HSS: Perfectly Invisible Chapter Three


(Perfectly Invisible is the first of the stories I’ll tell in the Homeland Security Services universe. In this world, the 1993 attack on the Twin Towers succeeded, killing over 60,000 people. It resulted in the passage of the 28th Amendment—something we’d recognize as The Patriot Act on steroids. It included the establishment of classes of American Citizenship, acknowledging in law the class stratification that already exists. A second terrorist strike in 1996 wiped out the Liberal Wing of the American political landscape and by 2011, an entire generation has grown up in a conservative nation.

These HSS stories will not be liberal nightmares, nor will they be Randian paeans to the blessings of an objectivist paradise. They’re a look at a universe so terribly close to ours, and yet removed from it by enough for us to wonder “what if?”)

Chapter Three

The headquarters of United Pharma weren’t that far away, and she had plenty of time to get over there, so Miracle decided to walk. She even cut west a block so her course would take her parallel to the Scar for a bit, then headed back east around ground zero. She wanted time to think and despite the reason for the Scar’s existence, she found it calming. The engineering effort, which had taken years and many vocal fights and protests, had actually worked.

Investigators had hauled every scrap of the buildings out to New Jersey and had gone over them. Her sister had worked on that part of the investigation. She had told Miracle that bombs never actually destroyed anything, they just broke it down into small bits. The investigators put those bits together when they could, segregated out the human remains, then sent everything back to New York. The soil in the Scar had been excavated, the towers’ fill put in, then the soil placed on top to create the Scar. While some folks had complained that it was just one big barrow, she’d felt it was right that people who had died in a city they loved would remain there.

She’d also seen the 1996 Memorial Site in Chicago. They’d turned their big crater into an even bigger memorial flame that burned with natural gas. She’d found a memorial flame ironic given how everyone had died there; and the profligate use of natural gas a puzzler, too; but that’s how the survivors in Chicago wanted it, and in its grief, the nation let them have it. Their site was all granite and cold in the heartland, while the Scar lived.

She had been a couple months shy of her ninth birthday when the towers fell. She wouldn’t have remembered her age, save that her sister couldn’t come home for her birthday party because of the investigation. For Miracle, the Scar had essentially always existed, first as a white concrete scab, then a green belt. People, from time to time, talked about New York, Chicago and the world before the attacks, but she never quite believed them. Not that she thought such times never existed, but that after such a shock, memories of the times before then could not be trusted.

She went further east and after a couple blocks headed north again. United Pharma’s headquarters made the most of glass and chrome and industrial white. She thought of it as Laboratory Chic. Though the lobby lacked a medicinal smell, everything else suggested this was a place where medical miracles happened. She strode up to the reception desk and flashed her badge.

“Agent Dunn. I need to speak with Bruce Farnsworth.”

The receptionist, a Latina who involuntarily shrank from the HSS badge, forced a smile and reached for the phone. “I’ll call up and tell him…”

“She spoke to you as a courtesy, not so you could warn him.”

The bass voice came from a waiting area off to the left of the entry. Though potted plants and some half-walls shielded it from the main lobby, she’d walked past it outside and had stared into it through the glass wall. She could have sworn it had been empty, but a huge man unfolded himself from the couch. He’d been the one to speak, and though his voice had carried to her and the receptionist, he had not shouted, nor had his voice betrayed urgency or alarm.

Half a foot taller than she, narrow at the hips and wide at the shoulders, he had a head full of closely cropped, steel grey hair. Ruggedly handsome fit him, with emphasis on rugged. One long scar started the right side of his forehead and cut diagonally back to where it vanished in his hair. Another scar on the left side connected his cheekbone to his jaw. He wore black leather kid gloves over massive hands and Miracle guessed the gloves hid other scars. His bright emerald eyes gave her the once over, then he nodded but didn’t extend a hand.

“I’m Fyn.”

“I’m…”

“I heard.” Fyn headed for the elevators. Two security guards in grey slacks, blue shirts, navy jackets and blue and white striped ties moved to stop him, but Fyn just stared them back into place.

Miracle shrugged. “I’m with him, and you don’t want to call Farnsworth.”

“Yes, ma’am. Fifth floor. You’ll need…”

Miracle looked at the visitor badges she was about to proffer. “You really think so?”

“No, ma’am. Have a nice visit.”

Miracle crossed to where Fyn stood. He wore the regulation slacks and vest, but had a white mock-turtle underneath. Instead of a suit jacket he chose a longer jacket—not quite a trench-coat, but close—and Miracle believed he could hide a full arsenal beneath it.

“Sorry I’m late.”

“You’re not. I tend to be early.” Fyn stood aside as the elevator door opened. “All yours.”

She moved into the box and pressed the button for the fifth floor. She kept her back to the box’s wall, noted where the security camera was located, and realized that Fyn positioned himself so the camera would have a poor view of him.

“So, were you actually in that waiting area when I walked by?”

He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. I had your back.”

She frowned and thought about the lobby. “You were on the other side. You crossed behind me.”

