Authors: Don Bruns
Stuff to spy for
Also by Don Bruns
Stuff Dreams Are Made Of
Stuff to Die For
Sever Music Series
St. Barts Breakdown
South Beach Shakedown
A Merry Band of Murderers
(editor & contributor)
Death Dines In
Copyright © 2009 by Don Bruns
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published in the United States by Oceanview Publishing,
2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1
printed in the united states of america
This book is dedicated to Jody Stacy, who introduced me to the world of spying. Don’t ever get on Jody’s bad side!
To my wife, Linda, who always reads the first version. Thanks to Bob and Pat Gussin from Oceanview who give me the reason to write. Thank you to Maryglenn McCombs who is the greatest publicist in the business, to Mary Stanton and Claudia Bishop who are my good friends in this crazy business, to Sue Grafton who made sure I had a career as a writer, to my good friend, author Stuart M. Kaminsky, who championed this series, and to “Miami” Tom Biddle who always shares my research adventures. What a time we’ve had. To Mike Trump, my Chicago connection, and to all the others who’ve answered numerous questions and solved numerous problems along the way. Thanks.
stuff to spy for
I’d always heard that when you die your entire life passes before you. You see all the people you knew, all of your relatives, alive and dead. In a flash you see your friends from high school and college, and I’m pretty sure that would include all of your girlfriends. My mother once told me that you would see all the good things and bad things that you’d done with your life, and she warned me that I’d better have a bunch of good things to look at.
I don’t know if it happens for some people or not. I don’t know if they have a flash of that roller coaster at Busch Gardens in the eighth grade, or if they relive that gross wet kiss on the cheek from Aunt Sylvie at Uncle Harold’s funeral. Maybe they see the first time they stole from their little sister or lied to their father. Maybe they flash on that moment when a sinkhole almost swallowed them. I can’t speak for anyone else.
All I know is, when I died, my life didn’t pass in front me.
Sarah Crumbly graduated from high school one year behind James and me. She was voted “most likely to succeed,” and I was one of her fans. We’d gone out a couple of times, to a movie and a burger joint, and I thought she rocked. Cheerleader perfect, with legs that I dreamed about, but since she was an overachiever, I got left by the curb. I always thought about what might have happened with Sarah. And then I found her, about eight years later, and in a matter of days, I realized I was lucky the relationship had never gone any further.
I’m Skip Moore, and I’m basically an underachiever. I graduated, barely, from college, and I’m working for a security company in Carol City, Florida. Carol City is a rundown, poverty stricken urban community that has nothing to secure. So, you can imagine that the prospects are slim.
But the call came in from Synco Systems, and when I showed up there last Tuesday, Sarah met me at the front desk.
“My God. Skip?”
I stared at her for several seconds. Golden hair cut just under
her cute ears and that picture-perfect figure right below her cute face.
“Skip, you’re my security guy? You?”
“This is a surprise. I really should just show you around the building and tell you what we’re looking for, but I’d like to catch up.”
And right away, knowing that Em was expecting me for dinner tonight, knowing that Emily and I had worked out an arrangement that we would be somewhat exclusive, knowing that a permanent relationship was what I longed for, knowing that if Em found out she would kill me, I asked Sarah if she would be interested in having dinner.
She looked me right in the eyes, giving me an impish smile. “Skip, so am I.”
Damn. If she’d even hesitated, I would have remained true, but she didn’t. She didn’t hesitate a second.
Twenty minutes later she’d given me the rough layout. I’d followed her around like a puppy dog, her short skirt swishing over her perfect thighs, the high, shiny black heels highlighting her balancing act. And I’d tried to pay attention to business. The company wanted us to tear out their old security system and put a state-of-the-art system in place.
“One of our newest clients is demanding that we upgrade our security system. That’s why you’re here.”
“Well, you’ve got a smart client.” I had to agree with anyone who was putting a paycheck in my pocket.
“This client has something to do with the U.S. government, but I’m not sure exactly what.”
Obviously, Sarah wasn’t in on everything regarding the company.
Synco Systems—she was emphatic that it was pronounced Sin-co, not Sink-o—was a software company that designed protection systems for computer networks. It seems that every time someone developed a protection system for business networks, somebody else found a way to hack into that system. So it seemed to Sarah, and to me, that Synco Systems was in no danger of going out of business any time soon.
And, it seemed that way to my roommate and best friend, James.
“Skip, that’s what I’m talking about.” We were sitting on the tiny slab of stained concrete that passed for a patio behind our pitiful apartment. James swallowed a mouthful of beer and waved his brown bottle in the air. “Man, that’s textbook smarts. Start a company that can never become obsolete. I mean, somebody hacks your system—well, you have to design a new system. And you know they’ll hack that system eventually. And the next, and the next. So you just keep coming up with new systems, and you never, ever go out of business.”
