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To Kill a Thief
by Kenneth E. Ingle

Category: Suspense/Thriller/Mystery/Crime
Description: For Devin Brandon it's just another assignment--find who's behind the murder of three top scientists from Dallas firm CAC...or determine that the deaths really are a huge coincidence as the FBI contends. Devin goes undercover as a corporate planner, but it doesn't take him long to realize that he's facing a thief every bit as dedicated, and capable, as Devin himself. Going undercover has its own drawbacks: he's sure one of the administrative assistants was involved in a case he worked while in Naval Intelligence. And falling for the sexy HR manager Teresa Rios is definitely a bad idea, or perhaps the best idea Devin has ever had. Devin plays a game of cat and mouse with the elusive thief. Both manipulate software traps, dig into backgrounds and profiles, and call on a wealth of resources to learn the other's identity first. The thief has already killed three times--Devin knows he'll either catch the thief or become victim number four. He will, or perhaps the thief will attack those he's closest to. Author Kenneth E. Ingle writes a page-turning thriller with Devin and his friends in constant danger. At stake is an invention that may revolutionize power generation worldwide, with consequences ranging from deep space exploration to averting (or launching) wars in Asia. For Devin, however, the stakes grow increasingly personal as he falls for Teresa, only to learn secrets about this mysterious woman, nicknamed 'the Barracuda' that he really didn't want to know.
eBook Publisher: BooksForABuck, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: October 2010

eBookeBook

5 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [322 KB]
Words: 68910
Reading time: 196-275 min.


PROLOGUE

Helmut Bradykoff knew he was dying and recognized his killer. Disbelief and fear filled his eyes as blood flooded down his chest. He fought the darkness that invaded his mind: blacker than any night he had ever seen. His mind searched for why, but the thought ended when the second bullet smashed into his head.

* * * *
* * * *

CHAPTER ONE

Day One

Relaxed on the brown leather-covered divan, Devin Brandon looked at his Cestello Rolex, nine thirty, rolled over, checked the caller ID knowing it could be only one person and picked up the receiver. "Hi, lady. What's up?" No one else had this phone number.

He laid aside the latest installment of Archie McNally, discrete inquirer, brushed back his tousled brown hair, rose and leaned forward to stretch muscles idled, as far as he was concerned, too long.

"I need to see you now." Marilyn Kelso seldom phoned and a sense of urgency permeated his boss's melodic voice.

"Critical Aerospace Components, CAC, just called. Two hours ago, Dallas police found a man murdered. Shot. Turns out, he worked for one of CAC's subcontractors, a top scientist on a big time secret project. CAC believes it's industrial espionage and whoever did it is trying to break them. Timberlane's been hired to put an end to these killings and stop the theft once and for all."

He'd heard of CAC but only because anyone who'd been around Dallas any length of time knew the name. He sure didn't travel in those rarified intellectual and moneyed circles. It wasn't often that contracts of this magnitude came along. But Devin was ready for some heavy action. He hardly given a thought to the poor bastard who got himself murdered. It wasn't that he took death as a natural consequence of life, just that violent demises had been a part of him too long to give it more than a passing thought. During his orphanage and foster home days, he'd seen more than his share of violence.

He checked in with Marilyn on a routine basis, but usually to her one-eared-monster, the answering machine. He preferred that, since they didn't exchange small talk and daily one-on-one calls grew as monotonous and grating as listening to a nasal singer. He didn't try to deny he was a loner, that's who he was and so be it.

After a shower, he pulled on gray slacks, a light yellow long sleeved pullover and tucked his Glock 19 into the belt. He set the myriad security devices, much of them his design and all his installation, in and around his meticulously clean and orderly condo. The gadgets were there to protect him and a hobby as well.

He backed out of the two-car garage and pointed his Le Mans blue Z06 Corvette toward north Dallas, automatically checking his rear view mirror, turning left, then right, backtracking, now a habit after five years of undercover work. A patchwork of lights outlined the myriad of office buildings as the city glow obscured the stars in the autumn cloudless, moonless and anywhere else, a stargazer's delightful night sky.

Twenty minutes and that many switchbacks later, he entered the gated residential community and steered the 'Vette' into an alley he'd visited many times. Confident the trip had gone unnoticed, he punched a button on the underside of the dash.

The car's headlights illuminated a white rising wooden garage door on a two-story roman-red brick house. He drove in and parked next to a gray 'Caddy XLR'; the overhead whined and ground closed behind him.

He unfolded his lithe, trim six-foot frame from the bucket seat, tapped on the door, opened and stepped into the house and kitchen without waiting for an answer.

"Hi." He waved as he entered, a scene he'd repeated hundreds of times, and Marilyn motioned him in, a cell phone glued to her ear. She touched the Moto blur screen cutting the call short, and laid the phone on the polished black marble countertop.

Devin was restless, yet paradoxically even for him, tempered with infinite patience. He could wait out the devil if it meant getting his man.

