Novel Update

Skipping ahead, but it’s all good

This is like chapter  4-5 and I’m not done with chapter 1 yet. Even though it’s super short, this captures the ideas i want to remember for the stuff going on before and after a critical moment. This is literally the paragraph before and the paragraph after a major scene. Still, This version is shaping up to be something special.

 

I might have heard what he said, but I can’t quite remember. His eyes dominated my thoughts. Endless chasms wrapped in golden blue halos that pierced my soul – if there is such a thing –  in a way I physically felt. Breathing deep took effort, my core seemed…. twisted. Nonetheless, I  found myself responding quite eloquently. At this point, even my own voice had become an echo from the future. If it was the wine, I figured out Ryan’s addiction. If it wasn’t, then I’m fucking amazing.
—–
*the next morning, after things*
—–
I realized that I was alive – shocking, to say the least. Not only that, but the divine smell of omelets would leave me to discover /Heather/ in my kitchen.

“What…. what the fuck is this?”
“It’s breakfast, you bitch. Sit! Spill!”
She pulled out her phone and began scribbling notes as I apparently answered questions about my conversation with Monsieur Bernier. While debriefing her, I couldn’t help but simmer. I needed to drop this case.

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Novel Update

Restructured Novel Plot – The Hero’s Journey!

So, something I’d thought about when writing and reading (and re-reading) my still untitled novel was that the premise offered more than the story delivered. When I really got into thinking about it, I realized the reason. The story didn’t follow a structure in any sense. It was a chronological telling of events. But that doesn’t necessarily do it in literature. There has to be something leading the reader… something that will make them want to follow the story to it’s conclusion, or at least the next plot point!

Given the nature of the story, I chose to rebuild it directly modeling  The Hero’s Journey. I’ll be writing up on this classical storytelling technique some time next week (and eventually, I’ll even have a regular schedule for posting content!), but in the meantime, I thought I’d give the 12 major arcs of the story as they stand post-plot-revision. The fun part about this is it’s also a practice for me in expressing a full story without spoilers, in such a way that reading the plot doesn’t tell you the story and leaves you intrigued for the details and the world the story inhabits. For example, it’s actually a supernatural tale.

  1. The Ordinary World
    1. James Del is an agent of a Federal Entity, working on cases related to corporate espionage.
      1.  His focus is “paper trails”
    2. His close friends are introduced during this time and demonstrated to be characters who will recur throughout the story.
  2. The Call to Adventure
    1. Ryan (James’ boss and best friend) offers him a seat at the table of Jean Bernier: Founder, President, and CEO of Alltech
    2. James suspects this will lead to field work and the reason he moved to trailing paperwork is revealed.
  3. Refusal of the Call
    1. James has no interest in returning to the field after his prior trauma and instead opts to avoid the possibility altogether by not attending the dinner
    2. Ryan persuades him to come and promises he won’t be seated at Bernier’s table
  4. Meeting With The Mentor
    1. At the event, James learns he was tricked by Ryan. He is, in fact, seated at the host’s table.
    2. After the Soiree is well in motion, Bernier talks to James for a while and convinces him to meet at Alltech’s headquarters. James lets his intrigue get the better of him and accepts the offer.
  5. Crossing the Threshold (to the “Special World” as it is called in The Hero’s Journey)
    1. There is some unexpected commotion at the banquet and things get cray
      1. James follows up during his first trip to Alltech’s Facility/Campus/HQ/Whatever
    2. Bernier begins to drop some of his subtleties, revealing the darker character hidden within
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies
    1. James learns that Bernier is beyond his understand. The CEO is shown to be a monster.
    2. Bernier, The DSI, and his friends all test James in various ways
      1. As the story goes on, this serves to both sow seeds of doubt and simultaneously root him in the world as it is
    3. Neutral parties/sub-focus characters are introduced during this segment
      1. Plugs/teases for characters to appear in the second and third novels
    4. First, the betrayal.
  7. Approach
    1. Once the espionage element is sorted out and the true villain is revealed, James and his willing compatriots charge forward into the Special World
    2. The major ordeal of the world is not what the group expected
      1. poor planning in espionage tends to lead to violence
    3. Next, the sacrifice
      1. Depending on the relationship, this could be a reveal or it could be set up or it could be a twist.
  8. The Ordeal
    1. The conflict escalates as the remaining contenders on all sides struggle for control of their situation
    2. Once a sort of balance is reached, the sides conflict directly in their second major bout
      1. The heroes will always win this conflict during The Hero’s Journey.
    3. Third, the fall
  9. The Reward
    1. Things seem to  be sorted out as the dust settles. James makes a hasty retreat with hard evidence of the knowledge he possesses.
    2. There is no celebration as powerful entities close in on all sides, seeking control of the evidence now with James.
  10. The Road Back
    1. James must decide who to trust with his information. In the meantime, he can only run and hide, as there is nothing to be gained from any more conflict.
    2. Once he chooses a side, the remaining sides chase and the chosen side aides his escape.
  11. The Resurrection
    1. At the threshold of returning to normal, one final conflict is faced. James learns from the experience and must choose to either shed his former self and embrace the self that developed throughout the story, or return to the self that was.
      1. The resurrection is where there Hero undergoes a Paradigm Shift from (generally) the naive self to the enlightened self.
    2. In the end, he makes the right choice and the conflict resolves at last
  12. Return with the Elixer
    1. With the irrevocable knowledge he possesses, the world is forever changed for the hero.
    2. Epilogue

So, that’s the spoiler-free-ish version of James Del’s Heroic Journey in a nutshell! Let me know your thoughts! Some time this week I’ll be giving you updates on the YouTube channel and related projects!

Don’t forget to check us out on twitter! @ParadigmShiftPC

More subscribers and more followers means we can justify working harder on our creative content for YOU, THE VIEWERS!

Thanks as always for your continued support as I move forward on my Journey of Creationing!

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Novel Update

An Excerpt

From the novel. The tough part is writing conversations with multiple characters. Three are briefly in this scene but, later in the novel, as many as five characters are part of a single conversation, when I get there, I’ll talk aaaalll about writing multiperson conversations. I’m currently tracking the knowledge the information the reader has about the antagonist, as the story is protagonist first-person. The knowledge I have, and the reality of the character, have to be mixed. Anyway, here’s one interaction that incorporates both of these concepts.

Sorry for the formatting. This thing isn’t cooperating with me. Bleh. Vista.


 

We stepped through the metal detectors without issue then passed through the turnstiles, which counted up with long beeps as we entered. The guard told us to wait by the third elevator in a series of seven (on this wall, that is). After a few minutes, the elevator chimed a little melody and the doors parted, revealing a very stylish, if not eccentric version of Monsieur Bernier.

In great contrast to the previous night, Bernier was dressed in a plain white suit with a black silk shirt and no tie. He still carried a black cane but this one had a simple handle and was inlayed with a simple silver design. His hair, more golden than I remembered, was geometrically combed straight back. To complete the look, he wore a pair of small rectangular frames, reading glasses. The previous night had been about show. He clearly meant business in today’s power outfit.

“Agent Del, how good of you to join me! I trust you are feeling better after last night’s events,” he commented. He cleared his throat and I had a feeling I said something to him after I blacked out.

“Monsieur Bernier. Shall we get right to it then?”
“What about your friend, Agent?”
“I trust her. You can too.”

He looked her over her like a show animal, checking her posture, her poise, her general appearance. “You are welcome for lunch. After that, we will see.”

Heather nodded and he invited us into the elevator, a plain metal car in the shape of a perfect cube. The walls, polished mirrors, and ceiling were of the same metal as the rest of the building. Interestingly, there was no panel in the elevator.

“Vingt-neuf.”

