Authors: Jeremy Bates
Rule number three: Never, ever let
anyone leave alive.
I’m so fucking stupid.
Sully struck me with something when
I was sleeping. I don’t know what he used. But when I came around my head
screamed with white pain, and I was covered with dried blood.
The fallout shelter is nearly empty. It makes me sick to my
stomach to write these words, but it’s the sad truth. Sully left us enough food
for maybe one month, maybe two if we really stretch it. But he took the seeds,
Walt, he took the heirloom seeds. He took all my guns too—all of them except
the .357 Magnum, which was in the holster on my belt.
This will be my last entry. I don’t
know why I’m bothering to still write in the fucking diary. I guess because I
started the damn thing, and I want to finish it.
We ran out of food today. We still have water, which means
we can probably last another couple of weeks. But what’s the point? So we can
starve to death slowly and miserably?
I’m not going to let you go through that, Walt. It’s not
right. It would break my heart.
The .357 Magnum’s cylinder is full, my last six bullets, but
I only need two.
Good night, my boy
This world doesn’t deserve you anyway.
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THE TASTE OF FEAR
***Read the first
three chapters of
The Taste of Fear
below. If you enjoy them, and would
like to continue reading, you can download a full copy of the novel FREE from
at the TV set in the hotel room, his face impassive.
twenty-three people have been killed in the duel attacks on the American
embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam,” the suit-and-tie anchorman said.
He stood before a
video image of the United States Embassy emblem. The ticker read: “Breaking
correspondent, Sebastian Briers, has the latest from Dar es Salaam. Sebastian,
good evening to you.”
The camera jumped
to a somber-looking field reporter dressed in khaki pants and a white linen
shirt. “Good evening, Cary. The attacks, which seem to have involved car or
truck bombs, both occurred inside the periphery gates of the embassy compounds.
There were, as I believe you said, twenty-three casualties so far counted.
Eleven of those were here in Dar. Four are believed to have been the Marine
Security Guards stationed at the front gate. Witnesses reported hearing a short
burst of gunfire, followed by a loud blast, what was likely a grenade attack on
the gatehouse. Then came a much louder explosion which could be heard miles
away.” The camera jumped again to shaky, low-resolution video footage of the
embassy complex. It was crowded with emergency response teams. Billowing clouds
of black smoke trailed into the air. The anchorman said in voiceover: “The
images you’re seeing were captured on a cell phone immediately after the attack
and played on a Gulf news channel. But this was not the first time attacks have
been carried out on the American embassies in these two countries. Exactly ten
years ago truck bombs exploded out front—”
flicked the channel.
of responsibility have already begun to surface on jihadist websites from
groups with Al Qaeda connections. One has threatened more attacks against
American and British interests overseas. Despite recent efforts to suppress
militant groups, today’s events are a grim reminder that cells are—”
hasn’t been confirmed by official sources yet, we have just gotten word that American
actress Scarlett Cox and her husband, American billionaire hotel tycoon
Salvador Brazza, were among those kidnapped today in what appears to be a fresh
Al Qaeda tactic. Sasha, what do you make of this new approach?”
“We can only
speculate, Nicole. But if you remember the 1998 bombings, of the more than two
hundred casualties, only twelve were American. Embassies nowadays—especially
these two, which have just been recently rebuilt—are constructed to withstand
bomb blasts. Consequently, the majority of those injured are people passing by
on the street or workers in the adjacent buildings. So what we’re seeing here
seems, as you said, like an entirely new plan of attack. An initial bomb to
create as much destruction and confusion as possible before terrorists pour in
to take hostages.”
“You got it. And
you also have to remember there are literally hundreds of terrorist attacks
around the globe every year. The media only covers the biggest ones intensively,
and even those get old after a day or two. I mean, does anyone remember much
about the attack on the American Embassy in Islamabad back in July? On the
other hand, when there are hostages involved, the story is often covered until
the situation is resolved, like we saw in Mumbai in September. So I think that,
yes, it is definitely a new strategy we’re seeing here. And whoever turns out
to be responsible seems to have hit the jackpot. You couldn’t have asked for
two more high-profile Americans short of the president and the first lady
would have to agree. Thanks, Sasha. Coming up next, we’ll go live to our
freelance correspondent, Kim Berkoff, who has information on what exactly
Scarlett Cox and Salvador Brazza were doing in the Dar es Salaam embassy in the
The assassin snapped off the TV and remained sitting on the
bed for a long while, thinking. His job, it seemed, had just become a hell of a
lot more difficult.
