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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.
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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.