WordPress doesn’t let me tag non-blog posts (the links in the header row), so I post excerpts from my novel to let potential readers find me by searching. Today’s excerpt gives Zarabeth her chance at revenge on the man who woke her heart, then broke it. I also have another reason for posting this particular scene, that you will read in my next post. ‘Til then, enjoy!
Straightforward’s Hong Kong office was in one of Central’s sleek skyscrapers, two MTR stops and a century west of Wan Chai. At seven in the evening, the office was quiet. A staffer led Zarabeth to a bamboo hallway and offered her tea. People passed her, heading out. Everyone ignored her. Her feet pulsed from the heat.
At seven-thirty her telepresence session started, in a half-oval walnut-brown room with only a table and chair. On the wide screen, her boss Magda, pale-white pie-crust face as big as Oz. The staffer resized the image. Now Magda sat in gray clothes at a similar table in a similar room. Except for the floating time code window, the illusion of one place was convincing.
The staffer presented Zarabeth with a thumb-scanner wired to a secure interoffice pouch. She scanned. The security lock snapped off. The staffer left and locked the door.
“That’s to take with you,” Magda said, once they were alone. “Sit down, stranger. Flight ok? Settled in?”
“Fine thanks,” Zarabeth said. “This is spendy.”
“Corporate telepresence comes with hourly bug sweeps and physical soundproofing. Why reinvent the wheel? Now listen. Nine months ago we got word that Empyrean – Luther Koenig himself, in some cases – was having complex discussions with senior Chinese officials. Had been for a year. That’s all we knew for seven months. They have protection.”
“They might call it divine,” Magda said sourly. “We caught a break. An Empyrean named William Thorn pops up. Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, Seoul. Frequent strongly-encrypted contacts with Empyrean HQ. No records of past travels. No records. In this day and age. But he canceled his TV four months ago, and two months before that placed his Oakland grocery order through Singapore servers. Now we can track him. He’s coming to Hong Kong tonight.”
“Kill him or mug him?” Zarabeth asked.
“Down, girl. Our games with Empyrean have funny rules. We had something like this in ninety-eight, in Jakarta. A crazy time, and I felt bold. My asset stole an Empyrean’s computer from his hotel. Battery caught fire. Computer, scooter, asset, all burned to ash.”
“That’s some protection,” Zarabeth said. “How do you know Thorn’s not a decoy?”
“My little paranoid. I admit I’m gagging for this but we did some diligence. Funny tale in its own right. Thorn’s had other trips, out of the veil, including a week in Colorado Springs doing a background check on an Empyrean board candidate. The candidacy looked good, but it’s since come to light – a faint light, not a public one – the man had been a rapist. Not something Empyrean would be likely to miss.”
Empyrean, board member, rapist. “Had been.”
“Went off a mountain road,” Magda said, “two days after William Thorn flew to Beijing via overnight in Denver. During which Thorn rented a car and returned it with a hundred sixty miles on it.”
“Denver to Colorado Springs and back. Thorn’s an assassin for Empyrean?”
“If so he’s a sloppy one,” Magda said. “The rapist was driving with two women in his car, one of whom was pregnant. All dead. Empyrean is scrupulous about collateral damage. Even as an accident. They wouldn’t keep Thorn on this mission if they knew. Ergo, they don’t know.”
“But his protection does?”
“The Denver-Beijing trip is the first we can track.” Magda leaned forward. “Thorn murdered four people, three innocents. Who knows his reasons. He has fallen from grace. His wingtips are poking out under Empyrean’s curtain. We can pull the curtain back. You’re my representative. Officially. In the pouch is a tablet with a dossier on your team, and other materials. You meet the team at ten tomorrow. I know you’ll provide a shining example of team spirit. Especially since this is so close to your heart.”
Magda leaned back, crossed her arms, smiled indulgently. “My sweet burning Zarabeth. William Thorn is Gabriel Archer’s boss.”
Magda tapped a key. The screen went black.