If Scarlett Cox
knew she would be careening down a
forty-foot ravine in the next sixty seconds or so, she probably would have put
on her seatbelt. As it was, she wasn’t clairvoyant, and she pushed the white
Aston Martin Vantage up to fifty, fifteen over the limit. She knew she
shouldn’t be speeding. She’d just passed the intersection with Mulholland
Drive, and there were a lot of hairpin turns and potholes coming up. But she
felt comfortable behind the wheel of the Vantage. The salesman had told her it
was a front-mid-engine sports car, which meant the engine was positioned low
behind the front axle, just before the cabin, dropping the car’s center of
gravity and boosting the handling and traction. Besides, she’d just finished
production on her latest film. She was feeling good, liberated. She eked the
needle up to fifty-five.
Keeping one hand
on the wheel, she used the other to turn down “Magic Carpet Ride” by
Steppenwolf, which was playing on the radio, loud. Was there any other way to
listen to music when the top was down? She scrounged around for her cell phone
inside her handbag on the passenger seat. The salesman had also told her the
Vantage had a Bluetooth thing that could sync her phone’s signal with the car’s
voice recognition technology and speakers. That was all too Knight Rider for
her, so she checked her voicemail the old-fashioned and illegal way: punching
numbers in to the phone’s keypad. Three new messages. The first was from her
hairstylist, confirming her appointment at two thirty.
Goodbye blonde, hello
she thought. The other two were from Gloria, her publicist, wanting to
clarify details about the birthday party this evening. Number thirty. Christ. It
seemed as though she’d just celebrated twenty-nine. She pressed End and tossed
the phone back in the bag.
around a sharp bend and found herself closing quickly on a black pickup truck.
She’d known her luck wasn’t going to last forever. Traffic on the stretch of
Laurel Canyon Boulevard between San Fernando Valley and West Hollywood was
sparse in the middle of the afternoon, but going fifty-five in a thirty-five
zone, you were bound to run up someone’s tail sooner or later. She thought
about passing the pickup, but only for a second. The road was divided by solid
double yellow lines. She might speed when she could get away with it, but there
were some things she didn’t mess with: pit bulls, blondes with chips on their
shoulders—real blondes, which she was not—and double yellow lines.
The pickup was an
old Chevy with a tall CB antenna poking up from the roof and white silhouettes
of women in provocative poses on the mud flaps. The two stickers on the chrome
bumper read: “My Other Car is a Hybrid” and “If You Can See My Mirrors Show Me
to forty, keeping one car length between them. Any closer and she’d likely
catch an STD. Her thoughts turned to her husband, Sal, and she realized with
apprehension that tonight would be the first time in over a month they would
see each other. The time apart had been their marriage counselor’s idea. She’d
said it would do them good. Give them perspective on their relationship.
Admittedly, it had been good for them—at least it had been good for Scarlett.
She still hadn’t forgiven Sal for what he’d done. But she’d believed him when
he said he was committed to saving the marriage, and during their time apart
she’d come to the conclusion she wanted to save it as well. They weren’t back
to how it had been before, and they likely never would be, but they had gotten
out of the mucky waters and were now schlepping their way up onto dry ground.
The Chevy’s brake
lights flashed, tugging Scarlett’s wandering mind back to the road. She tapped
her brakes and kept pace. Another flash. She frowned but didn’t slow. They were
on a relatively straight stretch of road. Then a man’s stringy, tattooed arm
extended from the driver’s window. His middle finger uncurled from the fist.
