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Beth Kittridge, Jake Cardigan's girlfriend, has to go to Berlin to testify against one of the most dangerous TekLords of all. Jake vows to stay by her side, but an informant in Brazil is ready to talk . . . only to Jake. Soon Jake will make the biggest mistake of his life--and no one can escape his vengeance. A series of TV movies will be based on the Tek books.
The man who found out what was going to happen didn't get the time to tell anyone about it. They killed him before he could pass along what he had learned.
That happened in Berlin, just at dawn, on a chill, misty day in the spring of the year 2121. He was a tall, lanky man in his late thirties. His name doesn't matter.
He got back to his flat on a narrow street near the Kemperplatz as the morning light was beginning to show at the panes of colored glass in the leaded windows of the bedroom.
The woman he was living with was already awake, sitting on the edge of their old-fashioned fourposter bed. Wearing a white robe, she was in the process of tying back her long blonde hair with a strand of black ribbon.
The dawn light touched at her pretty face as she smiled up at him.
He crossed the room, feeling safe and secure. And happy that he'd found someone like her.
Leaning, he kissed her on the cheek. The instant his lips touched her flesh, there was an enormous explosion.
The force of it ripped him to pieces, tore the wall of the bedroom into jagged chunks, smashed every window into thousands of glittering shards, threw what was left of him down toward the grey, misty street below.
The woman was destroyed, too. The metal frame of her body, the plastic skin, the intricacy of wires and tubes, chips and circuitry were scattered across the new day by the violence of the explosive charge that had been hidden inside her.
Everything mixed and tangled together—flesh, blood, mortar, wire, metal—as it flew free of the exploding room and fell down through the greyness of the morning.
So the agent never got to make his report to the International Drug Control Agency. If he had, somebody there would probably have told Jake Cardigan.
And because of that Jake's life was going to change, profoundly. But he had no premonition of that, no notion of the darkness that lay ahead.
His troubles began, although Jake wasn't aware of it at the time, on a warm, clear afternoon on that same day in the early spring of 2121.
As the agency skycar approached the Seawall Commercial Complex in the Santa Monica Sector of Greater Los Angeles, Sid Gomez said, "We're arriving at our destination, amigo."
Jake, a goodlooking, though weatherbeaten, man of near fifty, was slouched in the passenger seat. "So I notice."
Below on Landing Lot #3 rose up a 100-foot-high replica of the torchbearing arm of the Statue of Liberty. It was trimmed with throbbing crimson neon tubing and above the flaming torch floated, in 5-foot-high letters, the words NEWS AND TRUTH alternating with GLA FAX-TIMES. At the edge of the lot loomed the impressive 20-story newspaper building, constructed of silvery metal and panels of multicolored real glass.
Hunching slightly, Gomez punched out a landing pattern on the control panel. "You've been somewhat melancholy thus far today. You brooding about something?"
Jake replied, "I suppose I am, yeah."
"Would the topic be Beth Kittridge?"
The skycar circled the elbow of the neon-trimmed arm once and then settled into a space near its base. A few dozen yards away the foamy surf of the Pacific Ocean was hitting at the rocky beach.
Jake said, "I don't like the idea of Beth's having to go over to Berlin next week."
Gomez was a dark, curlyhaired man, ten years younger than his partner. "From the scraps of information you've brought back after visiting the lady up in NorCal, I gather she doesn't much favor the jaunt herself."
"That trip is going to be damn dangerous for her, risky." Unhooking his safety gear, Jake eased out of the vehicle.
His partner joined him on the grey lot surface. "The International Drug Control Agency is going to be looking after her," he said. "You're going along, too. Beth'll be safe."
Jake shrugged his left shoulder, thrusting his fists deep into his trouser pockets. "The Teklords are a vengeful bunch," he said. "Right now they're not especially fond of Beth— nor of me."
The two of them started walking along an illuminated pathway. It led them across the landing lot, through a plastiglass door and into a large foyer. As the door whispered shut behind them, the sound of the ocean died and unobtrusive string music swiftly surrounded them.
Directly ahead a large viewscreen rose up silently through a thin floor slot. The face of a very handsome blond man appeared, smiling. "Welcome to the Executive Wing of the GLA Fax-Times," he greeted in a deep, booming voice. "I am obliged by SoCal state law to inform you that I am nothing more than an electronically generated composite image and not, in point of fact, a real person."
"Don't feel bad," consoled Gomez. "I'm a real person and there are a lot of disadvantages."
"Ha ha," said the image. "Well, enough good-natured kidding, gentlemen. Please—Mr.
Cardigan first—enter the ID Booth and allow us to check your ret patterns and fingerprints."
Jake obliged, stepping into the cubicle to the left of the screen.
"Name? Affiliation? Destination?" requested the booth out of its soundbox.
"Jake Cardigan. I'm an operative with the Cosmos Detective Agency," he answered. "An editor of yours, Miss China Vargas, wants to see us."
