I wrote this all the way through to the end, but after I finished it, I set it aside before I edited, and I started something else. Partway through the something else, I received a rejection on the full for Manhunter (aka Dying Embers) that derailed me and made me doubt whether I could ever successfully write suspense. Needless to say, I dropped this and the other thing, and went with something I was pretty sure I knew how to write.
I still think this book has potential, but right now there are a few other books in the editing queue ahead of it. Here's the beginning...
Payton Landis caressed the service revolver in his lap. Part of him wanted to believe one bullet would end all of this, but it would only end his involvement. Whether he lived or not, Project Hermes would move forward. His death would only stall them for a brief time while Secretary Dougherty brought another patsy up to speed.
Lord knows there were enough of them standing in line to head the Terrorism Task Force when he was gone. Assistant Director Tweeg—his own underling—practically drooled last year when Landis hinted about retiring.
And then his dream to spend his winter years romancing his wife crumbled like so much asbestos.
Landis’ eyes strayed to the picture frame on the corner of his desk. His wife smiled back at him like she once had every morning, but no longer could. Today, though, disappointment seemed to tinge her expression.
“I’ll come see you tomorrow, Sweetheart,” he told the image, but even as the words left his lips, he knew he lied. Four months ago he’d visited the hospice just in time to see the nurse changing Evelyn’s diaper. One look at her former voluptuous body turned living skeleton and he threw up in a potted plant.
That was the last time he saw his wife.
A longer time had passed since he laid eyes on the woman occupying the frame next to Evelyn’s. When the photo was taken, Randi was barely old enough to be called more than a girl. Fresh from college and new to the academy, she looked so young in her crisp new uniform. Other than the mischief in her eyes, she looked like the consummate rookie law enforcer.
If he did this thing he was ordered to do, she would hate him.
He met Miranda Kruz during a guest lecture at Quantico, and in no time at all, she became like the daughter he never had. In the photo, her smile held so much promise and such innocent hope for the future. If she could only understand what this decision would mean for the country they both loved, she might see its importance.
Most likely, she would damn him for the rest of his days. She wouldn’t be the only one. Lord knows, he damned himself enough for all of them.
Back then he wanted her to succeed, but he was so certain she’d fail. Too pretty, too sensitive, and way too enthralled with the idea justice could always be served—she should’ve fallen apart at Quantico, but instead she excelled. Even though he recommended her appointment to the Secret Service, he was sure they’d boot her on her ass, but instead she received accolades. When he requested her transfer to his own Terrorism Task Force at Homeland Security, he was afraid every spark within her would dwindle until she became another mindless drone. She would’ve been better off it had, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. Eventually she settled into the mold each organization wanted her to accept, and somehow the fire still burned in her eyes.
With one hand, he tipped her photo facedown so she couldn’t witness his act of betrayal.
He thought about his friends—the few men he really could call by the term. With the secret he would carry after today, seeing any of them again would be tantamount to spitting on the values they shared. Even now, he could never sink so low. One by one, he ticked off their names and asked for their forgiveness.
“Why do this at all?” a silent voice niggled in his head.
The reasons were so few, and even those sounded insufficient. He could blame pressure from Dougherty; he could cite fear of losing his job. He’d been with the government for so many years he could no longer envision himself as anything else. In the end, though, only one real reason sprang to mind.
Maybe if those men he loved so well thought about his life and this choice, they would understand. Maybe they, too, had lost a loved one to the country’s growing insanity.
He picked up his wife’s photo and prayed he was doing the right thing. He told himself that someone before him should’ve already exercised some courage. If anyone had the balls to do what he was doing now, his wife would be home cooking dinner instead of lying in bed drooling on herself. Perhaps the young man who’d been deported three times—and returned after each—could have been stopped before he raped again, before he forced his way into the Landis home to commit yet another horrific crime.
The memory of his wife crumpled and broken at the bottom of the stairs leapt unbidden to his mind’s eye. A miracle kept her body alive, but nothing would bring back her mind. If only he’d seen the rightness of this plan when Dougherty first brought the idea to him, his beautiful Evelyn would still be whole. He couldn’t change what happened to her, but if this project worked, he might be able to stop such a vicious invasion from happening to anyone else’s wife.
Looking at the stack of correspondence on his desk, he deftly pulled out the only mail that meant anything tonight. Regardless of what either of those letters said, their content probably meant his damnation.
The first bore the insignia of Davis Labs, addressed by hand in the owner’s own bold strokes. If Jack Davis accepted this project, its timely completion was assured. Although Payton only met the engineer once, he had no doubts of Davis’s competence. From their brief acquaintance, he also knew every tiny doubt he himself had would multiply under Davis’s scrutiny until the man couldn’t help but refuse the job.
Hell, only Payton’s insistence even got him to look over the specs. Less than a week later, the return envelope landed on his desk.
The Nigerian was a different story. Casting a sideways glance toward the other envelope, Landis silently wished that particular proposal never arrived. Only this morning, the beige envelope embossed in gold slid out from his daily pile of mail, and he felt his chest tighten.
Of the half-dozen companies who received the request for quote, Mertex was the one Landis hoped would never go after the contract. In every way they were as perfect as Davis Labs, but still, something about the look in Dr. Ahumibe’s eyes turned even his ex-soldier stomach.
The overly proper man in the Armani suit wanted the project too much. Not like a man who wanted to solve a difficult problem, but for some other reason Landis could only guess at. And the guesses all filled him with dread.
He balked over opening what he knew would be the winning bid. He was half tempted to crumple the envelope into a tight ball and toss it into the nearest open flame, but it was no use. No matter what he did, Mertex would get the contract.
“Get this project done,” Dougherty had told him. “On time, and under budget.”
Payton knew Mertex would propose the cheapest bid with the shortest lead time for completion. Even if he was wrong and Davis’s envelope did contain a quote, he knew it couldn’t be competitive. For some indiscernible reason, Mertex would undercut everyone. The hyena-hungry look in Ahumibe’s eyes foretold the truth. The quote would contain a price for which the company would barely make a profit. If the project ran long, Mertex and its shareholders would lose their shirts.
Without even realizing what he was doing, Landis slumped forward and cradled his face in his hands. The world would be a better place if none of the companies bid. Everything would’ve been better if he himself had refused to obey orders and walked away from his job rather than send this project out for quote.
He might stop this avalanche now by refusing to open the envelopes. All he would have to do was call the remaining bidders and take the project off the table. The possibility still remained to walk away from the horror he was about to commit.
Except he couldn’t walk away while Evelyn was… He shuddered away from the image.
If it could be done, this project could stop another man from arriving home late to find his future shattered. Bringing an end to this so-called ‘immigration problem’ was within his power.
One little call and millions could be saved.
This is what he told himself as he picked up the phone. It was what he told himself, but he didn’t really believe it.