The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Nine

On to the next chapter.

I am posting The Pericles Conspiracy for all y’all to read here on the blog.  Two chapters per week.  Given there are 63 chapters in the book,  if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter 9 – Dangerous Knowledge

They sat in silence for several minutes after the video ended.  The enormity of what he had just seen weighed on Jeremy’s mind like a cinderblock around the ankles of a mob drowning victim.  Finally, Ngubwe leaned forward over the table and broke the silence, speaking softly enough that his words barely made it to Jeremy’s ears.

“Their ship was adrift.  Crippled.  They managed to escape before it blew and made it over to us in a lifepod.  When they came aboard, they realized they couldn’t survive on Pericles long.  Our gravitation and atmosphere were too different from theirs.  So they gave us their eggs, a map of where to take them, and a message to explain what happened to their crew.  And they paid us, with technical schematics and the mathematical means to translate them.  Then they got back in their lifepod and blew it up, so they could die with dignity.”

Somehow Jeremy figured the aliens’ thought processes weren’t exactly as Ngubwe presented them, but he didn’t press the matter.

“This is unbelievable!  Why wasn’t anyone told about this?  It’s…  It’s the biggest thing since…”

“It’s the biggest thing ever,” Ngubwe finished for him.

He was right.  A couple dozen colonized worlds and a hundred or so more that were at best marginal for sustaining human life had revealed a plethora of exotic flora and fauna, but no creatures that could be said to even come close to human intelligence.  A few could give a great ape a run for its money, or a dolphin, but most were no more brainy than the average rabbit hopping down the bunny trail.  Or whatever they really do.  To actually meet intelligent beings, and beings who clearly were more advanced than humanity was…to say it was historic would be to say that the odds of surviving a fall from ten thousand meters were unfavorable.  Which made it even more confusing that no one had been told about it.

“Then why…?”

“There is much more to tell, but we cannot talk about it here.  Too many eyes and ears.”

“Well great, let’s get out of here.”

Ngubwe shook his head.  “The people you need to meet are otherwise engaged tonight.  Meet me tomorrow night, same time, at the train yards near the launch facility.”

Jeremy highly doubted the other people were actually unavailable.  More likely Ngubwe and his compatriots had planned this first meeting to size him up and try to determine if he was on the level before deciding to trust him fully.  It was not so unusual.  During the Grynmoor corruption investigation, his primary source had required three separate meetings over the span of a month before he would even begin to give Jeremy the first hints of how deep the scandal went.  Compared with that story, this was proceeding at light speed, and with a lot less expense.  Jeremy nodded agreement.

Ngubwe pushed himself to the end of the booth seat nearest the curtain and peaked out the curtain.  Apparently satisfied, he took back the televid player and the bug jammer.  He moved his thumb over the control switch, then paused, looking at Jeremy with serious eyes.

“Be very careful, Mr. Reynolds.  This is a more dangerous game than you know.  You are probably being followed already.  If not, you should assume that you will be, and take precautions.  There are people who will go to great lengths to stop this information from becoming common knowledge.”

Jeremy nodded, not bothering to remind Ngubwe that he was a professional, and knew what he was doing.  Besides, he was a journalist, and that afforded him a lot of legal protection.  Ngubwe wouldn’t appreciate hearing that, though.  He clearly had faced a lot of heat, otherwise why fake his own death?  Jeremy could understand him being a bit paranoid.

Ngubwe returned the nod.  “Until tomorrow night, then.”  With that, he turned off the bug jammer and slipped through the curtain.

 *  *  *  *  *

Jeremy remained in the booth for a long time, his thoughts racing.  He had known there was something big hiding in the shadows, but this?  This was not the story of the year, it was the story of the millennium!  The Pulitzer would not be enough to express how important this story was, and he had the exclusive scoop.

How the hell had no one else thought to look into this before him?  Granted, Pericles’ arrival drama was not broadcast extensively back when it happened, but it had been two years.  Jeremy could hardly believe his luck.

He needed to call Lou, and let him know this was not a wild goose chase.  Maybe he would be less pissed when he heard that.

Jeremy tapped his thumb and ring fingers together, and his contact list appeared in his vision: a vertical list of names, complete with a thumbnail picture of the person’s face beside each, and a blinking cursor next to the first one.  Flicking his index finger along his thumb caused the cursor to scroll down the list, until it stopped next to Lou.

Jeremy hesitated, suddenly unsure what to tell him.  This was not the sort of thing to just go blurting out on the phone, even if Ngubwe was wrong.  But especially if he was right.  Again he cursed the bug jammer.  If he had been able to make a good recording, he could mail the video and audio to Lou as evidence.  But without that…

Jeremy shook his head and stood up from the booth seat.  He would call Lou tomorrow night, after the next meeting with Ngubwe.

The upstairs area was more crowded than it had been, to Jeremy’s surprise.  Then he noted the time and realized with surprise that it had been well over an hour since he slipped into the booth for the meeting.  It had not felt that long.