Scarlett rolled her eyes. Nevertheless, she eased back to give the good ole boy
Bubba was playing another game when a large pothole appeared directly in front
of her. The Vantage thumped up and down, jolting her in the seat and
reawakening the migraine which for the past hour or so had settled to a low,
dull throb she could almost ignore. She grimaced. Sometimes the migraines were
mild and bearable. Sometimes they made her grind her teeth and rub her head
while watching the minute hand on the clock do its rounds, as if that would
somehow pass the time more quickly. And sometimes they made her feel as though
a little gnome were riding a jackhammer through her skull and into her brain,
grinning sadistically the entire time. Today had been one of those gnome-on-the-jackhammer
She reached into
the handbag again and fiddled around until she found the aspirin bottle she’d
brought from the trailer on the CBS lot in Studio City. She tried to thumb the
cap off, but couldn’t budge it. Then she remembered it had one of those safety
lids meant to prevent four year olds from developing aspirin habits. She lined
the arrow on the cap up with the arrow on the bottle and tried again. This time
the cap popped like a firecracker. Pills went everywhere. She cursed. When it was
one of those days, it was one of those days. She glanced down at the triangular
wedge of red leather between her inner thighs. Two white tablets were sliding
toward the depression her rear was making in the seat. She scooped them up and
returned her attention to the road—
Her eyes bugged
out. Her mouth dropped open. A loud, hollow sound filled the air as the Vantage
exploded through the cable-and-post guardrail. She stamped the brake, but that
did nothing. There was no longer any road beneath her.
Scarlett had the
sickening, unnatural sensation of going airborne, and for a split second she
thought she must be dreaming, because the reality was too frightening to
immediately comprehend. Then the hood of the sports car nosed forward. The gray
sky disappeared. She opened her mouth to scream, but nothing came out. Not a
single breath. Fear had stolen her voice.
This was how she
was going to die, a car accident, a statistic.
crashed back to earth with jarring force and plunged wildly down the ravine through
a blur of crackling vegetation. Then, abruptly, the greenery parted to reveal
the black trunk of a massive tree.
“There are two
police officers here to see you, sir,”
Salvador Brazza’s secretary, Lucy, informed him over the intercom.
“Did they say
what it concerned?”
“No, sir, only
that it’s urgent.”
“Send them in.”
Sal swiveled his
high-backed chair to face Edward Lumpkin, a tall, pale American lawyer who’d
been in Dubai for the last six years and Oman for four before that. They’d been
discussing the merits of a legal system, free of charge, for future guests of
the hotel who were bound to cross cultural taboos while visiting the Emirates.
“Why don’t you stick around for a few minutes, Ed,” he told the lawyer. “I
might need your advice.”
The door to the
office opened, and Lucy showed the two police officers inside. Sal and Lumpkin
stood. The taller man introduced himself as Brigadier Khaled Al Zafein, the
Deputy Director of the General Department of Criminal Security. He was dressed
formally in a peaked cap and a light brown uniform with rank badges on the
shirt collar and a red band looping under the left arm and through the left
epaulette. The short fat one said he was Inspector Abu Al Marri. His beret was
cocked rakishly, and he had a smug smile on his ugly moon face. Sal disliked
him on sight. “To what do I owe the honor, gentleman?” he said without offering
them a seat.
“I’m afraid we
have some rather disconcerting news, Mr. Brazza,” Al Zafein said in fluent
British English. “It concerns the fire at the Prince Hotel earlier this month.”
“I’ve already spoken with the fire investigators.”
“Yes, of course.
However, circumstances have changed. New evidence has surfaced that leads us to
believe the fire might not be a result of faulty wiring, as initially
believed.” He paused. “It’s now thought to have been set deliberately.”
said, unable to conceal his surprise. “What are you talking about?”
Al Marri spoke in
English as fluent as his superior’s: “Let me begin, Mr. Brazza, by saying that arson
is one of the easiest crimes to perpetrate, but one of the most difficult to
identify and verify.”
bluntness, Inspector,” Sal said, “but I don’t need a lesson on arson.”
“Please, sir, if
you would allow me to explain?” He smiled apologetically. “Generally speaking,
investigators begin their investigation of a fire in a V-like pattern, from the
area of least damage to that of the most damage, which is usually equated with
the point of origin—and which, in the case of Room 6906 of your hotel, was the
wall surrounding the electrical socket with the purportedly faulty wiring.”
“I’m aware of all
this. As I’ve said, I’ve already spoken to the fire investigators.”
“Please, sir?” Al
Marri offered up his practiced smile once more. It squashed his thick mustache
between his upper lip and nose, giving the mustache the appearance of a fat,
“I said the area
of the most damage is
the point of origin. But that is not
always the case. There are any number of circumstances that can change the
dynamics of the fire. Ventilation, for example. Or fuel load. Or the unique
characteristics of the environment in question. Even the water and foam used by
the firefighters can confuse typical burn pattern interpretation. In many
cases—as was the case with Room 6906—the fire can reach the post-flashover
stage, whereby it gets hot enough to destroy vital evidence and mimic the
effects that can be caused by ignitable liquids, such as charred patterns on
the subfloors, and concrete spalling. What is my point in all this?” He opened
his small, neat hands, as if in prayer. “It has recently come to our attention that
one of the first firefighters through the door claims to have seen black smoke
near the electrical socket in question. Now, wood and most other combustible
items in Room 6906 burn brown-gray smoke. Accelerants—including chemicals with
low ignition temperatures such as gasoline, kerosene, and alcohol—burn black.
