Read Pieces of the Puzzle Online

Authors: Robert Stanek

Pieces of the Puzzle

THE PIECES OF
THE PUZZLE

ROBERT STANEK

This is a work of fiction. All the characters, names, places and events portrayed in this book are either products of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual locale, person or event is entirely coincidental.

The Pieces of the Puzzle

Copyright © 2006 by Robert Stanek.

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form. Printed in the United States
of America.

Reagent Press
Published by Virtual Press, Inc.
www.
reagentpress
.com

Cover design & illustration by Robert Stanek
ISBN 1-57545-821-7

REAGENT PRESS

Also by Robert Stanek

Ruin Mist Chronicles

Keeper Martin's Tale

Kingdom Alliance

Fields of Honor

Mark of the Dragon

Scott Evers Thrillers

The Pieces of the Puzzle

The Cards in the Deck

The Pawns on the Board

The Players in the Game

Magic Lands & Other Stories

Look for spoken-word versions of these

and other Robert Stanek books!

Washington, D.C.

Friday, 24 December

Life wasn’t a Christmas movie and no one knew that better than Scott Evers as he sat alone on a park bench at 4 a.m. on the
morning of Christmas Eve. He held a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag in his right hand and there was a tiny portable device
nearly hidden within his left. A lamppost off to one side of the bench cast his shadow out onto the brown grass of the trash-strewn
park. That it hadn’t snowed this late in December didn’t bother Scott. He thought it was just as well not to have a white
Christmas this year.

Two people with strikingly different backgrounds watched him from opposite sides of the square. Neither seemed to know the
other was there; rather they simply watched and waited for the moment to make their move.

She was parked in a silver Intrepid. The car, like everything else she possessed, was rented. Tears had washed her mascara
halfway down her cheeks, and her hand on the sweated leather of the steering wheel was trembling despite a grip that was turning
her fingers blue. She glanced at the gun sitting on the passenger seat and fought the primal urge to do what must be done.
To see the surprise in his eyes as she took from him what he had taken from so many others, she was sure, would make all the
pain go away. But she needed him, and hated herself for needing him.

He was parked in a green Eldorado. The car was his, purchased with cash in early October. His mood matched the trace of disappointment
in his eyes as he looked on. It was true things hadn’t gone well for Scott after the Agency and that things had turned from
bad to worse when Scott separated from Cynthia three months ago, but to find the Agency’s former top operative sitting alone
and drunk on a park bench at 4 a.m. seemed unreal, almost surreal. He had plans for Scott Evers, and none of them included
returning him to the fold.

The two onlookers stepped out of their cars at almost the same time. Their thoughts and eyes focused on Scott alone. She touched
a hand to the pins holding her wig, snatched the gun up from the passenger seat and then hurried off. He paused to look into
the side mirror, straightening his tie and making sure hair was covering the growing bald spot in the middle of his head.
A large manila envelope was on the Eldorado’s passenger seat. Remembering the envelope, he opened the driver-side door and
grabbed it.

Scott twisted the cap off the bottle, the already-broken seal allowing it to slip off all too easily and making it all too
easy to raise the bottle to his lips. He squeezed his eyes together as the first rush of sweet and tangy raced across his
tongue. Right then he wished he hadn’t replaced the whisky with apple juice, but as the whiskey had already been spilled into
the gutter, there was nothing he could do. As he put the bottle down, he glanced from the device in his hand to the tiny red
glow coming from the left inside pocket of his sport coat. He twisted a nearly invisible earpiece farther into his ear and
waited.

With business commuters already beginning their morning treks into the heart of D.C., the wait wasn’t long. The device stopped
at 802.315 megahertz. The unique digital signal code from cellular number 545-8992 as it fed into the cell net was decrypted
and stored digitally in the device. A few seconds later, Scott received identity confirmation: Howard Allen Smith Sr. Shortly
afterward the user ID was stored securely. From there, Scott connected to the wireless organizer in Mr. Smith’s coat pocket.
The organizer feed was slow but fast enough to snatch Mr. Smith’s e-business card and other useful information before the
car was out of range.

Scott took a rubber-tipped pen out of his right pocket and wrote into a palm-sized electronic notepad:

Howard Allen Smith Sr.

PR Rep.

