Read an Excerpt
An amputee for twenty-two years, Peter Briggs had a certain routinework at eight, supper at seven, in bed by nine. But the flu had disrupted his staid life for the past week. At 10:30 p.m. he rolled his wheelchair out of the bathroom and into the bedroom for the third time that night.
Weak and nauseated, he reached for the bar that hung above his bed and hoisted himself onto the mattress. Snuggled beneath the blankets, conscious of his old routine, he slid his hand beneath the pillow, his fingers brushing the cool steel of a 9mm SIG. A grunt of assurance, a moan, then exhaustion sent Peter into a restless sleep.
An hour later he woke up shivering, his body racked with chills. He pulled the blanket up around his neck, and that was when he noticed how cold the air was. If he hadn't known better he'd have thought the heat had been shut off in his D.C. apartment.
Peter reached for the bar overhead and pulled himself up.
He turned on the lamp, and found the source of his discomfort. The window was open, a stiff breeze whipping the lacy beige curtain into a ghostly dance, driving in the cold April rain all over the floor.
He was staring at the open window in a confused daze when he heard a noise in the living room. Instinct sent his hand under his pillow to retrieve the SIG, at the same time he reached out to his wheelchair.
As if his rising panic summoned his lifeline, the bedroom door opened and his wheelchair rolled slowly inside.
The smell of vomit and diarrhea was caustic. It had turned the small apartment into a war zone. Cyrus Krizova leaned back in the wheelchair and studied his old comrade on the narrow bed. The SIG in his lap,he said, "You look like hell, Briggs. Rough week?"
"The worst of my life."
Cyrus's dark eyes shifted to the lower half of the bed where Peter's legs should have been. "I doubt that. I imagine you've had plenty of dark days."
Peter rubbed his eyes, rheumy from lack of sleep. "You haven't left Greece in years. What brings you to Washington?"
"Merrick has uncovered our little secret."
"That's impossible. There's no data to prove it. I've been careful."
"That's good to hear. But he's looking for that nonexistent data. I suppose I'm going to have to take credit for that. Still, I believe I only confirmed what he suspected. Onyxx has been looking for a mole inside the Agency for some time."
"You told him it's me?"
"He's been leaving you out of the loop for months. That's why you weren't able to warn me when he arrived in Greece and stole my prisoners from Vouno weeks ago. Not to mention his untimely arrival at Lesvago days later."
"I had nothing to do with that."
"My point. You've been isolated. Merrick's unscheduled raid cost me billions, as well as my daughter. Melita has defected to the enemy's camp."
Beads of perspiration popped out on Peter's forehead. "I had no idea Merrick had left Washington until he'd returned. If you need someone to blame, blame that bastard Sully Paxton. You should have killed him a long time ago."
"What I should have done is irrelevant now. You really don't understand this little parody you've been living this past week, do you?"
"I contracted the flu. I"
"The flu is it?" Cyrus smiled. "The infection running through your body is no flu strain. It's a manufactured virus. Think, Briggs. Where were you the night you took ill?"
"I was at Chadwick's. Merrick took me to dinner."
"Go to dinner with him often?"
"You're a fool, Briggs." Cyrus sighed. "And Chadwick's of all places. Where Ames sold out the CIA and gave up the names of twenty agents to the Russians. Where moles and traitors hand off government secrets and stab their comrades in the back."
The look on Peter's face was priceless. "Merrick poisoned me at Chadwick's?"
"Must I remind you that, before Onyxx, Merrick was a class-A government assassin? His bag of tricks far exceeds a simple bullet between the eyes. As much as it pains me to admit, Icis is still the best in the business. I would have died at Lesvago if I hadn't been wearing a bulletproof vest."
"I'm going to die?"
"If he wanted you dead, you would be. No, Merrick believes you'll join him in the hunt for me to save your own skin once he's found proof you've been filching information."
"He won't find anything, and I'd never give you up. Haven't I proven my loyalty?"
"Loyalty that served your own revenge. You begged Merrick for your life in Prague and he gave it to you. Had he chosen to save me instead, I would never have betrayed him."
"Why do you care why I agreed to be your mole? My reasons still served your purpose."
"Treason is a tricky business." Cyrus stood and checked the SIG's ammunition clip. The weapon showed a full eight rounds.
"What are you doing?"
"I considered making this look like a suicide. A man chained to a wheelchair must have contemplated it over the years, but you know how much I enjoy tormenting Merrick."
"I can still be of use to you."
"Come now, Briggs, you had to know your days were numbered."
"Not like this, Cyrus. At least let me get dressed and give me my chair. Let me die with some dignity."
"A traitor has no dignity. Good-bye, Briggs."