"Look into the eyeslots and at the same time press your hands, both of them, to the recogplates. Thank you."
After exactly eleven seconds the booth announced, "Yes, you're Jake Cardigan."
"Thanks," said Jake. "That's good to know."
"You can, as soon as your associate has been cleared, enter Doorway #5 and proceed to the Executive Dining Area."
After Gomez established the fact that he was Gomez, the two detectives used the indicated doorway and then started down a curving ramp.
"Do you think," inquired Gomez, "that I'd do better with women if I had blond wavy hair?"
"Doubtful. Besides, how can you possibly do better than you're doing now?"
"Es verdad. You can't top perfection."
The Executive Dining Room was large and below the sea. Through the wide tinted windows the ocean of the Santa Monica Sector coast could be seen, rich with flickering marine life.
At a table beside a seaview window sat a broadshouldered silverhaired young man and a slim young woman. They watched Jake and Gomez for a moment and then the woman, who was completely bald and wore a crimson business suit, stood up.
She came striding over and halted about five feet away. Hands on hips, she scrutinized them.
"Shit," she said finally, "I didn't think you guys would be this old."CHAPTER 2
China Vargas had a small tattoo of a spread-winged raven on her gleaming hairless head. She rubbed at it thoughtfully with her forefinger as she gazed across the lunch table at them. "Shit, I don't know," she said to the young man with silvery hair. "Do you think they're up to handling this, Larry hon? It's liable to be, you know, strenuous."
Larry Knerr scowled. When he shrugged, the fur-trimmed lapels of his suitcoat brushed at his earlobes. "I've already told you, China, that I can do this particular chore without any—" "Maybe," suggested Jake as he slowly rose up out of his chair, "you'd better start over again with a different detective agency, Miss Vargas."
"But I can't," she complained, sighing. "What I mean is, you're the one who was specifically requested."
Knerr, who was an Associate Field Editor of the Fax-Times Newsyndicate, said, "No one apparently realized what sorry shape Cardigan is in these days. Leave him on the bench, China, and let me and my crew do the job."
"You know I'm not—"
"Besides, the guy has a terrible rep," the silverhaired editor pointed out. "He's an excon, for one thing. He has a foul temper, an exwife who's in the jug because of fraternizing with Tek biggies and—"
"Do we," Gomez inquired of their hostess, "absolutely need Mr. Knerr in our little discussion group?"
"Not exactly, no. Except Larry is in charge of our Latin America desk and so—"
"Mightn't he," continued Gomez amiably, "be happy taking a stroll along the beach? He might perhaps skip pebbles across the pounding surf and commune with the gulls."
"Well, I suppose we don't truly need him to—"
"Wait a flaming minute." Knerr glared at Gomez. "I'm a major exec with this organization. If anybody is going to take his leave, buddy, you—"
"I'll escort you to the exit." Smiling thinly, Gomez arose.
"Like hell you will." Knerr's chair fell over backwards as he jumped to his feet.
Jake walked around the table, took hold of the man's left arm and twisted it up behind his back. With his other hand he caught the fur collar. "It would be a good idea to depart right now," he advised. "When Gomez starts smiling like that, it—"
"All right, okay." Knerr tried to wiggle free. "I'm not one to force my company on anyone. Although, China, I really think you're making a mistake in dealing with these superannuated gumshoes. Especially since—"
"Mr. Knerr is leaving us now." Jake escorted the struggling editor across the underwater room and let him go near the door.
"It's not smart to antagonize the media, Cardigan," warned Knerr as he pushed out of the room.
Back at the table Jake asked China, "Are you ready to talk about why you wanted to hire us?"
"Shit, yes," she answered. "Sit down, will you? Larry annoys lots of people. Most of them ignore him, but some, like you, prefer to toss him out on his ear."
Gomez, both elbows resting on the table top, said, "Walt Bascom, our boss at Cosmos, didn't give us too many details on this case. Suppose—"
"It isn't my case. Until my father, who's the publisher of this rag, stuck me with this job, I'd never heard of Will Sparey."
"Will Sparey?" Frowning, Jake sat down again. "What's he got to do with this?"
"Will Sparey is the case. What I mean is, you two guys have to go down to Brazil, locate him and bring him safely home. That's not my idea, but my father insists we owe it to Sparey."
"Sparey disappeared ten or eleven years ago down there," said Jake. "Nobody's heard of him since."
"Until now," said the bald young woman.
Gomez said, "He was a war correspondent for this very paper, wasn't he?"
"Yeah, he was covering the final Brazil War, when he vanished somewhere in the back country," answered Jake. "We were pretty good friends, during the days when I was a cop with the SoCal State Police."
"That must've been before you and I teamed up. I don't think I ever met—"
"Are you gents through reliving the past?"
Jake narrowed his left eye. "What happened to your hair?"
"I had it electrically removed. Baldness is very much in fashion. Among younger people."