5-star

Scott fancied himself the Grinch just then, but he wasn’t stealing Christmas. He was stealing lives. He stole lives to get
back his own. The cell call was from a woman and although her voice was in his ear less than a minute before the device started
searching again, it was enough to propel Scott’s thoughts to Cynthia. Cynthia, who was waiting for him, for good news, and
for the light at the end of the tunnel he promised her was there if only she would be patient a little longer.

Cynthia. Beautiful Cynthia, full of life at twenty-three, married to a man fifteen years her senior. A worn-out husk of what
was once a strong man. A man who at twenty-three would never have let anyone get the best of him. He told her he’d come back
for her when it was safe. That was three months ago and there was even more danger now.

As if coerced, Scott’s gaze shifted to the front page of the
Washington Post
, which was on the bench beside him. A single article occupied most of the front page and just as the article’s headline stated,
the whole of the world had stopped yesterday. The president’s statement on national television calling the shutdown of global
financial networks and the National Federal Reserve System “a glitch, a coincidence and nothing to worry about,” couldn’t
have been further from the truth. The outage started with the FTSE in London, spread to the CAC in France, the DAX in Germany
then hit every major exchange in Europe.When the U.S. markets opened shortly afterward, the same thing happened on the NASDAQ,
the NYSE and elsewhere.

Quotes in the article were a testament that there were some in Washington who understood there was a problem, but Scott had
read the article and knew very few truly understood. The cascade effect wasn’t an accident caused by the original London exchange
outage. It wasn’t a programming error either.

Billions were lost as a result of the outages. But Scott knew the shutdown wasn’t about money. It was about control. Scott
knew this if no one else did. It was all about information and its control.

Scott heard footsteps but didn’t look up. An hour ago he had wondered if today was the day his shadow would step out of the
car and approach him. Now he wondered if today was the day he’d be forced to put a bullet in the back of the other’s head.

“I have something for you,” a woman whispered, her voice calm.

Scott looked up. His eyes widened but the years spent in hellholes where his life depended on being calm and cool served him
well. The device had told him about the woman parked in the Intrepid. He had marked her as a nonthreat, an obvious misjudgment.
He said quietly as he raised the bottle to his lips, “Keep walking. There’s a dangerous man coming up from the west end of
the park.”

The woman didn’t move.

Scott guessed from the position of her hand in her pocket that she was holding a gun. He knew she had been following him since
Monday and while he had given her two opportunities to confront him, she hadn’t. He stood awkwardly, the bottle in his right
hand swaying mightily as he staggered toward her and offered her a drink. Then with catlike quickness he leaned forward, reached
his left hand into her right pocket and laid his index finger over hers on the trigger.

He whispered in her ear, “Scream while you’re running away or he’ll kill you.”

The woman stared back at him. Her eyes empty and cold. It was a look Scott had seen many times in the mirror, and seeing it
in her eyes affected him more than when he saw it reflected in his own. When the woman saw that Scott understood, she screamed
and ran. But she didn’t run because he wanted her to, she ran because it seemed the right thing to do. The look in her eyes
haunted Scott as the echo of footsteps steadily approached from the west end of the park.

“Always were a real charmer,” the other said as he stopped just within the yellow glow of the lamppost.

“Faith Presbyterian, come to save the drunken sinner,” Scott said quickly. “Why today, Glen?”

“We need to talk, but not here and not in the open. Come with me to the Fredericksburg branch office.”

Scott stared back blankly. “The pieces won’t just glue back together.”

“You’re very wrong. They do.”

Unmoving, Scott replied, “He was dead when I arrived in Munich. The rendition failed.”

“You want to set the record straight. I’ll help you. We’ll take my car.”

Scott slipped the device he had been hiding deeper into his pocket and then said, “I don’t have the records.”

The other smiled, the wolf showing his pearly whites. He didn’t say what he wanted to. The plan was for the conversation to
be as brief as possible to accomplish the job. He said what he had been saving, “Cynthia’s ultrasound looked good. She told
me she wants you to come home.”

Scott scratched at the stubble on his chin. He wanted to grab the man about the shoulders and shake him like a rag doll.Instead
he looked on, waiting for the next move. “Lousy disguise,” Scott said finally to end the silence.

“Took you long enough.”

“Bald and fat, cute. But don’t mistake me for the gutter drunk I appear to be. I made you two weeks ago.”

“The eyes—”“—never lie,” Scott finished.

“They don’t, do they? But the woman still surprised you.Interested to know who she is and why she wants to kill you?”

