Authors: Beyond Control
TEDIUM DID STRANGE things to a man's senses.
Mark Greenwood jerked toward the monitor as a shadow flashed in front of the security camera. It looked like a man crouching.
It had to be a deer—because nobody could get that close to Maple Creek.
He and Hernando Cordova were in the tomblike security center, each of them scanning ten of the twenty monitors that gave rotating views of the buildings and grounds.
The thirty-acre reserve, tucked away in an obscure corner of Prince George's County, Maryland, looked like a hush-hush agricultural research facility, with rectangular plots of soybeans, cabbages, and strawberries clearly visible behind the three security fences.
The joke among the guards was that the plants were genetically engineered with carp genes to withstand the humid Maryland summers and skunk genes to ward off pests, particularly of the human variety.
Mark sneaked a look at his watch, counting the twenty-eight monotonous minutes left on his shift. Still, it was a great job for someone who'd never been to college. He'd leave this place with enough money to go back to Howard County, Maryland, and open his own security company.
He pushed a button, then spoke into the microphone attached to his headset. "East perimeter, report."
"East perimeter secure," Donaldson answered from the gravel walkway along the fence.
The six men on topside duty checked in.
Like everyone in the twenty-five-man guard unit, they came from elite-force Army, Navy, or Air Force backgrounds, although they now wore plain black uniforms with no insignia. But they carried standard M16 rifles and Sig .40s.
Everybody lived on base, but there were a couple of bars in nearby Waldorf where you could negotiate a roll in the hay for under fifty dollars. A blow job was even less. But it was too late for any action tonight.
He was thinking about the surgically augmented breasts of the current Playboy centerfold when he saw another deer. Or maybe the same one. They were all over the woods. If you hit one, you could total your car.
The view switched to the parking lot. The vehicles belonging to the security staff were at the far edge.
The research scientists got the better spots, closer to the Quonset huts, the only buildings visible inside the complex.
Other screens showed the interior. If you didn't know what you were looking at. you'd wonder how all those rooms could fit inside the two rusting buildings. In fact, only the control center where he sat and a few offices were upstairs. Most of the facility was in the Well, the forty-thousand-square-foot complex located three and four stories below the soybean fields. Only forty-five minutes from D.C., it had been built in the paranoid fifties as a bomb shelter for the families of privileged senators and congressmen.
When the steel-clad guardhouse flashed on the screen, Mark saw Ken Rota standing at attention under the fluorescent lights—his body ramrod straight, just in case the brass reviewed the tapes.
The view changed, and Mark was looking at a sign that said:
STOP AND SHOW IDENTIFICATION.
PROCEED SLOWLY. METAL BARRIER
MAY DAMAGE VEHICLE TIRES.
The cameras went through another cycle. Two minutes later he was back to the guardhouse. Rota was still standing beside the sliding glass door, but something about the glassy look in his eyes made Mark take the cameras off automatic scan.
"What?" Cordova questioned.
He gestured toward the screen, then zoomed in for a close-up. Rota's posture was stiff, his gaze fixed, his mouth rigid— as though he'd been flash-frozen as he stood at his post.
"Mr. Iron Jaw," Cordova muttered.
"I don't know," Mark answered, feeling a tiny worm of alarm slither down his spine. He'd seen action in Iraq, and he knew that feeling when something wasn't quite right. Eyes fixed on the screen, he spoke into the mike positioned in front of his mouth.
The man didn't answer—or twitch a muscle, although Mark had effectively shouted directly into his ear via the headset he was wearing.
Still no reply.
There had never been a Code Red at Maple Creek. The facility was too obscure to be a target and too secure to be penetrated. Yet as Mark stared at the man in the guardhouse, he acted without hesitation—his finger jabbed down on the alarm button.
Instantly the grounds were flooded with light as a siren began to wail.
"Jesus," Cordova breathed.
A green light flashed on his console. When he switched comm lines, a sharp voice demanded, "What the hell is going on?"
The speaker was Major Showalter, the head of the security team.
Mark's answer was crisp and to the point. "We have a possible perimeter breach. At the main gate.
Rota's on duty, and he appears to be immobilized. Maybe he was hit with some kind of tranq spray."
"On my way," the major barked, then issued a clipped order over the comm units to all security personnel.
Moments later five armed men poured from the Quon-set huts and fanned out, rifles at the ready. They were joined by the four men on perimeter duty.
On one of Cordova's screens Mark saw fifteen more men clatter up the stairwell, including the major, who stayed in contact with the command center.
"What's Rota's status?"
Mark switched the view to the gatehouse again. Against all logic, he'd been hoping to see something different, but the man inside looked like a discarded robot. "He's standing up as though he's on duty, but he's not moving, and he doesn't respond to my hail."
The next question was more urgent. "How long has he been out of commission?"
Mark kept his voice crisp, focusing on the facts. "He looked okay on our last sweep. He can't have been down for more than a couple of minutes."
"Did you see anyone approach the guardhouse?"
"I thought I saw a moving body out by the road. I assumed it was a deer." Mark cleared his throat.
"It could have been a man crouching over." His adrenaline was pumping now as he listened to the reports coming in over his headset.
He wanted to be out there—on the move with an M16 in his hands. But he knew his position was vital.
He heard the door open behind him.
He swiveled his chair, expecting to see Showalter.
But it wasn't the major coming to take over the command center. Instead he saw two men standing in the doorway— holding hands. They were dressed in black, much like the Maple Creek security staff.
But Mark knew every man in the unit, and these weirdos weren't any of them.