After his tour with Naval Intelligence, Timberlane Resources hired him. He had become their dark agent or at least, one. Only Marilyn and the company's paymaster knew of his existence or any others such as he who might be on the prowl. She had assured him of that. Their meetings always took place away from the business offices, usually at her home, mostly at night. Twice in five years, he'd made trips to the corporate offices, once to sign on and again to select his personal weapons.

Normally, Marilyn greeted him with a gracious hello. But this time she had a look unlike any he'd seem before. Concern etched her face but didn't lessen the delicacy and strength of her femininity. She had a keen sense of humor, as he did, and they often used it on each other. It helped keep their business relationship on an even keel and break the heavy tension that often permeated their lives of half-truths and deceit. But not tonight.

She seemed preoccupied, yet her eyes riveted him, right hand on her hip, the other rested on the countertop. "Well Devin, I've got a hot one for you. You can earn some of that money I pay you every month." She motioned him into a white enameled cane bottom chair in front of a cloth covered kitchen table and reached for the coffee pot, by now an automatic gesture when those two started a session.

Fifty-four, twenty-two years his senior, Marilyn Kelso's penetrating blue eyes, and overwhelming beauty could match most women half her age. And what her figure did for the light blue jump suit left little to the imagination. She had to look up to see into his steel gray eyes even in her out of fashion-spiked heels.

Hard as a nail when needed, yet sensitive to a fault, she'd run Timberlane Resources for five years, taking over after her husband's murder. Without boasting, she would say she "caught the killer and gave the 'bastard' the only trial he'd ever have." The details she left to the imagination but she gave a clear indication of her resolve.

Devin accepted the brewed offer and waited. He knew his boss's mannerisms. He sat, casual, leaned forward, taciturn, elbows on the table. Those few who knew him would see he was ready to act in an instant.

He savored the aroma as she poured her cup then sat.

Almost tranquil words yielded to the worry her voice portrayed. But that was normal in their business when so many things were not.

"CAC. I know their CEO, Mason Olford. He called this evening. Wants Timberlane to put an end to our--" she paused imperceptibly and corrected herself, "their problem. They're absolutely certain someone murdered this scientist as a direct result of his work for them. At the least, it's meant to slow development but most likely stop a new gadget their working on. I think it's called the Chandra Ring and it is a big deal. Has something to do with energy or propulsion." She waved her arms, a clear sign she'd said all she knew and didn't understand any of it.

"This is the third killing in four years. They're convinced it's all tied to the Chandra Ring research."

Again, Devin let the our problem slip past without comment.

She continued, "FBI's not convinced the previous two scientists' deaths had any connection with this research. And it's too soon for them to say about this one. However, the killings serve at least two purposes, maybe three, all worked against the company." She held up her right trigger finger. "First to steal vital information." She raised her ring finger bypassing the middle digit normally reserved for him. "Second, to slow down research, preferably stop it." She reached behind her to the countertop for a tan leather valise and pulled out some papers.

"And the third?" She had her way of giving him information that could test most people's patience.

That question brought a very slight grimace as she flashed her third jeweled little digit, sipped her coffee, and then tried to smile past the heat. "Intimidation. People already working for CAC, and others considering it, will have second thoughts about hiring on. Anything to disrupt the program. From a distance, the deaths might appear unrelated but Olford is satisfied these were not random killings." She fanned the sheaf of papers as if clearing the air. "CAC is about to start building this gadget and that means their subcontractors are exposed. That makes the project one hell of a lot harder for them to protect."

She paused for a moment, pensive. "Add to that, key people, real scientific brains, are reluctant to work for them. These guys," she paused cocked her head, "well, some are women, anyhow, they don't want anything to do with it. Keeping key research people has become a major problem."

"Any leads at all?" Devon narrowed his eyes, his usual easygoing look disappearing behind thinned lips. His dark ruddy face, square jaw, and small nose reflected deep concentration.

"Here's FBI and Dallas Police reports, plus what CAC had on the last scientist killed, Helmut Bradykoff."

He accepted the manila folder and spent several minutes scanning the data. "What about the black lines?"

"Probably classified. Technical stuff that won't make the investigation one way or the other. That's all there is."

"What happens to CAC if this information is stolen, say by a competitor?"

She frowned into her cup. "The company probably bellies up. They have a huge investment in the Chandra Ring. So big, in fact, that some of their banks want assurances before going any further."

He let out a slight, casual sigh, and took his time responding. "So, if the investment is threatened, CAC's only way out may be to sell the company. You think there's someone inside doing the stealing. And at the same time Bradykoff's murder tightens the noose."

Her brow wrenched and blue eyes flashed azure flame. "You've got it. Steal the idea or force them to sell."

He slowly sipped the coffee. "If there's a guy inside, he's damned good and won't be caught because he's overconfident."

"You're probably right." Her voice seemed to strengthen with the observation.

He leaned back on the rear legs of his chair. A scowl from her was enough to force him to return all four firmly to the floor, quickly. He grimaced at her expression then nodded his acknowledgment of the challenge. "Probably the only way we'll catch the thief is with tough dirty work. He's not going to make a mistake."

