Caught in the crosshairs of deception and murder, with a Virginia senatorial election at stake, the quest to unravel the embedded secret becomes a labyrinth that only Danielle Madison chooses to enter and gamble her life.
Is she a player in this game of political roulette? The answer leads to one thought, one message, and one mind-altering program in this conspiracy.
Are you in control of your actions? You're about to find out!
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Read an Excerpt
By Pat Iezzi
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 Pat Iezzi
All rights reserved.
New York, New York Friday, August 31 9:30 p.m.
The text message read: Life in danger.
Danielle Madison read it silently to herself, again in an attempt to make a connection between the cryptic words and the reason behind them. Now, with her anxiety ratcheted up a notch, she subconsciously began biting her lip as a roller coaster of emotions, from love to concern, coursed through her. The message left a chilling void within her.
"Mind if I come in?" Karen said as she removed her eyeglasses. But before Danielle answered, her paralegal strode into the office and plopped herself into a high-back chair. Leaning forward, she nodded in the direction of the keyboard in front of two monitors on the desk. "If you checked your e-mails ... you'll find several I sent you from Owen. He never left a number though."
Without acknowledging her, Danielle tapped on her keyboard and pulled up the e-mails. For the last several hours, she had been unavailable, locked in a teleconference meeting with a group of attorneys from the West Coast.
All the messages were marked "urgent," with a short notation: "left no telephone number." The last message was taken more than two hours ago. According to Danielle's cell, the last text message was sent shortly thereafter.
She hadn't heard from him in months, despite leaving phone messages at work for him. And her text messages, like her phone calls, were one-way communications. He never hinted why their relationship came to an abrupt end. She couldn't hide her feelings; she still loved him.
"Did he say anything or when he'd call back?" Danielle asked with growing uneasiness.
"Nope, he hung up ... without giving me a chance. Why ... something wrong?"
Danielle shook her head, not wanting to discuss the text message, even though she and Karen had discussed Owen's absence on several occasions.
"You and I had this conversation a couple of weeks ago. But I was right ... I told you he'd surface."
"I remember," Danielle confessed. Never believing Owen had found someone else, she had to admit his actions left her perplexed. It was as though he didn't want any direct contact, except now and then she'd receive a romantic card in the mail.
Danielle rose from her desk chair and began to stuff the leather attaché case with legal pleadings and a deposition. Snapping the flap on the case shut, her eyes returned to meet Karen's intense gaze. "You know, I need to call him. I'll make it short so that he doesn't get the impression ... well, that I'm desperate."
"Good, at least it's a start. You can't play into his hands. How could he just do a disappearing act? I've seen how some of those handsome, single legal associates follow you with their eyes when you walk by."
With a wry smile, Danielle responded, "Not one of them has asked me out." She tugged at the case and dropped it with a thud to the floor.
"It's quite obvious that you've been out of the loop. We've been working fourteen hour days, seven days a week. Nobody's going to ask you out after work. You're here, never home," Karen said, raising her eyebrows questioningly. "And look, you've only got a few more weeks before your last day." Using the chair's arms as a springboard, she said, "Take my advice, I don't want you putting in these hours at your new job. Now ... you better get going."
"Yes, ma'am," Danielle said, taking a quick look at her watch. She decided to call Owen later, but her uneasiness hit a few crescendos before they subsided.
"And I wouldn't worry about him ... I'm going to be here for the next few hours, so if he calls, I'll tell him to call your cell."
Yeah, sure. But a nagging thought crossed Danielle's mind: What did Owen mean by that text message? Why now?
Danielle donned her dress jacket, threw the strap of her laptop case over her shoulder, and reached down to clutch the attaché case. She took a deep breath in a vain attempt to calm her anxieties. "Have you noticed Denon's arrogance this political season?"
"Isn't he always? What drives him, I don't know. And nothing stops his egotism at the expense of those he leaves in his wake." Karen responded with a dismissive wave. "Wait a minute; let me help you with that." She removed the black leather strap to the laptop from Danielle's shoulder. "I'll walk you to the front door. I have to lock it anyway." They walked down the corridor past a number of darkened offices. "Oh, one more thing, I know we've been busy, but did you ever take the time to ... well, really do some due diligence on your new employer? I mean," Karen probed, "you know, what you're going to be doing there and —"
"You don't have to worry," Danielle said as they reached the outer door. "If I put up with Denon Pierce these last several years, how could there be a bigger problem? And as for Owen, he'll have to face me, but that's his problem, not mine."
With a hesitant nod, Karen handed the laptop to her. "Sure ... and my reservations may be just that ... reservations," she replied, her voice trailing off.
"Why? Tell me." Danielle raised an eyebrow. This was not the assurance she wanted, and given tonight's message, she didn't need more problems.
