It’s time for the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. Read and enjoy, but don’t forget, the book is available in ebook and trade paperback from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes. You won’t hurt my feelings if you decide to purchase a copy. After all the cash I had to fork out this weekend, every little bit will help. 😉
Chapter Thirty – Eight
Jervis was right. Jo fell in love with the mole immediately.
Well, not really in love, but for a moment there she was not sure. He was handsome enough, certainly: young, tall, with striking features, darkly tanned skin, dark hair and eyes, and a dashing smile. But what made her heart soar was his clothing.
He wore the uniform of a security guard, and it exactly matched those of the guards in the video Malcolm and Becky showed her, back in Quito.
“Jo, Malcolm,” Jervis said as the mole entered the little room, “meet Winston. He is a member of the security detachment at the lab.”
“Very pleased to meet you,” Jo said, and smiled broadly. She had assumed the mole was an engineer or scientist, or maybe a technician. For him to be in security there…this made their task so much easier. Hopefully. She could not help but let some of her optimism carry into her tone as she greeted him and shook his hand, and she cringed inwardly.
Beside her, Malcolm smirked, and merely said, “Hello,” before shaking hands with the man.
They sat down around a long conference table that dominated the room, Jervis at the head to Jo’s left and Isaac at the other end, with her and Malcolm in the middle to Jervis’ right. Winston waited for the rest of them to sit then took a seat opposite Jo, moving with the ease of a man who keeps in good shape. Becky was not in this meeting, which Jo found surprising at first. But after thinking it over quickly, it made sense. She would not have known who this man was, and she did not need to know. Malcolm and Jo needed to know; they would be working with him, and Isaac…well, Isaac could apparently know whatever he wanted. His status as the CFL founder afforded him that, Jo supposed, even if he did not make use of it much.
The room was on the second floor, down the hallway and to the left from a control center that was very similar to Becky’s in Quito, if not quite as robust and technically up-to-date. That made sense too, since Brisbane was at best tertiary when it came to the monitoring and control of the Earth-Luna space sectors. All the same, for what it was, the control center was impressive: efficiently laid out, apparently well maintained. Jo was beginning to suspect that more than a little of the funding Becky and Malcolm described came from Isaac’s shell companies as much as from any legitimate businesses that sought the CFL’s help. One control station of Quito’s capability was one thing. If all the CFL sectors had command and control setups like Brisbane’s, and Jo suspected they did, that would take a hell of a lot of money to establish and maintain, not to mention the bureaucratic know-how to make the required purchases without showing up on some agency’s radar.
It was pretty impressive.
“So…” Jo looked from Winston to Jervis and raised her eyebrows. It was their show. Time to see what they had.
Jervis smiled knowingly and gestured for Winston to proceed. The security guard cleared his throat and, inclining his head briefly toward Jervis, said, “Activity has increased severalfold in the fortnight. The scientists are working three shifts; word is there is massive pressure coming down from above to finish the current projects, and then we’ll be shutting down altogether. In the meantime, they’ve nearly doubled the security force.” He shook his head. “Something’s got them spooked.”
That checked with the chart. Chandini had to know there was a possibility they were going to blow the whistle on the whole thing or take more direct action. She, and her superiors, would be stupid not to get rid of the evidence as quickly as possible. Jo was actually surprised – pleasantly surprised – they had not simply pulled chocks already.
“How much time do we have?” asked Malcolm.
Winston shrugged. “I’m not a techie.” He frowned thoughtfully for a few seconds, then perked up. “But I heard a couple of the senior engineers talking as they left a few days ago. Sounded like they only thought a month, maybe a little more.”
Jo smiled. “Perfect. That’s all the time we need.”
Winston looked at her askance. “Ma’am, this is a maximum security facility. We all have greater than Top Secret clearance.”
“So do I.”
He did not look impressed. “You did. You’ve been specially flagged in the system, you know. Everyone in security knows your face on sight.” He glanced at Malcolm and added, “Both of you. And even if they didn’t, they’ve got crack troops on security detail. If you think you can just waltz up there without thorough planning, you’ve got another thing coming.”
“Ah, but we have an ace in the hole,” Jo replied, giving Winston a sharp, meaningful look.
He snorted. “I’m just a guy who stands watch. I don’t have authority over anyone but myself.” He leaned forward and tapped his fingertip against the top of the table. “Point is, you’re going to have to plan this to the tee. Even with my help. And even then, I wouldn’t give greater than a 50-50 chance of getting in, getting your video, and getting out again without being caught.”
