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by William C. Dietz
Description: FBI Special Agent Christina Rossi had it all--for a while: a loving family, a career on an upward track, the works. Then a takedown of some eco-terrorists turned unexpectedly bloody, questions are being asked and the fast track is nothing but a memory as she doggedly pursues a slave labor case that might involve a Chinese mob and might be a complete bust. The family went away during an ugly divorce and her ex-husband's high-end life with a beautiful, upscale new wife has lured her daughter into a risky social circle and turned her against her mother. Things are almost too good to be true when a new man in her life, Jack Dexter, handsome, smart and very well-off, brings about a startlingly wonderful romance and a change in her day-to-day circumstances and even connects her to some information on the seemingly dead-end case she won't give up. Too good to be true turns out to be what's going on when a pervert's murder starts to unfold Dexter's dark secrets, her case begins turning into an uncontrollable monster and her daughter's life hangs in the balance.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 2008
eBookwise Release Date: November 2009
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [394 KB]
Reading time: 250-350 min.
"A no-holds-barred novel. It instantly puts Dietz in league with elite suspense novelists like Ludlum, Follett, and Forsyth."--Paul Goat Allen, Editor, barnesandnoble.com
The view looked south, toward Seattle's Bell Town, and the staggered tops of the high-rise buildings beyond. What Jack Dexter thought of as "habitat" for the people he spied on each evening. Women mostly, since he was heterosexual, but a few men as well. Lonely souls who lived lives as isolated as his. Neon lights blurred and streaked as the spotting scope panned the skyline.
Dexter kept it dark within his sixth-story apartment because to watch with the lights on was to attract the attention of other watchers--and there were at least two in the surrounding buildings. One was the old lady he thought of as "Glass Eye". She preferred to peer out from between her floral curtains, and spent a good deal of time staring at "Hoser," who liked to watch in the nude and frequently sported an erection.
The Nikon came to a stop as Dexter's practiced eye recognized the texture of Amy's apartment building and zeroed in on her unit. Her real name wasn't Amy, but that was the name that he had bestowed on her, and "Amy" was nicer than "the woman with the unusually long nipples," which was the way he sometimes thought of her.
Of course there were other things that Dexter liked about Amy, including her punctuality, and the fact that she was a creature of habit. No sooner had the Nikon come to rest on her unit than the lights came on. Dexter could see straight through her living room into the tiny entry beyond, and took pleasure in the ritualistic way that Amy placed her purse on the table just inside the front door and dropped her briefcase onto the floor before removing her coat.
Judging from the dark blue pin-striped business suit, Dexter figured she had met with her boss or an important customer earlier that day. The first thing Amy did was kick off her shoes, pick up a remote, and aim it at the TV. With that part of the routine out of the way the young woman shrugged her jacket off and laid it over the back of a chair. Then it was time to remove her blouse. Some tops came off over Amy's head, others had buttons, and Dexter enjoyed both. Next, the business woman stepped out of her skirt, and went to place both the skirt and the jacket on a hanger. Dexter was neat, too, and even went so far as to arrange his clothes by color, purpose, and season. A habit left over from the Navy.
After she slipped her pantyhose down her long slim legs came the part that Dexter liked best. Amy was down to just her bra and panties. Not consciously sexy stuff, like from Victoria's Secret, but real underwear. The sort husbands see every day. Functional lingerie that isn't supposed to be looked at, but was all the more sexy because of that, or so it seemed to Dexter. There were times when the pieces didn't match, which was charming, and a sure sign that Amy needed to do some laundry. Then came the moment when Amy reached back to undo her bra and her breasts hung free. They were just large enough to sag slightly, which Dexter liked because it meant they were real, and he had no interest in the huge saline-engorged orbs that porn stars sported.
But more important than Amy's breasts were her nipples. Dexter would never get to measure them, but guessed they were at least half an inch long when erect, which they now were. There were evenings when she turned away so quickly that he couldn't see them, but this wasn't one of them, and Dexter felt himself begin to grow hard as Amy approached the window.
That was the moment when he wondered, as he always did, why Amy always took her clothes off before she closed the curtains? Did she know he was out there? Waiting for her just as a husband might? Welcoming her home? If so, that would mean the ritual was consensual. A possibility that evoked mixed emotions because the voyeur preferred to watch without permission. He could ask her of course, but that would transform him into a stalker and that was a line he didn't want to cross. "Goodnight, Amy," Dexter said out loud, and watched the curtains close.
Missy was angry, something she conveyed by slouching down into the car seat and refusing to speak. It was a punitive measure that wouldn't make much of an impression on a full-time mother but was surprisingly effective where part-time mom and full-time FBI agent Christina Rossi was concerned. The traffic light changed to amber. Rossi applied the brakes and tried to restart the conversation. "I'm sorry hon, I really am, but I don't have a choice. Qwan has some sort of bug--and someone has to sit in the car with Kissler. Not my idea of a good time but that's the way it goes."
"But you promised? Missy said, resentfully. "What will I tell my friends?"
"Tell them your mom is sorry ... and hopes they can come later."
"But there are lots of parties," Missy objected. "If I wait too long they won't be able to come."