"Sorry. We'll talk about it tomorrow."
Danielle smiled faintly, searching Karen's face for some stark foreboding, but her face was expressionless. "See you in the morning." Minutes later, she wearily stepped out of the high-rise into a muggy summer night. As she strode to the corner of Lexington and Fifty-Fourth, she saw couples holding hands and leaning into their dates, with ladies dressed in fashionable shoes and matching bags. Like any Friday night in New York City, the party was just beginning.
Across the street, Danielle hailed a cab in a steady stream of traffic, and with some good fortune, a driver pulled up to the curb a short distance away. With a bead on the blinking tail light, she gritted her teeth, clutched her belongings, and hurried down the sidewalk.
Opening the cab door, she swung the dead weight attaché case into the rear seat and got in, trailed by her purse and laptop. A hand reached out and closed the door behind her. As she turned to gesture a thank you, the figure, with a cane at his side, stepped into the crowd.
Danielle leaned forward and called out her address on the Upper East Side. The driver raised a hand that he understood.
As the cab lurched into traffic, Danielle recalled her day: the fist raised in anger by a defendant outside the courtroom, and his death threat — "I'll see you dead" — reverberated in her mind. And then her earlier encounter with a judge who browbeat her about an evidentiary petition against a state legislator charged with bribery. The judge's unsupported, derisive comments had unnerved her.
But how would Owen know?
It was a day she wanted to end. The job entailed too much pressure from all sides. When she entered private practice five years ago with Higgins, Biggs, and Reed, HBR, where she interned during law school, the pay was great and the cases were challenging. That was before the endless days filled with a high octane diet of caffeine, legal briefs, motions, and court appearances. Now at thirty, she understood the adage the city that never sleeps also applied to the private practice of law.
Jolted by the driver's sudden shift to another lane, she was awakened as they swept past crowded sidewalks with couples mingling outside bars and restaurants. Her rationale for resigning her position was quite simple: she wanted a life. And her new position as assistant general legal counsel with a political consulting firm outside Washington, D. C. gave her the opportunity.
But one matter dampened her enthusiasm was Owen. She tried to forget him, though in her heart, she knew that she never would.
Gripping the handle of the attaché case once more, Danielle's thoughts shifted to the task she had to complete by morning. With the November elections in eight weeks, her first priority tonight was to write a trial brief on election irregularities for Denon, who also served as the outside legal counsel to PERC, Political Election Response Corporation, her soon-to-be employer.
Without a turn signal, the driver swerved onto Second Avenue and drove two blocks, coming to a screeching halt in front of her apartment building. After slipping the driver a twenty, she gathered her belongings and stepped out, remembering that she'd stood in the same spot at sunrise, when the apartment building was bathed in sunlight. Trudging up to the entrance, she eyed the apartment lights, which appeared as stars in the dark of night.
As she approached, Jay, the doorman, threw open the door.
"Thanks," she said, angling herself through the doorway. A cool breeze from the air conditioning swept away the close feeling of the night's warm, muggy air.
"Long day, I take it? Looks like you brought your work with you for the Labor Day weekend."
"Politics," she lightly complained. "It's that time of year. Political races, speeches, election irregularities ... it's like this every election year. And with my moving, it only adds to my workload."
He shook his head sympathetically. "By the way, when I arrived earlier this evening, I delivered those packages to your apartment. And if you need any help moving, just give me a call."
She nodded and managed a weak smile. The movers she had called the other day had said they would deliver shipping boxes to her.
It seemed like only yesterday when she moved into the apartment complex, welcoming the opportunity to share a luxurious, two-bedroom apartment with her college roommate and good friend, Ann Burk, an advertising executive. They lived in a spacious apartment, well-furnished and stunningly decorated. Now with Ann's upcoming marriage to Greg Myers, another junior associate at HBR, Danielle's move to Washington meant that Ann and Greg didn't need to find another place.
At the secure double doors, which led into the main corridor of the apartment building, she swiped her door key and entered the foyer. Finding an empty car, she took the elevator to the twenty-fifth floor.
Their apartment was situated only two doors down from the elevators. That's when she heard the telephone ringing. Hurriedly, she unlocked the door and dropped her belongings on the floor. As she dashed for the phone, it fell silent at her reach. A fleeting glance at the answering machine told her there was one message.
Pressing the "play" button, she heard: "Danielle, it's Owen." There was a brief pause, and then the message began anew. "The books. You don't have the source code ... access ..." Then a white noise filled the void, with what seemed a howling wind and a sound she couldn't readily identify.