Cyrus raised the SIG and fired. The first two bullets plowed through Peter's skull, out the back of his head and into the wall. The third went into his heart and stayed there.
Traitor, mole, comrade None of it mattered now. Peter Briggs was dead before his head hit the pillow.
Hours later, Cyrus Krizova, aka the Chameleon, boarded a plane back to Greece. Like a soldier heading home from the war, a little victory celebration was definitely in order.
Da, the spoils of war.
For two decades Adolf Merrick had coveted the dream.
Johanna's image came first. Long raven-black hair surrounding a delicate oval face. Perfectly arched eyebrows framing hazel-green eyes. The body of a temptress that moved with the regal grace of a cat.
Merrick flattened out his hand and stroked the white satin sheet, remembering the way she liked to curl up next to him. The exotic scent of Medallion roses had steeped the air, their peach petals exploiting the memories. The crackle and pop of wood burning slow and luminous in the brick fireplace fueling another timeless image.
Eyes closed, drunk on recall, he beckoned for her to come to him. And like a whisper riding a gentle breeze, Johanna came for a visit.
The bed moved against her fragile weight. Her moist breath teasing his neck, she whispered, However you want me, I'm here.
Merrick moaned deep into the vortex of the dreama dream he would live in 24/7 if that were possible. He arched his hips in silent solicitation. Rewarded with a naked thigh sliding over his hips.
Then she leaned forward and kissed him.
The kiss of life.
The kiss of death.
Don't wake up.
However you want me, I'm here.
He wanted her hot and mind-blowing. He wanted her all night. Every night. He wanted time to stand still. No, he wanted to rewind time and go back to the beginning.
Take me back, my love. My wife. My life.
Don't wake up.
Another night wrapped in ghostly arms.
No more thinking. No more sorrow. No more tears.
Nothing but the dream. Nothing but the memories. Nothing but Johanna swallowing him up body and soul and taking him on a wicked midnight ride.
The incessant rain tapping at the window like an unwelcome voyeur roused Merrick. It was dawn, another dreary, rainy day in April. He tossed back the white satin sheet, soiled now from making love to his ghostly wife. He dropped his feet to the floor and rubbed the gray stubble along his rugged jaw.
The fire had died sometime in the middle of the night, but not the memories. He realized now that he should have hired someone to box up Johanna's things. Her clothes still hung in the closet. Her jewelry box on the vanity. The quilt she'd made for their bed was still folded over the rockerall of it wrapped in cobwebs, surrounded by yellowed curtains, peeling wallpaper and wood floors stained from a leaky roof.
The tattered remains of heaven on earth.
He should have sold the house years ago, before it became an eyesore. He'd planned to, but he had always come up with some lame-ass excuse.
He shoved himself up from the bed and walked naked into the bathroom with a powerful grace that, at age fifty-two, still garnered him a second look from a beautiful woman. By society's standards Adolf Merrick was one of the lucky ones. Like a renowned bottle of port years in the making, he seemed to get better with age.
The only evidence that he was past his prime was his silver haira phenomenon that had happened virtually overnight following Johanna's death.
He turned on the shower and stepped inside. He kept the water colda strategic maneuver to quash the residual effects of making love to Johanna's ghost. Five minutes later, back on track, with a towel wrapped low around his hips, he headed for the kitchen.
The windows faced Johanna's rose garden in the backyard, and when she hadn't been sharing his bed at night, or cooking something fabulous for dinner, he would find her in the garden with her roses. He'd left the windows open last night, and he could smell the heavy sweet fragrancethe scent as caustic as the memories.
His cell phone rang while he was cooking the hell out of a cup of instant coffee in the microwaveafter all this time he still couldn't brew a decent pot of coffee. He backtracked to the bedroom and picked up his phone from the nightstand, checked the number and saw it was Sly McEwen.
"I've got bad news."
Merrick heard the distress in Sly's voice. "Let's hear it."
"Peter Briggs is dead and so is the operative we had staked out in front of his apartment. That's all I know. No details. The Agency called me after they couldn't reach you."
"I must have been in the shower."
"I'm on my way to Briggs's apartment now. My guess is Krizova sent Holic Reznik to clean up a loose end. Maybe we should have locked Briggs up."
Merrick hadn't wanted to do that. As of yet they hadn't been able to prove that Briggs was guilty of treason. They needed concrete evidence, and that had been damn hard to come by.
"When should I expect you?" Sly asked.
"One hour. I'm at my country house."
"I thought you sold that old monster years ago."
Merrick set his jaw, sidestepped the issue, as well as his personal obsession with the old monster, saying, "Damn good thing I didn't or I'd be homeless, thanks to Krizova blowing up my apartment. I don't want Briggs's body touched until I get there. One hour."
