau, who were also his subordinates, and told them to be ready to leave for D.C. by noon the next day. The only thing he told them was that they were following up a lead on the Denton case, and that he would have more information the next day. Garza was feeling better as he sat upright on his sofa staring at Ramsey across his make shift desk. “Garza,” Ramsey asked, “where is this agent Cummings now?” “I don’t know, but I’m sure he’ll be checking in.” “Why can’t you just call him, like any other of your agents?” “He’s changed cellulars. Don’t worry, he’ll check in General. Why the concern about Cummings?” Garza asked trying to sound curious. “Because, you damn fool, he’s the one that gave you the information about Brand and the terrorists. It had to be a set-up. He’s got be in this with Brand,” Ramsey said slapping his hands together. “How do know my source was Cummings?” Garza asked, as if he didn’t know. “Don’t be naïve, Garza. I check on everyone.” “Then you don’t trust me?” “I don’t trust anyone. If it wasn’t Cummings, then it was you.” “With all due respect, General, I was laid up on this couch with a bullet wound from one of those terrorists.” “Cummings could have been your conduit.” Garza was not about to get into an argument with Ramsey. It was one he couldn’t win anyway. Just then Garza’s phone rang again. “This is Garza.” “Director, Agent Cummings here…” “Just a minute agent, I’m putting you on speaker.” Garza pushed the button so Ramsey could hear. “Cummings, where in the hell are you?” “I’m still in New York trying to get a lead on Brand.” Ramsey paced as he listened. “What the hell happened at Central Park?”
    • 315J.Cross/Stone - “Strangest thing I ever witnessed. The NYPD had an entire section cordoned off; I couldn’t get within two blocks of the place. One of the police said it was because of a bomb scare. I hung around, but no one was getting through, so I went back to my hotel and made some phone calls. I finally got a hold of the manager of where the informant was supposed to be staying, but he said he couldn’t talk because the police were there investigating a murder. The manger was pretty shook, and he hung up. I assume it was the informant, but I can’t verify it.” “Okay, but what happened at the Park?” “All I know is what I read in the morning papers; that the bomb scare turned out be a bunch of teenagers shooting off firecrackers at midnight.” “Hang on,” Garza said and pushed the mute button. “What do you want me to do General?” “Get Cummings back here. I want to talk with him face to face.” Garza snapped off the mute. “Cummings, how quick can you get back here?” “Tomorrow, Sir. But I got tell you, if Brand had a meeting, he didn’t have it in Central Park. This guy’s a ghost.” “What time tomorrow?” Garza asked. “By late afternoon, I’ll be at your house.” “See you then,” Garza hung up the phone. “Do you want to meet with him here, or somewhere else?” “I’ll meet with him here in your basement. I’ll get some answers.” “So, you don’t believe him then?” “It doesn’t make any difference, he’s a loose end.” “You can’t just kill him,” Garza said. “Of course I can, we can say that he was about to assassinate you.” Garza shuddered at the thought. “Should I call you when he arrives?” “Don’t bother, I’ll be here waiting.” Garza only hoped that Brand was going to be close behind. If not, it was going to be one hell of an afternoon. He would make sure that his family was far away.
    • 316J.Cross/Stone - Susan and Brand spent a quiet day watching television, eating, and talking about what they would do when this insane business was all over. Brand thought that Susan had the most bizarre ideas he had ever heard: a trip to the Congo to spend some time with the gorillas, an elephant trip to Borneo and see the tigers in the wild. At every suggestion, he just nodded, smiled, and said nothing. In the middle of Susan’s enthusiastic escapades, Brand heard a rap on the door. “It must be Kidd and Cummings. Go in the bathroom and get dressed.” “Do I have to stay in there?” “No, but come out looking like a nun,” he said. Susan scurried into the bathroom. “Come in,” Brand said. Kidd and Cummings entered. “I hope we’re not disturbing you?” Cummings asked. “Of course you are, but I want to know what you’ve got planned.” Cummings told him about his subsequent conversation with Garza on the speaker- phone. “I know Ramsey was listening. They want me there tomorrow afternoon. I think the good General has something in store for me.” “So, what’s your plan?” Brand asked. “Kidd’s coming with me, and then we’ll meet Braden at the Embassy with his two agents. I’ll fill him in on what‘s appropriate. I’ll take a taxi to Garza’s with Kidd following, and the agents right behind him. We’ll know if anyone’s following us.” “Sounds like a good plan, but how is Kidd or you friends going to know if you’re in trouble once you’re inside?” Brand asked. Cummings said, “Before I leave I’ll get some of those emergency radio button devices, and replace one of my shirt buttons with it. You know the kind I mean -- press once for trouble, and twice for emergency, and then kick the door down?” Brand nodded his approval, and then asked, “Will your friends kill for you?” “If they believe it’s necessary.” “Not good enough,” he said, and then turned to Kidd. “If you think Cummings is in jeopardy, use every ounce of your persuasion on his friends.” “Would a gun do?”