The elevator whirred to life and shot us up to the 29th floor so fast, I felt the inertia of the car, thinking I weighed more from the sheer momentum of the thing, like I’d just entered a rocket ship. The doors opened into his office, the whole floor one room. He had three windows with the only wall being on the elevator side of the floor. The simple slate ceiling and floor made the room feel somehow antique. Still, the décor was fabulous. The corporate office had the façade of a modernist museum but on the scale of a giant. I wondered if Bernier could use all of this furniture but, I thought it better not to wonder.
He walked us over to his desk, a chestnut affair with a lot of neatly-organized color. It had a leather pad laid out across, a newer computer than had been released, and a black and gold pen was sitting on a stack of unfinished paperwork. The center space of the deck was already cleared with three plates waiting. It’s odd. He didn’t know Heather was coming but, he had prepared a meal for her. Perhaps he expected a third. I asked him directly.
“No, this is for her, Agent. Please, Miss Hough, enjoy the meal.” We both looked cautiously at Bernier but, decided to sit down and eat. We had a few brief words over the most savory steak sandwiches I’d eaten. The discussion mostly focused on Alltech’s interactions with the government and DSI in particular.
Bernier poured a drink out of a dated bottle. It looked identical to the one Hendricks had poured from the day before. When he extended his hand in offering, I saw that the label read Chateau Lazare. I swallowed heavily and he set the bottle down in front of me. “Please, have some.”
I meant to say no but I found myself pouring a drink. Apprehension set in. Reason told me that knowing what to expect this time around would make it better. Besides, this would not be the same endless stream of alcohol I’d experienced the night before. Bernier offered some to Heather with a gesture. She smelled the drink then looked at me. I shook my head no. “I need a designated driver.”
I sat staring at the crimson brew, swirling it around in the glass. Drinking this again intimidated me but, Bernier pounded his full drink down in two or three swigs. Not wanting him to make the power play, I began to drink mine, nursing it throughout the conversation.
“So, Monsieur, why did you call this lunch?” Heather asked dryly, directly.
“Agent Del.”
I cued at Heather and she got up, wandering around the floor office. She checked out some of the artwork and the architectural displays, but otherwise keeping her distance. I waited until she was out a good distance then I leaned into the table and Bernier followed suit.
“What the hell is this wine? I went completely mad last night.”
“It is a drink that opens your eyes, is it not, Agent? That is not why we are here.”
“Why are we here?”
“Here.” He handed me a list with some Alltech ID numbers and the names associated with them. “These were the men and women working on Hyperlite. One of them is the thief. All of them still work on the project, which means the thief is still here.”
I quickly scanned the list and saw an ID number that immediately  stood out.
G003084759. . . . . Pierre Dumont
“Monsieur, Pierre Dumont received unrestricted clearance just a year ago, correct.”
“Ouay. I am surprised you would recognize his Identification Number.”
“It comes with the territory. Tell me about his particular role.
“Pierre was one of the first to work on the Hyperlite project. He had the idea to model the material’s design after a croissant. While this concept failed, it led to another engineer’s molecular designs. Those designs further developed into the proto-Hyperlite. Pourquoi?”
“His EIN ended up on our suspect lists. I would like to start my investigation with him. May I meet Pierre?”
Bernier shook his head. He looked up at Heather. “Miss Hough, how would you like a tour of the facility?”
“I would love one, Monsieur.” She smiled and walked back towards us. Bernier hit a call button on his desk and we waited in silence. He pointed at the elevator with his eyes and we both turned to face it.
After a brief moment, the doors opened and one of the guards from the front desk came through the door. He placed his right fist over his left chest and bowed. It was all highly ritualized. Bernier really did seem more than just a CEO.
“Please show Miss Hough around the facility. Give her full access to any station she requests. Miss Hough, I trust you to use your best discretion. This is a rare opportunity. Do not make me regret this decision.” She nodded and left with the guard.
“What about Dumont?” I inquired, a bit puzzled by everything that just happened. I shot Heather a sharp glance on his name, she acknowledged with a subtle head nod.
“Come with me, Agent. Allonz-y”
We waited a few minutes, then Bernier called the elevator. He took me to the top floor. This one was substantially different from his office. It was a similar color scheme but, the floor was a memorial. On the far wall hung a number of plaques, which I explored. I quickly surmised that these were employees who had passed, presumably at this facility.
“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Your work is quite advanced; people are bound to die.” I turned my head to Bernier, expecting to see some kind of mournful sorrow. Instead, I found a perverse smile on his face.
“They are immortal as long as this wall stands, Agent.” I smiled until I came across a name: Eddie De Santo.
“Monsieur, when did Eddie De Santo die?”
His smile didn’t waiver though, I still felt like his expression changed. Our eyes met and we stared intently at each other. I could feel the gravity of his stare and I that wine-rush kicked in immediately after that.
“Eddie died last night, Agent. He was shot outside of the banquet hall during our cleanup.”
“Shot? Monsieur, did you ask him to come speak with me yesterday?”
His eyes narrowed and for some reason, it made my knees buckle. He took a few steps closer, coming within a handshake’s range of me and he extended his arm freely towards me.
“You don’t look so well, Agent Del. Are you alright?”
“I can deal with it,” I tried to bluff.
He smiled down at me and it made my stomach churn. I fell to one knee and grabbed my gut, breathing heavily, hoping not to hurl again. Bernier walked past me as though he’d seen this a hundred times.
“Monsieur De Santo’s body had nothing removed from it. This was an assassination, not a robbery. I think your Department is killing off people who may have known about the operation.”
“Why do you say that? What would Eddie have known?”
“Eddie is not the one that makes me believe that, Agent.” He tapped a plaque. I tried to stand but found myself locked down on my knees in agonizing pain. It felt like I had swallowed unrefined acid. I let out a scream against my will but I managed to look up. His callus nonchalance about it really pissed me off. The plaque read Pierre Dumont.
“He died too?”
“Not yet, Agent. But I suspect he will be dead soon.” Bernier grinned. I managed to pull myself to my feet and reached for my gun, forgetting it had been confiscated. But, I had a feeling Bernier was taking justice into his own hand.
“I don’t… know… what you are planning to do, Monsieur. But I cannot risk any more death. Point me to him and I can solve this without bloodshed.  If something happen to Dumont, I will –“
“You will not even know, Agent.” Hi voice cut the air, harsh and coarse. It pierced the deepest recesses of my mind. His words crippled me like a sonar attack. “If a man betrays my company, he will suffer the consequences he has brought upon himself. Is it not justice that a man who may have damned me be damned himself?”
“Not this way. If you have evidence it was Dumont, turn it over to the… DSI, I will personally build the case against…” I couldn’t finish my sentence; I’d keeled over in pain, face to the floor. It would have been hard to believe that Bernier would do something to Dumont if he weren’t so clearly a sadist to some degree. My head spun and my stomach ground itself into molten hot dust. I thought the feeling might be equivalent to being shot.
Bernier watched me writhing for a minute, impassively. As it slowly began to cease, when the vocally cries of pain stopped, he spoke in a cold neutral monotone. “Up.”
I struggled, but rose to my feet. My neck barely had the strength to life my head. “Agent Del, you will not be consulting anyone within my company for information, except for me. I am telling you the DSI is responsible for Monsieur De Santo’s death and if Dumont is on your list, he will be interrogated by the people I trust, not the people you trust.”
I couldn’t speak out in defiance, the crippling flare of stomach pain all but defeated me. By the time it subsided, the only thing I could bring myself to say was, “Fine.”
He smiled and it was somehow comforting, I felt able to stand up straight again, despite the pain still in my gullet. It was passing and I was starting to feel a little better. This face was much friendlier than the last and I felt safe with the purehearted Bernier again.
“Relax, Agent Del. I am not going to harm Monsieur Dumont, agent. I am simply going to talk to him. I would love you to be present. However, I want your focus to be on finding the DSI agent responsible for the theft. The man who ran the operation.”
“You still haven’t given me any evidence that it was the DSI and not another agency.” Daggers traveled straight from his eyes to mine; I feel queasy. I know my face paled quickly. Somehow Bernier was a very intimidating presence.
“Talk to your superior, Agent. Hendricks is his name. I think you will realize there is no other possibility.”
I gripped my stomach and swallowed my pain. “When do we talk to Dumont?”
“As soon as you talk to Hendricks, we will talk to Dumont. If you still have questions after this, I will fill you in myself. But I am sure you will know it was the DSI who perpetrated this crime.”

I nodded as the pain subsided. Bernier invited me to sit on a nice black leather sofa nearby. I obliged and he sat across me in a smaller leather chair.
“Agent, why the sudden doubt? You believed me fully last night.”
“You haven’t exactly made yourself trustworthy today.”
“I do not have to prove myself day after day to a mere government agent. Besides, I am sure you will hear information on Dumont from your fellow agent. Did you not ask her to look into him?”
“I did no such thing.” Stomach contractions twitched in my core, but I felt like the worst was over. Maybe it does just take some getting used to this wine. I may have to try it again sometime.
“I see through your eyes, Agent. Please do not deceive me.” That stung. I really couldn’t get anything past this guy. Whoever stole from this guy had monstrous brass balls.
“You suspect he is the one who took the documents, Monsieur?” I figured that had to be going through Bernier’s head. Why else would he be so concerned about Dumont?
“It is my suspicion that he will end up dead before we have a chance to know. I will be keeping him under protection of my security team. There is a detail on him twenty-four-seven.”
“No offense but, with De Santo’s death, I would say your security has some holes in it.”
“He is safer in my custody than in yours, Agent. This is not a discussion. Now, Agent Hendricks. Then we will discuss things with Dumont. I’m sure he will confirm this with Miss Hough if he is indeed involved.”

With that, he walked me back to the elevator, supporting me as I struggled to stay on my feet. The ride down threw my stomach around but also knocked it back into position and the pain ceased.
I didn’t experience as much dizziness as the night before, if I felt it at all. We returned to the lobby and by the time the elevator stopped, I was feeling very much myself. I had a list of Hyperlite team members and Bernier’s interest in Hendricks. Hopefully, Heather had taken my cue to get in contact with Dumont.
“Thank you for your cooperation, Monsieur Bernier. If these leads pan out, we will have a very solid angle from which to approach this case. As long as there are no more unexpected interferences,” I referenced Eddie’s death, “we will recover your missing documents and return control of Hyperlite to Alltech Incorporated.”
“I apologize for my brash nature, Agent. Surely, you understand my motives. Thank you for your assistance.”
I nodded. He had a point. Despite his devilishly frightening alter-ego, he was trying to get to the bottom of a mystery which terrified him. Besides, now that I think about it, I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m sure I’ve read a study talking about the psychopathic tendencies that Serial Killers (and other sociopaths) share with CEOs and other corporate big-wigs.
“Monsieur, let me ask you something.” He looked at me in a way that made it difficult to speak. With the sandpaper forming in my mouth, I decided it might not be a good idea to start a new conversation with him until after I spoke with Hendricks. “When will we be speaking again?”
“Leave your private contact information with my guards, Agent. I will contact you when it is time for our next rendezvous. Now, I bid you Adieu.”
I did as instructed and by the time I was done, Heather had arrived out of another elevator, and she looked excited. She walked through the exit turnstile, flashing a brilliantly white smile at me. I followed her out and felt an immediate sense of relief. If she got something good from Dumont, it could really save me a lot of stress.
Once we made it back to the parking structure, I put my hand on Heather’s shoulder. But, when she turned to acknowledge me, I hesitated; she seemed a little too gleeful. “Got something good for me?”
“Let’s get back to your place; I’ll fill you in. How about you and the Honorable Monsieur? Any good intel on that front?”
I drove my fingers through my hair. Heather knows the meaning of the move and her glee faded into concern. “Jim, what is it?”
“I have a lead, Heather. And honestly… I really hope doesn’t pan out.”

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Novel Update

Chapter 4

This may or may not be the last chapter I post in its entirety before the book’s release. This is the official end of exposition and the beginning of chaos to come. I’m not including what it was before because after all of this work, I’m starting to think the other version simply sucked. In this chapter, I added the same number of words as the previous three combined. Enjoy! LIKE and COMMENT please! 

 

If anybody is interested in reading the completed novel and publishing a book review, I am happy to perform the same or an otherwise equitable service.


Chapter 4

            The work day wound down the day around 3:00.  By that time, Hendricks had received each team’s plan of attack and had been in the process of reviewing them for some time. The room was abuzz with chatter. Some were discussing the case, their thoughts on sneaking around other agencies, the general tension and risk.  Most of the time, we are straightforward agents of the federal government. It’s a rare thing when DSI agents have to act as covert operatives; we are much more traditional in our methodology. It means when you put DSI agents in this scenario, we get incredibly uncomfortable.

Most, though, were talking about the banquet.  The Year-End Celebratory Banquet is a big deal. Every agency has something similar but, the DSI doesn’t pull any punches.  Our Year-End Banquets are multi-million dollar affairs (thanks in part to Alltech generously sponsoring the events).  This year, it was in the banquet hall of the Royal Hotel.  As I let my mind drift to the best food I would eat this year, the ambience of the giant room, I envisioned the grandiose hall where the most influential men and women in America would be socializing with all of us. It seemed so real for a moment, until the dizzying rush of the wine snapped me out of it.  I’ve never had alcohol do something like that to me, let alone from a single drink. My hands went straight for my head, a nervous gesture I’ve developed. I took my time running them through my hair, leaning my head back and embracing the moment. I took deep diaphragm breaths in an attempt to fight the spins.

Doug came up and gave me a rough slap on the back. I was less than appreciative but, it did work to balance me out. “What’s going on? Thinking about the delicious meal ahead?”  I grinned and flashed him a thumbs up, then went to go get my tux from the car.  There was so much going through my head that I was actually looking forward to the long elevator ride down, the chance to sort through things.

 

The elevator’s droning whir and the buzz of the fluorescent light above offered me the comfort of solitude. I took the moment as an opportunity to explore my knowledge about the case. So far, our investigation into a bunch of redacted documents had proved futile but, with Eddie De Santo’s information we could start to make real progress.  One of the frustrating things about working for the DSI is that most cases have a million unanswered questions.  It’s like solving a single puzzle but with random pieces from ten other puzzles in the jumble.  It’s hard to figure out which questions need to be answered and which ones are just distractions.