The country house was north of D.C. As Merrick drove through the rain, he called Jacy Madox and got him out of bed in Montana. Since he'd slipped the flu virus into Briggs's wine a week ago, Jacy had been going through the data on Peter's computer while he was housebound. Although Jacy's field agent days were over, he continued to work for Onyxx from his mountain home miles from nowhere. A cybergenius, he was considered one of the best hackers in the intelligence world.
"Sorry about Briggs," Jacy said. "The news is I didn't find anything on his computer. If he was Krizova's mole, he left no evidence behind."
"All right. I'll be in touch."
Merrick hung up, his mood sinking past sour. It was starting to look like finding Cyrus's latest hideout was going to take an act of God. Not that he wasn't thankful for the surprise resurrection of Sully Paxton two months ago. After believing his agent was dead, Merrick had learned that Sully had given new meaning to the word survival. It had been the salt the Agency needed to step up their commitment to ending Cyrus's fanaticism with Onyxx, as well as his global terrorism.
With Sully's help they'd found two of Krizova's compounds in Greece, rescued more than a dozen government agents imprisoned in the bowels of one of his monastery hideouts and recovered a cache of weapons bound for rebel hands. They had also rescued Melita Krizova from Cyrus's warped sense of fatherly love.
But at the end of the dayonce againCyrus had managed to elude capture.
Sully Paxton was still in Greece, on the island of Amorgós with Melita. He'd been tirelessly combing the islands trying to pinpoint Cyrus's latest hideout. He would need to fill Sully in on the recent turn of events, but he'd wait until he had all the facts.
Merrick swung his black Jag to the curb of the ten-story apartment building where Peter Briggs had lived for the past twenty-two years, since the Prague incident. Out front Pierce Fourtier and Ash Kelly, two of his elite Rat Fighters, were standing under the awning smoking.
Pulling up the collar on his black leather jacket to combat the rain, he joined them. "Got a name on our stakeout agent?"
"New guy. Nathan Connor. Shot three times, just like Briggs," Ash said.
"Sly's inside," Pierce offered.
Merrick nodded and headed in. Peter's apartment was on the ground floor, halfway down the hall. He walked through the open door. Sly McEwen was standing at the window, his stance in sync with his serious attitude. Over six feet, rock-solid, Sly had proven himself to be a man you could count on. He didn't know what the word quit meant, and Merrick liked that about him. It's why he'd made him his second in command.
Sly turned from the window and motioned to the bedroom. "Nothing's been touched. I called Harry Pendleton and gave him the news. Nathan Connor was his nephew. The kid was twenty-three. Onyxx activated him six months ago."
"I thought I recognized the name." Merrick walked through the living room and headed for the bedroom. Briggs's body should have been his primary focus, but instead his eyes locked on the peach-colored roses in a crystal vase on the nightstand.
There was only one flower shop in D.C. where you could buy Medallion roses without placing a special order. Merrick knew that because they had been Johanna's favorite and he regularly purchased the rare hybrid to place on her grave.
Merrick left Sly with the task of seeing to Peter's body and, twenty minutes after his arrival, he was on his way to Finny Floral. Sarah Finny lived in the apartment above the flower shop, and when he pulled up he noticed that the Open sign was on in the window. He leapt from the car and crossed the street. As he passed the window he saw her standing behind the counter waiting on a plump bald man in a gray suit. The little bell rang above the door as he swung it open.
She glanced up, saw him, then turned back to the elderly gentleman. There was no surprise in her soft brown eyes when she'd seen him, which told Merrick she'd been expecting him.
The bald gentleman left with his purchase, and Merrick stepped up to the counter. Before he could say anything, Sarah spoke.
"You've come about the Medallions. The ones he bought yesterday."
"What did he look like, Sarah?"
"Very tall, with dark gray hair. Not silver like yours. And shorter." She glanced at the overnight shadow on Merrick's jaw. "Clean shaven. He had a nasty scar," she touched her neck, "here."
Merrick had been expecting her to describe the scrawny build of Holic Reznik, a hired assassin who had become involved in Cyrus's nefarious activities years ago. Instead she'd given him a description of Krizova himself.
"I wanted to call you yesterday, but he said if I did he would be back for more than roses. I was afraid, Adolf. Did I make a mistake?"
"No, you did the right thing. Tell me exactly what he said."
"He asked for three dozen Medallions, one dozen in a crystal vase."
"What time was he here?"
"Yesterday around two o'clock. I remember because I was getting a large order together for a wedding that had to be delivered by four." She opened a drawer and pulled out a small, three-inch-square brown envelope. "He told me when you came by to give you this."
Merrick took the envelope and peeled open the seal. He pinched the envelope and looked inside. He was careful not to react to the contents, resealed the envelope and slid it into his jacket pocket.