Jeremy’s thoughts were still wandering as he descended the spiral staircase.  He did not even notice the woman near the bottom of the stairs until she bumped into him, spilling her drink all down the front of his shirt.

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” she exclaimed, a look of surprise that quickly turned to embarrassment on her face.  She had a cocktail napkin in her hand, and began dabbing at the fluid that was running down his torso.

Jeremy gently pushed her hands away, grimacing in annoyance from the unexpected wetness and cold.  “It’s ok, really.”

“I’m such a klutz,” she said, still looking and sounding distressed.  “Let me make it up to you.”

It suddenly registered with Jeremy that the woman was a knock-out.  Tall, only slightly shorter than he was, with lightly tanned skin, wavy dark brown hair past her shoulders, a slender and firm figure that was accentuated nicely by her dress, legs that never quit, a lovely heart-shaped face, and stunning eyes that sucked him in.  Despite his annoyance at her clumsiness, he felt an instant attraction.

“It’s really ok, miss…” he let the sentence fade away into a question.

“Oh.  I’m Jaqueline, but my friends all call me Jackie.”

He shook her hand in greeting and was pleased to find her grip was firm, confident.  “Jeremy.  Jeremy Reynolds.”

“Are you sure I can’t make it up to you?  How about I buy you a drink?”

Any other time, Jeremy would leap at the offer, but he needed to collect his thoughts.  Besides, tomorrow promised to be one hell of a day.  He shook his head.

“Sorry, I’ve got work, but maybe…”

Jackie snorted, a teasing smile appearing on her face.  “All work and no play makes Jeremy a dull boy,” she quipped.  “Come on, just one drink.  I promise I won’t bite.  Hard.”

She was a little minx, wasn’t she?  Oh what the hell.  It’s not like he was going to write any of his story right then and there, or in the morning.  Grinning, he nodded.

“Ok, one drink.  But first you need to find me a bigger napkin.”

Jackie laughed and, grasping his hand, led him toward the bar.  It was shaping up to be one hell of a night, indeed.

 *  *  *  *  *

Jeremy did not register much about the ride back to Jackie’s place, except for her.  The ride could have lasted for minutes or hours.  Almost as soon as they shut the cab doors and entered the destination address, she was on him.  Deep forceful kisses the likes of which he hadn’t experienced in years.  Freely roaming hands.  Jackie teased him with a flash of skin, but when he tried for more, she demurred, gesturing to the cab’s security cameras.  By the time they arrived, he was mad with desire, ready to burst his pants.

Jackie’s flat was on the twelfth floor.  They kissed and groped each other the entire way up the lift, then down the hall to her door.

They spilled into her flat, and he pressed her against the wall.  As the door slid shut behind them, he cupped her breasts gently and moved his kisses to her neck.  She moaned softly, and he found the zipper at the back of her dress.  A quick tug, and the zipper came undone, allowing her dress to fall to the floor.

Jeremy backed away a half-step to take in the view.

She wore no bra.  Her breasts were perfection: B-cups, with small, perky nipples.  She wore a black thong, with a barely translucent front that hinted at what was there without revealing too much.  For a short moment, he just looked at her, thinking he had to be dreaming.  She was far and away the best-looking woman he had ever been with.

Then, with a grin, he bent over and took her nipple into his mouth.  She gasped, then moaned again, running her hands through his hair and holding his head in place.  After a long few minutes, he moved to the other breast, but she pushed him backwards.

He stumbled, landing on the couch he hadn’t even noticed when they came in.  Slowly she stepped out of her panties, revealing a short landing strip of brown hair between her legs.

Then she bounded forward and landed on top of him.  Her fierce kiss pressed him back against the couch, and she tore open his shirt, not even bothering with the buttons.  She worked down his neck with kisses, then to his chest.  She lingered on his nipples, giving them little flicks with her tongue while she moved her hands down and began rubbing him through his pants.  Now it was his turn to moan.

A heartbeat later, she was kissing his belly while undoing his belt.  Then she pulled his pants and boxers down to his knees.  Gentle caresses of his member had him gasping.  Then she took him into her mouth, and it was all he could do not to explode right then.  The things she was doing with her tongue!

After what seemed an eternity, she slowly came up for air.  He shuddered with pleasure as her lips dragged over the tip.  She grinned at him, swirling her tongue around his member and getting yet another moan in response.  He wasn’t going to last if she kept this up much longer.

“Are you ready?” she asked in a sultry tone.

He nodded eagerly, and she gave the tip of his penis a little kiss.  Then her gaze moved from his face to something behind him, and she nodded.

Suddenly a gloved hand clamped over his mouth, and he felt cold metal press against the side of his neck.  Ecstasy turned to panic in a heartbeat.  He saw Jackie back away then he felt a burning line draw across his throat.

His hands went reflexively to the wound, but his lifeblood spurted out regardless.  He flailed on the couch, but couldn’t move far with his legs entangled as they were.  He tried to cough as blood began filling his lungs, but was unable to manage it.

Why?

