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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.
Chapter 10 – We Interrupt This Program…
Jo was halfway through spreading cream cheese on her morning bagel when the news broke. At first it did not register; there were murders every other day, after all. Then Reynolds’ face appeared on the vidscreen and she dropped the knife. Moving quickly, she turned up the volume control and reversed to the beginning of the report.
“Tragic news this morning, as a well-respected member of the news media was found murdered. The body of thirty-one year old Jeremy Reynolds, a highly respected investigative reporter for Star News, was discovered in the west Quito apartment of known narcotics dealer and gang leader Henry Friedheim, also found dead at the scene. Police found weapons and residue from a number of narcotic compounds as well. Although the police have not released an official report as of yet, sources close to the investigation tell us they believe Mr. Reynolds was involved in a narcotics deal gone bad. Star News has not responded to requests for comment. We will follow this story closely, and bring you more as information comes in. And now, a look at the weather for the next…”
Jo turned the broadcast off, a chill traveling down her spine. For a long moment, she just looked at the blank display screen. Then, her breakfast forgotten, she strode briskly to her door.
* * * * *
Steven announced Jo’s presence, and she waited for a couple minutes before Harold told him to admit her. She walked into Harold’s office to find him sitting behind his desk, reviewing a document on his desk display.
He looked up as she came in. “Morning, Jo. What can I do for you?”
“Did you see the news this morning?”
He shook his head. “I had an early meeting. Why, what’s up?”
“Jeremy Reynolds is dead.”
He looked confused for a moment, and mouthed Reynolds’ name. Then a light came on in his eyes, and he nodded. “The reporter who talked to you right? Damn. He was a young guy, didn’t you say?”
Jo nodded. “Thirty-one. He was found dead here in Quito, in some drug dealer’s apartment.”
“Really? What do you think was he doing there?”
“Well, that’s too bad. Hope he didn’t have any kids.”
With that, Harold went back to reading over his document.
With a sigh of consternation, Harold looked up again. “What do you mean, that’s it? What do you want me to do, break down and cry over the guy? I didn’t know him from Adam, but he was making some trouble for us. So yeah, I’m sorry he’s dead, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it.”
“You don’t think it’s weird that he dropped dead here in Quito, just a few weeks after he approached me, after we discovered that Malcolm’s still alive and apparently on the prowl here also? Star News is based in New York, so what was he doing here?”
“From the sound of it, I’d say he was investigating the drug trade and got caught somewhere he shouldn’t have been.”
“That’s what the news reporter surmised, too.”
“Probably because that’s what happened.” Harold’s eyes narrowed as he looked at her, then he groaned. “Ah, Jesus. You’re not going all conspiracy-theory on me, are you, Jo?”
Jo looked askance at him and shook her head. “Of course not. It just seemed odd, that’s all.”
“Well, I wouldn’t dwell on it, if I were you. I love you Jo, but you’re not the center of the universe. I’m sure whatever Reynolds was doing had nothing to do with your little adventure up there.”
Jo shrugged and walked out. Regardless of what Harold said, she was not so sure.
* * * * *
Jo could not stay cooped up in her office with her mind racing, so she left at lunchtime. She spent the afternoon walking in the Parque La Panecillo. As sunset approached, she settled down on a bench and watched as Sol slowly dropped behind the towering mountains to Quito’s west. As it always did, the orange-pink of the sunset juxtaposed with the shadows cast by the mountains touched something within her. It made her feel small, but also somehow in tune with the natural cycle of things.
She often came here to think when she was confused, or troubled. The natural surroundings and breathtaking views helped her get to the bottom of her troubles, normally. But not this night. The news story about Jeremy’s death kept intruding on her thoughts.
It was difficult to believe the story that he was in Quito investigating the drug trade. For one thing, why Quito? Important as the city was, it wasn’t a great hub of drug manufacturing and trafficking. Just a few hundred kilometers away were half a dozen better places to go for that sort of thing than Quito.
But far beyond that, the thing that caused her doubt was what she had seen in his eyes that night in La Chupacabra. She only met him that once, but he had made an impression: a smart, driven, determined young man who was not going to be put off from reaching his goal just because Josephine Ishikawa put a roadblock in his way. So why would he abandon the Pericles story and shift gears so quickly? Even if all the other members of her crew held their silence, and there were a couple that Jo was not so sure about in that sense, she felt sure he would continue to search for some way to break the story open.