"What the fuck!" he exclaimed, already reaching for his sidearm. Beside him, Cordova was doing the same.
The intruders' gazes flicked between the two of them. Sweat beaded their foreheads, and their skin was pale with nerves. But there was something else on their faces—a determination that Mark recognized.
The determination of the fanatic—the suicide bomber, the nutcase willing to risk everything because he thinks his cause is worth it.
Before Mark could unholster his weapon, a terrible pain shot through his skull.
THE LONG DRIVEWAY made a graceful curve, and Jordan Walker slowed his Mercedes sedan near a mound of tasteful white azaleas as he stared at the Tudor mansion that had been hidden until now by artfully placed stands of trees.
If he wasn't mistaken, the residence was a copy of a palace owned by the Prince of Wales.
He'd made excellent time on the two-hour drive up from D.C. Which was good, because he knew Leonard Hamilton gave extra points for punctuality. He also liked men who spoke frankly, delivered value for money, and had the guts to stand up to him.
Over the past several days Jordan had done considerable research on the billionaire. He knew his age—sixty-eight. His state of health—poor. His passion for opera, his famous collection of American art, from Copley to Whistler to O'Keeffe. His fondness for orchids.
The background check was standard operating procedure for Jordan because he'd learned that preparation often meant the difference between success and failure.
But careful research was only part of what had earned him the Pulitzer Prize. He had something more: a facility for reading people—for knowing when the subject of an interview was blowing smoke like a criminal defense lawyer with a guilty client.
The paving surface changed from concrete to cobblestones as Jordan reached the circular driveway in front of the house.
He parked, then stepped out beside a neatly mulched bed of white and yellow tulips, planted in careful rows like soldiers guarding the entrance.
The sun was bright. The air smelled as clean as his mom's fresh laundry drying on the line. And the security camera high on the wall tracked him as if it were a jungle predator.
After stretching the kinks out of his arms and legs, he climbed the three brick steps to the double-wide doors. Seconds after he rang the bell, a tall, thin man in a dark suit opened the right-hand door.
"Yes, sir. Come in. Mr. Hamilton will meet you in the conservatory," he said with a very upper-class British accent.
Jordan stepped into a vast foyer that would easily have swallowed the first floor of the modest house where he'd grown up.
His footsteps echoed on two-foot-square marble slabs as he followed the man down a wide hall past silent reception rooms to a vast glass enclosure lush with the earthy scent of tropical vegetation.
It took him a moment to recognize the trees. Mostly he'd seen them as smaller specimens in large pots.
These schefflera, dracaena, and ficus trees sprouted from enormous in-ground squares scattered around the terra-cotta floor. They alternated with carved rock formations holding jewel-like orchids.
"Make yourself comfortable. Mr. Hamilton will be right with you. Can I bring you something to drink?"
the butler said.
"Just water," Jordan said. When the man had departed, he strolled around the room, looking at the trees and flowers, enjoying the ambience. Once he would have felt totally out of place in this rich environment.
He'd passed the intimidating stage long ago.
He was inspecting a yellow-and-white orchid when the sound of a motor made him turn.
Leonard Hamilton, silver-haired and stoop-shouldered, rolled into the room on a one-seat electric cart and fixed him with a piercing look, then said by way of greeting, "With the work schedule you've been keeping over the past few years, I expected to see some gray in that dark hair of yours. But you look younger than thirty-two."
"Clean living," Jordan answered.
"Sit down so we're on the same level. As I told you in my letter, I want to discuss a book project."
Jordan pulled out a chair and sat.
Before Hamilton could elaborate, the butler reappeared, carrying a silver tray. There was a tall glass of ice water and a blue Wedgwood teapot and a matching mug, along with a silver cream-and-sugar set.
The butler made a fuss of fixing the old man's tea. Through the little ceremony, Jordan sat with uncharacteristic tension twisting in his gut—willing Hamilton to get on with the interview.
"Thank you, Griggs. That will be all," Hamilton said. He waited until the man had left before saying,
"My health is poor. I don't have a lot of time to waste, so I'll get right to the point. I want a definitive biography. The man who writes it gets my complete cooperation."
Jordan fought to hide his surprise. Leonard Hamilton had always been as secretive as an Olympic athlete on steroids. He preferred to stay in the shadows, letting other men with equal wealth get their names splashed across the papers. Why had he finally changed his mind?
Leaning back in his chair, Jordan took a sip of water. "You'd make a fascinating subject,but if you're expecting a whitewash job, I'm not your man."
"You'd get the whole story."
Jordan set down his glass. "So you'd be candid about why your wife left you after thirty years of marriage? And how you kept your son out of a juvenile detention center after his series of arrests in his teens?"
They sat across the table staring at each other for several charged moments. He'd cracked the old man's veneer. But he hadn't gotten what he wanted—yet.
Hamilton shifted in his seat, then changed the subject abruptly. "I thought your book on the AIDS crisis in Africa was very well done. How long did it take you to write it?"
"The research took over a year—including six months traveling around the continent. The writing I did in nine months."
"You've always gotten information that other people missed. Even when you were just starting out at the Baltimore Sun."
"You checked that far back?"
"Further. Including your grade inflation expose for the Daily D."
Jordan hid his surprise with a shrug. Apparently the old man had poked into his college days at Dartmouth.
"I'm prepared to be brutally honest about myself and my family," Hamilton continued. "And I'm prepared to pay you far more than your last few books earned out. You can tell the public whatever you want about me. I'll make sure it's worth your while."