"Yes, and that doesn't sound promising." She put her cup down. "He's avoided detection for at least four years that included two FBI investigations."

"My point exactly. But, someone in the company had contact with whoever did the killing. The dead man, possibly unknowingly may have. What I'm saying is, the killer or his information, probably the information, is coming from someone inside CAC. That someone, in some way had to know about Bradykoff. He had to know enough that his work had become key to the project. And knew his schedule or routine."

Devon hadn't had an assignment like this for six months, not since the Farmer's Market extortion scandal. That one left two dead and sent four to trial. He was ready. His mind had already started to compartmentalize the facts he'd read and the input Marilyn had offered.

"Let's not overlook that it may be a woman." She pointed her coffee cup for emphasis, then sat it down on a coaster.

He nodded. "Normally being obscure, a wallflower, is a not a high art but in this case it is. The killer had one or more contacts within CAC. Maybe innocent. Probably not. But an accomplice just the same. Whoever did this left a trail. He," Devin paused, "or she, didn't work in a vacuum. All I've got to do is track him--or her."

Marilyn clasped her hands, placed them in her lap and spoke with a smile. "I've always marveled at how your brain worked. Genius, nothing but pure genius."

He knew her attempts at humor were not meant to belittle the moment, but only their way of dealing with tension. It had become a habit with them.

Her voice quickly returned to its somber tone, "Olford is running out of time, cancer."

They both sat quietly in the stillness that settled over the room. Devin didn't outwardly react. Mentally, he raced through what he'd read and heard of Olford. His virtual total recall served him well.

He stretched, placed his hands behind his head, fingers interlaced. Satisfied at the prospects, a smile touched his lips. Granted, it didn't make for much of a home life. But then, he'd never been fond of the domestic scene. Using an alias, being someone else, really got his juices flowing. The feeling that came from tracking another man, all the while knowing he had the means and reason to kill you, was something on which Devon thrived. Of course, he never let it show.

Hunting another man gave him a high. He could feel it coming on. It was more than an adrenaline rush. It lasted far too long for that. It was in his personality, something so satisfying that he embraced it and couldn't turn loose, not that he'd tried or even wanted to. Learn as much as you can about the guy you're after. Know as much about him as he does. More if you can. Think like him. Anticipate his next move.

"Don't be so casual. This isn't what you think. It won't be a cakewalk. In fact, you may be up against the best you've ever faced." A tough edge tinged Marilyn's voice. "Remember, for over four years this person, if it is the same one, has managed to avoid detection. The best investigators in the FBI finally decided there was no theft, so no espionage. They said any tie-in between the killings and CAC was coincidental." She thumped the table with her open hand. "Besides, it's time you earned some of the thousand a week I pay just to keep you around."

Devin did appreciate the retainer. Most people didn't get the chance to grow old in this business. You had to make it while you physically and emotionally could.

Marilyn's husband had intended to hire Devin following his duty tour with Naval Intelligence, but he'd been murdered before they completed the deal. Until then, Marilyn had not met the ex-naval officer, hiring him based on her husband's plans. He'd asked her about it once. All she said was that he came highly recommended.

Since then, he'd known and worked for her for five years. He hoped it would go on forever but knew it wouldn't. She gave him the latitude and support to do a job. So far, he'd not failed her. Their relationship was anything but casual, sometimes fiery: volatile may be a better description. But when he was in trouble and needed her, she came through for him as he had for her.

He laid his large hands, calloused from constant martial arts practice, firmly on the table. "The usual ten thousand a week as well as the retainer and expenses."

That brought a nod and she added, "You sure are a piece of work. You don't give a shit what anyone says or does. Do you?"

Single, he knew his independence had so far been a major reason that he was still alive. Never get close to anyone. That didn't mean he didn't have his lady friends. But none that whetted his appetite beyond the bedroom. And it is fact, anytime a relationship began to look like a romance, he ran.

He threw his hands up as if defending himself from the onslaught that experience told him was coming. "I care what you say." And he meant that. Marilyn was as close to family as he had or ever had. He was certain her protestations otherwise were only a facade.

"Bullshit. The only reason you listen to me is the work I bring. If I didn't have you on retainer, you wouldn't give me the time of day." The tease stayed in her voice. She reached back over her shoulder and gathered some more papers from the counter.

He straightened, sighing loudly. "Lady, if you weren't part of the job, we'd be at the fanciest restaurant in Dallas eating and dancing."

"Then in your bed."

He gestured his palms opened. "You see right through me."

"Bastard." A large grin covered her face. "Here, read these. It's a list of job openings at CAC." She shoved the few sheets toward him.

"I think the corporate long range planner best suits you."

He looked over the information. "Yep. I agree."

"Okay. I'll have our people go to work on your history and prepare a resume to match it. You'll be the most qualified candidate for that job." She smiled, but this time it looked a little different. "What name will you use?"


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