What’s more, with Eddie’s impeccable timing, I had a new slew of questions tangential to my primary case. Who was he going to see on the 44th floor?  Why would the government be stealing from Alltech?  Why would Bernier be asking us to look into the Alltech side of the investigation? I could barely begin sorting it all out in my head.

That bothered me, like it would in any case. But, something else gnawed at my frontal lobe. The serendipitous nature of De Santo’s appearance had disappeared under the information he presented.  One thing I’ve learned in the field is that when something feels too easy, it’s usually a setup.  But then there was the question of why they would do that and for that matter, who ‘they’ were. It could be Bernier but, if this was indeed a government op as I suspected, it could be any number of federal agents.  Eddie could be a plant giving us a false lead.  Really, the whole situation could just have been created as a distraction from a grander scheme. I had no idea what to make of it but, I had a path to follow and a plan of attack.  I just needed to take it one step at a time. Solve the puzzle piece by piece.

           

            Around 4:00, the pit started clearing out. Most people were going home to grab a shower before the banquet, some were already dressed and preparing to head over. I stood in the latter group, as did Heather. We were standing near my desk, talking with some members of our and Doug’s teams, coordinating amongst them.  Everyone knows about double agents, at least the Cold War kind.  There’s the American spy who sells himself as a traitor to the cause, and then the Russian operative who gets a job at the embassy and bugs a diplomat.

However, there is another kind of double agent.  This double agent works for one department of the government and infiltrates – or otherwise observes – another. This type of operation often occurs through various nefarious means: bribery, off-the-books payroll, a shell company. The bottom line is: there are agents who spy on other agencies within the government, monitoring them for various reasons. The CIA, for example, cannot operate on domestic soil. But, that only matters if they get caught doing so. They may have a plant in the FBI who gains access to a case about a drug cartel the company tracks in Morocco.

In our case, every member of every team was going to report on their assigned tasks to the three of us.  Effectively, we would be creating a database of active operations within the government. This information set would be worth at least as many lives than a non-official cover list.

            “I think it goes without saying,” Heather noted, “but, I’m going to say it anyway.  We are going to be compiling a lot of sensitive information on a lot of departments built upon secrecy.”

            I stepped in, “If you think the fact that we are part of the same government offers you protection from the operatives we are spying on, you’re wrong.  Everyone acts with the utmost discretion.  Tomorrow, we’ll start tackling our direct lines of communication. Until Hendricks green lights our strategies, I don’t want anyone looking into anything they aren’t willingly handed.  Be open about Alltech but be subtle about the fact that you’re investigating government operations.”

“The things our contacts keep hidden are being hidden for a reason. What we don’t know will tell us more than anything we learn.”

We wrapped up with a few notes on the banquet, and left everyone to their own devices.  Heather looked at me, concern in her eyes. “Do you really think this is that dangerous, Jim?”

“I don’t know. And I’m not too eager to find out.  If this is backed by the government and we get in the way, all bets will be off. At best, we will come out looking like a department of complete morons.”

“Well-”

Hendricks cut her off by summoning us into his office.  His eyes were glossed over and his breath still smelled of the wine. I wondered if I was exhibiting any similar signs. There was no good way to bring it up, so I just let it slide.

“What’s up, boss?” Heather asked.

“I want you to cover Jimmy tonight.  This may very well be our only chance to get to Monsieur Bernier.  If anyone starts to separate them, you run interference.  Jimmy, you know you job.”

We both affirmed and started walking out the door. I let Heather lead and turned back to Hendricks, “Ryan, you feeling okay? That wine…”

His lips slowly spread into a tight but wide smile.  “Let’s get going.”

 

 

The banquet hall was absolutely immaculate.  The ceiling stood about 30 feet high at its lowest point.  White silken drapes ran up from the second-floor balconies and into the center of the expansive rectangular venue.  They each connected to one of ten large chandeliers – gold with large chains of true crystals connecting each arm to the column and a few strands of the same crystal hanging off of each. 

The floors were covered with red velvet carpeting, trimmed near the edges to reveal a heavily marbled floor.  The walls were stark white resembling a museum, and they were lined with the kind of artwork you would see in one.  In the center of the room was a large granite fountain with four levels and four massive red flambeaus in a diamond pattern on each level’s basin. Around the room were some Ancient Greek statues made of bronze, some of marble, all clearly out of my budget. The one nearest our table was Lysippos’ Apoxyomenos.

The tables were distinguished and noble.  Thick trunks of mahogany supported intricate stained glass. The stains were various shades of red, lined with gilded frames, all depicting sigils of ancient fire-breathers, the dragons of old. They were all hand-carved, hand-paint and majestic. To complement the regal elegance of the tables, the chairs were elaborate, hand-carved ebony thrones topped with highly detailed lion heads, mistakable for real lions on first glance. They bore soft velvet cushions that matched the carpet.

The place settings were a likewise shade of soft red and the “silverware” matched the gold etchings found across the tables. I suspected that it may well be 22 karat dinnerware. Above the stairway to the balcony level (whose banisters were of that same white marble, wrapped in ivory) hung a large tapestry with an intricate uniform mass-center fractal sewn into it. This place was far too extravagant and costly for government affair but, I wasn’t about to complain. Who would?

The hall was full of tuxedos and tail coats, well-formed women with tantalizing wardrobes. The classical black-tie aura was enhanced when three string ensembles played in unison.  I suppose this hall wouldn’t be sullied with such monstrosities as speakers. So, they had three conductors coordinating with each other.  It made for a moment of silence between pieces, but I’m sure no one else noticed.  This soiree seemed more akin to a debutante ball than a banquet celebrating a successful year of protecting and serving our country. Nonetheless, the blended aroma of wines, perfumes, elaborate meals, and Royal Danish cigars flooded the room, permeating my nostrils more and more heavily with every breath; it dizzied me. Then again, it could have been that wine again…

An usher led me to my table. There sat a portly man with a top hat and monocle behind a name plate identifying him as Thomas Mack. Thomas Mack is an entrepreneur who owns several broadcasting corporations and at least one retail electronics chain. My name plate was a few seats down from his, and Jean Bernier’s lie completely opposite mine. I casually picked up one of the engraved marble identifiers next to his and walked it over to my seat, swapping it for mine. When I came back around the table to take the seat I’d annexed, Thomas Mack flashed me a smile; I winked.

“No one needs to know.”

His genial grin could have reflected off the crystal that hung above us. He spoke with a brilliant southern twang, a classic gentleman.

 “Taking the initiative may very well be the most important ways to move up in the world. I approve of your tactic, Mister…” 

“Special Agent James Del,” I extended my hand and he shook it with a firm grasp that mirrored his persona. – One of the more memorable handshakes.

“Well, Special Agent James Del, I reckon it’s about time I had some company. I’ve been here thirty minutes awaiting the other members of our party.”

“I’ve only got my eye on one partygoer tonight.”

“Our host, Monsieur Bernier. Of course. Tell me, are you looking to get out of the Department? Move into the private sector?” He was direct, an admirable quality to me.  His hand somehow found its way on top of mine.

“I wouldn’t necessarily call that inaccurate.” I love my country but… I’d work for a better paycheck.

He clasped my hand in his corporate iron grip. “Alltech ain’t the only company payin’ good for the work you do, hear? I hope you have the good sense to keep your eyes open for… other opportunities.” This time, he winked at me. It’s an exceedingly odd-looking gesture with the monocle, by the way.

“Mr. Mack, I must ask you, what’s with the piece?” I wrapped my thumb and index finger around my eye.

            He laughed at the question before replying. “Agent Del, I’m what they refer to as a ‘big-wig.’ In truth, I’m just a man who had a dream and put every ounce ounce of strength I had into accomplishing it. My life has been spent workin’ harder than a one-legged man wantin’ to win a butt-kickin’ contest. Nonetheless, the media like to attack those of us with real power. By giving them something silly to focus on, like a monocle, I can prevent them from pokin’ too deep into my private life –  keep ‘em from seein’ the way my cat really jumps, y’know.”

            “I follow.” I lied, “Still, it seems odd you would have that concern, considering how much of the media you actually control.”

            “I don’t control people, I own them. I take that to mean I’m right to enable my employees to chirp out the songs they feel need singin’. How wrong of me it would be to give a bluebird a melody, only to tape its beak. That cruel as all git out.”

            “I couldn’t agree more.” 

We had a couple of drinks brought to us and continued some fun and friendly chatter as more members of our party arrived. Monsieur Bernier, of  course, came in last.

 He was dressed to kill. A double breasted burgundy swallow-tail overcoat held a slightly cinched back, giving it a small flare. This may be the most elegant coat I’ve ever seen. The collar was a soft shade of grey, as was the pattern around the alabaster buttons. His pants, classic grey trousers, fit him so precisely I thought it must have been an engineer who fitted them. Beyond that, he wore a matching grey suede vest and a crisp black shirt, pristine in press and sharp in style. He completed the outfit with a white cravat, tied with an intricate Celtic knot.  His accessory: a black cane with a 24-carat gold bauble held in by a matching frame that appeared to resemble the talons of a predatory bird. He clearly qualified as a fashion eccentric. But, he pulled it off.

            Though he stood firm at six feet tall, his posture and poise made him seem taller than Hendricks, whom I noticed across the aisle surveying Bernier and myself. Bernier’s pale complexion and blonde hair led me to the illusion that his eyes, a royal shade of blue, may actually be purple. His wore his hair half-shaved and worn over his left eye. It held a delicate, creamy kind of thickness and the slightest waving pattern. The tip of his hair came down just past his chin and all converged to a single point.  Aside from emitting a cartoony vibe, this guy was classic—a modern-day Rockefeller.

            To be honest, the man got my blood racing.  Dear God. This guy would look ridiculous standing next to Prince, or KISS.  Thomas Mack glanced over. “And you thought the monocle was silly.”  I had to snicker. I took a cursory glance around the banquet hall and noted that all eyes were on the Alltech CEO and modern revolutionary. I’ll say this; the man definitely knew how to get attention.

            Bernier took his place beside me and everyone at the table made their greetings.  Apparently, I was the only stranger among the group of elites.

            “Bravo, Jean, Bravo! You’re outfit is spectacular!” A fashion mogul at the table cheered. A lady several seats down commented on the “fluff” in his hair.  The gushing went on for a little while until Thomas Mack broke it with, “Now, I must ask you, Mister Bernier – Where is your charming companion, Evelyn? I thought she would be attending.”

            The first time Bernier spoke his voice captivated me.  A tone richer than red velvet cake (something about this room made me want to eat and drink red) inspired the dizziness of the wine – or possible the slew of other drinks.  His accent was heavy but his English was clear and I had no trouble understanding him. “She is a bit under the weather, I am afraid. She could not make the flight from Paris.”

            “What a shame,” another technologies CEO mentioned, “it is always a blessing when we are graced with her beauty.”

            “Indeed.” Bernier replied.  He turned to me. I don’t know if I looked dizzy. slack-jawed, or generally uncomfortable. I meant to introduce myself but I felt like I had swallowed a handful of hot coals. He read my name plate and extended his right hand.