He said, "Has Sparey contacted you?"
"Not him, his damn daughter."
"I guess so. How many daughters did he have?"
"Well, then that's who. Skinny black girl of about twenty."
"Twenty." Jake glanced out a viewindow. "Yeah, I guess she'd be at least that by now. Is she here in Greater LA?"
"No, down in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dying."
"This hasn't been a wellwrought briefing up to now," mentioned Gomez. "Perhaps you can back up some, chiquita, and provide us with more details on the various—"
"Don't call me chiquita," warned China. "I hate Mexicanisms. Simply because my father is originally from across the border doesn't mean—"
"Get back to Jean Marie Sparey." Jake leaned forward and tapped her arm. "What's wrong with her?"
China tilted her bald head to the left. "She's dying, Cardigan. I'm not certain from what," she answered. "Look, the point is she got in touch with my father yesterday, claimed she knows where her long-lost dad is. My father, being overly sentimental about just about everyone but me, feels he's got to finance your trek down there to Brazil to find this oldtime Fax-Times reporter and haul him back to civilization."
Jake said, "Hell, your paper has reporters and correspondents scattered all over the world. Why don't you just have somebody who already works for you locate Sparey?"
When China shook her head, the wings of the raven seemed to flutter. "Shit, Cardigan, it isn't that easy. This Anna Marie—is that her name?"
"Yeah, her. She refuses to tell us exactly where Will Sparey is at the moment." Deep annoyance showed on China's face. "She insists, and my halfwit father is humoring her, that she won't confide in anyone but you." The young editor's nose wrinkled. "She even calls you Uncle Jake."
Shaking his head, Jake told her, "I won't be able to head down to Rio until I get back from Berlin next week."
"Hey, no. You have to go right now, as soon as possible."
"Why is that?"
"The girl," replied China, "isn't expected to live more than a few days."CHAPTER 3
Bascom had the viewalls of his large cluttered office atop Tower II of the Cosmos Detective Agency Building blanked. Nothing of the afternoon Laguna Sector outside showed and the whole place had a dim twilight feel to it. "Did I mention the fee?" he asked Jake as he halted in his zigzag pacing.
"Yeah. It's large."
"Extremely so," agreed the agency head. "Alfonso Vargas is rich. He wants Will Sparey found and brought back to the bosom of the Fax-Times and he's willing to pay handsomely. Cosmos will profit, you two gents will profit."
Gomez was perched on the edge of one of the metal desks. "I can go to Brazil right away," he volunteered. "Then, soon as Jake is through in Berlin, he can join me down there."
"The Sparey child," reminded Bascom, "won't confide in anyone except Jake himself."
"I can phone her." Jake was hunched in a fat armchair. "I'll explain that Gomez is even more trustworthy than I am and that she can tell him what she knows."
Bascom, a small rumpled man in his middle fifties, gave a brisk shake of his head. "This lass is at death's door," he said. "Her team of doctors and quacks confirms the fact that she's too ill to carry on a phone conversation with anyone, even her dear old Uncle Jake."
"I thought," said Jake, "she phoned the Times yesterday."
"Naw, she had one of her medics from the São Jose Private Hospital do that. On top of which, she's in even worse shape today than she was yesterday. Do enough Tek, pretty soon you don't care about much else. Her immune system's probably been shot for months, so the tiniest bug could have done her in any time. Sinking fast, is what the poor kid is doing. They seem surprised she's lasted this long."
Jake stretched up out of the chair. "You know how I feel about Beth," he told his boss.
"She has to leave for Berlin in just four days to testify at her father's trial at the World Drug Court and—"
"Jake, I've already assured you that the IDCA boys won't let any harm come to her." Bascom started to pace among the piles of fax-memos and stacks of microfiles that dotted the carpeting. "Granted, they aren't quite as efficient as Cosmos operatives, but they'll have all kinds of extra security people going along just to protect Beth." He slowed, halted. "Since the Drug Court has charged her daddy with being in cahoots with the Teklords, she's the only honest soul left who can work on completing the Kittridge anti-Tek system."
"That's exactly why the Tek cartels want her dead."
"But it's also why the drug agency boys will make damn sure no harm comes to her," insisted Bascom. "They may not feel about Beth the way you do, Jake, but that anti-Tek system is vital to them."
"Nevertheless, I still intend to go along with her," said Jake evenly. "There's no way I can travel to Rio, interview Jean Marie and then go hunting for Sparey. Not in the few days I have."
"Unless the hombre happens to be holed up within walking distance of that Rio hospital," said Gomez.
"That'd be the only way we could find him fast enough for me to get back here in time."
"Shall I remind you that you're a fulltime employee of this agency?" inquired Bascom, eyeing Jake. "Would that have any effect in persuading you to take this case?"
"I have to go with her on this trip to Berlin. If you want to fire me, well, then maybe—"
Excerpted from Tek Vengeance by William Shatner. Copyright © 1993 William Shatner. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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