Video? Jo blinked and looked at Jervis. “You didn’t tell him?”
Jervis returned her look with one of annoyance. “I’ve been with you this whole time. When was I supposed to tell him?”
Winston frowned in confusion. “Tell me what?”
Jo sighed. “We’re not going in to get video.”
She explained, and his jaw dropped. He remained silent for almost a full minute after she finished. She was about to lean over and shake him when he finally shook his head and spoke again.
Jo opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off, standing and wagging a finger at her as he spoke.
“You are bloody bonkers. If you think…” He trailed off and just looked at her incredulously for a moment, then he snorted and threw up his hands. “To hell with this. I’m out of here.” He turned toward the door.
And found Jervis blocking his way, his arms crossed over his chest.
“Where do you think you’re going, mate?”
“Away from her,” Winston replied. “I pass you information, not…” He drew a deep breath and said, more calmly, “Look, I can’t be involved in this sort of thing. I’m fucked if I do.”
Jervis scowled at him. “You’re fucked if you don’t.”
“No. Listen.” Now it was Jervis who was wagging a finger – right in Winston’s face. “You came to us, mate. Said what was going on in there was some fucked up shit. Said you wanted to help put a stop to it. Well now’s your chance.”
“Bollocks. I meant getting the word out, not some loopy scheme to rob the place!”
Malcolm spoke up, his deep voice carrying easily across the room despite the fact that he barely spoke above a whisper. “We tried that. It didn’t work. There are no other options.”
Winston scowled and shook his head. “No. Fuck this.”
He moved to push past Jervis and then…something happened. Jo couldn’t see, it happened so quickly. One moment Winston looked as though he was going to push Jervis aside and get through the door. The next, after a confusing twisting of limbs that happened too quickly for her eye to follow, Jervis had him pinned face-first against the wall, his arm pinned behind his back while Jervis grasped his throat in a choke-hold.
Winston’s eyes were wide in shock – no less so than Jo’s were, she was sure – and he made little choking sounds as he tried to speak.
But Jervis talked over him, quietly into his ear. “You listen, mate, and listen well. You’re tied to us. You’re going to help with this. If you don’t… If you betray us, or do anything that hampers this operation, I will personally see to it that the authorities know exactly what you’ve been doing for us this last year. And about your other little side job.” Winston’s eyes widened even further, in stark, naked fear. “Are we clear?”
Winston nodded. Or tried to. But it was clear enough.
Jervis released him with a quick shove that sent him staggering back toward the chair he had abandoned. He caught himself from falling by placing both hands on the chair back and stood there, doubled over and breathing in deep gasps of air for a while, his eyes darting between the four of them in fright.
Jo was surprised to find she was standing. A familiar tingling excitement swept through her, the byproduct of adrenalin, she knew, and she had to force her arms not to tremble as she, too, took hold of the table’s edge. She leaned forward and looked Winston in the eye. He met her gaze reluctantly, but her patented Captain stare held him once he did.
“I know this plan scares you, Winston,” Jo said. “Believe me when I tell you if there were any other way, I would take it. But what Malcolm said is correct. The video you got out of there before is gone; the NSA took it. We have no evidence, and no time to gather any more. If we’re going to prevent the wholesale slaughter of those creatures, this is the only way.”
He was starting to get his breath back, and more importantly, she could see he was beginning to understand, and accept.
“Help us, Winston. Please.”
Winston held her gaze for another long moment, then dropped his own gaze to the tabletop and nodded. Good. There was a chance that Jervis’ strong arm tactics would be enough to make him go along well enough. But there was also a large chance that Winston would find some subtle way to betray them that they would never know. Far better to use reason to convince him to give his help; then he would go all in for the mission.
Of course, it would have been better if Jervis had not jumped the gun, and she could have convinced Winston straight off. They were back to amateur hour again, it seemed. Jo turned a baleful eye on Jervis, who did not even have the grace to acknowledge the unspoken rebuke. He just shrugged back at her and made a little “Get on with it” gesture.
Jo had to stop herself from grinding her teeth.
* * * * *
I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Tuesday for the next chapter. Of course if you don’t want to bother waiting the weeks it will take to get through the rest book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes. Or even if you just like the story and want to hook me up, that’s works as well.
Until next time, then.