            “Special Agent Del! Ca va, ca va! I am glad to see my request was granted. Please, no need to be nervous. Relax, mon frère, you are here with honors. Do not consider yourself an impediment to the table. You are among friends.”

            As he spoke, the dizziness subsided.  I felt a little less tongue tied and answered, “I’m honored that you asked me to your table, Monsieur Bernier. I have been looking forward to meeting you since your interactions with my office began.”

            He gave me a smile but, his eyes pierced into mine. I worried I may have said too much, considering the nature of the DSI’s work. I shied my eyes away but continued speaking. “Besides, as the largest contributor to this event, you couldn’t possibly be denied… And I must say, it has certainly exceeded anything I would have expected. This is the grandest event I’ve ever attended.”

            His eyes shimmered, “I spare no expense, Agent Del. It is the least I can do for such a hard-working agency as yours.  I am glad to hear that your—how do you say… your analytical mind hasn’t spotted any problems with the ambience.”

           “Not a prop out of place.” I lifted my wine glass, a casual toast. The gesture clearly delighted the odd gentleman. On first glance, I assumed Bernier to be the kind of man who took pride in presentation.  I had clearly judged him with pinpoint accuracy. But still, seeing the lengths he would go to for something like an obligatory celebration of federal laborers… it completely blew my mind.

            The meal was a fantastic steak dinner served with a medley of sweet fruits and vegetables, four kinds of rolls, and baked potatoes with all the accoutrements. I have no need (and truly can’t begin) to explain the flavors in detail, suffice it to say I have never eaten anything this tender, juicy, or downright satisfying. I thought the meat rose in Elysium field; the vegetables must have been grown is the Gardens of Babylon. 

I later found in conversation that none of the food had been cooked, but it was all created from DNA and RNA by Alltech genetic engineers. The entire meal was created without any natural ingredients, ‘except for the chemical elements’ that go into them.  Bernier went into some detail about the synthesizing process, how the engineers simulated cooking by creating the meal on grills and in ovens. Apparently, there is always room to boast. Each portion of each plate took around three hours to make.  That meant at least 12 hours went into every single attendee here. I shuddered at the thought. He concluded with the summary, “An inefficient failure of an experiment to say the least but, an entertaining way to avoid taxes under the guise of ‘humanitarian effort.’ I am happy to cater any of your events, as well, messieurs et mesdames.”

            Thomas Mack laughed heartily and raised his coupe, “To write-offs!” To which the table resoundingly cheered, “To write-offs!” This time, I didn’t feel as out of place as out of reality. I found it hard to imagine that some of the most important human creations may have just been tax dodges.  Imagine: flu shots and the polio vaccine are only around so that medical companies can keep their money in their pockets, instead of handing their fair share to the government. It made me want to do a forensic analysis of these companies’ books, out of pure morbid curiosity.

Bernier stood up, cued the conductors at the end of Vivaldi’s “Winter” and walked up the stairway to the primary balcony. He delicately tapped his glass and the whole room fell silent.  Now that’s power. Close to two thousand people silenced by his sheer presence… and possibly his outfit.

 Heather questioned me with a gaze. I don’t know if she meant to ask me about his eclectic style or hinted that I should take this opportunity to do something. Regardless, I had no desire to disrupt his speech.

“Mesdames et Messieurs: As I look out over the sea of thousands, I would like to take this most humbling moment to thank each and every one of you for attending this banquet.” Humble… right…

 “It is an honor,” he continued, “to be held in such high esteem by the most powerful corporations in one of the greatest countries in the world. And of course, I must thank the Department of Special Investigations for your continued dedication to protecting your country from the most devious of enemies, so that your people may continue to live the greatest lives they choose, and so that we of course, may profit from them.” That part was painfully sincere. Applause rolled like thunder from the hands of the corporate fellows for a moment. Bernier took a beat and spoke again when when the noise died down.

            “Sil-vous-plâit, I would like to invite you all to enjoy the second half of the evening where we will be serving a fantastic variety of desserts and crème drinks, and further offer you the opportunity to dance on the floor of this stunning banquet hall.” A low murmur rose; there certainly wasn’t space for two hundred to dance, let alone two thousand. Bernier’s lips pursed into a tight, elongated smile and he nodded his head. A deafening mechanical grinding rattled the floor beneath us. The massive granite fountains in the center lowered into the ground, leaving the entire central square of the room clear for dancing.

Presentation? The man had it down. I mean, God damn. A fountain like this doesn’t exist in the most elaborate palaces on Earth. I caught Hendricks—who seemed oddly unimpressed by the spectacle—out of the corner of my eye. He approached me with serious purpose. I met him halfway.

            “I told you not to leave his side, Jimmy.” His breath smelled of Chateau Lazare and a slew of other liquors.

            “What do you want? I wasn’t going to follow him up there like a lonely puppy. He was giving a speech, man. How do you want me to deal with that?”

“Well, the speech is over, genius. Get up there.”

            “Relax, I’m on it.”

A chill shot down my spine and, I think Hendricks felt it too. We simultaneously looked up to see Bernier staring directly at us. I could see the blue in his eyes from here and it made me shiver again. There aren’t many bluer blues in the world.

I climbed the elaborate winding staircase and joined Bernier, who had taken his seat at a table near the ledge from which his toast was delivered.  We sat in silence for a moment and I could tell he took the opportunity to size me up better. Staring contests with a stranger – even a famous one – are uncomfortable to say the least. Once drinks had been brought around to us, I broke the silence.

            “You certainly have a flair for the dramatic, Monsieur Bernier.”

            He looked at me and I thought for a second that I could actually see his charisma.  “Drama, Agent Del, is how the human race has come to define itself. It is a product of the species’ defining characteristic – emotion.”

            “Absolutely. It’s a shame we can’t see past the social aspect of humanity and be a more productive race. It’s to the point that friends can be destroyed by the most innocent, naïve comments, just because of that need for drama and attention.”

            “Mais non. Your view is tainted by your limited experience. It gives us the opportunity to create such truly grandiose realities as the one before you.  This event is memorable because your daily life is not.”

            “That’s not exactly the point I’m making.”

            “But it is. You posit that insignificant equates to unnecessary, do you not?”

            “I suppose I do.” I was actually a bit startled by his eloquence. Interrogating this guy was not going to be as routine as I counted on. I definitely wouldn’t be making major progress tonight.

            “Without the mundane, people would have no appreciation for the righteous and great moments in their lives. Imagine a terrorist attack on your country. Think about how that would feel, what it would mean for your future.”

            “Not too hard.”

            “If people did not even care about the little things, why then would they care about those which truly matter?”

            “Because they truly matter, Monsieur.”  I thought it valid but, he dismissed me.

            “Because they have scale, Agent. Let me ask another way. Would an immortal care for the dramatic moments among family or friends? Would he even care for an attack on his country? When a man lives for thousands of years, would not a conflict of ten years seem to him as such a small amount of time?”

            “I’m not an immortal, Monsieur. I have no clue how one would feel.”

            “The answer is obvious to me. But as you said, there is no way for a mortal to know. So then, let us drop the existential façade.” His eyes narrowed, “Ask your questions, Agent Del.”

            I jumped back, a bit startled. His tone changed so drastically, supported by palpable pressure.  I guess you don’t become the most powerful man in the country without knowing things.

             “Questions?”

            “It is written all over your face.” A different smile than I’d seen on him overtook his face.  This one was determined, focused, and made it clear that he was too smart to try and lead through a series of questions or lies. I had a hunch he could not be fooled.

            So, I decided to be direct.

            “One of your employees visited me. He filled me in on the MO of the theft of your documents. Monsieur, you led us to believe that the theft had been one purely of information, something that was copied. Something you didn’t actually lose. If you want to continue with the Hyperlite project, you will be starting from scratch.”

            “Ouay. Continue.”

            “What I want to know is why. It seems like this is a much more significant problem than you want us to believe. Why then are you keeping information from the DSI? You’re forcing us to work handcuffed”

            “Subtlety is everything, Agent Del. Had I revealed the true nature of my problem, the unknown thief would know that I have no way to stop him from selling our secrets.”

            “Contractually, they belong to the government on completion. They are our secrets as well, Monsieur. Still, it seems like you would want us to have as much information as possible. The Department specializes in piecing together information. I think the DSI can solve this. We just need to have all the pieces. If you give us the authority to investigate your facility…”

I cringed at the realization that I needed his permission to perform the most preliminary steps in solving a crime which stole these secrets. I had the unique opportunity to as a total stranger if I could do my job. Bernier noticed it, too. He couldn’t hide his delight. He reveled in the power he had over the government’s key players.

            “I don’t want your department to solve this case any more than I want my security staff to solve it. I want as few people to know as possible. The people I trust and the people you trust. Those are the people who should be working on this case.”

            “Surely, you know the scale of the task before us, since scale is everything.”

            “The criminals are but a trinity. The scale is small. Nothing you say will sway that opinion. Move on to the next question.”

            Shutting down my arguments with such dismissive impassion. Bernier showed that he most valued power and control. Silly me… I thought he cared about his world-changing technology. Instead of wasting time, I decided to go against my better judgment and play his way.

            “Then, if you want me to solve this, I need to get more information on Alltech, Hyperlite, and the thieves.  You need to let me in, Monsieur Bernier. You need to show me the things you’re hiding.”

            Bernier raised his hand to silence the conversation for a moment until a host came around with two glasses. Bernier took one and gestured for me to take the other. A quick sniff told me it was a more refined version of the wine he’d given Hendricks. We sat in silence, sipping on the wine for more than a minute. This time, the most powerful man in the room spoke first.

“Secrets are only important when they are dangerous, Agent. Would you really risk jeopardizing your life for my company?”

            “If Hyperlite can be turned into a weapon against the civilian population, then I have no choice. Call me a martyr if you like. I cannot allow a potential wave of new-age weapons fall into anyone else’s hands.”

            “Hyperlite’s primary purpose in the hands of a terrorist organization would be as the shell for a weapon of mass destruction and chaos.” I heard the gravity in his voice.  “The compound would cut the weight of any missile, gun, or bullet by no less than forty per cent while keeping the density nearly identical.  With refinement in the process, the cost would become marginally higher than the cost of standard weapons. A small price for a major enhancement.”

            It made sense enough. There are militaries, terrorist groups, private security forces; all of whom would love to have weapons that didn’t burden their men. I imagined the feeling of an m16 that weighed less than three pounds. All else being equal, that is a humongous advantage. Damn it. What a sick use for a space-age alloy.

            “There is no doubt in my mind that the thieves were your agents and the researcher who took the original documents was turned by them.” He accused with such resolution that it became impossible to speak in protest.

I began to feel a little dizzy and hoped Bernier didn’t notice. I swallowed before opening my mouth to speak again, lest I throw up on the host of a multi-million dollar event. “We are investigating every agency thoroughly,” except the DSI… but that seemed like something he didn’t need to know.

            Another long, penetrating stare. After about ten seconds, I grew radically uncomfortable. I had nothing to say but, I felt ravenous, compelled to break the silence. Nonetheless, I had to win this one. I held my tongue and waited for Bernier to speak.

