Authors: Chuck Waldron
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters places, organizations, companies, brands, clubs, businesses, and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, entities, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be produced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written consent of the author.
Copyright 2016 Chuck Waldron
All rights reserved.
ISBN 13: 9781479143320
Library of Congress Control Number: 2015920368
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
North Charleston, South Carolina
Also by Chuck Waldron
Tears in the Dust
Remington and the Mysterious Fedora
As with all my novels, this is dedicated to Suzanne first, last and always. You have made this wonderful writing journey possible. Your support is invaluable, your encouragement priceless, and your unconditional love is beyond measure.
o far, it had been an ordinary day. It was a Thursday morning, his least favorite day of the week, when he walked into Le Rôti Français, a popular coffeehouse in Yorkville. A caffeinated menu filled an entire wall.
He tried to ignore the TV mounted on the wall behind the service counter. Ever since the riots, there had been little news other than continuous coverage of the destruction. Action 21 News was the only station back on the air, and they had been airing commercial
free, nonstop updates about the rioting. Many, like Matt, were beginning to feel anesthetized by the recurrent stories and images.
Walking through the door, Matthew Tremain noticed a woman watching him
or, rather, noticing his slight limp. The limp was evident but not prominent. A speed bump in his DNA’s double helix had caused one leg to be a bit shorter than the other. It was that way the day he was born, and it was still that way thirty
two years later. He tried to pretend it didn’t bother him as he glanced over at the woman, who wore a sympathetic look on her face. He knew he should be used to pity like that, but it still bothered him. A lot. He pushed his anger aside and walked to the counter.
and this morning, of all mornings!
Fidgeting, he asked himself,
Why did I have to end up standing behind these two?
The word came, uninvited, into his mind.
When did I first learn about CleanSweep? Tanner’s e
mail! Was it only a few weeks ago now?
He brushed the word
and his growing anxiety
to the side and began listening to the discussion taking place in front of him.
“I’m going to have a latte,” the first young woman said, sounding hesitant.
“Are you sure?” her friend countered. “You were going to try a cappuccino. If you aren’t going to have that, why not just get an
It was all Matt could do not to shout that there was no
The word clawed at his memory again. He couldn’t get CleanSweep out of his head.
“I want to try something different,” the first woman insisted. “I just can’t make up my mind,” she said, sounding pouty. Finally, after what seemed an interminable wait, she said she was ready and pointed in a vague way. “What does a masha
“Macchiato?” the clerk barked.
Matt appreciated the clerk’s obviously annoyed tone and made sure to give her an extra
wide smile when she finally handed him his order.
Then that text message came in.
His phone started to vibrate, and his alert tone followed. Struggling to get the phone out of his jeans pocket, he swiped at the screen.
It was his life
defining moment. Time stamped at 9:56 a.m.
It was the warning he’d been hoping he would never get. Now, as he was reading it, an emotional trapdoor opened under his feet.
Then Matt, with a phone in his left hand, dropped his paper coffee cup. It went cartwheeling to the floor, and a woman screamed as the hot liquid splashed her leg. Looking down at the text message, Matt felt like he had been hit with a sucker punch to his gut.
Matt Tremain didn’t consider himself to be brave. He certainly was not one of those superheroes full of steely resolve in the face of danger. Being short and walking with a limp, he had grown up with a bull’s
eye on his back. In middle school, he was picked on and pushed around nearly every day
that is, until he finally took a stand by facing down two large bullies. He didn’t set out to stand up to them; it was more a case of accepting a lack of alternatives. He went at them like a pit bull, tenacious and unrelenting. When the fight was over and the pain gradually subsided, he found that his reputation had been reshaped. Even though he lost, everyone openly admired his tenacity.
It didn’t hurt to have a big brain, either.
Now he would need both of those attributes again.
His phone chirped.
Shock immobilized him as he gripped the phone, his breath and heart rate fast
tracking. Anyone looking would have noticed his eyes widen a bit. A silent primal scream welled up somewhere deep inside as he stared at the screen, not wanting to believe what he was seeing.
[email protected] GY6. 7FF. 14AA41.
translated the text in his mind:
Same time tomorrow, at seven.
GY6: I’ve got your six.
7FF: Seven friends forever.
14AA41: One for all and all for one.
real message, however, was a hidden numerical code within the abbreviations. The three numbers following the number two were significant. He scanned the message. The first number after number two was a seven, the next a six, and the third another seven: “SOS” on a standard telephone keypad.
It meant he was in grave danger. He was being warned.
How long do I have?
The simple code was never intended to be unbreakable
merely enough to frustrate anyone trying to poke around or sniff through his e
mail, texts, and chats.
Will it be enough now? Do I have time to run?
A voice in his head urged him to go, although he knew running was the worst thing he could do right now. Instead, he walked to the door of the coffee shop
ignoring the woman’s continued yelling.
His thumb clicked two letters in response:
Canceled and going offline.
He pressed the Enter key, letting his team know he understood the significance of the danger he was in. They knew he would contact them when it was safe.
Will I ever be safe again?
He couldn’t help wondering.
message also triggered a program on everything with the exception of his emergency computer. As soon as he sent that message, it began eliminating all documents, contacts, and communications related to the topic at hand, along with all traces of his backup system and his user history.
His hand went to his chest, a reflex to make sure he could feel the media cards hanging on a lanyard under his shirt. Everything was on those media cards.
