Read an Excerpt
A Dan Morgan Thriller
By LEO J. MALONEY
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Leo J. Maloney
All rights reserved.
Dom Watson kept his gaze fixed on the watch face, gold against black, as the second hand ticked toward twelve. His striped button-down was soaked through with sweat, clinging like ice to his lower back. He tapped a pen against the desk, drawing his eyes away just enough to cast them up and down the open-plan office, the row of cubicles holding plants and word-a-day calendars and Dilbert comics. All that stupid, workaday normality, dead for the weekend. Watson wasn't going to miss it.
Now, with seconds to go, he was itching to have it over with. Eyes on his watch, Breitling, five grand, not that anyone is asking, he fiddled with the plastic and metal gadget in his pocket, tracing its contours with his fingers.
The two longer hands reached twelve in unison. He held himself still for five more ticks out of some unknown scruple, and then he drew the blue plastic parallelepiped from his pocket. He looked over his monitor and the wall of his cubicle at the dim space beyond. A few screens were still glowing, a few desk lights were still on, but anyone here at the office at 6 A.M. on a Saturday would not be concerned with what he was up to.
He bent forward in his chair, aligning the little device with the USB port on the CPU that whirred away under his desk and pushed, but it wouldn't go. Somehow, having been an IT specialist for almost a decade, he still managed to get the orientation wrong more than half the time. He turned the drive 180 degrees in his fingers and held it against the slot. Throughout this process he kept a wary attention, as if inserting a thumb drive into his computer were in itself suspicious in the slightest.
He was no good at this cloak-and-dagger bullcrap.
Last chance to give up, he told himself, knowing there was already no going back.
He thrust against the faint resistance until the device settled. It came to life right away, the once dark circle on its body blinking blue. His computer showed no activity at all, but he knew the little device was hard at work burrowing into the hard drive, laying the groundwork to offer up free access to the company servers to — he didn't know exactly who, or even whether they were white hats or black hats. He didn't want to know. They could keep him safe. They were his last hope. That was all that mattered.
Too anxious to keep seated as the worm did its work, he stood and looked out through tinted floor-to-ceiling windows behind his chair. Even from the seventh floor, Acevedo Tower had a gorgeous view of downtown Boston, of the Custom House still illuminated in the predawn light, dividing the skyscrapers to the right and the dark water of the channel to the left. Little flurries of snow drifted against the window, and he laid his hand against the glass to feel the cold. If there was something he'd miss about this place, it was this view. That and —
"Hello, Dominic." He nearly jumped at the singsongy voice coming from behind him. "Goodness, I didn't mean to startle you!" Violet Zanger, carrying her enormous cat-pattern purse. "Silly me, I forgot my theater tickets for tonight at my desk. I was in the neighborhood and thought I'd swing by. I didn't think there'd be anyone in the office this early on a Saturday."
"Just finishing up some security updates." Stupid. Stop looking guilty. "You know how it is. Can't leave until that progress bar reaches one hundred percent."
"Well, don't exhaust yourself. It causes premature aging, you know."
"Don't worry, Violet. I'll take care. Should be going soon."
Her painted-on eyebrows screwed up in a frown of put-on concern. "You know, I've noticed that you've been looking very tired. Have you been getting enough sleep?"
"Been sleeping just fine, Violet," he said, jaw set in irritation.
"Maybe you need to go to the doctor. You know, I had this friend in college — now what was her name —"
"Violet," he interrupted through gritted teeth, "I'm sorry, but I really can't talk right now."
A puzzled expression came over her face, more, he thought, at his daring to interrupt her than any concern about his strange behavior. "What's going on with you, Dominic? I'm beginning to get very worried."
"I'm fine, okay? There's nothing here for you to worry about, so just go ahead and go home, have a nice weekend, and don't worry about me." He was nearly yelling by the end of it, the stress of the day leaking out in spite of him.
"Well okay then," she said with a phony beam. "You have a wonderful weekend. Make sure you get some rest. It really looks like you could use it."
"Will do, Violet. All right. Okay. Good-bye!"
He shouldn't have snapped at her. He shouldn't have let it affect him like this. She would know something was wrong when he didn't come in on Monday. He ran his fingers through his short black hair as he watched her waddle to the elevator.
He glanced down at the device. The blinking circle had turned into a steady, penetrating blue, announcing that its inscrutable work was done. Watson braced his trembling hand and pulled it out. He surveyed his desk with the awareness that it would be the last time. It occurred to him that it should feel more poignant than it really did. He wondered whether there was anything he would regret leaving behind and came up empty. Even from his apartment, all he had taken was a little more than an overnight's bag worth of stuff — basic necessities and nothing more. Nothing personal, nothing sentimental. There was nothing that he cared about.