    • 317J.Cross/Stone - “If necessary, yes.” Susan walked into the room and sat down on a chair a distance away from the conversation and listened. “I don’t like it,” Cummings said. “Kidd is too impulsive.” Kidd just shrugged. “Look, Cummings, if you press that button, you better hope that Kidd will be impulsive. And, if you wait too long to press it, you’ll be dead; and that will spoil my honeymoon.” “Okay, but I think Garza and I can handle it.” “Don’t be stupid. Garza’s in no better shape than I am. He’s going to be counting on you. Don’t let him down, or you’ll both be dead, and then you’ll really spoil everything… I wish I was going with you,” Brand added. “I’m glad you’re not. Kidd and I can handle it.” “Aah, get the fuck out of here,” Brand said. When Kidd and Cummings reached the door, Brand said, “Good luck. Call me when it’s over.” Cummings got what he needed from the local FBI office. The next day, just after lunch, Cummings and Kidd said their goodbyes and went to the airport, bought separate tickets and sat at different ends of plane. Kidd watched from the back while Cummings sat in the front. Before they boarded, Kidd asked, “You think you’re friends will be at the Embassy?” “I sure hope so. If not, it’s just you and me,” Cummings replied. Kidd hoped they wouldn’t show. Braden and his two agents landed at Dulles about one p.m., and immediately searched for a taxi. The hot sun and humidity felt oppressive. “Feels just like Chicago,” Mike, the other agent remarked. They didn’t have to look far, a line of cabs stood at the curb like a trail of yellow ants. Braden opened the front door, while the other two agents slid into the rear of the cab. “Where to?” the driver asked with a thick Iranian accent.
    • 318J.Cross/Stone - “The Vatican Embassy,” Braden answered. “You know,” the driver said, “Catholics and Muslims are a lot alike.” “How’s that?” Braden asked. “We both hate Iraq,” he said and laughed, exposing less than a mouthful of yellow teeth. After a harrowing drive consisting of almost two accidents, the Iranian driver pulled up in front of the Embassy. Braden paid the fare as the other two agents exited the cab. “You know the difference between Catholics and Muslims?” Braden asked. “No what?” “Catholics brush their teeth,” he said and slammed the door of the cab. The driver just peeled rubber out into traffic. The trio walked up to the security gate of the Embassy. Braden still thought this was a strange place to meet. A huge, hulking man dressed in a black suit with sweat dripping from his face walked over. “What can I do for you,” he asked in broken English. “Mr. Brand sent us. We’re to meet an agent Cummings here.” The big man eyed them,” You got any identification?” he asked. Braden thought the man looked more like a member of the Mafia than a security guard for the Vatican Embassy. In reality, he was right. When Anna found out that Brand was staying at the Embassy, she called Bishop Salvi and said she was sending some men over to act as security. Salvi was reticent, but agreed, knowing his own men were ill equipped to protect the Embassy. Braden and his men showed their credentials. The man took Braden’s and looked at it. “How do I know it’s real?” Braden couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Because it has the Seal of the United States on it. Right here,” he said pointing. “Okay, you can come in,” the huge man said and pressed a button that opened the gate. “At the end of the driveway, two men will show you inside.” With everything that was happening, Braden was beginning to feel like he was entering an episode of the Twilight Zone. As they approached the stairs to the entrance, a slighter built, but still husky man stood in their path. “You carrying?” Braden looked around wondering what he was talking about. “Carrying what?”