He mouthed the word as the room began to grow dim, the sounds incomprehensible.  He could vaguely make out Jackie calmly getting dressed and speaking to someone out of view.

Then everything went black.

*  *  *  *  *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Eight

I’m a bit late on this one, and for that I apologize.  What can I say?  We’re buying a house, and the last week has been pretty exciting.  Not as exciting as next month will be (we close on 20 November and then the annoyance of moving begins).  But exciting nonetheless.

Ahem.

Anyway.  I am posting The Pericles Conspiracy for all y’all to read here on the blog.  Two chapters per week.  Given there are 63 chapters in the book,  if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter 8 – La Casa Blanca

Another bar in Quito.

This one, La Casa Blanca, actually was an old white house in the southwestern suburbs of the city.  It was a charming construction, two stories tall with a wide wrap-around porch.  But when Jeremy stepped inside, the quaint charm was replaced by the usual modern accouterments.  The first floor had obviously been gutted to make room for the large bar in the middle of the room, and the booths lining every wall.  Swinging doors in the back no doubt led into the kitchen, and there was a spiral staircase leading upstairs to Jeremy’s right.

Even though it was a Sunday night, the place was bustling.  Every stool at the bar was filled, and several groups of patrons dressed in club attire stood around talking.  Waitresses moved through the crowd with practiced ease, balancing trays full of drinks or food over their heads as they made their way to the orders’ destinations.  Loud music, the kind with a heavy beat but not much in the way of melody, pumped out of speakers in the walls, and a few couples were dancing off to the left on a small dance floor.

Jeremy grinned.  This was his kind of place.

He arrived in Quito early Thursday morning, having flown through the night.  Bad turbulence prevented him from getting much sleep on the plane, but he had long since learned that the secret to adjusting to a new location or time zone after a long plane flight was to just stay up until normal bed time at wherever he found himself.  It made for a long and tiring day, but it did the trick.

All the same, he was just as happy to not receive word from his contact with the broad nose until this morning.  Jeremy had not gone out of the way to announce his presence in town, but he had not exactly hidden it either.  It was partly a test, to see if this guy was as good at ferreting out information as he seemed to be, but also a ploy to hopefully allow Jeremy time to rest before getting down to business.  It worked in both respects.

The note left at the front desk of his hotel was plain enough to not arouse suspicion, but sent a clear message.  Meet the contact here at 2330, in an upstairs booth in the back corner.

Jeremy mounted the spiral stairs and made his way to the second level.

It was quite different up here.  The beat from the music below thumped up through the floor, but the background noise was quite a bit softer, allowing people to talk without having to shout to be heard.  The lighting was lower, more intimate.  Tables were set up all around the floor, with lit candles in the center of each.  Ringing the room were booths that were separated from each other by high wooden walls that stretched nearly to the ceiling.  Each booth area had a narrow entryway and a curtain that could be drawn, blocking out the rest of the room.

It was easy to see why his contact had chosen to meet here.

Jeremy made his way through the crowd, noticeably more sparse than the one downstairs, and toward the back.  Several of the booths had their curtains drawn, but one in the right hand corner in back was partially open.  Through the gap in the curtains, Jeremy saw a figure sitting there, waiting.  This must be it.

Taking a deep breath, Jeremy slipped into the booth and pulled the curtain closed.

The booth was gloomy, the candle on the table having been extinguished.  The man across from him was tall, lean, with dark skin and short black hair.  He was dressed simply, but his collared shirt was freshly pressed and seemed to be made of high quality fabric.

The contact nodded in greeting as Jeremy got settled, then pulled a small device out of his pocket, set it on the table, and pressed a small button on its top.  Jeremy had seen that sort of thing before: a bug jammer.  It would disrupt any electronic listening devices in the immediate area.  And make the voice and video recording functions in Jeremy’s database implant useless.

The man obviously saw the look of chagrin on Jeremy’s face, as he chuckled softly.  “Sorry for the inconvenience, Mr. Reynolds, but I can’t take the chance that you’re bugged.  And I don’t want any records of this meeting, even if they’re kept by someone as trustworthy as yourself.”

Jeremy thought he heard a hint of irony in the man’s voice, there at the end.

“You have some information for me?”

The man nodded.  “I was hoping to not have to meet you face to face.  If things had gone differently…” He cut himself off with a rueful shake of his head, “But then I suppose we both underestimated how stubborn Jo can be.”

The familiar way the man spoke piqued Jeremy’s curiosity.  “Ishikawa?  I’ve met far tougher than her.”

“Don’t be so sure, Mr. Reynolds.  She can be quite surprising.”

“You talk as though you know her.”

The man grinned, white teeth shining plainly in the gloom.  “I know her better than most.  In some ways, better than she knows herself.”

Jeremy shrugged noncommittally, and waited for the man to get to the point.

A soft chuckle said the man understood Jeremy’s silence.  He fished into another pocket and pulled out a portable televid unit, with a set of wired earbuds plugged into it.  Setting it on the table, he pushed it across to Jeremy.  “You’ll want to have a look at that.”