“Not the first. Won’t be the last,” Scott shot back.Glen handed Scott the envelope containing the ultrasound printout. He
said, “If you come in, I’ll call off the watchdogs.You can go home to Cynthia like I know you want to.”

Scott reached out his hand to Glen’s. “Is that a promise?”

“Scott, the rules have changed,” Glen said, knowing the gesture had come too quickly to be sincere. “The Cold War is long
gone but in its place we have a connected world. To survive you must play by the new rules. Can you agree to see things my
way on this?”

Scott replied with a question. “What are you saying to me?”

“Why do you make everything so difficult? You know what I’m saying.”

“Spell it out for me.”

“Scott,” Glen said, “I know what you’re thinking. Even if you get by me, you won’t make it out of the park. I have full authorization
to minimize risks. You are about to become a risk.

Do we understand each other?”

“You’d kill me?”

Glen snapped his fingers. “Just like that. Consider it an expedient debriefing.”

Faster than the eye could follow, Scott drew a pen gun from his belt and pressed the tiny muzzle against Glen’s jugular vein.

“Mistake number one,” Glen said. “You’re a damnable creature of habit. You come back to the states and lose the edge that
kept you alive for the past 20 years in places I wouldn’t have wanted to be in.”

Scott pressed the gun harder against Glen’s throat. “So this is going to turn into a lecture now?”

Glen leaned forward, unafraid. “How is Cynthia, by the way?Any problems? Pregnancy can go wrong in so many ways. You on the
outside and every minute under the microscope of the recovery team isn’t helping.”

“Leave Cynthia out of this.”

“Let’s be sensible and discuss this like adults. You know it didn’t have to be this way. You made it this way. Put the weapon
away and come with me to Fredericksburg.”

Scott lowered the gun. Glen took it, putting it in the pocket of his overcoat. The two went to his car. Glen drove. They arrived
at the branch office a little after 7 a.m. By 9 a.m., Glen had completed the briefing and Scott was earnestly reviewing the
mission dossier.

Glen watched, making sure his face didn’t show displeasure.Things had gone much as he had hoped; still he had been so careful.
A kinship slowly cultivated over the years, all building up to a single moment of truth—the choice that would change his life
and Scott’s forever. But Scott was making this a little too easy.Why?

Scott tossed the dossier onto the desk and looked Glen in the eye. He was silent for a time then said firmly, “You have hundreds
of pages of nothing.”

Glen smiled at the show of emotion in Scott’s voice and eyes.Scott’s real problem was that after 20 years he still felt everything.Glen
cleared his throat. “A two-year official investigation. What did you think we’d turn up staying within the lines? We don’t
have that problem anymore. Do we? Five people know what we’re discussing, and you and I are among them.”

Scott said nothing. He stared at the photograph projected on the canvas behind Glen, knowing his eyes betrayed disbelief.
He leaned forward. “John Ellis Wellmen is the richest man in the world. You can’t be serious. Why do you want him?”

Glen Hastings emerged from the folds of the black leather chair. His dark brows bunched together. The heavy brown eyes beneath
stared across the long mahogany desk that divided the room. “Extremely serious.”

“His annual income is more than the G.N.P. of some entire nations.”

Glen gave no indication that he hadn’t known this.

Scott shifted uneasily in the chair and added quickly, “I’m not talking tiny, obscure third world either.”

“There it is, in a nutshell,” Glen shot back.

Scott’s eyes went to the dossier on the desk, but he said nothing.

“Good,” Glen said. He unlocked the briefcase, which had been on the desk, and put the folder into it. “His daughter’s wedding
is in the last week of January: Private, secluded, tropical.

He’ll be there for an entire week. That’ll be your one chance.”

“To hit the ranch?”

Glen glared across the open briefcase. “Security better than the Gray Room in Moscow at the height of the Cold War. We had
someone on the inside for six months and got nothing.”


Had?

” “Wellmen can’t possibly leave behind his business affairs for an entire week. He likes to keep a finger on every penny.
To be sure, he’ll have everything he needs to conduct business with him, computerized files, transaction records, you name
it—all encrypted in his digital wallet and everything in his coat pocket right where you like it. There’ll be hundreds of
guests. Security will be limited. You’ll have free reign.”

“How much encrypted data are we talking about?” Scott shifted uneasily in his chair. “I thought if I came here you’d give
me an out. Maybe a quiet position here in D.C.”

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