    • 319J.Cross/Stone - “Guns of course, what else?” “Yeah, we’re carrying,” Braden said getting in to the swing of things. “What did you expect?” he asked pulling his jacket open showing him his holstered gun. The guard nodded. “Give me your guns, they will be returned to you later.” The trio obliged, and walked up the steps to a waiting priest holding the door to the Embassy open. “Welcome. Please come in,” the priest said pleasantly, and then showed them to the main room. “Make yourselves comfortable. Is there anything I can get you?” the priest offered. “Water would be nice, it’s a little warm out there,” Braden said. The priest nodded and returned with three bottled waters. “Please sit. I’m sure agent Cummings will be here soon.” This was getting stranger and stranger by the minute. Mike looked around the room with great interest, while Paul, the other agent said, “I’ve met Cummings, and this is definitely not his style.” “When in Rome,” Braden said, and took a seat next to a statue of Pope Francis. Cummings debarked from the plane, and walked over to a sundry store and flipped through a number of magazines giving Kidd time to settle in position behind him. He looked at his watch; it was almost two o’clock. He finally bought a magazine and casually walked through the crowded airport toward a waiting stand of taxicabs. Cummings paced himself slowly, but not too conspicuously, he hoped. He hopped into a front the front passenger side of a waiting cab. “No one sits in front,” the burly driver with a handlebar moustache said in an unfriendly manner. “We have rules.” Cummings handed him a hundred dollar bill. The cabbie grabbed it. “Rules are meant to be broken,” he said smiling. “Where would like to go?” “The Vatican Embassy.” The driver crossed himself, and handed back the hundred. “It is not necessary.” Cummings shoved the driver’s hand back. “Keep it. Give it to the Church, if you like, but I expect your family may need it more.”
    • 320J.Cross/Stone - “Thank you, senor. I will light ten candles for you.” Cummings thought that to be an exaggeration, so he said, “One will be enough.” “Thank you, sir. I will take the shortest route to the Embassy.” Kidd had jumped into the back seat of a cab, and said as if he were in a movie, “Follow that cab,” he said pointing to two cabs in front of him, and handed the driver a hundred. “With pleasure,” the driver said stuffing the hundred-dollar bill into his shirt pocket. “How close do you want to follow?” “Three car lengths, and don’t lose him, or I take back the hundred. Understand?” “I understand. Say no more.” Kidd watched periodically through the rear window for any suspicious automobiles that might be following, but found none. Ramsey’s a cocky son-of-a-bitch, he said to himself. The cab followed Cummings until it stopped at the Vatican Embassy. “Stop here he ordered the driver, and handed him another twenty. This shit of over paying taxi drivers was a bad habit he learned from Brand. But it did have the desired results. He exited the cab and watched Cummings from behind some shrubbery enter the Embassy grounds. He waited for a few minutes to see if any suspicious cars drove by. None did, but he waited another minute before approaching the gate. As he approached, the guard recognized him. “The other’s are already inside. When do we expect Brand?” “He’s not making this trip,” Kidd answered. The guard didn’t like the answer, and narrowed his eyes at Kidd. “You must have heard that he was wounded in New York. He’s in no shape for this operation.” The guard hesitated. “I heard, but I hoped it was not serious.” “It’s not, he’ll live.” The guard smiled and opened the gate. “You going to need some help?” “Not this trip,” Kidd said. “Too bad.”
    • 321J.Cross/Stone - Kidd entered the Embassy house with a reception from Father Raphael. “It’s good to see you, Signore Kidd. The rest of your party is in the main room.” “Thank you,” Kidd said, and walked into the room. Cummings was holding a briefing session, and then noticed Kidd enter the room. “This is my partner, Secret Service Agent, William Kidd. Agent Kidd is one of the president’s personal bodyguards. When I’m not around, you’re to take orders from him without question. Is that understood?” Braden asked, “Who’s in charge of this operation?” “We both are,” Cummings said. “Is that a problem? Because, if it is, I don’t think the President of the United States would appreciate it.” “Remember,” Braden said, “we’re doing this as a favor to you.” “Wrong!” Kidd thundered. “You’re doing this because it’s your job. But, more than that, the national security of our country is at stake, and your own Director is putting his ass on the line today, not to mention your comrade here, Cummings. If you hesitate, they will both be killed. And if they are, I will kill all of you –by order of the president. Do I make myself clear?” Cummings winced as Kidd’s words settled like a black shroud over the trio. “The Secret Service is a little over zealous, and Kidd is on special assignment from the president, so I expect that you’ll follow his instructions to the letter. He gets a little pissed off in situations like this,” Cummings said trying to soften Kidd’s pronouncements. “Okay,” Braden said, “we get the picture. When do we leave?” he asked, wishing he had said no when Cummings had called. “In five minutes, right after I talk to agent Kidd.” Cummings beckoned Kidd over to one side. “Take it easy on these guys. They’re here as a favor to me.” “I just want them to know if they fuck up…” “Treat them like you would your brethren agents,” Cummings interrupted, “and you’ll get a lot more cooperation from them.” “So, I over reacted, but they got the message. I don’t have time for amateurs.” “You’re becoming more like Brand, but you forget the most important thing.”