He shut down his computer and stood, pushing in his chair. He straightened the stuff on his desk one last time, wondering whether they would scrutinize his calendar, the contents of his drawer, looking for any clue to his disappearance. By the time they did, he would be far away, never to return.
Duffel bag in hand, he walked toward the elevator, but his eyes were drawn to Andrea's cubicle, across the aisle from his. There was one thing about this place he would miss, after all. He thought about her flowing blond curls streaming down her back, now and then a precious peek at her profile, her delicate upturned nose, and her pouty lips. He remembered how often he would sneak a glance at her during the day as she worked. Now, standing at her empty desk, a whiff of her perfume still lingering, it gave him a pang to remember, and to think that he would not see her again. But maybe he could do something for her. Nothing definite, but maybe something that would allay the creeping guilt of bailing and leaving her behind.
He tore a page from a yellow legal pad from a nearby desk and, hunched over her chair, scrawled in black Sharpie:
GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN — D
Below that, he wrote a phone number and then slipped the sheet into her top drawer.
That being done, Dom turned on his heels toward the elevator. Standing at his perennial station was the ancient security guard, always a friend, always there.
"Burt," he said, in terse greeting. Burt tipped his hat and preempted him in pushing the call button.
"Late one today, Mr. Watson?"
"You know it."
"Only three more weeks till spring. Maybe you should take that vacation when it comes. You're not looking so hot, if you don't mind my saying so."
"I hear you, Burt."
"The elevator on the left's been acting up for the last hour or so," he said. "They've got it shut down."
"Good thing we have two."
The elevator car reached the seventh floor with a soft electronic ding, and its doors rolled open. It sagged as Dom, thick with muscle and grit, stepped onto it. A monitor on the elevator wall played a commercial for men's deodorant as part of the usual endless loop of ads. He pushed the button for the lobby, and the last thing he saw as the doors closed was the name Acevedo International in metallic letters on the opposite wall, shrinking to ceved, then eve, and finally closing on that final v.
Expecting a momentary weightlessness of downward acceleration, he instead felt a weight on his feet as the elevator went up.
"Goddamn it," he said out loud. Something about this unnerved him. The elevator never moved up after being called up to a floor, only down — unless someone had pushed the button for the same floor inside, but in which case the call button wouldn't have gone dark when the elevator arrived. Did it? He couldn't remember.
"Get a grip," he said to himself, shaking his head.
Then something in the monitor caught his eye. The image had gone static. There was no ad, nothing except two words, stark white against a black background.
"What the hell?" He rubbed his eyes and looked again. The text on the screen changed.
You Thought You Would Escape Us?
He looked at the floor display. 9. He pushed 10, 11, and 12. The elevator ran straight through to 13 and kept going. He pushed the button to open the door. Nothing happened. He tried the emergency button. Nothing.
But You Can't. No One Can.
He pushed all the buttons, open-palmed, getting as many as fast as he could. The elevator wouldn't stop its constant ascent. If anything — could the elevator be going faster? He picked up the emergency phone. Dead.
Your Reckoning Has Come.
He banged on the elevator door. "Hey!" he called out. "Help! Get me out of here!"
The screen turned to a commercial for the new Sentra, making smooth turns on a snaking, picturesque road.
"Hey! Can someone hear me?"
The elevator was coming up on the twenty-first, the final floor. The counter hit 20, then 21. But the elevator kept moving.
And then it crashed, knocking Dominic off his feet. The light fixtures were knocked loose, left hanging by their wires. The cables groaned above him as the elevator jerked without moving.
Then something snapped, and the car went into free fall. Dom was lifted, weightless, off the floor, flailing for a handhold as he hurtled toward the bottom of the shaft.CHAPTER 2
The car lurched, and Dan Morgan braced himself against the trunk lid. A sliver of light filtered into the sweltering darkness where an accident had opened up a crack between the lid and the body of the decrepit old Dodge. Morgan looked out from time to time, but all he got was the alternating blue and green of sky and canopy.
It got old fast.
He blinked and slapped his face against the drowsiness that permeated him. Wiping sweat from his brow, he shifted his weight again, trying and again failing to avoid a bulge that had been digging into his back for the entire ride.
At the end of said ride would be Jorge Saavedra, head of the cartel that bore his name. Well, it was either that or violent death. The suspense made the ride that much more unpleasant.
Being stuck for two hours in the hot trunk of a car driving north out of Cartagena, Colombia, on a pothole-pocked highway, possibly on the way to his death, really gave a man time to think about his life choices.