“Are you investigating your agency, mon frère?” He finally asked.

“The DSI?” the man hammered me relentlessly. I started thinking I couldn’t best him in the game of wits, so I spoke frankly. “Of course not. We don’t train for covert operations like that.” The wine suddenly hit me like a brick to the face. I had to clench my stomach in my arms to keep from keeling over.

            “Absurdité. There is a reason I have been hiding so much from the eyes of your department.  That reason is not paranoia, Agent Del, believe you me.”

            “How can you be so sure?”

            “I know my enemies. I have been dealing with politics and scandals since long before you began your career as an agent.”

            “You think a political enemy is behind this?”

            “I think a dangerous enemy is behind this. Hyperlite is classé secréte. Whoever organized this theft knew what they were taking. They had plans for the material. They are powerful and dangerous. And I fear before long, they may be targeting me personally.”

Goddamn it! Shit! The more I talked to this guy, the more I saw the labyrinth growing around me. I believed him thoroughly but damn it all if this wasn’t turning into the most disconnected series of problems I’d ever needed to connect.  The pain in my head became impossible to masque. Things were starting to get a little fuzzy.

            Bernier gave me a grave look, the blue in his eyes seemed to grow silver streaks in them but, that was probably another symptom of what might be alcohol poisoning.  I lurched forward, then leaned over the edge of the table and puked like a wildebeest. Everything faded into black.

 

 I have no idea how long had passed by the time I came to. I heard a crackling noise, something like bursts of static or bubble wrap being popped but with more sharpness in its crack. I opened my eyes to a completely blurred view of the world. I saw some kind of movement and heard a muffled voice over a dull static roar. I picked myself up and shook my head to try and clear my thoughts and the ringing in my ears.

 As things became clearer, the bubble wrap sound became more like fireworks. I was still on the velvet carpet. My heart leaped to my throat. The fuzz cleared and the unknown movements became feet running around my head. That static erupted into ear-shattering shrieks of terror and confusion. I instantly realized that things had gone particularly wrong; no one was ready for this.

Bernier called out to me from his position ducked down behind our table; there were a couple of bodies on the dance floor and a small squadron of men with automatic weapons.  I reached for my shoulder holster and couldn’t find it. I was still in a bit of a drunken haze, everything was still fuzzy. I wasn’t sure if I’d even worn my gun to the event.

 “Fuck!” I peered over the balcony and saw their weapons were a lighter shade of gunmetal. Their vests seemed different from normal Kevlar as well. They were almost chain mail, if the chain links were smaller than bullets. All the gear was definitely made of a material I had never experienced before. As several DSI agents and security guards returned fire, I realized that they were indeed much different. Their individual patterns of fire were fast and controlled. They had practically no recoil and less gun smoke. Each burst from any of these men definitely meant someone’s death. My first instinct watching the bullets ricochet off the squadron’s absorptive armor was that the material was a completed prototype of Hyperlite.

“Nom de Dieu! Do you see now, Agent? My enemy has already turned Hyperlite into a weapon and an armor. This is a massacre and I am sure to be the prime target!”

I believed for a while that it might be a dream. There was no way this could be happening and yet, it was. Ten or more men were blasting away everyone at the banquet. I guess having all of Bernier’s allies in one place is a great opportunity for shooting enemy fish in a fancy barrel.  The men were trained and dressed for combat, possibly ex-military. I turned to Bernier. It made sense that he would be specifically targeted in a mass shooting like this. I wanted to get him out alive. I shouted amidst the chaos. “Come on, I’ll get you out of here!”

“No, Agent! I can take care of myself; your friends are down there! Regarde!”

He pointed to the corpse-laden stairway. Heather reloaded ran down the flight of stairs with Hendricks laying cover fire behind her. I peered across the aisle and learned that they were running towards a fallen Doug. An exit wound the size of my fist replaced his right temple.  I tried to scream but, I threw up over the balcony’s ledge. I didn’t see where it landed. By the time I looked up again, Heather ragdolled down the stairs. I feared the worst and simply couldn’t watch anymore. I turned to face Bernier. Before I could find him, a sudden attack of gasping and choking consumed me.  At first, I thought I may have suffered internal damage and blood was filling my lungs. My eyes watered. I realized it must be tear gas. 

The burning pain in my nostrils crippled me and my hands couldn’t decide whether to cover my eyes or clutch my throat. Fuck, these guys were serious!  I crawled around on the floor, seeking a place to breathe, only to realize that this balcony had been commandeered by a score of soldiers. Only higher-ups in the DSI would have known the exact floor plan of the hall. It made me sick to think that Bernier may well have been right about that. But it still didn’t explain why this was happening.

“Jimmy! Fuck this is bad… Jimmy, come on!” I heard Hendricks yell behind me. I turned to face him. By the time I could focus enough to deal with the gas in my eyes, I could see Hendricks mere feet away. His eyes had widened; his head fell forward and he dropped to his knees. A stream of crimson ran down the corner mouth. He made a terrified gurgling and shock paralyzed me. I had seen the source of the sound. One of the soldiers had run a combat knife through the throat and pushed Hendricks’ unconscious body forward as a shield—the sick bastard. I was going to kill him in my escape. I wanted to scream out for Hendricks but I couldn’t catch my breath.

A surge of electrical pain exploded throughout my body. Things changed and I lost all sense of orientation. I couldn’t even tell if I was standing yet. Silence pervaded. Only my heart beat registered and it quivered between hard pulses in my chest. I realized I’d fallen on my chest and crawled towards the nearest exit. Colors faded.  My breathing didn’t improve, though I was sure the gas had dissipated. Instead, it became a laboring task, heavy on my chest. A foot came down on my leg; it shattered my knee. If I screamed, I couldn’t hear it. I tried my hardest to make any sound at all. Rolling over only horrified me. A bayonet in my back had torn through my heart. I was dead. It would only be seconds before my brain stopped functioning. A mercenary-soldier kicked me over and slammed his boot into my spine. Several vertebrae snapped under the pressure and my legs lost all sensation.  The next time I felt the foot, it was on my neck, pressing my face into the ground. He lined up his shot with a pistol and I felt a mortifying array of emotions ranging from indignation and radical anger, to humiliation and absolute fear.

Then things went black again.

 


 

Hope y’all are enjoying this little journey as much as I am! Stay tuned for more zany antics!

-Trick

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Non-verbal communication and establishing characters through creative grammar? Or… something…

SO, this is something I get a lot of crap for at times. People learn the rules of grammar, but they don’t understand the application. In academic writing, yes, follow the rules strictly. But when it comes to creative writing, grammar takes on a separate role. This is something a few authors have discussed. I’m not sure how popular the school of thought is but I embrace it.

Grammar is used to represent non-explicit moments. For example, I put a comma right here (after “For example”) so that you know to take a pause. The reader can see that and think Oh, clause over. This section tells me the following statement is just an example and not necessarily anything more. The comma also separates clauses. This is independent clause A, (pause) and this is independent clause B. What’s the point? The comma indicates the relationship of the statements around it. But, it also creates a pause (like a breath or bow-lift mark, for those who are musically inclined).

What does this have to do with non-verbal communication in creative writing? you can use the comma to emphasize where a character takes a beat. The character could say “This is cool, but there are a few structural issues and it may not funnel energy properly.” Or, he might say “This is cool but, there are a few structural issues and it may not funnel energy properly.” In the first version, the two clauses feel equally important. They have the same emphasis they would as two separate sentences. By shifting the comma, you move all of the emphasis to “but.” In essence you are saying “Clause A is relevant but, clause b is more important.”

There are more common practices for this. Generally, you would see “Clause A… but, clause B.” maintaining the clauses’ unique emphatics but, also rendering the conjunction ultimately purposeless and redundant at best. The way I have seen which I like is “Clause A, but… clause B.” This puts the most emphasis on the conjunction by utilizing the comma at the end of clause A to show a beat and adding ellipses to show that there is a moment of thought or reflection going into clause B.

Why do I just use the comma? Well, I suppose it’s a mild influence from the way Brits speak. “Clause A but, Clause B.” is similar to “Clause A but… Clause B.” The difference being the amount of pause. In the latter, the speaker is saying that they have a point to make that they need a moment to think on (for wording, emotion, whatever reason). Conversely, the former says that speaker has a counterpoint to the first point and they want you to pay attention to it. It’s like a way of killing the confirmation bias (Where the partner would hear clause A agreeing with them and disregard clause B).

Is it grammatically correct? No. But, it’s another way of establishing speech patterns, internal thinking, and general character. Is there a perfect way to prescribe and use this style? Not really. The grammatically correct thing to do would be to put ellipses there. The problem is, if you have a character who does this a lot, you get ellipses all over the place and, (pauses after conjunction, not before) that’s just as a bad as the comma machine gun. Using this in addition to ellipses would cut back on both of those problems and still express the character. 

You may disagree. I wouldn’t blame you. But, I don’t care. This is just something I’ve heard about and tried to apply in places. It’s interesting at the very least. Anyway, here are some general communication guidelines

“( )” – clauses in parentheses are not relevant to the story and are generally directed at the reader. These come up mostly in first person or narrated stories.

“- -” – clauses between hyphens are asides that are not necessarily relevant, though they can be. More importantly, these clauses should be used for flavor or character expression (IE, alternate phrasing for what the character just said.)

“, ,” – the stuff in between two commas, as you should know, is most commonly a dependent clause. There are too many possible uses to list here. Just don’t abuse them! (It’s my problem too)

 

There are more but, this is the stuff I’m talking about so… (different version of this) that’s that! Like, comment. Let me know if you agree with this idea or not. Who enjoyed the grammar stuff? Am I the only massive nerd?

Later all
‘Trick

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The Test of 69

I read “How to Read A Novel” by John Sutherland recently, hoping for some insight into literary studies. While I learned a little, this book is obviously geared toward young adults and people who aren’t already inclined in the field. It’s entry-level stuff for the most part… still a good read though.

What stood out to me specifically was what [I believe] Sutherland penned as “The 69 Test.” The way it works is: you pick up the novel you are considering and flip through the pages. When you get to page 69, read it. Read the whole page without stopping. Then, if you liked what you read, the odds that you will like the book are extremely high. It has to do with psychology, storytelling, blahblahblah, there are quite a few factors (which Sutherland discusses a little as well), but the bottom line is, page 69 is purported to be the page of revelry. I’ve gone into a bit of research with this and though I haven’t done this test personally, I’ve read excerpts from page 69 of a lot of books. There are tons of great snippits there. It inspired me to check what my page 69 looked like and if it seemed to follow the same apparent trend. I haven’t edited this page yet but… I’m not waiting to try this test out.

Without further ado, here is the coveted page. If you like this page, you should buy this book. If you don’t… buy it anyway 😛

 


I could see his face sharper and clearer than I expected for a man hiding behind a shroud. It was as if I had a flashlight on him. He was rather young, a pale-skinned blonde with bright green eyes and his slim, smooth figure suggested he could never grown any facial hair.