    • 322J.Cross/Stone - “Yeah, what’s that?” “Brand cares about the people he’s working with.” “Okay, I’ll be on my best behavior unless that damn button goes off, and then all bets are off.” Cummings nodded, and went back to the trio, who were looking most assuredly that they didn’t want to be there. “Before we leave, let me tell you as much as I can about the situation,” Cummings said. After he told them what he could, “If any of you want to leave, feel free. I, nor the president, or the director will hold it against you.” That did it. There would be no more discussion after that “Ray,” Cummings said, “you take the Embassy car with Kidd and follow my taxi to Garza’s house. Let’s go, I’m running late.” Kidd and Braden jumped into the front seat of a Lincoln sedan with the other two agents in the back. Kidd, behind the wheel, watched as Cummings hailed a taxi. He followed three car lengths behind, but because he knew where he was going, he decided to hang back further to see if anyone was following. After several minutes he was sure that Cummings was not being followed. Kidd had lost sight of the taxi, and now was snarled in traffic. Blaring horns and frustrated voices ranted obscenities as they crawled through the late afternoon chaos. Kidd scanned though the stations on the radio until he found an ‘Oldie’s’ station with Bobby Darrin singing, ‘Splish-splash, I was taking a bath…’. Kidd started to sing along. “Didn’t know you were that old to remember fifties rock ‘n roll.” “I’m not. I just like it. You want me to change the station?” he asked pleasant enough. “No. I kind’a like it myself.” “What about your men in the back?” “Who care’s? Keep playing what you like.” Kidd smiled, as the Lincoln made it’s way through the traffic. Suddenly, he spotted Cummings’ cab. Kidd skidded to a stop along the curb and waited. They were closer to Garza’s house than he thought.
    • 323J.Cross/Stone - About fifteen seconds later he eased the sedan down the street. About two blocks away he saw Cummings exit his taxi, and walk toward the house, and then spotted a dark, green sedan parked about a half a block away from the house. Kidd quickly pulled over to the side, hoping he had been seen, and parked behind a low hanging maple. “Hand me those binoculars,” Kidd said to Braden. Braden handed them over, and Kidd studied the sedan. The license plates were government, and the occupants inside had to be Ramsey’s goons. Only two of them, he smiled to himself, a piece of cake. “Let’s go,” Kidd ordered. “Where?” Braden asked. “We’re going to get as close to that dark, green sedan as possible.” “Why?” Braden asked. God he hated amateurs. “We’ll be in better position if Cummings needs help. Do I have to spell it out?” Kidd said angrily. “We’re with you,” Braden said, ignoring Kidd’s tone. “Okay then,” Kidd said. “We’re going to follow the shrub line and get as close to that sedan as possible. Does everyone have his receivers on in case Cummings signals?” “They’re on,” everyone said. “Alright, let’s go.” Kidd slid out first leading the way along the hedge line. He held up his hand and stopped about a hundred feet from the government sedan. Cummings knocked on the door, and was opened by someone he didn’t recognize. “Colonel Latimer,” he said introducing himself. “Agent Cummings, I presume.” “You presume correctly. I’m here to see Director Garza.” “Please come in,” he said, swinging the screen door open. “The director’s waiting for you.” Cummings cautiously walked in. The Colonel directed him toward the den where Garza was sitting on a couch. His arm bandaged, and his face read caution. “Director, how are you feeling?” Cummings asked. “Aside from a little pain, not bad.” Cummings smiled at him, “Good to see you, I’ve been worried about you.”