On the sidewalk, he looked around to make sure no one was watching him. He pried open the back of his phone, removing the battery and tossing it into a trash bin nearby. He used a fingernail to pry out the SIM card, then knelt to drop it between the slots of a sewer grate. Cyberia had warned him his movements could be tracked by the SIM card, even if the phone wasn’t being used.
Is someone watching me now? How will I know?
He realized he should have thought about that already.
I have to be more careful.
Glancing around again to see if anyone was looking, he let the phone drop, stepping on it hard until the plastic case shattered. Then he kicked the shards off the curb and into the street. He winced at a new, ticklish sensation
cold sweat droplets forming on his cheeks, tracing their slow path to his chin.
As he walked to the Bloor
Yonge subway entrance, it took all of his self
control not to break into a run. Cyberia had warned him there would be teams of watchers looking for exactly that type of panic. “Don’t let them see you sweat,” he had said. What Matt knew about the tradecraft of spies and undercover techniques was limited to what he’d read in books and seen in movies. This wasn’t make
not a game.
Will my clumsy effort at tradecraft be enough? Will it keep me alive? Oh, man.
He’d been looking over his shoulder like this ever since CleanSweep put a price on his head.
He did his best to imitate an oyster closing its shell for protection. He wanted to conceal his fear as shoppers and commuters rushed past him like a river’s current flowing around a rock.
Matt’s head snapped up.
“Filthy weather, isn’t it?” A man in a soiled army
surplus jacket was standing next to a newspaper kiosk, clapping his gloved hands, his breath steaming. “Especially with all this smoke,” he added as he started coughing. The cough soon turned to spasms, causing him to pull out a stained handkerchief to press to his lips.
” Matt managed to mutter, forcing himself to ignore the man’s dirty clothes and turning instead to examine several of the newspapers on display. He started to complain to the news vendor, to ask him why he allowed a homeless man to hang around like that. He choked off the words, chiding himself for his lack of compassion. It had to be all this
Instead, he tried to make himself look like a man unable to decide on which newspaper to buy. More important, he used the opportunity to look slyly away from the display racks. He was on the alert for anything out of the ordinary
a head turning away too quickly or someone abruptly stepping back into the shadows to avoid detection.
He was sure he’d read about doing something like that in a spy novel
to spot someone tailing you.
He reached for a newspaper, choosing one at random. Starting to sort through coins, he noticed a man across the street.
Is he looking directly at me? Yes, straight at me!
Matt froze when he saw the man hold his right sleeve up to his mouth.
he’s whispering into a microphone!
Matt watched the man cough into the elbow of his coat sleeve, then turn and wave to a passing taxi. Matt let out a long, slow breath.
As he exhaled, he did his best to maintain a puzzled look, to appear curious
a man with no purpose in mind. He turned around to use a store display window as a mirror. He didn’t see anything suspicious, so he started walking again.
If I can only get to the subway, I’ll blend in. It’s rush hour.
He saw the sign for the subway entrance and pulled his collar up against the falling temperature. He shivered, knowing it was as much from fear as weather. He felt the first droplets of cold rain splattering against his face.
Then he saw them.
A sharp pang of fear gripped him, feeling as if a lion were raking a claw across his chest. Two large men were walking toward him. This time, he knew the danger was real. They wore their suits like detectives, and each man had dark circles under his eyes
badges of sleeplessness and too much coffee. They were poster boys for the guys he knew would be coming for him. It took every ounce of his self
control to look calm. He just wanted to run.
It was hopeless. He knew he was cornered. He almost felt relieved in a way, watching as they drew near. The taller one, on the left, pulled his hand out of his coat pocket. He was holding something in his hand, and he began swinging his arm up in a menacing arc. They flashed counterfeit smiles, recognition in their eyes. Matt flinched.
They almost knocked him to the ground as they shouldered by him. Then he turned to see them shake hands with someone walking up to meet them.
“We have a reservation,” he heard one of them say in a voice that hinted at annoyance. “I was trying to reach you on my cell.”
Matt left the rest of their words trailing behind. An expression of intense relief spread over his face as a short, old woman carrying a shopping bag gave him a puzzled look.
He pulled his jacket tighter as ice pellets started to stab at his face.
Am I shaking from the cold, or that near miss?
He wanted to laugh at himself. He knew panic and paranoia were taking over and making him feel and look irrational.
Shaking off his emotions, he began to move again. Daggers of ice assaulted him as he fast
walked to the entrance. He fished his Metropass from his jeans pocket and pushed through the turnstile. Directional arrows pointed him the way to the train platforms, where he was greeted by an eclectic perfume of steamy clothes, garlic, and tightly packed commuters. Standing on the northbound platform, he felt a gush of wind signal the approaching train as it pushed compressed air into the station. The grinding sound of its wheels sang a harsh song of metal on metal, like the gnashing of a steel giant’s teeth. He waited for it to come to a stop, standing to one side to let the passengers disembark.
A young woman with a backpack was the last exiting passenger. He darted through the open door and lunged for an empty seat. He waited for the doors to
shut, and he silently urged the train to move. When it did, he welcomed the regular rocking motion
and even the scream of the wheels making their ear
piercing racket as the train lurched around a curve.
He started to relax.
I’m going to make it.
He looked up distractedly at the electronic, flat
screen advertising panels placed throughout the car. They ran a continuous, looping picture and a scrolling line of text instructing riders to call 711, the new hotline established by Operation CleanSweep, if they saw the man pictured.
Matt saw his own face staring back at him in high
Why didn’t Cyberia disable
Suddenly, the video images scrambled to snowy static
visual white noise
and went blank. Holding the back of a seat, he pulled himself up as the subway train braked to a stop and the doors began to open.