“Forced by whom?”

“Alltech, Agent Del. Tomorrow.”

He turned to leave but Doug stopped him quite aggressively. “Not another fucking step! You know something, you’re coming with us.”  He pulled his cuffs out of their pouch and handed them to me.  I felt a tugging in the back of my brain, something telling me to get away from the scene, not to arrest Dumont. But, it’s hard to override your training. My body and subconscious knew the right thing to do, the only thing to do. In this kind of situation, you arrest the guy.

Dumont stopped and kept his hands in the air. We both kept our weapons trained on Dumont as I crept towards him. I crouched a little and approached him with a quiet and cautious walk, just in case he tried anything. When I got to him, I slowly holstered my gun and reached for his right hand. Just before I applied the cuffs, there was a loud hard boom and Doug screamed out then hit the ground hard, as did his cigarette. People around screamed and ran. Some hid behind dumpsters; others just ran until they were well out of sight.

“Doug!”

 Another shot rang out. I heard the projectile fly past my head and through a nearby window. I leapt through air, diving behind the closest building and drew my gun out. I pointed it out around the corner and peeked my head around as subtly as possible. I popped off five or seven rounds to keep the shooter from firing at Doug again. Dumont already began making his retreat and I couldn’t stop him. I didn’t particularly want to at this point. The area was pretty empty anyway.  Scanning nearby windows and other vantage points for the type of rifle which could generate that sound proved fruitless.  There was no sign of the shooter. I suspected whomever it was only opened fired to keep Dumont out of our custody. The shooting was over, so I ran to Doug and checked him.

“Shit Doug! You’d better be alive!”

“I’m… I’m fine. Goddamnit.” He coughed out, clutching his throat. “That fuckin’ hurt. Check… ugh… It landed over there.” He pointed just a few feet away and I saw a .45 caliber slug – a rubber composite bullet. This kind of bullet is not meant to kill, though that was of little solace. Whoever it was either guarded Dumont to keep him safe or to keep him quiet. It seemed lucky that bullet wasn’t real. It might have just been for us. There may well have been a bullet meant for Dumont. I collected Doug, slinging his right arm over my shoulder and picked him up. Rubber bullets don’t really cripple you. Sometimes they break a rib from close enough but, in general they are used to make you think twice about whatever you’re about to do. A well placed rubber bullet can prevent a firefight from breaking out.


So? What does page 69 tell you?

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Chapter 2 – Before and After

I haven’t decided if I’m going to do this with the whole novel yet. But, I am definitely planning to do it with the first four chapters. The chapter four I release before was just a teaser. It has yet to be edited, in fact. Well, it was edited back when I first wrote it, as I needed to establish direction for the novel (which I learned was an exercise in futility, as the story wrote itself in the end). Anyway. Here’s chapter two as it was. 


 

By the end of the day, we were all exhausted.  It’s not as easy to read through several thousand pages as you might think.  In essence, each of us read two novels and reorganized the chapters into compendiums which we thought made more sense.  With the number of people working this floor, imagine it as a group of people all reading through the Harry Potter series, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Atlas Shrugged, then reorganizing them into new books based on a few perceived patterns.  Needless to say, we weren’t done at 5:00.

Doug Hanson, another Agent for the DSI approached me as I was cleaning up my desk. Doug dressed sharply on a budget. He somehow managed to find the nicest suits at thrift shops and bargain bins.  He stood a full head above me and had a tightly tied blonde ponytail down to his shoulders. He was pretty scrawny – practically a skeleton with skin – but he could outrun just about anybody I’ve ever met, including myself.  Despite this, he was unusually broad. I’ve been told by more than one criminal that the reason we could catch them wasn’t his speed but, the disorientation cause by seeing his strange frame. I had to agree. At times, it is a little disconcerting trying to reconcile his breadth with his lack of meat. To top it off, he wore small perfectly round glasses. Transitions, they’re called.

“Heather and I are gonna go get drinks, Jim. You in?”

“Yeah, let me get Hendricks too.  Where is the wetting of the beak tonight?”

“It’s that place on fifth and Columbus.  Flattery’s I think.”

“Flannery’s.”

“Right, whatever.  It’s been a long enough day without you doing that.  We’ll meet you there?”

I checked my watch.  Too many people use cell phones for everything these days.  At twenty to nine, I wasn’t going to get to the shooting range tonight and I certainly wasn’t going to start reading one of the many classic novels in my collection.  I’ve had enough reading for the next six months anyway.

“Yeah I’m in,” I replied, “just gotta touch base with Hendricks. We’ll do it on the way over.”

“Will see you there then… I’ll go ahead and get the first round.”

With that, he left.  Doug is a goofy looking individual but he means well and he has a big heart.  He’s another agent I’ve been in the field with.  Maybe it was the ten plus hours we tended to spend in the van – criminals don’t really work on your schedule – but, he’d kept me amused through some times so boring that I’d contemplated committing a murder-suicide.  Just to change the pace.  He could handle himself too.  The department seems to attract people who know how to fight well. Or maybe there is a correlation between IQ and combat savvy. I should look into that, find some studies on the militant mind or something.  I hate wondering about these things, I like answers. Welcome to DSI.

Hendricks was on the phone when I got to his door. I peered through the glass window and made a face at him. He didn’t seem to notice.  Two solid taps on the glass got his attention. He waved me in and wrapped up his call before I could open the door.  “Whew. Long day eh, Jimmy?” He waved a hand at the chair across from his desk. I sat down as he began cleaning up.

“We got it done. I tell you Ryan, they don’t pay us enough for the work we do.”

He flashed me a somewhat sleazy in retort. “Well, they don’t pay you enough”

“Does that mean you get paid more for the work, or you just do less work for the same pay?”

He let out a laugh and tapped his nose.  This Ryan is much better than the one running the ship.  I think he would get more productivity out of the team if he were to utilize his personality. I’m pretty sure I’ve read a study linking that kind of generally happy attitude in leadership reflecting in the work force.

“So, are we gonna go grab those drinks?”

“Yeah, we’re meeting Heather and Doug at Flattery’s Flannery’s. Damn it, Doug.”

“Hah, don’t start making errors on me now. I won’t be able to save you from being fired if you can’t speak-n-spell anymore.”

“I wouldn’t want you to.  Anyway, we got through all three cabinets, separated out security documents, listed out all the ID numbers of those with unrestricted clearance. We pulled out anything that referenced Hyperlite and filed it separately, though there wasn’t much outside of what I previously had.  Ryan, let me ask you something.”

“Shoot.”

“Are there any other floors working on this case?  Any other branches of the government?  I’m just a little confused by Alltech here. They are tying our hands with the information we receive, yet they are demanding we find a traitor in their organization, someone who had the ability to get past every security measure or otherwise gained access to Hyperlite.  It just seems weird.”

“Well, that’s exactly why DSI exists; we crack the cases that no one else can, regardless of the reason.  But to my knowledge, it’s just our team working on this.  Bernier must be pretty terrified to lose information on something so major. At this point, Alltech knows less about this thief than you or I. That’s reason enough for a man as powerful as Monsieur Bernier to be concerned.”

“Even so,” I half-thought, half-said, “he should be able to assume some level of trust to the government. Our contracts with his company notwithstanding, Alltech is still an industry leader in clean energy, cybertech, and a slew of other fields.  He should be able to trust this government enough to at least have a second team from DSI on the case. I would think he’d want as many people as possible in on this one.”

“Look, one thing I’ve learned after getting out of the field is that politics is a bitch.  The more power you have, the fewer people you can trust. It’s only those whom you have hand chosen to handle your affairs that you can trust to get things done.”  He ran his fingers through his greasy black hair and gave me a tired, frank look – one I hadn’t seen since we were making life-or-death decisions together.

I recognized his exhaustion and decided to wrap up the conversation. “Is Hyperlite really so revolutionary that it must be kept secret?”

 “My understanding is that this one is the project that unites every other endeavor Alltech has undertaken.” Hendricks took his jacket off of his chair and threw it over his shoulder. We walked down the stairway, through the empty office, lit only by the big city lights.

We waited for the elevator thirty floors below us, I commented. “Redefining every industry, eh?”

“It could lead to greater things than anyone ever imagined possible in our lifetime, Jimmy. This is the big one, and we need to recover any information that has left their facility so that it doesn’t get misused.”

“Right.”

The elevator finally reached us. Hendricks turned to me and flashed a wide grin, it would have looked villainous to anyone who didn’t know him. “You know what I love, Jimmy? Working with a hangover.”

 

By the time we arrived at Flannery’s Doug and Heather were already on their second or third drink of the evening.  We sat down on either side of them – I on Heather’s left, he on Doug’s right – and began drinking our preordained drinks. The conversation was pleasant; the atmosphere was pretty classic bar.

Flannery’s had red and green stained glass windows.  The lighting was all low-hanging, dim yellow bulbs. The whole interior of the bar was made of cedar – walls, furniture, bar, everything.  The décor was a little bit eclectic, consisting of a large bull skull above the bar, a few vases with a variety of flowers scattered around the restaurant section, and a Canadian flag above the entrance. There was a wooden barrier, about chest high, separating the bar from the restaurant section. It was topped with a slick brass beam running along its length.  Sometimes, I’m not sure what to make of this place but, they have the best happy hour around:  Buy one, get one free.

We drank the next round in silence. On the third round, Heather spoke.

“You know what really irks me about this case?”

Hendricks and I gave a quick glance around the bar; the bartender was in the restaurant section serving a nondescript man. They were shooting the breeze it seemed, maybe old friends. Neither was within earshot. Hendricks nodded at me as an “all clear” sign.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“The hours… We aren’t getting overtime for this. It’s really rather demotivating to spend extra hours every day working on this and getting jack shit for it.”

Doug chortled and added, “We don’t even get a piece of the discretionary fund.  It’s not OUR money, it’s Hendricks’ money.” He looked over at Hendricks. “Maybe we could if someone didn’t have such expensive tastes.”

“When you’re running the office Doug, you can buy all the fancy suits you want. Besides, I got this one when I was a kid.”

“A kid?”

That was a pretty shocking statement, given his stature. All I could muster up was “Jesus, man.”

“How old were you when you first became a giant?” Heather inquired. “I mean, seriously Ryan, if you got that suit when you were a kid, then you were a freak of nature.”

“I hit 6’6” at 15 and just grew an inch a year for a while.”

Doug let out an impressed whistle, I eyed my scotch, swirling it in the cup with a smirk on my face. Heather’s eyes were twinkling with joyous curiosity. Hendricks is always fun when you’re buzzed.”

“The worst part,” he continued, nonchalant as though his freakish size were commonplace, “is that I grew so big, so fast, that I didn’t develop the coordination required to navigate this body until I was in college. I tried out for my high school’s track and field team once; I wanted to do the 110 meter hurdle. I could step over all of them now but back then, I couldn’t get my legs to jump on command; I tripped over all ten hurdles. I even dragged one with me.”