Try though she might to come up with another answer, Jo kept coming around to thinking that Jeremy’s death had something to do with Malcolm and the crowd he ran with these days.
Which is why she was not surprised at all when she stood, turned around, and saw Malcolm standing there, watching her.
Jo looked at him, standing there so calmly, and irritation flared up within her. “Damnit, Malcolm, can’t you take a hint? I don’t want to see or have anything to do with you.”
“I know. But events have left me no choice but to ask for your help again.”
“What events are those?”
Malcolm looked down at the ground for a moment. “I met with a friend of yours last night. Jeremy Reynolds.”
“I knew it! What did you do to him?”
He looked back at her, a flash of anger in his eyes. “I didn’t do anything. You’re the one who killed him.”
“What are you talking about?”
Malcolm took a step closer, and Jo found herself tensing her muscles to fight off an attack before she realized what she was doing. Foolishness! Malcolm would not harm her. At least, she did not think he would.
“You told the NSA that I came by your condo.” She opened her mouth to retort, and he continued, “Don’t try to deny it. We both know it’s true. Did you also tell them that Reynolds was asking questions?”
Jo nodded, “Of course. It’s standard security protocol, you know that. But that doesn’t mean…”
“You warned Carl, back on the bridge when you and he first detected the aliens’ ship, that the NSA might make us all disappear if we screwed up the first contact protocols, remember?”
“No, I said we’d get in trouble if we let word spread too far about them.”
Malcolm didn’t reply. He just looked at her with his direct gaze, and slowly Jo got a sinking feeling in her chest. Could it be true? No. Rumors about inconvenient people disappearing were just that, no matter that she had used them to remind Carl about security requirements. And yet… And yet, Jeremy was dead, and she had told them about him.
“Do you have proof, Malcolm?”
“Of course not. There’s never proof. But last night, I met with him and showed him a copy of Alison’s recording…”
“You did what?”
Malcolm gave her a long-suffering look, and after a moment, Jo’s ire lost some of its fury. Did she really expect him to do anything else, after what he had already done?
Malcolm continued. “We were supposed to meet again tonight, and I planned to show him the other evidence I’ve found. The proof of the things I told you about before.” He turned to the side, staring at the Virgen Del Panecillo, the last remnants of the sunset coloring the statue in beautiful pinkish hues. “I’d hoped he would write the story, blow the thing wide open, and they’d be forced to admit the truth and do the right thing. But now…” He shook his head.
Jo did not really know how to respond. His words triggered feelings of guilt within her, despite telling herself that what happened was not truly her fault. Malcolm saved her from having to say anything by turning back to her and speaking first.
“Come with me tonight. I’ll show you what I meant for him to see, and you can decide what you wish to do with it, in honor of his memory.”
Jo shook her head. “No. Whatever it is you’re into, I don’t want to be involved.”
Malcolm smirked. “You’re involved already, whether you like it or not. They’re following you, you know. Your house is bugged.”
“I know that. I signed the consent forms, and they gave me a list of the bugs they installed. I’ve got nothing to hide.”
Malcolm chuckled, his eyes flashing in amusement. “Ah, Jo, how trusting you are. That list is far from complete.”
Jo crossed her arms over her chest, annoyance growing within her again. “If they’re following me, how come they haven’t shown up to arrest you?”
“If they catch me, Jo, they won’t arrest me any more than they arrested Reynolds. They don’t follow you all the time; they have other leads to follow, and they’re not sure about you yet. But from time to time, if you look carefully, you might see one of them.”
“I guess I won’t have to worry about being mugged, then.”
Malcolm looked incredulously at her for a moment, then burst out laughing. Jo had forgotten how vibrant, how full of life, he sounded when he laughed. Despite herself, she found the corners of her mouth turning upward into a grin as some of his mirth carried over onto her.
His laughter fading, Malcolm returned her smile and asked again, “Will you come with me, Jo? I promise, if you’re not convinced after what I have to show you, you’ll never see me again.”
All at once, Jo came to a decision. Part of her was sure she would regret it, but a deeper part, the intuitive part of her mind she had long ago learned to trust to guide her in making difficult command decisions, told her she would regret it more if she did not.
Jo nodded, and Malcolm’s smile widened.
* * * * *
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.