Curious, Jeremy put the earbuds into his ears, then picked up the device and pressed play.

 *  *  *  *  *

The video was obviously filmed on a hand-held, since the image bounced around periodically, but it clearly showed a half-ring of five people, all dressed in the light blue coveralls that starliner crews wear when underway, armed with slugthrowers and a pair of plasma rifles, facing a pressure door, with a sixth, a woman, standing ahead of the others.

“Alison, are you filming?”  Jeremy recognized Captain Ishikawa’s voice, and when the woman in front turned her head to look at the person filming, it was clearly her.

“Yes,” answered a woman whose voice he didn’t recognize, but he reasoned she must be Alison Hersch.

“Alright.  Malcolm, open the hatch.”

The camera moved over to a tall dark-skinned man as he pressed his hand against the door controls.  Jeremy blinked and pushed pause, his eyes flickering up to the man across the booth from him, the same man who was on the video.  The same man who had been cremated a year and a half ago.

“Malcolm Ngubwe?” he breathed.

Ngubwe nodded, and Jeremy felt a shiver go up his spine.  He pushed play again, and looked back at the televid.

The pressure door slid open, and Jeremy realized it was an airlock.  He should have realized that from the start…

His breath caught in his throat.  What the hell was this he was watching?  This couldn’t be real, could it?

On the video, four creatures, dressed in loose grey jumpsuits, waited in the airlock.  They were short, powerfully built, and not human.  They stood hunched on two legs, and had two arms, but there the resemblance to humans ended.  Even though they wore breathing masks, Jeremy could see they had features that made them look like cats: long snouts with sharp teeth and peaked ears atop their heads, short tails between their legs.  But they weren’t furry; instead their yellow-orange skin, streaked with green, shimmered as the creatures moved.  Were they scaled, was that it?

Captain Ishikawa said, “Welcome Aboard”, and one of the aliens…they could only be aliens…moved it’s hand.

Someone shouted, “OH JESUS!” and the distinctive sound of a plasma rifle being fired rang out.

The alien that had moved was struck and collapsed back into the bulkhead.  The video swung erratically as shouts ensued, along with a pair of menacing roars.  It was hard to see what was going on.

He heard Captain Ishikawa scream, “NO!  Stop!”

The video stabilized and centered on Captain Ishikawa, one of the aliens gripping her by her throat as it held her a quarter of a meter off the deck.  Its free hand was drawn back to strike, and Jeremy could see vicious-looking claws protruding from the tips of its fingers.

“Don’t shoot,” ordered Captain Ishikawa in a strangled tone as she waved for her people to stand down.

The video panned over to show a man Jeremy recognized as Carlton Hersch slowly lowering a slugthrower.  Past him, Ngubwe had another crewmember pinned to the floor in a submission hold, a discarded plasma rifle lying on the deck nearby.

The video moved back to Captain Ishikawa, and showed the alien peering at her closely, then looking around at the other humans, particularly Ngubwe and the man he had pinned.  Then, with a barking sound, it released her and retreated a step.  She slumped, clutching at her throat and coughing, but waved away an offer of support from Hersch.

The next several minutes on the video showed the aliens tending to their wounded comrade and helping him…it?…back through the airlock door, presumably to their ship.  Then two more aliens walked in, pushing a large black device that hovered in the air.  Hovered!  How the hell did that work?

The same alien who had earlier almost killed Captain Ishikawa now gestured for her to join it next to the device.  She did, with obvious caution.  The alien spent a moment showing her something on the side of the machine, some sort of control panel, Jeremy presumed, as it slowly lowered to the deck, then hovered, then lowered again as the alien touched different places.

The camera holder moved to get a better angle, and Jeremy was able to see that the device was topped by a transparent cover that appeared frosted over.  The alien made a vocalization that was a mixture of a hiss and a bark and pressed something else on the controls.  The cover cracked open, and fog that resembled melting dry ice issued from the device.

The alien opened the cover more fully and pulled out a small object.  A bit larger than a baseball, it was leathery, orange-green in color, and wrinkled.  The alien cradled the object close to its body and gave it a long, lingering, and strangely gentle caress.  Then, looking at Captain Ishikawa, the alien pressed its free hand to its belly.

Alison Hersch spoke, sounding almost shocked.  “An egg,” she said.  Jeremy heard at least one other crewmember gasp.

The alien replaced the egg into the device and closed the lid, which immediately frosted over again.  Then it pulled a long black device out from behind its belt.  It showed the device to Captain Ishikawa for a moment, then pressed it.  A three-dimensional image appeared in the air above the device.

Was that a hologram?  Amazing!

Whatever it was, the image was clearly a star chart.  It showed a flashing green dot, and a curved yellow line going to a small star not far away.  The alien pointed at the small star and a second line, this one blue, appeared, going from that star to a larger star system, quite a bit further away.  Then the alien pointed at Captain Ishikawa, laid its hand on the large device with the eggs, and finally pointed at the larger star system.

