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By Jasmine Cresswell
MIRACopyright © 2005 Jasmine Cresswell
All right reserved.
Sleep Ezy Motel, near Gary, Indiana November 2004
The motel room smelled of cigarette smoke and old carpet, overlaid by a thin veneer of cheap cleaning prod-ucts. The heating unit was churning full blast, intensifying the stuffiness with intermittent blasts of hot, dead air. The sagging curtains had been drawn shut, not to close out the dreary view of rain falling onto the icy parking lot, but to conceal the activities of the occupants from any chance passersby.
Melody Beecham sat at the rickety table, her laptop open, her SIG Pro pistol within easy reach. Her blank expression concealed the intensity of her focus on her partner, Nikolai Anwar, and the other two men in the room. So far, her role in Unit One's latest operation had merely been to look decorative, but in a few moments she would have to fake the transfer of two million dollars into Bryce Merton's bank account in Western Samoa, a newly popular hot spot for illegal banking activities, and it was vitally important for the transaction to proceed with apparent smoothness.
Bryce was a lab tech employed by the Seneschal Corporation, where he worked under the direction of the renowned physicist Dr. Simon Feng. Dr. Feng was one of the world's leading authorities on the application of nanotechnology to the problem of energy generation. In return for two million bucks, Bryce had promised to provide Nick with a CD-ROM he had stolen from his employers. The disk reportedly contained complete details of Dr. Feng's groundbreaking research into photo-voltaic materials that could generate electricity directly from sunlight. Nick had heard rumors that the disk was for sale during the course of another Unit One operation, and had approached Bryce with an offer to buy. After two weeks of hard bargaining, this afternoon's meeting had been arranged.
Bryce Merton's appearance was as greasy and unappetizing as his ethics, but provided he didn't get spooked and start shooting, he didn't pose much of a physical threat. Although only a few pounds over-weight, he was seriously out of shape, his body flabby and shapeless beneath his too-tight pants and sweater. Melody didn't anticipate any trouble when they arrested him, even though he was flashing a pearl-handled Beretta that he seemed to have no clue how to use. Amateurs and guns often made for a dangerous cocktail, but Bryce was both arrogant and incompetent, thus providing a soft target. Having observed him closely for the past fifteen minutes, she was confident she would be able to disarm him without much difficulty.
Bryce's hired bodyguard wouldn't be so easy to handle. Jesse Appolito was at least six foot two, and he appeared bulky with steroid-grown muscle. Jesse was carrying a businesslike Glock and, in contrast to his client, he gave every impression of knowing how to use it. He wasn't easy to distract, either. Melody's short leather skirt and long legs encased in tight zippered boots had won nothing from him beyond a single, assessing glance. Any longing looks Jesse cast toward her corner of the room had been aimed at her SIG rather than her body.
Unit One was a covert organization, not officially acknowledged by the government and not bound by the strict procedural rules of agencies such as the FBI, or the looser regulations of the CIA. Unit One operations were always secret, aimed at targets within the United States, and usually kept confidential even after they were completed. Consequently, many of Unit One's most successful missions didn't end in legal prosecutions. Even when they did, Unit One handed off most of the actual arrests to local law enforcement or the FBI. But today Nick and Melody would be acting as the arresting officers, which meant they were required to offer Jesse and Bryce all the protections guaranteed by the Constitution. However, since both suspects were armed and likely to shoot their way out of the motel room the moment they felt threatened, Nick and Melody could legitimately disarm them before announcing the arrest. But first, they had to have evidence against the pair that would hold up in court. That meant Bryce had to accept the two-million-dollar payment for the stolen research.
Bryce handed the promised disk to Nick with an elaborate flourish. "Here you are, then. Everything you need to start a revolution in the world's energy markets."
"I look forward to doing just that," Nick said. He spoke with a slight Russian accent, since he had conducted his negotiations with Bryce in the role of Nikolai Anwar, a businessman with connections to the Russian oil cartels and their associated criminal underworld.
Bryce gave a hoarse laugh. "Hell, when you get down to it, I'm a regular patriot. By selling you this research, I'm fucking over all those Arab dictators who want to hold America to ransom by charging a fortune for their oil."
"I am impressed by the intensity of your desire to serve your country," Nick said.
Bryce scowled. "Yeah, well, we can't all be goddamn heroes." He scratched at a pimple on his chin. "Anyway, I've given you the disk and now it's your turn. I want my money."
Nick tapped the slim plastic case containing the CD-ROM. "Before I hand over any money, I need to be sure that you are not selling me garbage."
Bryce appeared insulted. "You have my word that the disk contains all of Feng's current research materials."
"Your word?" Nick allowed a moment of withering silence and then smiled coldly. "My thanks, but I prefer to review the disk for myself." Bryce Merton flushed, stung by Nick's contempt although he tried not to show it. He shrugged, almost visibly consoling himself with a reminder of how much sun and fun he would be able to buy with two million bucks.
"Be my guest," Bryce said. "Here, use my laptop." He sat on the edge of one of the beds and slipped the disk into his computer. He keyed in a command and the computer hummed quietly. After thirty seconds or so he swiveled the screen around so that it faced Nick.
"There you go, hotshot. I've pulled up the table of contents. Take your pick of any file. They're all loaded with good stuff. Feng has no clue about how to keep his files secure. You know what his password is in the lab? His wife's name." Bryce shook his head, genuinely appalled. "What a loser."
Excerpted from Final Justice by Jasmine Cresswell Copyright © 2005 by Jasmine Cresswell. Excerpted by permission.
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