    • 324J.Cross/Stone - General Ramsey emerged from the kitchen. “Agent Cummings, have a seat, we have much to talk about.” “General, it’s my pleasure,” he said and sat down at the first available seat. “As head of the Joint Chiefs, it’s my honor.” Ramsey grinned. “My request may be a bit unusual, but would you mind removing your coat?” “Not at all, General,” he said removing his coat. “Now unbutton your shirt, please.” “I understand, General. I assure you that I have no bugging devices on me,” Cummings said and unbuttoned his shirt. “I’m sure you don’t. Now lift your shirt and turn around.” Cummings complied. “Now your pants.” “My pants, General?” “I apologize, but under the circumstances it’s necessary.” Cummings removed his pants. “If I knew I was going to be doing a ‘Full Monty’, I would have worn some sexier underwear,” he said trying to keep everything light. Garza just stared, his stomach wretched, already knowing the eventual outcome. But at the moment he felt helpless, and then remembered an inane line from some movie, ‘Today’s a good day to die’. But he decided that he would not go quietly. “Just slip your underwear down a bit, and then remove your shoes and socks. I promise I won’t embarrass you any further.” “I guess I should grateful for that,” Cummings said without any noticeable anxiety. “Colonel, take the agents clothes into the kitchen, he won’t be needing them for a while.” Latimer scooped them up, and strode off into the kitchen. Ramsey then went right for the jugular. “I know that you’re in cahoots with Brand. What I want to know is what the hell is he up to.” “General, with all due respect, I deny it emphatically. In fact, I’ve been on assignment from the Director of the FBI to find out what he’s up to.”
    • 325J.Cross/Stone - “And what have you found out?” Ramsey asked. “Frankly, nothing. I believe he’s out of the country, but I could be wrong.” “You could be dead wrong,” Ramsey said. “Why do you say that General?” Cummings started playing with the buttons on his shirt. “Because, you were the source of the information that led to the killing of my best team of men.” “How did do I that?” Cummings asked in a kind of pitiful and surprised way. “Let’s not play games, agent. We know you were the point man on this operation.” “I have no idea of what you’re talking about. I reported everything to the director as instructed.” “Come with me,” General Ramsey said. ”I would like a talk in private.” “Isn’t this private enough? I’m nearly naked.” The Colonel had returned and leveled a gun at Cummings. “I suggest you do as the General asks.” “No, problem. Where do you want to go?” Cummings asked and pushed the button on his shirt. “We’re going to the basement and talk.” Garza started to protest, but the Colonels gun trumped anything that Garza had to offer. “He’s in trouble,” Kidd said. “Let’s go.” He turned to the agents. “Take control of the government sedan, and render them harmless. Braden and I will enter from the alley and into the kitchen.” “What do you want us to do with the two government officials?” Paul asked. “Get them the hell out of here, I don’t care if you have you kill them. Just make it happen.” The four men split in to two teams. Kidd and Braden headed for the alley, while the other agents headed for the dark, green sedan with government license plates.
    • 326J.Cross/Stone - Mike, from a crouched position with his gun out, reached the sedan first and opened the back door, crouching he said, “Don’t anyone move or you’re dead.” The two men dressed in Army uniforms raised their hands. Paul opened the passenger door and pushed himself in with a gun leveled at both of them. “We’re FBI agents. Make a move and you’re both dead.” Mike said from the back seat, “Take their weapons.” Paul removed them form their holsters, and threw them out the window into a clump of bushes. “Drive until we tell you to stop,” Mike said to the wheelman. The green sedan started, and drove off with Mike and Paul in command. “Where to?” the driver asked. “I’ll tell you where to stop,” Mike said. “Right now, drive to the Potomac. It’s beautiful this time of the year.” As they drove toward the Potomac, suddenly, the man next to Paul grabbed his hand and tried to wrestle the gun from him. Mike fired into the back of the soldier’s head, exploding bits and brain and a whole lot of blood. The car swerved violently, but the driver got it back on track. “Jesus,” Paul said. “I’ve got blood over all over me,” as the dead man’s head crashed forward onto the dash. “Better you than him,” Mike said. “Keep driving,” he said to the driver, “both hands on the wheel. Who knows, you just might come out of this alive.” The driver nodded, and headed the dark, green sedan toward the Potomac, while Paul tried to clean the windshield. Kidd led the way through the alley with Braden following. “That’s the place, but we’ve got to scale two fences. You up for it?” “I’m right behind you.” Kidd leapt and grabbed the top of the wooden fence and somersaulted over it landing on his feet. Braden climbed over. “I’m not as acrobatic as you.”
