Read Invasion of Privacy Online
Authors: Christopher Reich
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Action & Adventure, #Political
Also by Christopher Reich
The Prince of Risk
Rules of Betrayal
Rules of Vengeance
Rules of Deception
The Patriots Club
The Devil’s Banker
The First Billion
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Christopher Reich
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Ltd., Toronto.
and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
eBook design adapted from printed book design by Michael Collica
Cover design by Michael J. Windsor
Cover photograph © WK1003mike/Shutterstock
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Reich, Christopher, 1961–
Invasion of privacy : a novel / Christopher Reich.—First edition.
ISBN 978-0-385-53157-3 (hardcover)—ISBN 978-0-385-53156-6 (eBook)
eBook ISBN 9780385531566
To Laura, with love
It would be nice to think that everything was perfect before
The past always appears rosier than it was. A little happier. A little funnier. The girls were prettier. The boys were more handsome. We were all healthier. Time does that. It fades the bad and polishes the good
But not always. Sometimes things really were as special as we remember. Sometimes we were happier. The jokes were funnier. The girls were prettier and the boys were more handsome. And we all really were healthier
Sometimes life is magic
Mary was thinking about Thailand.
Two years. Another lifetime. Or at least another life. A different one from what she lived today.
There, on the rugged island in the South China Sea, the ocean was colored a dozen shades of blue and the sand was like warm velvet. Perfumed winds dashed down forested hillsides. And always the hint of smoke and incense, evidence of man’s war with himself. Mary loved all those things. But what she loved most was the sky at dusk.
So close to the equator, day turned rapidly to night. As the sun dipped below the horizon, the sky bled darkness, blue yielding to plum. Stars popped into sight like faraway bulbs. The wind calmed. The air grew exceptionally clear. The world was still. And for a few fleeting minutes, she reflected on all that was good about the day gone by, and all that the night ahead promised.
That’s how the sky was that last Christmas before everything changed.
Mary stepped off the veranda of their hotel room onto the beach and jogged across the sand to join her family for the lighting of the lanterns. She saw them fifty yards ahead, bathed in that special light. Joe, tall and muscled, his legs as dark as those of the natives who offered rides in their motorized longboats, black hair cut so short he could be
back in the Corps all over again. Jessie skipping next to him, cargo shorts hanging too low, hair a tousled mess, even now looking at something on her phone. And Grace, slight as a pixie, trailing behind, her strawberry-blond hair and pale legs making her a ghost in comparison to her suntanned father and sister.
“Wait for me,” Mary called as she reached them. “And be careful with the matches.”
“Don’t worry, honey,” Joe said, turning and shaking the box of blue-tips. “I think the girls are old enough to light a candle by themselves.”
Mary grabbed Joe’s hand, intertwining her fingers with his. They walked at the water’s edge, the surf rushing up to their ankles. It was just five o’clock, and the ocean felt as warm as a bath. Music drifted from the open-air hotel lobby, the mysterious and melancholy tones of the
, a kind of Thai xylophone. “Thank you,” she said, nuzzling his shoulder.
“Still have six more months in big bad Bangkok.”
“I can do six months standing on my head.”
“Wise guy, eh?”
“The toughest. Married you, didn’t I?”
Joe stopped and looked at her. “You sure you made the right decision?”
Mary answered without hesitation. “I’m sure.”
“I haven’t made it easy.”
“No,” she said. “You haven’t. But that’s okay. It’s done, right?”
“And you’re good?”
“That’s all I need to know.” Mary looked at the girls skipping through the water, then dropped her husband’s hand and ran up the beach.
“So you’re sure?” he called after her.
“Yeah,” she said, turning, running backward a few steps. “I’m sure.” And she was.