Captain Ishikawa shook her head.  “Sir, we can’t…”

The alien cut her off with a mixture of a growl and a whistle.  Then it pointed again from her to the egg machine to the star.  Captain Ishikawa sighed, and nodded.

Jeremy couldn’t believe what he was seeing.  Had the alien just asked Captain Ishikawa to take its eggs back to its star system?  Why?

On the video, the alien touched the device in its hand again, and the star chart disappeared, replaced by an image of that same alien, their Captain presumably, talking in its alien language of barks, hisses, growls, and whistles.  The alien only let the video go on for a short time before bringing up the star chart again and pointing at the distant star system.  That had to be a message for the aliens’ brethren back home.

The alien pressed the device again, and a single dot appeared, with a strange symbol next to it.  Then two dots appeared next to a different symbol.  Then three, four, all the way up to eight.  Then the symbols reappeared in various combinations, along with other, new symbols.  Finally what looked like an entire page of alien symbols appeared.  The alien waved its hand through the page and another page appeared.  Then another.  And another.

On the video, Jeremy heard Ngubwe’s voice, speaking in hushed awe.  “It’s their mathematics.”

The image in the air blinked out, and the alien pointed first at the device in his hand then, slowly, to each human crewmember in the room, even the man Ngubwe held pinned to the floor.  Then it held the device out to Captain Ishikawa, who took it with an expression of trepidation.

The alien then made another hiss-bark, and its only remaining companion turned and walked back into the airlock.  Once its companion was gone, the alien made a strange hand gesture and inclined its head to Captain Ishikawa,  Then it, too, turned and walked out of the airlock.

Jeremy heard a man’s voice asking, “Where’s he going?”

Then the video stopped.

Jeremy pulled the earbuds out of his ears, and they fell limply onto the table.  Was what he just saw real?  He looked up at Ngubwe, who stared at him with an earnest expression, and said the only thing he could think to say.

“Holy shit.”

*  *  *  *  *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Seven

I am posting The Pericles Conspiracy for all y’all to read here on the blog.  Two chapters per week.  Given there are 63 chapters in the book,  if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter 7 – Discovery

Jeremy stalked into his apartment and flung his coat onto the couch, impotent frustration lending extra force to the toss.  The last two weeks had yielded nothing.  His new assignment was a complete joke, and he suspected Lou knew it.

He had gone into Lou’s office to present the data, certain that when he saw it, Lou would acquiesce and let him get back to the real story.  Photos, documents, even the report from the private detective Jeremy hired to tail Zuchov for over a week: not a one of them showed any contact with the girl in question.  Jeremy had even tracked her down, and if she was involved with a mob kingpin, that kingpin had strange taste in contacts.  He discovered her name was Chelsea Singletary.  She was a hair stylist at the salon Zuchov’s wife went to twice a month, and apparently was friends with Mrs. Zuchov, because they had tea together last Wednesday.

All of it pointed to a big, fat zero.  There was no story there, none.

But Lou merely scrolled through the pictures on his televid display, scanned the documents, and shrugged.  “Keep digging,” he said.

Keep digging!  Jeremy was digging his career straight into the crapper!  What the hell was Lou up to?  He had never been this obtuse before!

“Fuck it,” Jeremy said to himself as he pulled a beer out of the refrigerator in his kitchen.

Plopping down in his stuffed chair – its upholstery was faded and the seams were fraying in numerous places, but it was comfortable as hell – he popped open the beer and, with a wave of his hand, turned on the televid screen on his wall.  One of those silly cop shows was on.  Normally, Jeremy hated cop shows, but at that moment, he couldn’t bring himself to care.  For the next hour, he let his brain vegetate.  He downed the beer, then another, then started a third, hardly paying any attention to the program on the televid.  He just sat.

The electronic beeping of his doorbell intruded on his meditations, and he sat up in surprise.  It was a Tuesday night.  None of his friends typically did anything on Tuesdays, and he had made no plans.  Who was at his door?

Setting his beer down on his end table next to the two empties, he went over to the door and touched the security panel.  The video feed from the security camera outside the door sprang to life.  The hallway within the camera’s field of view was empty.

Was this some kind of joke?

Curious, Jeremy cracked the door open, then, still seeing nothing, opened it fully.  He looked both ways down the hallway, and aside from the doors of the neighboring apartments, the wall lamps and potted plants at intervals along the corridor, and a trash bin near the lift off to the left, there was nothing.  He was just about to close the door again when he looked down and saw a small package lying on the ground.

He picked it up and turned it over in his hands.  It was a box, about ten centimeters long, five wide, and made half a centimeter deep.  Jeremy gave it a shake.  Something rattled around inside.

He stepped back into his apartment, and the door shut behind him.  Settling back down in his chair, he found the seal and pulled the box open.  Upending it, a small black rectangle, made of metal, dropped out into his palm, along with an earbud that was connected to the rectangle by a cord, of all things.

