Zero Optionby P. T. Deutermann, Dick Hill
The Defense Criminal Investigative Service sends David Stafford on a low-profile assignment: look into an Atlanta base where someone is running a scam involving public auctions of military surplus. But when he arrives in Georgia, Stafford stumbles on a dangerous secret. Soon he realizes that problems on the base run much deeper than he thought and could threaten… See more details below
The Defense Criminal Investigative Service sends David Stafford on a low-profile assignment: look into an Atlanta base where someone is running a scam involving public auctions of military surplus. But when he arrives in Georgia, Stafford stumbles on a dangerous secret. Soon he realizes that problems on the base run much deeper than he thought and could threaten national security. A cylinder of Wet Eye, a hazardous biological weapon with gruesome consequences, is missing, maybe stolen. But no one will admit it's gone. Stafford's suspicions lead him to Wendell Carson, a manager on the Atlanta base who has disturbing secrets of his own. As he hunts for answers, Stafford befriends an unusual, troubled young girl and her guardian, who live in a remote Georgia mountain town. What the girl knows about Carson and how she came by that knowledge trap Stafford between an unstable weapon with deadly power and a military bureaucracy desperate to cover its mistakes, no matter what the cost.
Fort Gillem, near Atlanta, is not really a base but a kind of depot where the military rents or auctions off surplus mat‚riel. Wendall Carson and Bud Lambry, who work there, have discovered a cylinder of Wet Eye (a deadly biological gas that eats the human eyeball back to the optic nerve) that has misguidedly shown up for destruction. Carson has made a secret deal to sell the gas for a cool million and, naturally, would rather not split it with Bud, who eventually falls into a metal-shredder while trying to stab Carson. Before Carson can move the gas, military investigator David Stafford is sent by his Washington office to Fort Gillem to look into the auction business. Stafford, a whistle-blower who has paid dearly for his naivet‚, is persona non grata in D.C.; he has also lost a wife (to her boss) and an arm (to a stray bullet in a gas station holdup). To cover up Lambry's disappearance, Carson sets fire to Lambry's house. Meanwhile, when itþs discovered at the Wet Eye's original storage depot in Alabama that the cylinder is missing, all hell erupts: Apparently, the Wet Eye has a way of going through unfamiliar chemical changesþmutations. Carson decides to make his sale quick, though he knows that the cylinder is heating up. Then Gwen Warren, who runs a children's home, warns Stafford that one of her girls, a telepathic mute, has seen the cylinder in Carson's mind. Soon the Army starts a coverup of its own, and Stafford is on the runþtrying to protect himself, Gwen, and her telepath.
Solid, authentic detail that bolts each event to the next and creates an intensely plausible entertainmentþwith a leavening of telepathy for added pleasure.
"Top-notch...Exciting, moving...Bursting with the expected expertise and insider knowledge." Publishers Weekly
"A gripping tale...Solid, authentic detail that bolts each event to the next and creates an intensely plausible entertainment." Kirkus Reviews
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THURSDAY, THE DEFENSE REUTILIZATION AND MARKETING OFFICE (DRMO), ATLANTA, GEORGIA, 9:00 P.M.
Wendell Carson sat at his desk in the manager's office wondering if he should go out to his truck and get his gun. He just knew Lambry was coming in to shake him down for more money. Should he confront Lambry, see if he could scare him into backing off? Or just play along and figure some way out of it later?
He swiveled around in his chair. Bud Lambry was an Alabama hillbilly: a long, lanky, tobacco-chewing, mush-mouthed, mean-eyed sumbitch. He'd been Carson's spotter in the warehouses for eight years, and Andy White's before that. Let's face it, he thought, Bud Lambry isn't going to scare so good, so use your damn brains: Play along with whatever he wants, then run some kind of con on him. Lambry can't know what the cylinder is worth, so keep him in the dark. Agree to more money--anything--to keep him quiet for just a few more days until the deal goes through. After that, he didn't care what Lambry might say, think, or do. Wendell Carson, erstwhile manager of the Atlanta DRMO, would have a million bucks in his pocket and would be down the road and gone. That said, he wouldn't mind having his .38 in his middle drawer just now.
He looked at his watch and then heard someone coming down the main hallway of the admin building. A moment later, Bud Lambry let himself in, his suspicious eyes sweeping the office to make sure they were alone.
"Evening, Bud," Carson said, not getting up. "You said we needed to talk?"