    • 327J.Cross/Stone - “When we go over the next fence, we’ve got to be quiet. We don’t know whose inside,” Kidd said. “Don’t worry, I’m right behind you.” That was little comfort for Kidd, as he carefully climbed over the fence, and hid behind a wooden storage shed. Within seconds, Braden was at his side. “Now what?” Braden asked, slightly out of breath. “We wait for Cummings to signal. I just hope that your men took care of the two in green sedan.” “Believe it, or not. They’re good at this sort of thing. Better than me.” Kidd gave him a chagrined look. “That’s not very encouraging.” “Don’t worry, I know how to handle myself.” Goddamn amateurs, Kidd thought to himself. Ramsey led the way down into the basement with Cummings following, and Colonel Latimer right behind him. “Have a seat,” Ramsey said indicating the couch behind a cluster of clothes hanging sporadically from some ropes. “Nice place to have a discussion, don’t you think?” Cummings sat down while Latimer trained his gun on him. “Is this really necessary, General? I’ll answer any of your questions to the best of my ability.” “I want the truth,” Ramsey said in a nasty tone. “I promise you, General, nothing but the truth.” “Good. I would like a confession that you and the director have conspired against the national security of this country.” “I can tell you that, but it’s not true,” Cummings said as he rubbed his finger over the emergency button on his shirt. “The director and I have done the best we could, without drawing attention, to track Brand and his fellow terrorists.” “That’s bullshit, and you know it. You and Garza have conspired with Brand and his band of terrorist.”
    • 328J.Cross/Stone - Cummings pushed the button twice on his shirt, hoping he was not too late. “General,” Cummings asked, “why do you suspect me or the director of having betrayed the United States, something that we swore to protect?” “Every man has his reasons,” Ramsey said. “So, what possible reasons could I have?” he asked trying to buy time. “I have no idea of what the director is up to. All I know is what he assigned me to do. And that, I did to best of my abilities. If he has another agenda, then it’s something I know nothing about.” Ramsey hesitated. Maybe, Cummings was telling the truth. But it was unfortunate, he and Garza would have to be dealt with. Kidd and Braden heard Cummings life threatening signal. Kidd had two choices: to go in silently, or smash through the back door to the kitchen. He decided on the first. He motioned to Braden to follow. The back door was open. Kidd with Braden behind him, entered the kitchen, and quietly made their way toward the den. Every ounce of his adrenaline was pumping. As Kidd peeked into the den, he saw Garza reaching under the pillow of the couch and extract a gun. He watched as Garza stood, and then stumbled into the center of the room. “Director,” Kidd said quietly, “do not move, Brand sent us.” Garza smiled in their direction. “Hurry, we don’t have much time,” he said pointing toward the basement door. Kidd crawled to the door, silently opened it, and slide down the stairs as if they were a slide. Latimer turned, but not in time, Kidd fired two bullets into his chest, crashing him backwards into the laundry line. His body lay dead and limp with his arms hanging over the ropes. “Don’t move, General,” Kidd shouted. Braden, with Garza following, made their way down the steps into the basement. Ramsey raised his hands and said, “I hope you know what you’re doing.” “We do, General,” Garza pronounced. “You were about to execute an agent of the federal government, and that I cannot allow.” “He was a traitor,” Ramsey pleaded. “No, Sir. The only traitor here is you.”
    • 329J.Cross/Stone - “So, what do you intend to do?” he asked smugly. Garza fired his 357 Magnum, and exploded Ramsey’s brains all over the place. “That’s what I intend to do, General,” Garza whispered mostly to himself with satisfaction. Kidd said, “Don’t worry Director, I’ll have a sweeper team here in minutes. When your wife comes back, it’ll be spotless.” “Thank you,” Garza said, and collapsed into unconsciousness. Kidd spoke into his cellular, and then hung up. “Can you talk to your men and find out what the situation is?” he asked. Braden punched in some numbers on his cell phone. Mike answered. “What’s the situation?” Braden asked. He listened for a minute. “Kill them, and dump them both of their bodies into the Potomac.” Braden listened for a few more seconds and said, “I don’t care. Kill him. You have your orders,” he said and snapped off his cell phone. Cummings had just sat on the couch in total amazement. “I thought you guys were never going to come.” “Oh, yee, of little faith,” Kidd said. “So, now what?” Cummings asked, still shaking. “First, you get dressed, and then we get the hell out of here,” Kidd said. “Braden, strip the general and put on his clothes. We’re going to walk out of the front door, and then we’re going to bury him where no one will find him.” Braden didn’t like the idea, but acquiesced to Kidd’s order.