The past six days had passed in a riot of swimming and sunning and excursions up the coast in Thai longboats. The girls had their hair braided and their nails painted; they made thatched skirts and collected
shells. She and Joe took walks up and down the beach and ate lunch, just the two of them, and played tennis and even sneaked away for more adult-themed activities. At some point she’d forgotten that this was the first time she’d seen her husband for more than three days running in the past year, and that they had another move coming, to an as yet to be determined city, and that wherever it was, the FBI would still be the FBI, more of a spouse to her husband than she’d ever be.
“Got ya!” Joe grabbed her waist as he caught up and splashed water on her legs.
“Daddy, stop,” said Grace. “You’re getting Mommy all messy.”
“Mommy likes being messy,” said Joe, pulling Mary to him and nuzzling her neck.
“No she doesn’t,” said Grace. Then: “Do you, Mommy?”
“Dad, stop,” said Jessie. “No PDAs. Gross.”
“You girls go get your lamps,” said Mary.
“They’re called Kongming lanterns,” said Grace. “People light them to celebrate.”
“Whatever, suck-up.” Jessie looked at her parents and rolled her eyes. “When did she get so smart? She doesn’t have a brain. She has a hard drive.”
“Look who’s talking, Billy Gates,” said Grace, making a face. “Geekazoid.”
“Forget Bill Gates. Call me Rudeboy.”
“Rudeboy. He’s only the best hacker in the world. He won Capture the Flag at DEF CON five years in a row.”
Grace threw up her arms. “What are you even talking about?”
“Never mind,” said Jessie. “If it’s not a vampire or a mermaid, you wouldn’t know.”
“You guys are both wicked smart,” said Joe, his nasal Boston twang coming through loud and clear. “Just like your daddy.”
He was a Southie, born and raised in the South End of Boston, and forever proud of it. His family had come to America in the 1920s as the Gianninis, but somewhere back a few generations it had been decided to change the name to Grant.
“Hey,” protested Mary. “I’m the chem major.” Once upon a time she’d dreamed of being a doctor—a pediatric surgeon, to be specific.
“And so are you, Miss Einstein.” Joe gave Mary’s butt a squeeze, and she told him to watch it, or he might get coal in his stocking and not that other thing he’d wished for. Romance was not his strong suit.
“Hurry along, girls,” said Mary. “And make sure you get a lantern for me and your dad.”
Jessie looked at her, suspicious brown eyes narrowed, contemplating rebellion. The glance was enough to let Mary know that the years ahead were not going to be easy ones. To her surprise, Jessie took Grace’s hand, and together they ran off toward the group of hotel guests gathering twenty yards up the beach.
“Did you see that?” asked Mary.
“I did,” said Joe. “Must be the Christmas spirit.”
“Must be.” Though even discounting that, Mary knew she was seeing something special.
Grace and Jessie.
Chalk and cheese.
Grace was their baby, eight going on eighteen. Quiet, kind, polite, and much too empathetic for her own good. Grace was the girl who plopped down on your lap and gave you a hug exactly when you needed it most.
Then there was Jessie. Jessie did not sit on your lap or give hugs. She was taciturn, quarrelsome bordering on surly, and seemingly happiest on her own. To look at, she was all Joe. Dark hair, brown eyes, a build that borrowed a little too much from his Sicilian ancestors. Grace called her a “geekazoid,” and it was true. Jessie loved math and computers and spent all her time conspiring how to separate Mary from her smartphone. At age twelve, she was already five feet five inches tall, and if her shoe size was any indication, she was going to give Joe, who stood a proud six feet, a run for his money.
“Got some news today,” said Joe.
“Oh?” Mary studied her husband’s face, trying to guess: good or bad? “Didn’t know the shop was open on Christmas Eve.”
There was only one matter up in the air, and that was where they were to be stationed next. So far his career had taken them to Baltimore, Richmond, and, for the past two years, Bangkok, where Joe worked on an antipiracy task force with the Thai police. She knew that he desperately wanted to be sent to Headquarters FBI in Washington, D.C., to head up the legate program. For a boy from the South End, running the Bureau’s network of liaison agents, or legates assigned to
foreign embassies, was as far from Boston as you could get, Bangkok notwithstanding.