Curious, he turned the rectangle over, and saw that on the other side were written instructions.  “Put the earbud in your ear and press this button.”  This was just becoming silly.  One of his friends was definitely pulling a prank on him.  But what the hell, he figured he could use a laugh.  With a grin, Jeremy put the earbud into his ear and pressed the button.

His smile faded as a garbled voice, clearly electronically disguised, began talking into his ear.

“Mr. Reynolds, it is very likely that your apartment is bugged, and you are being surveilled.  Do not react to what I am about to say.  When this playback is finished, the device is programmed to erase itself.  All the same, I would ask that you take precautions to more thoroughly dispose of it.”

There was a pause, and Jeremy, for a heartbeat, thought one last time that this had to be a prank.  But then the voice started up again, and he knew it was not.

“You’ve been asking about what happened aboard the Pericles.  If you wish to learn the truth, come to the Tavern on the Green at one o’clock, tonight.  Come alone, and wear a Yankees ballcap.  You will receive additional instructions there.”

The voice stopped, and a few seconds later, smoke began rising from the corners of the device.  The voice wasn’t kidding abut the thing erasing itself.

Jeremy glanced at the chronometer on the wall.  2230.  Then he looked over to his other wall, to all his Mets paraphernalia.  Why did the voice have to be a Yankees fan?  Oh well, no use griping.  If he hurried, he could probably find a store that sold a Yankees ballcap and make it to Central Park on time for the meeting.

Feeling energetic and excited for the first time in two weeks, Jeremy grabbed his jacket and headed out the door.

 *  *  *  *  *

The overcast sky precluded any moonlight, making Central Park especially dark, even with the snow on the ground.  Jeremy, feeling like an ass in his newly-acquired Yankees ballcap, crept down the path toward the Tavern on the Green.  He looked around carefully as he approached the famous restaurant, but didn’t see anything out of place.

As he stopped in front of the Tavern, he smirked.  He had never actually been inside the place.  Hell, he had never been this close to it, despite having lived in New York most of his life.  Funny how things work out.

He clicked on his chronometer display, tucked nicely at the lower left corner of his vision by the database implant.  Five minutes after one.  Whoever he was supposed to meet was late, and it was freaking cold.  Jeremy stomped his feet and crossed his arms over his chest to stay warm, his mood getting more foul by the minute.

The soft clump of boots striking pavement drew Jeremy’s gaze off to the left, where a shadowy figure walked down a path toward him.  That must be his guy.  Jeremy walked toward the person, who stopped when they were about two meters apart.

They looked at each other for a long moment.  For his part, Jeremy couldn’t make that much out about his contact.  He was medium height, and stocky, and was dressed in wool overcoat and fedora.  Those had made a comeback in the last few years, but still looked exceedingly old fashioned to Jeremy’s eyes.  Shadows from the hat partially concealed the man’s face, but Jeremy could tell he had a mustache and a wide nose.

“You left Quito too soon, Mr. Reynolds,” the man said, by way of introduction.  His voice was deep, and his accent had the sound of central asia.

“Is that so?”

The man nodded.  “I’m sorry you were disappointed in your interview with Captain Ishikawa, but did you really expect anything different?”

Jeremy frowned.  How did this guy know about that?  There were only a few other people in La Chupacabra that night, and Jeremy was sure he would remember if any of them resembled him.  This whole thing was beginning to make him a bit uneasy.  But then again, he had been in nervous situations before; that’s how you get the big story.

Jeremy shrugged and assumed a carefree smile.  “Never leave a stone unturned if you want the story.  You can never tell who’s going to give you the scoop.”

“Too true.  And have you had any better luck with the others?”

This was becoming annoying.  “I have one more couple to try.”

The man snorted.  “You’ll get no help from the Hersch’s.  They’ve drunk the Kool Aid more deeply than even Captain Ishikawa has.”

Jeremy rather doubted that.  “You’ll forgive me if I decide to find out for myself.”

“As you wish.  When you’re ready, come back to Quito.  My associate is eager to speak with you.”

The man turned and began to walk away.  Was that it?

“A lot of good your associate will do.  The only other person on that ship was Malcolm Ngubwe, and he’s dead.”

The man stopped and half-turned toward Jeremy.  It looked like he smirked, though it was hard to tell in the half-light.  “Is he?”

 *  *  *  *  *

Jeremy strode into Lou’s office, an excited grin on his face.

“I’ve got a source, Lou.”

Lou blinked in surprise, not so much that he had a source, but that Jeremy seemed to have regained his normal zeal for the job.  Well, there’s nothing like bringing down a crooked public official to do that.

“Good.  Zuchov’s clever, but arrogant.  I’m sure that…”

Jeremy sniffed and made a dismissive gesture.  “Yeah, whatever.  There’s nothing worth printing there.  I’m talking about my story.”

Oh no.  “Look, kid, I know the Zuchov story isn’t that exciting, but…”

Jeremy leaned over, resting his hands atop Lou’s desk.  “It’s not any kind of story at all, Lou, and you know it.”