I’d seen it with my own eyes. “Pretty technical stuff, James. If they buy our security system for their building, it’ll be the biggest sale I’ve ever made. Maybe the biggest sale in this part of the state. Seriously. And she thinks the demand is coming from someone associated with the United States government. So I’d say the odds are pretty good we get the job.”
James lit a cigarette and blew a stream of yellow smoke across the way to the row of stucco gray apartments about fifteen feet from ours. It was a lovely view. We stared into their back bedroom windows and they could stare into ours. We got to see their overfilled garbage cans and they got to see ours. And to the right was a muddy ditch, about eight units down. I often told
people we had a “water view.” We didn’t exactly live in squalor. I think squalor was a few steps up from how we lived.
“We’d be tearing out the old system and installing a bunch of stations and there would be motion detectors, sound sensors, door and window monitors, a camera monitor at minimum.”
“How much, Skip?”
“How much is it going to cost them?”
“Well, I’m going to do an estimate on the number of sensors that we’d install, then Michael—”
“Michael the ass?”
“The same. My boss. He’ll come out and check my work, and—”
“An estimate, son. Give this boy a bone. How much?”
“Tearing out the old system, installation of our new one, plus the first year of the contract, seventy-five thousand dollars.”
James took another swallow and belched. “And you get how much of that, amigo?”
I didn’t have any figuring to do. I’d pretty much been thinking about it since two o’clock in the afternoon. Pretty much been considering it for four solid hours. Pretty much spending it for the last three. That was after I’d gotten over the shock of realizing this could actually happen. “A little over eleven thousand dollars.”
“Almost half of what you made all of last year, pard. Am I right?”
“Truck only cost twelve thousand.”
James was speaking of his $12,000 investment in a used box truck. We’d gone into the moving business with that truck and almost gotten ourselves killed. Then, we’d turned the truck into a small kitchen, selling food to the believers at a salvation crusade put on by the Reverend Preston Cashdollar. And again, we’d
almost gotten ourselves killed. He was talking about that truck. “What are you getting at, James?”
“Not getting at anything, brother. Just noting. If we ever decided to get a fleet of trucks, you could almost—”
“I’m just saying—”
He is always saying. “No box truck.” Maybe retire one of the college loans, pay the one-month back rent we still owed, and maybe buy a case of imported beer. The cheap stuff we’d been buying at Gas and Grocery, the rickety little carryout we go to in Carol City, was starting to get a little rank.
“Skip, I want you to think about it. We always talked about a fleet of trucks and—”
“You talked about a fleet of trucks, James.”
He threw up his hands. “Okay, amigo. But don’t discount it.”
“James, I don’t have the sale yet. Synco Systems is interested. That’s all there is at this moment.”
“Are they shopping it around?”
There was the rub. If they were just getting quotes, I’d actually have to sell. I’d have to go through the script book and make an argument for my company. That’s when my job became tedious.
I had forgotten to ask her. I was so surprised that Sarah was my contact, I’d forgotten to ask. It’s supposed to be a standard question when we visit a business. “Are you shopping for a system anywhere else? Can I ask where? Oh, XYZ? That’s a fine company. Can I show you why our system makes more sense? You see, we offer terms, and we can install in one week and—and—” and on and on. It’s all in the sales manual that I’ve only skimmed once in a while. It’s really quite lame.
“I’m thinkin’, pardner, you meeting up with Sarah. What are the chances? It’s got to be more than just coincidence. Maybe it’s the Lord’s will.”
“I don’t think he had anything to do with it.” James had taken to throwing the phrase around ever since we worked the reverend Preston Cashdollar’s revival tent meeting several months ago. James wasn’t a religious guy, so it had sarcastic overtones.
“Seriously, Skip. Maybe this was meant to be.”
I’d been thinking the same thing. Something really good comes into your life, like me seeing Sarah again, and it’s followed by something else that’s really good, like maybe selling a $75,000 security system. And on top of that, they say good things come in threes. I was anxious to see what the next thing would be. I found out, and it looked great. But, as I mentioned before, it backfired. It actually got me killed.
I didn’t tell James about dinner. I actually lied to him and told him I had to meet with Michael and go over figures to quote the job for Synco Systems. And I didn’t tell Em about dinner. I lied to her as well. It didn’t feel right, even though I was sure nothing was going to happen between Sarah and me, but I lied nevertheless.
And I lied to Sarah. When she asked me if I was seeing anyone, when she asked me if I’d ever been serious with anyone, and when she asked me if I’d ever considered being a father. I answered no to every question. I can’t explain why I denied the truth. But I did. I lied to her, and those innocent white lies came back to haunt me in a way I never would have dreamed of.