“Sacramento,” he said finally, breaking a crooked grin.
Mary swallowed. Sacramento was a backwater. It was not the Christmas present either of them wanted. She did her best not to scream. “How long?”
“Two years? And then D.C.?”
“Heck, yeah,” he said with feigned optimism. “They can’t keep me away forever.”
Mary smiled back at him. She knew he was crushed, far more disappointed than she could ever be. “Bring it,” she said. Then an afterthought: “Sacramento have a hoops team?”
“The Kings. They suck.”
“Then the seats’ll be cheap. We’ll get down close for the Celtics.”
“That’s my girl.” Joe smiled harder, and she saw a glint of something in his eye.
“Come on, let’s go. We don’t want to miss the big moment.”
Ahead, twenty or so guests had formed a loose circle at water’s edge. Most had already assembled their lanterns and stood holding the large white frames, anxious to be given the go-ahead to light them.
“You guys doing okay?” Mary asked.
“Jessie already finished,” said Grace.
“It was simple,” said Jessie, holding hers up for examination.
The lanterns were tall rectangular boxes fashioned from oiled rice paper. It was necessary to insert bamboo struts into each corner to expand them to their full height. A strut wide enough to support the candle held the bottom open. Once the candle was lit, hot air rose and was trapped inside the paper until enough accumulated to lift the lantern into the air.
“Let me help, mouse,” said Mary.
Grace surrendered her lantern, and Mary quickly realized that the task was harder than she’d expected.
“Mom, let me do it.” Jessie took Grace’s lantern and had it finished in a jif. “You want me to do yours and Dad’s, too?”
“We’ll be fine,” said Joe.
The hotel manager waved his arms and called the guests to attention. “It’s time,” he said. “Please light your candles.”
The sky had darkened considerably in the past few minutes. An
azure belt stretched across the horizon. A multitude of stars danced overhead. Jessie struck a match and one by one lit the candles. The four stood facing one another, arms outstretched, fingertips cradling the lanterns.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the hotel manager. “I wish you all a Merry Christmas.”
Behind them, a cry went up as someone released the first lantern. All eyes turned to the masked light as it crept into the sky. Another lantern joined it, and then another, and soon a dozen pale lights were floating upward, a timid band of souls ascending to heaven.
“Now?” asked Jessie.
Joe looked at Mary. She nodded. “Now,” he said.
They released their lanterns simultaneously. For a moment the translucent boxes hung before their eyes, neither rising nor falling, and Mary bit her lip, hoping that they hadn’t let go too soon. But then each began a steady, twirling ascent into the sky.
“Go,” said Jessie.
“Away,” said Grace.
A hush fell over the assembled guests. No one spoke. The only noise was the rhythmic brush of the ocean across the sand. Mary took Joe’s hand. He grasped Jessie’s, and she took Grace’s. Grace grinned and took her mother’s. They were connected. One circle. One family.
Mary thought, This is everything I ever wanted. And, How did I get so lucky? And, Please, God, I don’t want this moment to end.
They held hands as the lanterns floated higher into the sky, ever farther out to sea, and the flickering lights grew dimmer, until one by one they blinked a last time and were gone.
Somewhere close, a firecracker exploded. And then another. The sharp noises broke their trance. All at once the beach came back to life. Men and women hooted and cheered and shouted “Merry Christmas!” Everywhere there was activity and merriment.
Mary looked at her family, but no one said a word. It was as if they all were transfixed, or, as she came to believe later, after so much had come to pass, that in some indefinable way they knew that this was the last time they would share such a moment. That the world as they knew it was coming to an end, and that somewhere over the horizon a shadow lurked, and it was coming their way.
“Merry Christmas,” said Mary.
“Merry Christmas, Mommy,” said Grace.
“Love you,” said Jessie.
“Love you,” said Joe. “All my girls.”
The last lantern disappeared from view. Finally they dropped hands.
It was magic.