We all had a laugh. Doug and Heather had never heard this story before. I decided to put Hendricks on the spot. “Could’ve been worse though, right? You’re high school crush could have been there cheering you on.”

He threw me a quick look but he still had that cheeky smile on his face, the kind of smile you get when you have a memory you wouldn’t trade for the world. “Stephanie Jorgensen. She was watching from the bleachers… moved to town just a year before.  Barely spoke English but damned if she wasn’t the most beautiful woman I’ve seen, to this day.”

“Thanks for that,” Heather returned.

Doug threw in a quick aside, “You’re plenty hot, don’t sweat it.”

“I broke one ankle and sprained the other when the hurdle I was dragging knocked over another hurdle. I still managed to finish and dropped onto my knees. I cried like a baby and she laughed and laughed.” He snickered a bit on that last note. 

“You’re a lot more fun after work, Hendricks.” Doug patted him on the shoulder. “Have I told you that yet?”

“Every time we drink, Doug. Every. Fucking.Time.”

“Well, it’s still true.”

Heather turned to face them. I had a rather exhilarating view of the back of her head. “Why don’t you act this way more often? You know, I’ve checked out a few studies that concluded a positive attitude in management results in higher productivity in the work force.”  I knew it.

“Our work is different. And anyway, I don’t need the whole team asking about the Advetures of the Intrepid Imbecile.  I’d rather they see me as a leader to be respected and feared than respected and loved.”

“You catch more flies with honey, Ryan.” I quipped, much to Hendricks’ annoyance. I do enjoy instigating from time to time.

“I think the team would really take to you.” Heather added. She turned to me and gave a quick wink. It was nice to see that deviant smile of hers. The whole team is a lot of fun and we get our work done. These are my three favorite people though, the ones I wouldn’t have to worry about protecting in the field. Even the rusty Hendricks, five years out of the field, could step into any situation without missing a beat.

                “But still,” Doug began, “your mindless zombie work face isn’t as troubling as this Alltech thing. When was the last time we had to dedicate the entire floor to a single case, anyway?”

                “Not since I’ve been here,” Heather answered.

                “Nor I,” Doug continued.  “And the CEO, Bernier. He has the kind of power that drives men to madness. Asking us to dedicate our floor to this theft but, refusing us any other assistance. He’s even got other departments in the government refusing to help.”

                “I tried talking to my superiors.” Hendricks interjected, “The orders are to keep it as small as possible. Everyone in the government is required to have Alltech clearance authorization. When virtually anyone working for your multi-billion dollar corporation across the country could be responsible for something, you’ve gotta keep it close to the vest. The second the thief knows someone is pursuing them, it goes from a potential leak, to a leak. And that person would have a lot less junk to filter through to sell the information than we have in figuring it out. Plenty of dangerous people would pay more than a lifetime can spend to have the stolen information.”

                “I’m sure he’s handling the matter internally as well.” Heather reasoned. “He probably has the Alltech security department working on it full time. We are very likely just that extra set of eyes.”  As she said that, she batted her eyelashes in a most befuddling manner, and I could tell all three of us guys took notice.

                Doug rubbed his tired eyes under his glasses. “It’s just all so unorthodox.  Since when does the government take liberties with its policies on corporate espionage and national security?  This guy Bernier says the most important scientific development this government will ever see has been sabotaged and he wants one team and complete secrecy?  Tell me that makes sense.”

                “To your point,” I answered, “The government takes plenty of liberties with all of its policies.  The guys in charge tend to do whatever the fuck they want while the agencies therein monitor exactly those liberties to make sure they aren’t in violation of the very laws they set forth.”

                “Fuck politics so much.” Heather supplemented in a most ladylike manner.

                “As for Bernier and Alltech, I’ll be talking to him on Friday. These are all good questions for me to address with him.  I think I’ll try to spend the evening glued to him. Who knows? Maybe he really is just a terrified little boy worried about what the other kids are going to do with his toys. Maybe I can convince him to get us extra hands, if it comes to that.”

                Hendricks nodded in agreement. “All of this is just unfounded speculation stemming from frustration. Jimmy is going to be the first one of us to speak with anyone from Alltech.”

Doug’s jaw dropped. “You mean to tell me we are the only people looking into this and no one has spoken with Bernier yet?

“Bernier or anyone associated with Alltech. My orders came straight down the chain of command. The only person outside of the team I have heard anything from is my SO, and all he did was give me the mission brief.   But, this happened in July. I’m willing to be it came to us after several other agencies to a whack at it. Hell there could be other teams in the DSI working on it.  The point is, we have no fair reason to make any conclusive statement about the politics and procedures at play until after the banquet.  In the meantime, we hold our noses and do our jobs. Regardless of any external factors, someone stole information that could do real damage. No matter what, we gotta find it.”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right. I’m just venting frustration.”

Heather put her hand on Doug’s shoulder and gave a reassuring smile. “I’m right there with you.  I never would have had this kind of secrecy going in the Bureau.”

I had one more thought to add as I gathered myself up. I threw a few bucks on the bar for a tip and looked to Hendricks. He gave a slight nod confirming my drinks were covered. “Don’t forget, these are the kinds of cases they created DSI for.  If there weren’t this confusion, there wouldn’t be this job.”

 


 

And now, here is the current chapter two! Over the first three chapters, I’ve subtracted about 500 words but added about 1500. If this trend continues, there will be an additional 7000 words in this novel! Here are 600 of those 7000, mixed in with this chapter.

 


 

By the end of the day, everybody was exhausted.  It’s not as easy to read through several thousand pages as you might think—even with a full team working at it. To put it in perspective, we each read the equivalent of two novels and reorganized the chapters into compendiums which we thought made more sense – the grimoires of Alltech.  With the number of people working this floor, imagine it as a group of people all reading through the Harry Potter series and Lord of the Rings trilogy then, reorganizing them into new books based on a few coincidences.  Needless to say, we weren’t done at 5:00.

Doug Hanson, a fellow agent with plenty of experience, approached me as I was cleaning up my desk. Doug was the type of guy who could dress sharply on a budget. He somehow managed to find the nicest suits in thrift shops and bargain bins.  He stood a full head above me and had a tightly tied blonde ponytail down to his shoulders. He was a clear-cut example of a nerd. His features were long, drawn out, and generally sharp. To top it off, he wore small perfectly round glasses. Transitions, they’re called.

“Heather and I are gonna go get drinks. You in?” He placed his hands on my desk, casting a little bit of shadow over me.

“Yeah, let me get Hendricks, too.  Where should we wet our beaks tonight?”

“It’s that place on fifth and Columbus.  Flattery’s I think.”

“Flannery’s.”

“Whatever it is.  It’s been a long enough day without you doing that!  We’ll meet you there?”

I checked my watch. Cell phones be damned, my watch still tells time.  At twenty-to-nine, I wasn’t going to get to the shooting range tonight and I certainly wasn’t going to start reading some intense book like Dracula at this time of night.  I’ve had enough reading for the next six months anyway.

“Yeah I’m in,” I replied, “just gotta touch base with Hendricks. We’ll do it on the way over.”

“We’ll see you there then… I’ll go ahead and get the first round.” With that, he left. 

Doug is a goofy character… but he means well and he has a big heart.  He’s another agent I’ve been with in the field.  Maybe it was the ten-plus hours we tended to spend in the van – criminals unfortunately don’t work on your schedule – but, he’d kept me amused (by which I mean sane) through some times so boring that I’d contemplated committing a murder-suicide just to change the pace.  He could handle himself too.  The department seems to attract people who know how to fight well. Or maybe there is a correlation between IQ and combat savvy. I should look into that, find studies on the militant mind or something.  I hate wondering about these things, I like answers. I feel like there should be research on everything in existence by now. Then I wouldn’t have to ponder so much. Welcome to the DSI mind.

Hendricks was on the phone when I got to his door. I pressed my head to the glass window and made faces at him—a sign that work was over. He didn’t seem to notice.  Three solid taps on the glass got his attention. He waved me in and wrapped up his call in the time it took me to open the door.  “Whew. Long day eh, Jimmy?” He waved a hand at the chair across from his desk. I sat down as he began cleaning up. I think by that point, the chair’s cushion simply knew how to give when I sat down. It had only gotten more comfortable over years.

“We got it done. I tell you, they don’t pay us enough for the work we do.”

He flashed me a sleazy smile in retort. “They don’t pay you enough.”

“Does that mean you get paid more for the work or, do you just do less work for the same pay?”

He let out a laugh and tapped his nose.  This Ryan Hendricks is much better than the one running the ship.  I think he would get more productivity out of the team if he were to utilize his personality. I’m pretty sure I’ve read a study linking that kind of generally happy attitude in leadership reflecting in the work force. I should definitely find the data and present it to him.

“So, are we gonna go grab those drinks?” Hendricks inquired.

“Yeah, we’re meeting Heather and Doug at Flattery’s – Flannery’s!” I cursed Doug’s name.

“Hah!” It was a loud, coarse laugh. “Don’t start making errors on me now. I won’t be able to save you from being fired if you can’t even speak-n-spell anymore.”

“I wouldn’t want you to.” My response came with a classic grin, the kind you shouldn’t sport if you don’t have countless experiences in being right and the resulting job security.  “Anyway, we got through all three cabinets, separated out security documents, listed out all the ID numbers of those with unrestricted clearance. We pulled out anything that referenced Hyperlite and filed it separately, though there wasn’t much outside of what I previously had.”

            I stopped for a moment. I looked at Hendricks to make sure he was aware that something was coming.   “Ryan, let me ask you something.”

“Shoot.”

“Are there any other floors working on this case?  Any other branches of the government?  I’m a little confused by Alltech here. They’re tying our hands with the information we receive, yet they are demanding we find a traitor in their organization, someone who had the ability to either bypass every security measure or otherwise gained access to Hyperlite.  It just seems weird.”

“Well, that’s exactly why DSI exists; we crack the case, regardless of any kind of confusion.  But to my knowledge, it’s just our team working on this.  Bernier must be pretty terrified of losing information on something so major. At this point, Alltech knows less about this thief than you or I. That’s reason enough for a man as powerful as Monsieur Bernier to be concerned.”

“Even so,” I half-thought, half-said, “he should be able to assume some level of trust to the government. Our contract with his company notwithstanding, Alltech is still an industry leader in clean energy, cyber-tech, and a slew of other fields.  He should be able to trust this government enough to at least have a second team from DSI on the case. I would think he’d want as many people as possible in on this one.”

“Look, one thing I’ve learned after getting out of the field is that politics is a bitch.  The more power you have, the fewer people you can trust. It’s only those whom you have hand-chosen to handle your affairs that you can trust to get things done.”  He ran his fingers through his greasy black hair and gave me a tired, frank look – one I hadn’t seen since we were making life-or-death decisions together.

I recognized his exhaustion and decided to wrap up the conversation, despite the dozens of other questions burning my mindd. “Is Hyperlite really so incredulous that it must be kept this secret?”

