It had been seven years since Mark and Holly Hill had left the military and the top-secret team that had used blackmail and other means to convince some very powerful people to make the “correct” decisions. After all those years, memories of those other means still disturbed their sleep. Fortunately, with time, the nightmares had become less frequent, until…
As a civilian, Mark had been writing security software for his employer. What Mark didn’t realize was that someone was using his software to deliver classified material to foreign nationals. The realization came when two government agents knocked on his door and spirited him away in the middle of the night.
Reluctantly, Mark agreed to help discover the identity of the spy who was using his software. Only then would the government officials ignore the fact that he was using military-grade encryption for a civilian application. If he worked fast enough, Mark might even be able to protect Holly’s secret.
Targeted Age Group:: 18-99
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
This is the sequel to Alphabet Soup. The inspiration for this story and the one preceding were events from my time in the military. While the main story is fictional, some of the events are not.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The characters in this book are composites of people that I know. I drew upon my experiences in the military and my life after leaving the military to craft my main character.
Holly’s eyes snapped open. She was a light sleeper, easily awakened by the slightest sound. Her husband, Mark, was breathing noisily, but at least he was not snoring. She was used to his breathing; that wasn’t what had aroused her. She could hear the faint tick-tick-tick of the cuckoo clock in the living room, but apart from the clock and Mark’s breath, there were no other sounds. She closed her eyes against the darkness, hoping to resume her slumber, when she heard the slam of a car door, and then another. Holly fumbled for her phone on the nightstand and swept her finger across the screen, causing the device to illuminate, displaying the time—1:22 AM.
Holly shook her husband. “There’s somebody in our driveway,” she whispered loudly.
Mark replied, “Gronkp,” and rolled over onto his side.
She shook him even harder. “Wake up!”
“I’m not snoring.”
Another shake. “There’s somebody outside!”
Mark was immediately alert. He was at the window pulling the blinds aside when there was a knock on the front door. He could see the car in the drive, but this window didn’t allow him to see the person or persons on his porch. There was no clock in the bedroom—the light would keep Holly awake.
“What time is it?” he yawned.
“It’s one-thirty. Can you see who it is?”
Mark groped in the dark until he located the sweatpants he had removed before going to bed. He had the pants on and was still trying to get a shirt over his head when the knock was repeated, this time louder. “Hold on! I’m coming!” he shouted toward the living room.
As Mark passed their gas fireplace he grabbed a decorative fire poker. He knew that it wasn’t much of a weapon, but the weight of the heavy brass handle shored up his courage. He stopped with his hand on the deadbolt and his eye glued to the peephole. “Who is it?” he shouted.
From the other side of the door a man answered, “Mr. Hill, this is Agent Waters, and with me is Agent Patterson—AFOSI. We need to talk to you.” The man held identification in front of the peephole. “Can we come in?”
As Mark turned the latch he felt a knot form in his stomach. It had been seven years since he had left the air force, but the old paranoia came rushing back. His mind raced as it had so many times during his three years in the military. Any time a superior had wanted to talk to him, he had done a mental search for any action that might be considered a breach of security. This time was no different from so many others; he could think of nothing that could have attracted these OSI agents. But there they were standing on the other side of his front door.
There was that other thing that had happened while he was in the air force. He had been assured that his military past would remain in the past, but it still gave him nightmares. Holly suffered even more than he did.
Mark opened the door and the two agents stepped inside. “You want to tell me what this is all about?” Mark asked.
Agent Waters answered. “Sorry, but we can’t answer that. We need you to come with us.”
Mark crossed his arms. “I haven’t done anything. I’m not going anywhere. Do you have a warrant?” He still could not think of a reason why these agents wanted to talk to him. His bank account had not shown any unusual activity. He had not been in contact with any foreign nationals. Though it was true that his company sold machines in other countries, he was just a programmer; he never had any contact with the customers.