Yeah, the books. How could she forget? The New York State Consolidated Laws, the Administrative Code, and the Legal Opinions of the State of New York were sent to her office at HBR. It was his idea of a gift for her passing the bar and accepting a position as a lawyer. A nice gesture, and amusing at the time, but neither the firm nor her office had the room for another library.
Danielle turned up the volume and replayed the message. "I don't have what ... what's that supposed to mean?" As she listened intently, he was out of breath, and the unmistakable sound like a distant fog horn of a boat caught her attention. She shook her head, attempting to assess his phone message. But nothing came to mind.
With that, she returned to the front door. There sat two long, narrow boxes stacked against the wall. Opening the top box, she found the books. She selected a volume, read the cover, and mumbled, The Early Writings of Thomas Jefferson? Owen was a nerd, but a loveable one.
Tossing the book aside, she made her way to the kitchen, dragging her laptop and attaché case. Maybe Karen was right. She should forget him and begin looking for someone else.
After making a cup of steaming chai tea in the hope that the caffeine would keep her awake, she turned to page one and began to read the deposition. Three hours later, with heavy eyelids, she got up and stretched, and then seeing the answering machine, she began to sort through images of the past in her mind.
What was it? There's something I'm missing. Her mind wandered back months ago when she last saw him. Trying her best, she attempted to resurrect any part of his conversation, but it was murky.
"There's a matter that needs tending to," Owen said.
Or something on that order, she thought. But he never said what. And now she had accepted a legal position in the firm where he worked.
Denon had recommended, almost insisted, that she accept the position of legal counsel with PERC. She thought it odd at the time that he would be willing to allow a legal associate to leave the firm. She had the experience and expertise in political matters. Parting with an asset of the law firm seemed odd, but it worked for her. HBR and the long hours, weeks, and months would be a thing of the past.
Again, she cocked her head while snippets of Owen's voice raced through her mind. Her eyes drifted to her cell. Her heartbeat stirred to a rapid pace as she pictured the word urgent in the e-mail.
Danielle rapidly punched in Owen's number. Then she said, "Answer, damn it. Where are you?"CHAPTER 2
New York, New York Saturday, September 1 8:00 a.m.
Well, Counselor, what's the answer?" Karen asked, leaning back into her chair. A line of large pocket folders formed a border across the front of her desk. As she peered over the files that rivaled the Great Wall of China, her computer signaled an incoming e-mail.
Resting her forearms on the back of a chair, Danielle intoned in a tired voice, "I kept nodding off, only to be awakened by the honking of horns and the squealing of brakes. At four in the morning, you would think there would be some semblance of peace and quiet. But no, the sounds of vehicles droned on until I finally called it a night." She brushed a strand of her shoulder-length chestnut hair behind her ear and let out a slight yawn. "Sorry, I ... I don't know what I'm thinking these days," she said, shaking her head, unhappy with her effort to harness her energy. Looking at the cappuccino in her hand, she continued, "Oh, I completely forgot; I bought this for you on my way in."
"For me? Who's the mother and who's the child here?" Karen accepted the drink and undid the lid. "Sit down — there are a few things that you should know."
Within the law firm, Karen acted as the resident mother for many of the young associates. Like a mother with little chicks, she nurtured them, if they were so inclined, through the minefields of the legal profession. At sixty years young, her unkempt strands of brown and gray hair, coupled with her heavy-set frame and a wardrobe from Walmart clearance specials, fooled most people. That was until she worked with you. She often knew more about the finer aspects of law than most lawyers. Citing from obscure precedents that she managed to find, she had a no-nonsense way of dissecting the most difficult cases.
Never having married, Karen defined law as her purpose in life. She'd offered her sage advice to associates and senior attorneys alike, but only if asked. But in Danielle's case, even when she didn't ask, the caring advice came anyway.
"Need I ask again if you've heard from Owen?"
Danielle blinked her sleepy eyes and shook her head. "No. I tried calling him several times, but there was no answer. I finally gave up." Trying to tuck his bizarre behavior, including yesterday's phone calls and messages, into the recesses of her mind, Danielle could feel her heart racing from the anxiety building within her. Karen's question only exacerbated how she felt.
"Hmmm," Karen murmured with an unspoken thought.
"He did leave a message on my answering machine," Danielle added, "but between his cell, you know, fading in and out — damn reception. The message was, well, pretty much indecipherable."
Karen was lost in thought. A brief silence filled the room, until a printer on the other side of the spacious office coughed out a sheet of paper. Her eyes were briefly averted by the sound. Then her gaze returned to Danielle.
"The message? What do you mean message?" Karen asked with increased interest.
"Well," Danielle said with a crooked smile, "he said, 'the books,' and like I said, there was nothing until I heard 'source code' and 'access.'"
Excerpted from Celiminal by Pat Iezzi. Copyright © 2015 Pat Iezzi. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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