In light of this new information, the investigators were forced to take a
second look at the evidence. They reassessed their original conclusion of
faulty wiring in favor of the theory that someone had been trying to make it
like an electrical fire.”
Sal gave himself
a few seconds to let this information sink in, a kind of delayed bewilderment
washing over him. “I don’t get it,” he said. “Why would someone want to set a
fire? The hotel was—still is—unoccupied. Why would someone want to burn it
your statement,” Al Marri said, “not all the rooms were unoccupied.”
“Of course they
were—” Sal clamped his mouth shut. The hotel hadn’t been completely unoccupied.
He had been staying in it for most of December, in the Royal Suite, which was
on the seventieth floor, directly above 6906. The night of the fire the alarm
had woken him at 4:12 a.m. By the time he’d gotten dressed, the stairwell had
been full of smoke. He couldn’t go down, so he went up, to the roof. Fifteen minutes
later his ex-Mossad security chief, Danny Zamir, picked him up in a helicopter
and got him the hell out of there. From the air he had a clear view of the
blaze, which by then had consumed the top two floors and the one-hundred-foot
script sign. If Danny had been even a few minutes later, he knew he likely
wouldn’t have made it.
telling me someone was trying to murder me, Inspector?” Sal shook his head.
“Forgive my skepticism, gentlemen. I find that extremely difficult to believe.”
“We have already
ruled out the motive of financial gain,” Al Marri said. “That leaves either
random violence or pyro-terrorism or revenge.”
“Do you know of
anyone who might have some sort of vendetta against you, Mr. Brazza?” Al Zafein
“I’m not in the
business of speculation, Mr. Zafein.”
“You should know,
sir,” Al Marri added gravely, “that this has become an attempted murder
investigation. It would be in everyone’s best interest to get it solved.”
“I’m not a crook,
Inspector. Nor do I associate myself with criminals.”
Al Marri glanced
briefly at the deputy general, then returned his attention to Sal. “I am sure
you are a very busy man, sir.” He handed Sal a business card. “If you should
think of anything, anything at all, please do not hesitate to contact me.”
The two police
shifted in his seat, his gangly arms folded across his chest, his face pulled
down in thought. “Christ, Sal. I don’t know what to say.”
“Will this have
any impact on the hotel’s opening?”
“Hard to say, but
I’d keep an eye on the reservations during the first few weeks of operation. An
attempted murder in the hotel could potentially turn off a lot of families.
Thankfully, that’s not our core demographic.”
“This is going to
be a bloody circus.”
“I heard what you
told the cops, Sal. But be straight with me. Can you think of anyone who might
have a bone to pick with you?”
serious enough to, you know, want you dead?”
Sal didn’t reply.
“Could it be a
union thing?” Lumpkin asked suddenly.
When Sal went
non-union with the Prince last summer, labor picketed and sent death threats.
One had threatened to blow up
, his $60-million, 155-foot
yacht docked over at the Marine Club, while another had promised to gouge out
his eyes while he slept.
guys, they talk the talk,” Sal said simply. “But they’re neither inclined nor
capable of pulling off something like this.” He shook his head. “If you’ll
excuse me, Ed, I have some calls I need to make. Write up what we discussed,
and we’ll get together again next week.”
left, Sal called his security chief, Danny Zamir, and summarized the last
twenty minutes. “I want you to find out everything you can,” he concluded.
Danny said. “Understood.”
Sal hung up and
gazed out the bank of windows overlooking Dubai’s Business Bay, the city
state’s latest multibillion dollar project. As he watched a crane atop an
ambitious skyscraper swivel to the east, he thought about everything the two
cops had told him.
The intercom on
his desk buzzed. He punched the talk button. “What is it, Lucy?”
waiting to take you to the airport.”
He shrugged on
his blazer, grabbed his briefcase, and left the office. He suddenly couldn’t
wait to get out of Dubai.