One nagging thought did surface, as it had so many times since he started writing security into his code. Was it technically legal for him to be writing the security software? While it was true that he had learned to write encryption algorithms while working for the NSA, he had never included any code that could not be developed using only the information that was available to the general public—if they knew where to look. Still he worried. Had he crossed the line somewhere?
Agent Waters shook his head. “No, we don’t have a warrant, but we can have one in about twenty minutes. Judge Davis won’t like us waking him up at this time of night, though. You can come with us now or you can wait another twenty minutes. The downside to waiting is that we get to piss off a local judge, and he might remember this night if you ever have to appear in his courtroom. It makes no difference to me. How about you?” He turned to face Agent Patterson.
Agent Patterson shrugged. “I don’t care. Of course, we could just let the judge sleep. Under the Homeland Security Act we don’t really need a warrant.”
The knot tightened in Mark’s stomach. If they could take him into custody by invoking the Homeland Security Act, then his situation was indeed serious. Of course it was entirely possible that they were bluffing—trying to scare him. But even if they were just bluffing, his fear was real. “Hang on,” he said. “Let me change into some jeans and get my shoes.”
Both agents nodded.
Mark returned to his bedroom; his wife was standing just inside the door. Holly whispered tersely, “What’s going on?”
Mark replied, “I really don’t know. Got to be some kind of misunderstanding. I’m going to go with them and straighten it out.”
Holly reached for the poker that was still in Mark’s hand. “Grab the other poker and we’ll hit them over the head. I think we should run.”
Mark snatched the poker back from his wife and tossed it onto the bed. “There’s no need to run. I promise you that it’s nothing. I’ll just go with them and take care of it. Try and get back to sleep.” He knew that Holly would not sleep.
“How long will you be gone?” Her voice betrayed the panic that was building.
“I don’t know. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours, I don’t think.”
“Do I need to call a lawyer?”
“No, I’m sure I can straighten this out.”
What he didn’t say was that he didn’t think a lawyer would be of any use. It wasn’t unusual for the alphabet government agencies to ignore the legal system. When he had been part of the alphabet soup, he had totally believed that some unconstitutional operations were necessary for the security of the nation. But with two AFOSI agents standing in his living room, protection within the legal system would have been more than welcome.
Mark also worried about Holly. The time that they had spent together in the air force had left her far too fragile. He could only imagine the terror that she must be experiencing because he was being spirited away by these agents. Mark told himself that she was stronger now—much stronger than she had been seven years ago. But despite the advances she had made since leaving the military, she remained fragile.
Mark was directed to sit in the rear of the sedan; the two agents sat in the front with Agent Patterson behind the wheel. Agent Waters reached back, palm held upward. “Cell phone,” he demanded.
Mark relinquished his only tie to his home and his wife—and possibly safety. He feared that he might be falling into a rabbit hole from which there would be no escape. “Where are we going?”
Patterson looked over at Waters. Waters shrugged. Patterson turned back to face the highway and answered, “Medina.”
“Medina—as in San Antonio?” asked Mark.
“Know the place?” Patterson was doing all the talking now.
“Yeah, I know the place. That’s a two hour flight. I’ve got to go to work in the morning.”
“I wouldn’t bet on you getting to work tomorrow. And it’s about four hours away. We’re taking a C-130 out of Dobbins.”
“C-130? Cargo plane? Props?”
“Yeah, but with passenger seats. Turbo-prop.”
“Why Medina?” Mark asked, even though he could probably guess the reason for their destination.
Patterson grunted, “We’re just supposed to deliver you to Medina. We didn’t ask any questions.”
Mark fell silent. He knew it would be useless to question the agents further. He had spent three years in the alphabet soup. Information was always on a need to know basis. Regardless of security clearance, one was never privy to any information that was not necessary for the completion of the mission. Asking too many questions would attract the wrong kind of attention. Then you could end up in the back seat of a black sedan with two AFOSI agents refusing to answer your questions.
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