Lou scowled and stood up.  “No, I don’t know it.  If I knew it, I wouldn’t need my best reporter on it, would I?  I don’t care if you don’t like the Zuchov story.  That’s the story you’ve been assigned, and I expect you to work it!”

Lou realized suddenly that he was raising his voice.  Through the windows to the main press room, he saw several sets of eyes turning toward the office, perplexed and curious.

Jeremy stepped back and shook his head.  “I’m flying to Quito tonight.  When I get back, I’ll have the story of the year.”

He turned to leave, but stopped when Lou replied.  “You walk out on this story, and you can forget about coming back to work here.”

Jeremy looked back at him, a bemused expression on his face.  “Are you threatening me, Lou?”  Shaking his head, he left the office, pushing the door shut behind him.

Son of a bitch.  Lou slumped into his chair and wiped his brow.  He was afraid this would happen.  Reynolds always had been impulsive.  Muttering to himself, Lou jabbed at the desk controls, and a moment later Julian’s face appeared on the display.

Sighing, Lou said, “We’ve got a problem.”

*  *  *  *  *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Six

I am posting The Pericles Conspiracy for all y’all to read here on the blog.  Two chapters per week.  Given there are 63 chapters in the book,  if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter 6 – Editorial Demands

Jeremy exhaled in consternation as he stepped through the doors to Star News’ headquarters.  Another dead end.  He spent the last week tracking down Sven Godenburg, one of Pericles’ two fourth-shift pilots, eventually tracking him to the McCallister branch office in Stockholm.  Godenburg had been as much a stone as the others to this point.  Jeremy had never seen a group so unwilling to talk, but that couldn’t last forever.

He figured to try Carlton and Alison Hersch next, in Boston, but he received an unexpected call from Lou Greenfield, his managing editor, telling him to get back to New York pronto.  So Jeremy dropped everything and took the redeye from Stockholm, just landing in Kennedy Airport this morning.

Jeremy hated long flights.  His equilibrium was all off, his internal clock shot to hell.  It was not going to be a fun day.

Lou’s office was in the back corner of the press room, past dozens of cubicles and a hundred or more people who were hard at work, scrambling around in seeming chaos.  Jeremy nearly knocked a young intern over as they both rounded a cubicle, and he jumped out of the way with an apology, earning a shy grin in response.  The girl walked off, and Jeremy paused for a moment, admiring the sway of her hips, and the way her slacks showed off her shapely, firm backside.  Maybe being summoned back to headquarters wasn’t so bad after all.

His reverie was broken by Lou’s gravelly voice.  “Stop ogling the interns and get in here, Reynolds!”

Jeremy gave a start and smiled ruefully, but paused before he turned fully, as the intern looked over her shoulder and gave him a much bigger, warmer smile.  He saw her fingers move, then a block of text appeared in his vision.  Supplied through the database implant, her name, Kelsey, appeared next to her head and below that, her voice, mail, and homepage contact data.  She mouthed “call me”, and then went back about her business.  Jeremy’s smile as he entered Lou’s office was genuinely cheerful.

“Hey Lou, what’s up?”

“Shut the door and have a seat.”

Uh-oh.  Lou hardly ever shut his office door, unless he was getting ready to chew some ass.  Jeremy thought hard as he sat down, but couldn’t come up with anything he’d screwed up lately.  He didn’t have long to remain puzzled, though.  Lou came around his desk and sat on the edge, facing Jeremy.

Just from looking at him, you could tell Lou was an old-time news man.  He had the look down pat: the wrinkled collared shirt with the ugly tie hanging loosely from his neck, the dark pants that were held up by suspenders, a deeply receding hairline, and even a bushy mustache that was more grey than brown.  Plus, piercing green eyes that fed straight into a finely-tuned bullshit detector.  Right now, they glimmered in a manner that made Jeremy want to squirm in his seat.

“You’ve been burning through a lot of travel money the last few weeks.”

Jeremy opened his mouth to speak.  Those expenses had all been approved…

But Lou beat him to it, continuing as he raised a calming hand.

“I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, especially if this thing you’re working on ends up being as good as the Grynmoor corruption piece.”

“Trust me, Lou.  It’s big.  Huge!  I’m talking Pulitzer Prize big.”

“Yeah, yeah.  Great.  What is it?”

Jeremy hesitated.  “I’m still working that out, but there’s a major cover-up going on.  I’d rather not say anything else until I have it more wrapped up.”

“Hmmph.  How many sources do you have?”

“Just one.  Anonymous.”

Lou threw up his hands.  “Then you don’t really have anything, do you?”  Shaking his head, Lou stood and walked back behind his desk.  “Sorry, kid, but I’m pulling you off this…whatever it is you’re working on.  I’ve got something else for you.”

Jeremy ground his teeth.  He hated when Lou called him kid, almost as much as he hated having his toes stepped on.  “Be reasonable, Lou.”

“I’ve been more than reasonable.  You’ve blown through how many thousands of credits chasing this thing, and you’ve got one anonymous source?  There’s nothing there, Jeremy, so drop it.”