Diana Bloch hailed him on his comm, a hidden, skin-toned plug that went in his ear that communicated with a transmitter hidden in a button on his khakis. The beep lasted about half a second, followed by her voice. "Checking in. We still have a lock on your position. The chopper's twenty miles behind you."
Morgan knocked twice on the car's metal frame, giving the wordless signal that he had understood the message. It was a bumpy ride, and no one inside the car would notice.
He shifted his weight again and was wondering how much longer it would be when he felt the tug of deceleration, pulling him toward the seat back. He braced himself until the car came to a complete stop. A voice outside put him on high alert. Men argued in heated Spanish, too muffled for him to make out anything.
No more than a minute later, the trunk opened to a figure silhouetted against the harsh light of day. Fresh air poured in, fat lot of good that did on such a muggy, hot day.
Morgan squinted, and his eyes adjusted enough for him to make out a bored-looking uniformed policeman, whose eyes widened in surprise upon seeing him there, but glazed over again just as fast. He was getting paid not to make Morgan his problem, and he wasn't going to let curiosity get in the way of profit.
He slammed the trunk door down. Morgan's ears popped. With a word from the officer, the car was moving again.
It was about twenty minutes before Morgan felt the deceleration again, this time followed by a left turn onto a local road. The car halted, and Morgan heard the whir of the motor of an electric gate. The car eased forward with a rumble of tires moving over cobblestone before coming to a final stop. The car doors opened and then the trunk lid, and the first thing Morgan saw was the ugly mug of Paco Ruiz grinning down at him.
"We are here, gringo."
Morgan ignored the hand Paco held out and instead braced himself against the rim of the trunk to hop onto the cobblestone, pulling behind him the button-down shirt he'd brought along for the meeting. He stretched out his aching limbs, cracking his neck and taking a moment to survey their surroundings. The driveway made a wide circle by the side entrance to the Saavedra villa, at the end of a mile-long road from the outside gate. A field of coconut trees stretched to either side as far as the eye could see. The 1987 metallic-blue Chevy Silverado carrying the crate was parked behind them. The two men who had driven in it, plus the three others who were in the car — cocky young assholes, all tattoos, gold chains, and shaved heads — were joshing each other and laughing.
Morgan didn't get much of a look at the house, but he could tell that even for a mansion it was huge, all colonnades and white walls gleaming in the early morning sun, the best in contemporary-rustic taste that blood money could buy.
Paco showed his two gold teeth again. He had one of those faces that invited an uppercut to the jaw. "I hope the ride was not so bad."
"Beats flying coach."
Paco was a greasy bastard, hair slicked back, forehead pocked with beads of sweat, shirt with at least two more buttons undone than was necessary, baring a hairy chest. He wore his two custom pearl-handled Magnum .50 Cal Desert Eagles on side holsters, cowboy style. Never mind that it was maybe the most vulnerable way to carry a gun. It made him look badass.
"The boss takes his security very seriously. He does not want outsiders to know where he lives."
Of course, a bag over his head would've done the job. But Saavedra wanted to flex his muscles, showing that he was powerful enough that men would come to him in the trunk of a car if he demanded it. It was the first volley in their negotiations.
Two security guards in pastel suit jackets and tieless button-down shirts came out of a service entrance, one wielding a metal detector wand in one hand and a handy little appliance for detecting RF signals in the other. The detector was designed to sniff out bugs and happened to suffer from a fatal flaw: it couldn't detect anything that wasn't turned on. Pretending to scratch, Morgan clicked the button that held his transponder once to shut it off. His earpiece emitted a demoralized beep acknowledging the shutdown.
The guard scanned him with the wand first.
The wand warbled as it passed over his crotch. "Don't enjoy it too much." The guard made no sign that he'd understood. Next, he scanned Morgan with the RF detector, which didn't make a sound.
"All right, Señor Bevelacqua," said the other guard. "Come with me please." To Paco: "Tú también."
The guard ushered the two of them inside through the service entrance (another attempt to put Morgan in his place), past an industrial kitchen where women in hairnets plucked chickens and stirred vats of broth fragrant with spice to the sound of salsa music. They crossed a swinging door into a living room appointed with rustic hardwood furniture. A uniformed maid laid out a silver tray of coffee and water for them.
Excusing himself, Morgan ducked into a bathroom, where he clicked the button again to turn on the radio transmitter. The earpiece chirped.
"Contact reestablished," came Bloch's voice. "Are you in Saavedra's compound?"
"I'm in." Morgan took off his T-shirt and wiped as much sweat as the fabric could handle from his hairy chest and his back.
"The chopper's holding, two minutes away. Let's try to avoid having to call it in."
Excerpted from Arch Enemy by LEO J. MALONEY. Copyright © 2016 Leo J. Maloney. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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