"Yeah, we do," Lambry said, going over to the window and taking a quick look through the venetian blinds into the parking lot. Then he turned around and gave Carson a hard look. "That thang, that red thang, how much they gonna give fer it?"
"I don't know yet, Bud," Carson lied. "They're excited about it, but they're a little antsy, too, seeing what it is."
"But they gonna deal?"
"Oh, I think so. If they don't, I'm not sure what the hell we can do with it. But what's the problem now?"
"Problem's money," Bud said, a crafty gleam in his eye. He walked over to the desk and shook his arms out, as if he were preparing to take some kind of physical action. He leaned down, putting both his hands on the desk. Carson could smell him, an amalgam of sweat and tobacco. "That thang's gotta be worth a whole shitpot full a money."
Carson smiled. "And let me guess--you want a bigger cut, seeing this thing's special. And you're the one who found it."
"Damn straight. We ain't never lifted nothin' like this'n before."
Carson nodded, pretending to think about it. Then he nodded again. "I agree, Bud. This thing's going to be worth a small fortune. In fact, it's so big that I'm thinking about just clearing the hell out of here once the deal goes through. First, because the money is going to be major, and second, because the heat is going to be major once the Army finds out it's missing."
"Yeah," Bud said, relaxing a little. "Reckon I might do likewise."
"How's half sound, Bud? After all, you were the one who found it."
Lambry blinked. He had obviously planned to ask for half and settle for whatever he could get. Carson had surprised him. But then Lambry's eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"Okay," he said. "An' I wanna be there, it goes down."
"No problem, Bud. In fact, I need you there. For the money this thing's going to bring, I wouldn't mind some backup, you know what I mean?"
Bud straightened back up. "All right, then," he said. "You lemme know. Them boys give us enny bullshit, I'll fix 'er asses good. I got me some guns.
"They've never stiffed us before. No reason to think they will now."
Lambry looked at him, trying to figure out what Carson's angle was. I've been too agreeable, Carson thought. Should have haggled a little. Lambry looked down at the floor for a second, and then back at Carson, a hard look in his eyes.
"And yew," he said, "don't yew be thinkin' you cin run enny damn tricks, Carson. I want whut's mine."
"I'm going to make the arrangements tomorrow," Carson said as smoothly as he could. Lambry had a violent streak that had gotten him in trouble twice before down in the warehouses. He was known to carry a knife, and he wasn't shy about pulling it.
Carson got up to indicate this little farce was over. He already had an idea of how to dupe Lambry. "I'll catch you on the late shift in demil tomorrow night. Let you know what they decide. But remember now, not a word to anyone."
Lambry snorted. "Ain't never run my mouth, and that's a damn fact." Then he left, slamming the door.
Carson exhaled and sat back down. Fucking Lambry had been getting bolder and bolder lately. He would have to do something, although he wasn't sure what that would be. Wendell Carson was no Andy White. Big Andy would have ambushed Lambry with a two-by-four down in the warehouses one afternoon and beat the shit out of him.
He gave Lambry ten minutes to clear the building, and then he got up and locked his office door. He adjusted the blinds and checked the parking lot, but his truck was the only vehicle left out there. Then he walked over to the wall-length bookcase and reached up behind the three-ring binders on the top shelf. He withdrew the prize: a heavy red plastic tube, four feet long, about four inches in diameter, and covered with stenciled lettering, all U.S. Army alphabet soup. There were four stainless-steel snaps at each end of the tube. Inside was the actual cylinder, itself also stainless steel, and sealed at each end with wide knurled caps. The whole assembly weighed about fifteen pounds.
Carson stared down at it. He had no idea what all the nomenclature meant specifically, but when he'd read it over the phone to Tangent, his client in Washington, and told him where the cylinder had come from, Tangent had reacted as if he'd been hit by a brick. Tangent had gotten back to him in literally five minutes, offering $1 million in cash. Just like that. And now Brother Bud thought he was going to get half.
In your dreams, Cracker, Carson thought. This thing right here is the holy grail. Wendell Carson's main chance. Who'd have thought it? he mused as he put the red tube carefully back up on the bookcase. After all these years of skimming the surplus auctions, he'd hit the jackpot with a cylinder of nerve gas.
Zero Option. Copyright (c) 1998 by P.T. Deutermann. Published by St. Martin's Press, Inc. New York, NY.
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