 “My understanding is that this one is the project that unites every other endeavor that Alltech has undertaken. Hyperlite is purported to be an Alloy that will replace all others. No more plastic, no more metal… Just Hyperlite” Hendricks took his jacket off of his chair and threw it over his shoulder. We walked down the stairway through the empty office, our casual stroll lit only by the expanse of city lights.

We waited for the elevator thirty floors below us. After a minute or so silence, I commented. “Redefining every industry, huh?”

“It could lead to greater things than anyone ever imagined possible, especially in our lifetimes. This is supposed to be the big one, and we need to recover any information that has left their facility so that it doesn’t get misused.”

“Right.”

The elevator finally reached us. Hendricks turned to me, a wide-eyed smile locked on his face. Combined with the way he bore his teeth, the look could have been mistaken for villainous or even demonic to anyone who didn’t know him. “You know what I love, Jimmy?”

It felt like he was setting me up for some kind of shtick, so I bit. “What’s that, Ryan?” 

“Working with a hangover.”

 

By the time we arrived at Flannery’s, Doug and Heather were already on their third or fourth drink of the evening. The two were laughing and wobbling just a bit on their stools.  We sat down on either side of them – I on Heather’s left, Hendricks on Doug’s right – and began drinking our preordained drinks. The conversation was pleasant; the atmosphere was pretty classic bar.

Flannery’s had red and green stained glass windows.  The lighting consisted entirely of low-hanging, dim yellow bulbs. The whole interior of the bar was made of cedar – walls, furniture, bar, everything.  The décor was a little bit eclectic, consisting of a large bull skull above the bar, a few vases with a variety of flowers scattered around the restaurant section, and a Canadian flag above the entrance. The TVs around the bar were all tuned to the same soccer game. There was a wooden barrier, about chest high, separating the bar from the restaurant section. It was topped with a slick brass beam running along its length.  Sometimes, I’m not sure what to make of this place but, they have the best happy hour around:  Buy one, get one free.

We drank the next round in silence. On the third round, Heather spoke.

“You know what really irks me about this case?”

Hendricks and I took a quick glance around the bar; it’s something you learn to do when you spend enough time working with classified intelligence. Secrets only exist with active monitoring. If you don’t keep it secret, then it isn’t. It doesn’t matter if the guy who overhears your discussion is benign. There is likely someone else trying to extract the information you guard and you must assume they would torture and kill any random person to further their goals. A black operative I worked with once told me “paranoia is the key to survival.” When you’re wrong about being stalked, the situation can go south quickly. But when you’re right, you’ll be glad you kept your guard up.

The bartender hung around in the restaurant section, serving a nondescript man. They were shooting the breeze it seemed, maybe old friends. Regardless, neither was within earshot. Hendricks nodded at me, an “all clear” sign. He returned to his whiskey, studiously absorbing every detail of the liquor.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“The hours… We aren’t getting overtime for this. It really is rather demotivating to spend four or five extra hours working on this case every day and getting jack shit for it.”

Doug chortled while adding, “We don’t even get a piece of the discretionary fund.  It’s not OUR money, it’s Hendricks’ money.” He looked over at Hendricks. “Maybe we could have some for ourselves if someone didn’t have such expensive tastes.”

“When you’re running the office Doug, you can buy all the fancy suits you want,” Hendricks smiled without batting an eye away from his drink. “Besides, I got this one when I was a kid.”

“Get out of here! A kid?”

That was a pretty shocking statement, given Hendricks’ raw size. All I could muster up was “Jesus, man.”

“Boss, How old were you when you first became a giant?” Heather inquired. “I mean seriously, if you got that suit when you were a kid, then you were a freak of nature.”

“I hit 6’6” at 15 and grew around an inch a year for a while after.”

Doug let out an impressed whistle, I eyed my scotch, swirling it in the cup with a smirk on my face. Heather’s eyes were twinkling, joyously curious. Hendricks is always fun when you’re mind isn’t buried in work.

“The worst part,” he continued, nonchalant as though his freakish size were commonplace, “is that I grew so big and so fast that I didn’t develop the coordination required to navigate this body until I was in college.” A hard laugh slipped out of my mouth despite my best attempt to repress it. I remember when Hendricks first realized how to long jump with his body.

“I tried out for my high school’s track and field team once,” He continued. “I wanted to do the 110 meter hurdle. I could easily step over all of them now but back then, I couldn’t get my legs to jump on command; I tripped over all ten hurdles. I even dragged one with me.”

We all had a laugh. Doug and Heather had never heard this story before. I decided to put Hendricks on the spot. “Could’ve been worse though, right? You’re high school crush could have been there cheering you on.”

He threw me a quick vengeful glare but he still had that cheeky smile on his face—the kind of smile you get when you have a memory you wouldn’t trade for the world. “Stephanie Jörgensen. She was watching from the bleachers… moved to town just a year before.  Barely spoke English but damned if she wasn’t the most beautiful woman I’ve seen to this day.”

“Thanks for that,” Heather muttered.

Doug threw in a quick aside, “You’re plenty hot, don’t sweat it.”

Heather shot him the bothered look of a tiger before it decides to make you into food while Hendricks continued his story. “I broke one ankle and strained the muscles in the other when the hurdle I was dragging knocked over one or two more hurdles. I somehow managed to reach the tape at the other end. I mean, I crossed it and immediately dropped onto my knees. I cried like a baby and she laughed and laughed…” He lingered on that last note a bit. 

“You’re a lot more fun after work, Hendricks.” Doug patted him on the shoulder. “Have I told you that yet?”

“I shit you not, Doug. Every time we go out, you do exactly this.”

“Well, it’s still true. Take the hint, man!”

Heather turned to face them. I had a sarcastically exhilarating view of the back of her head. “Why don’t you act this way more often? You know, I’ve checked out a few studies that concluded a positive attitude in management results in higher productivity in the work force.”  I knew it.

“Our work is just… different. And anyway, I don’t need the whole team asking about the Adventures of the Intrepid Imbecile.” Hendricks shook his head, chuckling under his breath.  “I’d rather they see me as a leader to be respected and feared than respected and loved.”

“You catch more flies with honey, Ryan.” I quipped, much to Hendricks’ disapproval. I do enjoy the poking of the bear.

“I think the team would really take to you.” Heather added. She turned to me and offered quick wink. It was nice to see that deviant smile of hers. The whole team is a lot of fun when we get our work done. These are my three favorite people though, the ones I wouldn’t have to worry about protecting in the field. Even the rusty Hendricks, five years out of the field, could step into any situation without missing a beat.

            “But still,” Doug began, “your mindless zombie work face isn’t as troubling as this Alltech thing.” He glanced around as he spoke. The bartender was sitting with that fellow, chatting up a storm. “When was the last time we had to dedicate the entire floor to a single case, anyway?”

            “Not since I’ve been here,” Heather answered.

            “Nor I,” Doug continued.  “And the CEO, Bernier. He has the kind of power that drives men to madness. Asking us to dedicate our floor to this theft but, refusing us any other assistance. He’s even got other departments in the government refusing to help. Whatever’s going on, I think we need to be cautious of Bernier himself.”

            “I tried talking to my superiors.” Hendricks interjected, “The orders are to keep it as small as possible. Everyone involved in federal law enforcement and policymaking is required to have Alltech clearance and authorization-”

“That should tell you something right there!” Doug insisted.

Hendricks paid him no mind. “When virtually anyone with access to your multi-billion dollar corporation across the country could be responsible for a crime, you’ve got to keep it close to the vest.”

“The second the thief knows someone is pursuing them,” I added, “it goes from a potential leak, to a leak. So far there is no reason to believe the theft has tried to move the information. They could have been working for another corporation, not necessarily an independent broker.”

Hendricks continued, “And that person would have a lot less junk to filter through in selling the information than we have in figuring it out. Plenty of dangerous people would pay more than a lifetime can spend to have the stolen information.”

“Or spill more blood than a lifetime produces.” I commented. Maybe it was the alcohol but, I felt that line too poetic to pass.

            “I’m sure he’s handling the matter internally as well.” Heather reasoned. She was probably the most rational person in the group. Even though we hadn’t operated together yet, I knew she was DSI material. “He probably has the Alltech security department working on it full-time. We are very likely just that extra set of eyes.”  As she said that, she batted her eyelashes in a most befuddling manner, and I could tell all three of us guys took notice.

            “That would explain our office being the only government team involved,” I responded.

Hendricks added, “It could also potentially write off the concern about our documents being censored. If Heather’s hypothesis holds any water, then I’m sure his security team is looking at more up-to-date and unrestricted information than any of us.”

            Doug rubbed his tired eyes under his glasses. “It’s just all so unorthodox.  Since when does the government take liberties with its policies on corporate espionage and national security?  This guy Bernier says the most important scientific development this government will ever see has been sabotaged and he wants one team and complete secrecy?  Tell me that makes sense.”

            “To your point,” I answered, “The government takes plenty of liberties with all of its policies.  The guys in charge tend to do whatever the fuck they want while the agencies therein monitor exactly those liberties to make sure they aren’t in violation of the very laws they set forth. We protect the common citizenry by watching the national elites and other vermin. ”

            “Fuck fucking politics.” Heather supplemented in her best ladylike voice. She followed the eloquent statement by hammering back a full vodka-cranberry.

            “As for Bernier and Alltech, I’ll be talking to him tomorrow. These are all good questions for me to address to him.  I think I’ll try to spend the evening glued to him. Who knows? Maybe he really is just a terrified little boy worried about what the other kids are going to do with his toys. Maybe I can convince him to get us extra hands if it comes to that.”

            Hendricks grunted his agreement. “All of this is just unfounded speculation stemming from the goddamn frustration. Jimmy is going to be the first one of us to speak with anyone from Alltech.”

Doug’s jaw clenched. Heather was right; we were all getting pretty worked up. “You mean to tell me we are the only people looking into this and no one has spoken with Bernier yet?

“Bernier or anyone associated with Alltech.” I corrected.

“My orders came straight down the chain of command. The only person outside of the team I have heard anything from is my S.O., and all he did was brief me on the situation: the alloy, the thief, the secrecy.   But, this happened back in July. I’m willing to bet Bernier came to us after several private agencies tried to figure it out. Hell, there could even be other teams in the DSI working on it under just as much shroud as we are.” Hendricks noticed the lost look on Doug’s face. He was losing the crowd as the alcohol kicked in. “The point is, we have no evidence to make any conclusive statement about the politics and procedures at play—at least until after the banquet.  In the meantime, we hold our noses and do our jobs properly. Regardless of any external factors, someone stole information that could do real damage to a lot of people if it fell into the wrong hands. No matter what, we have to find it.”

“Jesus, I’m just venting, man.”

Heather put her hand on Doug’s shoulder and gave a reassuring smile. “I’m right there with you.  I never would have had this kind of secrecy going in the Bureau. Over there, everyone needs to know everything.”

“I’m glad we don’t have to deal with oversight committees unless things go terribly wrong,” I smiled and threw a few bucks on the bar for a tip and looked to Hendricks. He tipped his head, confirming my drinks were covered. “Enjoy the rest of the night. I’m going to go home, get some sleep and not feel crappy working at 8am.”

 

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