When light changed, Rossi paused for a moment to make sure no one would run the red and drove through the intersection. The neighborhood in which her ex-husband and his new wife lived was a step up from her home in Wallingford. And why not? Ed had been promoted since the divorce, computer software architects made six-figure salaries, and Vanessa had inherited some money from her parents. Rossi sighed. "I don't know what to say sweetie.... People count on me. I have to work tonight."
"But what about me?" Missy demanded as the car pulled up in front of a brightly lit contemporary style home. "Why can't I count on you?"
It was a perfect exit line, calculated to hurt, and delivered at exactly the right moment. The passenger side door swung open allowing cold air to rush in and remain there long after Missy was gone. Rossi knew the interchange had been fueled by pre-teen angst, and knew Missy could be manipulative, but it hurt nonetheless. The agent waited for her daughter to put her key in the lock, saw a rectangle of buttery light appear, and caught a glimpse of Vanessa's perfect profile as the door closed. There would be tears. Vanessa would handle the problems created by Rossi's last-minute cancellation with the aplomb of a social secretary, and Ed would shake his head in perpetual disgust.
Everything had gone well for the first few years of her marriage to Ed, but later on, when their finances began to improve, the software engineer started to look at Rossi's job like he would a competitor, something that: stole time away from both him and their daughter. A perspective eventually upheld by the courts. When Rossi returned from a long undercover assignment, Ed had filed for divorce and wanted custody of their daughter--a battle he ultimately won.
Tears trickled down the agent's cheeks as she pulled away, and aimed the Maxima toward home and a refrigerator full of little girl treats. Her shift would start in a little less than two hours, just enough time to take a shower, get dressed, and do something about the redness in her eyes. An eighteen-year -old Santa waved from the parking lot next to a pizza joint, and a sign wished her a "Merry Christmas," as the rain continued to fall.
Even though the streets were lit, and lights remained on in some of the surrounding buildings, most of the University of Washington campus was dark. Evergreen trees threw heavy shadows onto the ground, dimly lit walkways threaded their way between boxy halls made out of brick, and tendrils of steam twisted up out of gratings. Most of the people who passed the darkened doorway were in a hurry to get back to their dorms, meet friends for dinner, or head home for the holidays.
And, as Americo Lopa watched from the shadows, he felt nothing but contempt for the people who passed by him. Because rather than question the crap they were taught, the sheeple bought the capitalistic bullshit that the university handed down to them, and couldn't wait to begin their lives of privilege, lives in which they and their fellow elites would consume eighty percent of the world's quickly dwindling resources while lots of other people starved. And Lopa knew they would continue to do so until someone found a way to stop them.
Not just one person, but thousands of people, all operating in small self-directed cells, bound together by a set of common beliefs and striking at targets of opportunity. And there wasn't a goddamned thing that the FBI assholes sitting in the Crown Victoria up the street could do about it! The thought made the eco-terrorist grin. The Motorola Talkabout 200 fit in the palm of his hand. He thumbed the transmit button. "We're good to go. Execute." There was a double-click by way of reply and the sanction was underway.
The late-model sedan was parked in the turn-out opposite Rigg Hall on the University of Washington campus. Both of the agents who were seated in it would have preferred to be home with their families.
"But experiments never go home." That's what Professor Posada liked to say, and if the Earth Liberation Army (ELA) had a list of targets, the biological geneticist was somewhere towards the top of it. Because thanks to his work, third-world farmers were laying waste to primordial forests so they could grow more crops and trade them for the products that the big conglomerates wanted to sell them. Not only that, but it was a well-known fact that deforestation leads to global warming, which was getting worse with each passing year. So, if the terrorists could intimidate Posada, they could instill fear in his peers as well. And that would slow the process down.
Proof that Posada had been targeted could be seen in the graffiti that had been spray painted onto the hood of his car, the threatening voicemail that greeted the geneticist when he went to pick up his messages, and the spooky letters that appeared on his doorstep--all items that the FBI's ECODOOM team considered to be prime indicators of a potential attack. And that was why Special Agent Mike Enger and Special Agent Paul Nealy were sitting in an unmarked car waiting for their shift to end.
Nealy, who was seated behind the wheel, restarted the engine, set the fan to high, and pushed his feet in under a vent as the rain turned to snow. The flakes fell slowly, as if reluctant to end their brief lives on the gradually warming windshield. The wiper blades made a squeaking sound as they swept the moisture away. Nealy fiddled with the multifunction control, reset the interval, and leaned back in his seat. "So, Rossi is taking Qwan's shift."
"Yeah, that's what I heard."
"Kissler's lucky.... I wouldn't mind pulling a shift with Rossi. How long has she been divorced anyway? I'll bet she's pretty damned horny by now."
"Nobody is horny enough to go to bed with you," Enger replied. "Besides, Rossi isn't...."
Whatever Enger was going to say was lost as a young man rapped on the passenger-side window. He had approached the car from behind and Enger chastised himself for having missed it. The student, because that's what he appeared to be, wore a knit cap, a bulky REI parka, and a backpack. He smiled engagingly.
