Our government is populated with a myriad of agencies referred to only by their initials. Within each of these “Alphabet” agencies are countless other agencies, each of them adding to the “Soup.”
Three members of an elite, secret team have stumbled upon a mystery. What actually happened while they were on a temporary assignment in Biloxi, Mississippi? Holly remembers the trip to Biloxi one way, but Mark remembers the events entirely differently. And Larry—well Larry can’t even remember being there.
There is only one possible explanation—someone has tampered with and/or erased their memories. What could have happened in Biloxi that was so terrible that such extreme measures would be necessary?
The clues: Before Larry’s memories were erased, he sent emails to himself, Holly and Mark. Each of the emails contained links to encrypted files. Once those files were decrypted, they would form a puzzle that only the three of them can piece together.
But there is at least one person who is willing to do anything to prevent that puzzle from being assembled. Holly, Mark, and Larry race against the clock just to stay alive while attempting to solve the mystery.
Targeted Age Group:: 18-99
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
While I was in the military, I belonged to one of the "Alphabet" agencies. My experience with that agency was the inspiration for this book. Some of the events are real, but the main story line is fiction.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My characters are composites of real people that I have known. Just as some events from the story are real, some aspects of my characters are real. If you personally knew me, you would find that one of my characters is loosely based on me.
Mark Hill sat in his car and stared at a windowless brick building. The night air touched him with icy fingers, causing him to shiver. His respiration was beginning to fog the glass, giving the beige, three-story edifice a dream-like quality. For the third time Mark reached for the ignition key, and for the third time, he allowed his hand to drop, the key still unturned. The fuel gauge taunted him, daring him to warm his vehicle and risk not making it to the nearest gas station. He should have purchased gasoline yesterday on his way home, but he had procrastinated, knowing that he had fuel enough for one more day. He could have filled his tank that morning—he’d had plenty of time—but the ice on his windows argued in favor of waiting for the afternoon sun. Now he regretted his decision to delay refueling. After sitting in the dark parking lot for over two hours he was stiff with cold. It was too late to go for fuel now. The guard would soon arrive and the building would be opened.
He shouldn’t have arrived so early. The events that led him here at such an ungodly hour played and replayed in his thoughts. Debbie, his wife, had been standing outside the bathroom door when he emerged from the shower. “You have got to go see a doctor,” she had stated, but Mark knew that she wasn’t suggesting that he visit a general practitioner.
“You mean a shrink. If you want me to go see a shrink, why don’t you say ‘shrink’?”
“Okay. Yeah. Go see a shrink.”
“I don’t need a shrink. I’m fine.” Mark knew that he wasn’t fine, but he didn’t want to see a shrink either. He didn’t want to admit to his wife that he might be a little crazy. He didn’t want to risk his career in cryptography. If his commander had the least suspicion that he might be straying from the path of good solid sanity…well, he really didn’t know what would happen to him. “I’m fine,” he repeated without conviction.
“You’re fine? You’re acting normal?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Yeah, I’m acting normal!” Mark knew that he shouldn’t have raised his voice, but he was angry. Not angry with Debbie, but with himself. Debbie was just worried about him, but he wanted to make her understand that he could conquer his demons without staring at the ceiling from a psychiatrist’s sofa.
Debbie reached for his hand but Mark jerked it away. The irritation at being shunned was reflected in her voice. “Do you think it’s normal to get up at three in the morning and take a shower that lasts for nearly an hour?”
“I needed a shower.”
“You took a shower before you went to bed.”
“No, I forgot to get a shower last night and I remembered that I needed one.”
Debbie rubbed her hand along his jaw. “You didn’t forget to shower last night. If you had, your face would be scratchy.”
Mark knew that she had caught his lie. She knew his ritual well. If there was one thing that had stuck with him after basic training, it was that you always do the three Esses before you go to bed—shit, shower, and shave. In that order, and every night—no exceptions. “Okay, I didn’t forget to shower, but I was sweating and I don’t want to stink when I go in to work.”
“You weren’t sweating. And you shower in the middle of the night three or four times a week. I’m worried.”
Mark thought he had been able to slip out of bed unnoticed all those other nights. He had tiptoed down the hall in order to use the shower furthest from his sleeping wife, believing that he was able to slip back into bed without awakening her and raising suspicions. He should have taken Debbie into his arms and assured her that everything would be okay, promising that if his condition didn’t improve soon, he would see a shrink. Instead he shouted, “You’ve been keeping tabs on how many showers I take? I’ll take a shower any time I damn well feel like I need one!”
Mark stormed back into the bathroom, twisted the spigot, and stepped back under the spray. It had been a stupid, childish thing to do, but he sometimes did stupid, childish things when he was angry. His action, this time, was especially stupid because he had already used all the hot water. As he stood shivering in the icy spray, rubbing soap over gooseflesh, he tried to think of any possible way to diffuse the situation without admitting that he was being a real asshole. He wanted the argument to be Debbie’s fault so that he wouldn’t have to be the one who apologized. But the argument was entirely his fault, and that too made him angry.
The shower was quick. The towel wiped away the icy wetness that clung to his body, but still left it damp and chilled. When he opened the door, Debbie was still standing in the spot where he had left her.
“That’s another shower. Aren’t you going to write it down somewhere? I wouldn’t want you to lose count!”
“You’ve got to see a doctor. I’ll call and make an appointment for you.”
“I don’t need a doctor. I just haven’t been sleeping well, and a shower helps me get back to sleep.”
Mentally Mark heard one shoe hit the floor. He clamped his lips shut before he allowed the other shoe to fall. He hadn’t been sleeping well because of the nightmares. He could never quite remember the dreams, but he always awoke feeling slimy and sticky. The only way he could rid himself of the notion that he was covered in something vile was with a shower, a long and hot shower. He always turned the water to the highest temperature that he could stand, and he always stayed until the water was beginning to run cold. And when he was finished, the vague misty horrors of the nightmare, whatever they might have been, no longer tormented him. He could return to bed and the elusive horrid vision would not again disturb his sleep—that night. But tonight he was not going to get back to sleep.
Apparently, Debbie also saw the other shoe about to fall. “Are you having nightmares?”
“Hell no! I ain’t having no damn nightmares. And I ain’t going to talk to no shrink just because I’m having a little trouble sleeping.” Having nightmares was one of the BIG FOUR. Talking in your sleep, sleepwalking, and bedwetting rounded out the list of things that were almost certain to relieve a person of their security clearance. His nightmares were his problem, and he would deal with them.
“If you’re having nightmares, the doctors can help.” Debbie didn’t know about the BIG FOUR.
“I am not having nightmares!” Mark dragged on his T-shirt and underwear. Without thinking, he also grabbed his socks and began pulling them on.
Debbie asked. “Why are you putting on your socks? Are you going somewhere?”
“Yeah! I’m going to work.”
“It’s too early to go in. If you can’t sleep, sit down and turn on the TV. I’ll make you some breakfast.”
Mark knew that Debbie had been making an effort to ease the tension and end the argument. He should have sat in front of the TV in his underwear and socks and allowed Debbie to scramble him some eggs. He should have talked to her and assured her that he was okay. He should have told her about the nightmares and why the BIG FOUR prevented him from seeing a shrink. Instead, what he had done was slip on his shirt and grab his necktie. It required four attempts to knot the tie. In silence, Mark finished dressing, grabbed his hat, keys and security badge, and was out the door.
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