It’s been a while. A lot’s gone on in real life that distracted me, so we left Jo cooling her heels with Agent Calderon for perhaps a little bit longer than we meant to.
Sorry about that.
But now things are (mostly) settled in the Kingswood household and I’m starting to sort of figure out a routine. So I’m getting back on track again. Which means it’s time for the next chapter of the story.
The room was moderate sized, not that much smaller than the bedroom in her condo. It was sparsely furnished with a single table in the center of the room that had two chairs facing each other and another, smaller, table off in the corner. The wall next to the second table was clearly a console of some sort, but it was dead and resisted any of Jo’s attempts to turn it on. The walls were bare and painted white, as was the single door in one of the corners. Jo could not see any video or listening devices, but she had no doubt there were several present. This was an interrogation room, after all. Or so she assumed.
Agent Calderon had been polite, but firm, the entire drive to NSA’s Quito field office. He never laid a hand on her, though he made it clear without saying it that things would go badly for her if she did not do exactly as he ordered. Despite the unspoken threat, Jo could not bring herself to be afraid of physical harm. He was a federal officer, after all, and they did have rules.
She followed him into the field office and, when he directed her through a nondescript door on the second floor, she entered without question. And found herself locked in this room. Alone.
By the chronometer on her wrist, that was two hours ago.
Her initial nervousness, her worry over what the NSA knew or suspected and how much trouble she was in, had long since given way to irritation, then annoyance, then anger. Not to mention a steadily worsening need for the bathroom. If someone did not show up soon, there was really going to be hell to pay!
No sooner had that thought crossed through Jo’s head when she heard the click of the door lock retracting. Then the door swung open and Agent Moore walked in. Dressed in a stylish pants suit that was elegant in its simplicity, the NSA agent paused just inside the door and looked Jo over for a moment.
“Please take a seat, Captain,” Agent Moore said, her tone polite and businesslike. Then she sat down herself and placed her briefcase onto the table.
There was no point in making a fuss, so Jo sat down as instructed.
The two women sat in silence for a long moment. Jo’s anger faded a bit, replaced by a slowly growing amusement. Did this girl really think that silence was going to intimidate her? Memories of her father – dead for almost ten waking years now – and the discipline he taught flashed through her mind, and it was all Jo could do not to laugh. This lady had no idea what it was to embrace silence, to commune with one’s own subconscious for hours. Agent Moore had another thing coming if she thought a little silence and a weak stare-down was going to intimidate her.
After a short while, Agent Moore cleared her throat and flipped open the latches to her briefcase. “I must say, Captain, I’m very disappointed.”
“Well you bought the suit. Next time, bring a friend along when you try on clothes.”
Agent Moore scowled, her eyes narrowing with what could only be irritation. She pulled a small tablet from the briefcase and set it down on the table between then. Tapping the screen to life, she made a few more gestures, and a video began to play.
Jo’s spirits sank as she saw the images on the screen. There was Malcolm, talking with her in the Parque. And then, in the soft-green tint of a low-light camera, the image of herself getting out of his car and walking through the park near her condo. What the hell? Jo looked from the screen to Agent Moore, astonishment leaving her speechless for a moment.
Agent Moore’s eyebrow quirked upward, and she said, “Yes, we had you under surveillance. Mr. Ngubwe very effectively lost our pursuers when you left with him, but he was…less careful…when he dropped you back off again. He led us right back to his compatriots.” Her tone became amused, mocking at the end there.
Jo sat back in her seat and crossed her arms over her chest, suddenly feeling vulnerable.
Agent Moore leaned toward her, pressing her advantage. “What did you think you were doing, Captain? I told you to contact me if you heard from Ngubwe again, and instead you got into a car with him!”
Jo spread her hands in a gesture that she hoped was placating. “It seemed the right thing to do at the time.”
“The right thing?”
Jo shrugged and looked from Agent Moore to the door. “I think it’s time I spoke to a lawyer.”
A loud snort was Agent Moore’s initial reply. “A lawyer? No lawyer would have you, Captain.” A hearty smack on the console in the wall made the wall flash, then turn on. Jo was only halfway surprised to see that most of the wall was, in fact, a display screen.