The agent touched a button in the armrest, waited for the window to whine down, and looked up into Larry Shaw's face. "Yes? Can I help your
"Yes, you sure as hell can," Shaw answered, bringing his father's .38 Special up over the edge of window. "You can fucking die." The first bullet missed Nealy by an inch, the second struck him in the temple, and the third took him in the mouth.
Enger was reaching for his weapon by then, but he was seated, and the 10mm Glock was trapped under his jacket. He thought about his wife as the gun barrel swung his way, wished there had been an opportunity to say goodbye, and saw a spark of light. Shaw watched the FBI agent jerk as the bullet slammed into his torso. He pulled the trigger again and felt a sudden rush. Was it the act itself? Or the cocaine? It hardly mattered.
Shaw's body hid the muzzle flashes and the sedan's interior muffled most of the sound. He straightened, took a look around, and turned back to the car as if speaking with the occupants. Pedestrians, those close enough to hear, saw the pantomime, and kept on walking. Having heard no hue and cry Shaw spit on Enger's corpse, stuck the weapon into his pocket, and turned away.
Meanwhile, inside Rigg Hall, a grad student named Helmut Kossel heard the doorbell ring and went to the door. A girl's face was framed by the tiny window. She had blue eyes and pretty features. Kossel touched a white button and spoke into the metal grill. "Yes?"
Marci McDonnel locked eyes with the sandy-haired grad student, knew he was heterosexual from the way he looked back at her, and amped the charm. "Sorry to bother you, but I left my lab notes in room 110, and I need them for a final."
Kossel was doubtful but the girl was pretty and appeared harmless. "Okay, but make it fast, because I'm not supposed to let anyone in after 5:00 p.m." Kossel turned the knob, pushed the door open, and felt a blast of cold air as the girl entered. She was dressed in an oversized coat and looked bigger than Kossel had imagined she would. Her right arm hung straight down along her side but came up as she turned, and the grad student saw the gun in her hand. The door made a thud as it closed and the pistol sounded like a cannon as it went off within the enclosed space. The .22 caliber slugs didn't pack much wallop, but at close range they were quite effective, and Kossel went down.
McDonnel opened the door for Greg Aspee. He wore a knit cap pulled down over his ears and an oversized navy pea coat, and carried a 1.5 liter container of gasoline in each hand. He looked down, met Kossel's eyes for a fraction of a second, and stepped over his body. Blood stained the front of the grad student's shirt and Aspee felt lightheaded.
McDonnel looked for Shaw, saw him coming down the path, and waved him inside. He was high, very high, and wrapped her in a clumsy embrace. The plastic bottles hidden beneath their clothing made it impossible to get very close. The blonde pushed Shaw away. "Did you take care of it?"
"Hell, yes.... You should'a seen the inside of that car! There was blood everywhere."
"That's good," McDonnel told him, "real good. Now, did you reload your gun like I told you to?"
Shaw looked embarrassed, pulled the weapon out of his pocket, and released the cylinder latch. "Sorry, Marci, I forgot."
"No problem, honey," the young woman said soothingly as she broke the old High Standard .22 open and carelessly spilled three empties plus six unspent rounds out onto the floor. "Let's reload and go find Posada. Then, after we kill him, we'll go see my sister."
Shaw nodded, fumbled more shells into his weapon, and flipped the cylinder closed just like he'd seen detectives do in the movies. He nodded to Kossel, and said, "Hey, man" as he stepped over the graduate student and walked down the hall.
The bullets had entered Kossler's abdomen within inches of each other but his entire belly had begun to hurt. The darkness was starting to gather by then, and it took everything the grad student had to remove the cell phone from his shirt pocket and thumb 911. Finally, after what seemed like an hour but was actually a couple of seconds a woman answered. Kossler managed to say, "U-dub campus ... Rigg Hall ... they shot me," before he lost consciousness.
Posada had his eye glued to a microscope as the terrorists entered his lab. He assumed the footsteps belonged to Kossel and spoke without looking up. "Hey, Helmut, take a look at this.... "Both McDonnel and Shaw brought their weapons up and opened fire. Posada jerked spasmodically, glassware shattered, and a .22 slug made a neat little hole in the flat-panel display on the far side of the room. The researcher slumped to the floor.
"All right," McDonnel said grimly, "wet the place down."
Aspee stood with gas cans in hand staring down at Posadas bloody corpse. A look of revulsion appeared on his face. His cheeks started to bulge and he threw up. The three of them had shared a special celebratory dinner four hours earlier and his share splattered all over the floor. McDonnel made a face. "That was gross, Greg. Okay, Larry, it's up to us. Grab a can and let's get going."
The terrorists slopped gasoline over the countertops, and poured the liquid into file cabinets and onto the lab's computer equipment. "All right," McDonnel said, as sirens sounded in the distance. "Time to get out of here. Greg, are you ready?"
Aspee looked pale but determined. He nodded stiffly, lit a kitchen match, and tossed it into the middle of the room. There was a loud "whump!" followed by a wave of heat. The threesome backed out of the room.
The building's sprinkler system came on, but it didn't really matter, since the group had already accomplished what they came for. The first stage of the operation was complete. The second was about to start.