“But…”

“No buts about it.  Here’s what I want you working on.”

Lou tapped his desk controls, and the display on the wall lit up with the image of an older man, married from the ring on his finger, with his arm draped over the shoulder of a very young and very buxom blonde.  She distinctly was not wearing a wedding ring.

“You’re pulling me off the biggest story of the year to investigate some schmuck who’s cheating on his wife?”

Lou grunted.  “He’s not just any schmuck.  He’s Vladimir Zuchov, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and she supposedly has strong mob connections.”

“Great.”  Jeremy stood up, his irritation growing by the second.  “This is bullshit, Lou, and you know it.”

“Sorry you feel that way, but that’s how it is.  Go get to it.”

Jeremy slammed the door behind him as he stormed out of the office.

 *  *  *  *  *

Lou watched the door slam shut and sat back in his chair, frowning.  Jeremy was right: this was bullshit.  But there wasn’t a whole lot he could do about it.  Orders were orders.

Sighing, he turned to his desk controls and tapped in the command to call his boss, Julian Deveraux, the owner and publisher of Star News.  It took a minute to get through Julian’s secretary, but soon enough his image appeared on the small display screen in Lou’s desk.

“Is it done?”

Lou nodded.

Julian sighed and leaned back in his chair, rubbing at his temples with his fingertips.  “How did he take it?”

“How do you think he took it?  He’s pissed off, and I don’t blame him!  What the hell is going on here, Julian?”

“You’re just going to have to trust me on this, Lou.  He’s about to ruffle some feathers, and I need you to hold him back for a little while, until I can work things out.”

What the hell did that mean?  Lou had been in the news business for over forty years, and had worked for Julian for twenty.  He had never seen Julian back down from a story before, not for anything or anyone.  The fact that he was doing so now was unsettling, to say the least.

“Jesus, Julian.  What the hell kind of feathers are we talking about here?”

“Just trust me, will you Lou?”  He both looked and sounded stressed out.  Something was seriously wrong, but Lou could tell he wasn’t going to say anything more.

“Ok, Julian.  I hope you can work it out soon, though.  It’s going to be hard to keep him reined in for long.”

Julian nodded.  “I know.  That’s why we love him.  Do your best.”

The display went blank, and Lou leaned back in his chair.  He clasped his hands behind his head and his thoughts raced.  For the life of him, he couldn’t figure what the hell was going on.

 *  *  *  *  *

Jeremy lay awake long into the night, staring up at the ceiling of his tiny bedroom as his thoughts wandered.  Normally, he would have been asleep by now, especially after the workout Kelsey gave him.  He glanced to his left, where she was already asleep, nuzzled up to him with a contented smile on her face, and couldn’t help but smiling faintly himself.

But the smile didn’t last, as even having a hot, nubile young intern in his bed didn’t ease the consternation Jeremy felt over his re-assignment.

Jeremy muttered, “Fucking Lou,” but must have done so more loudly than he thought, because Kelsey stirred and opened her eyes.  She looked up at him sleepily, and leaned over to kiss him lightly.

“You ok, handsome?” she asked, and he shrugged.

“Yeah, fine.”

Kelsey frowned, and Jeremy knew his annoyance was showing.  Sighing, he spoke again.

“It’s just Lou.  It still pisses me off, that’s all.”

“Well, you’re the best investigator he’s got, right?”

Jeremy nodded.

“So maybe he thinks this is really important, too important for anyone but his best.  I’d be flattered, if I were you.”

She wasn’t serious, was she?  But from the earnest expression on her face, Jeremy could tell she was.  Ah, to be a naive intern again.  He smiled and kissed her on the cheek.  In spite of himself, he felt a little bit better from her trite attempt to encourage him.

“Thanks, Kelsey,” he said.  “That actually makes me feel a bit better.”

She beamed, then gasped softly.  “I just thought of something!  I could help you with the story!”

Jeremy shook his head.  “No.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re an intern.  Interns do paperwork around the office.  They don’t come out on tricky investigations.”

Kelsey’s smile faded, replaced by a scowl.  Without warning, she threw the covers off and got out of bed.  Jeremy, perplexed, wasn’t going to complain about the view as she bent over to snatch up her undergarments.  Moving in the abrupt manner that broadcasts a woman is furious, she donned her panties and jeans.

“You are an asshole, Jeremy Reynolds,” she snarled.  The sway of her breasts as she bent over again to pick up her bra and shirt took some of the sting out of those words, but not much.  What the hell was going on here?  Quickly fastening her bra, Kelsey pulled her shirt over her head and stomped into her boots.  “I let you fuck me!  The least you could do is let me in on your story!”

Jeremy, shocked, watched in silence as she snatched up her coat and stormed out of his bedroom.  A moment later, he heard his front door slam.

He shook his head, then burst out laughing.  That was the most ridiculous thing he had ever seen!  Lou’s antics forgotten, at least for the moment, Jeremy slumped back into his pillow.  He fell asleep to the sound of his own guffaws.

*  *  *  *  *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.