A slideshow of images appeared on the wall display, and Jo’s breath caught in her throat. Lars, the handsome muscular guard, sprawled on the ground in an expanding pool of blood. Becky, her face bruised and battered and her hands cuffed behind her back, being led into a police cruiser. Other faces, people she recognized from her brief stay with Malcolm’s organization though she could not recall their names, flashed past in various states ranging from dead to beaten or merely defeated, hopeless.
Jo looked, aghast, from the display to Agent Moore, her jaw dropping open.
Agent Moore smirked. “I suppose we should thank you. We’ve been searching for this particular cell for almost four years. They were very adept at avoiding detection.” Her eyebrows rose in time with her words. “Until you came along.”
Jo sunk back into the chair, the enormity of what had happened crushing down upon her. Guilt welled up, threatening to overwhelm her, as she considered the shattered lives on display before her. Frantically, she sought the peace of meditation that her father had taught her all those years ago, but it would not come. Lord, she was a fool!
“You’re a fool, Captain,” said Agent Moore, echoing Jo’s own thoughts as she sat back down into the chair across from Jo. “If you’d played it right, you could have gotten credit for this take-down.” Agent Moore’s smirk became a twisted grin as she went on. “Hell, they’d probably have given you a medal and a reward credit. But as it is?” She shook her head. “You’re an accomplice. A co-conspirator.”
Agent Moore put the tablet back into her briefcase and snapped it shut, then stood and walked to the door. The door swung open easily at her touch. She paused and looked back at Jo with eyes that almost appeared pitying.
“Such a waste. You could have been off in your precious starliner in a few months, a rich and respected woman.” She sighed, shaking her head again. “I hope you’re not claustrophobic.”
At Agent Moore’s gesture, two lean, muscular men stepped into the room. They moved around the table toward Jo. She backed away, but quickly found herself pressed up against the wall. The two men wore identical stern yet apathetic expressions as they drew nearer.
The man on the left reached out to grab her, and muscle memory from hundreds of hours of training in her youth took over. Jo caught his hand and twisted it around and upward, putting him into a wrist lock that made his eyes bulge in surprise and pain. The other man, his expression losing its apathy, bounded forward, but Jo forced the first man in front of him with a hard push against the back of the elbow on his trapped arm. The two men collided and fell to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs.
Jo leapt away from them and turned toward the door. She froze as she found herself looking down the barrel of another plasma pistol.
“Don’t make this harder on yourself than it already is, Captain,” Agent Moore said, her tone icy as she flicked off the pistol’s safety. Jo swallowed. To her right, the two men were regaining their feet, their faces dark with chagrin.
For a heartbeat, Jo considered making a try for it, but just as quickly shelved the idea. There was no way she could cross the three meters between her and Agent Moore without getting a plasma ball in the face. Besides, even if she made it, where the hell was she going to go? It was not like they would just let her walk out of the field office.
With a deep sigh, Jo raised her hands in submission.
Agent Moore nodded to the two men. They grabbed her by her upper arms and, one on each side, pulled her out of the interrogation room. Agent Moore led them down the corridor, then down a flight of stairs into the Field Office’s basement. A uniformed guard sat behind a desk at the bottom of the stairwell. He nodded familiarly to Agent Moore as she strode past and watched Jo with appraising eyes as she followed.
They trouped down another corridor and through a set of security doors into a long hallway lined on each side by small, sturdy doors with numbers on them. Agent Moore opened a door numbered ’37’ and pointed inside. The men shoved Jo forward and she stumbled into the room.
Jo’s first thought was one of relief. For one thing, her arms had begun to tingle from lack of circulation from the tightness of the men’s grips. For another thing, there was a toilet in the room.
Her next thought was one of disgust, because the room was nasty. The only furniture besides the toilet was a ratty cot along the far wall which was covered with dirty sheets. There was graffiti on the walls and grime in the corners. What the hell kind of holding cell was this?
Then the door closed behind her and the lights went out, leaving her in near total darkness.
* * * * *
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.