“I had your back.” Fyn didn’t smile per se, but looked bemused nonetheless. “You were distracted.”

“I won’t make a habit of it.”

“I’ll still have your back.”

The elevator dinged and the doors opened. She stepped out and he stepped behind her, leaning down to whisper in her ear. “Do what you need to with this guy. No matter what you do, I will always be the badder cop.”

“Got it.” Miracle approached the security desk in the elevator lobby. “Agents Dunn and Fyn, HSS. We’re here to see Bruce Farnsworth.”

The security man’s Adam’s-apple bobbed a couple of times. He got up, slid his ID through a lock slot, punched in a passcode, then waved them in. “He’s toward the back, left.”

Miracle scanned his corporate ID. “Mr. Driscoll, were you working on this floor last Friday?”

“Yes.”

“Nancy Pelham, did she come in? When did she leave?”

He glanced back toward his desk, but Fyn eclipsed his view of it. “I would have to check, but in at eight, long lunch, one to three after, I think. Pretty usual, except leaving early. That wasn’t… I mean, she often worked late.”

The security guard took them to an outside office with two narrow glass panels on either side of a wooden door. Driscoll went to knock, but Miracle pushed past him and Fyn shouldered him out of the way. “Be sure to check your records.”

As Driscoll retreated, Farnsworth stood up from behind his desk. “It’s about time you got here. I can’t make this damned thing work.” A new smartphone sat on his desk, surrounded by cables, plastic bags and manuals.

Miracle frowned. “We’re not your IT department.”

“Then what are you doing here?” Though a couple inches shorter than Fyn, Farnsworth weighed the same but had distributed the weight differently. Classic pear shape, with the grey pallor of someone who doesn’t get to play enough golf. His thinning brown hair was the reason every golfing picture on his wall showed him in an ugly green cap. Most of the shots were of him with celebrities at a United Pharma sponsored Pro/Am event. His smiles were genuine, the celebrities’ were frozen. A half dozen pictures showed him with other celebrities, accompanied by a chunky woman in a variety of gowns. Miracle decided she was Farnsworth’s wife and, again, the pictures were taken at company events. The only picture that couldn’t be classified that way was one showing him and two kids, all done up for camping, with his smile being the only genuine one in evidence.

Miracle flashed her badge, which killed his protest. “I’m Agent Dunn, this is Agent Fyn. Do you know a Nancy Pelham?”

Farnsworth’s soft features composed themselves in a mask of anger, which Miracle found about as frightening as a puppy’s growls. “I have been calling her. She’s late for a meeting. What has she done?”

“What makes you think she’s done anything?”

Farnsworth blinked, his anger melting in to confusion. “Well, she must have. You’re HSS.”

Miracle pointed to his chair. “Sit down, Mr. Farnsworth.” She kept her voice steady and even. She gave him an order instead of making a polite request. He already was confused and worried enough to have assumed a subordinate role. Once he responded to her command, it would set a pattern that would get him to answer her questions quickly.

Miracle took the chair opposite him, but Fyn remained standing, as if made of iron. “Mr. Farnsworth, we’re investigating the circumstances of her death.”

“Her d-death?” His jowls quivered. “How did she die?”

“This is an HSS investigation into the death of a Citizen, so that is need-to-know information.” Miracle produced her phone and glanced at Pelham’s file. “We have Miss Pelham working here on a project as a consultant. Explain.”

“Well, it is a project for which we are trying to find a name. That’s why she was here.”

“What kind of project?”

“I don’t see…”

Miracle looked up from her screen. “Seriously? It was a drug. What kind, what does it do?”

Farnsworth lowered his voice. “It’s kind of like Viagra, but for women. You know, a man and his wife, things have become stale, her libido has dropped to nothing.” He cast a quick, sideways glance at a picture of his wife, then blushed a little. “So they plan a date night, she takes the drug—strictly under a doctor’s supervision, you understand—and they’re able to enjoy themselves. We wanted a name and a campaign that would appeal to women. We’d started calling it Recepta, but Nancy thought it should be called Romantika; and wanted this romance novel fantasy campaign thing.”

Another date-rape drug.Miracle tapped a note into her phone. “Side effects?”

“Mild buzz, like a couple glasses of wine and, well, some short term memory degrading.”

The perfect date-rape drug. “And she thought the fantasy aspect would prepare women for the fact that everything seemed like a dream?”

“I guess.” Farnsworth mopped his brow with a handkerchief. “If she’s dead, did you find her laptop?”

Miracle nodded. “It was tied into her stereo.”

“That would have been her personal unit.” Farnsworth opened a drawer and pulled out a small netbook with United Pharma’s logo actually embossed into the lid’s plastic. “We gave her one of these so she could get on our network here.”

“I will make sure that’s in the report.” Miracle half-glanced out toward the office. “Was she seeing anyone here? You, perhaps?”

“Me? Oh, God, no.” Farnsworth slumped back in his chair. “United Pharma and all of its subsidiaries have a strict no-fraternization policy. We can’t date in the company, with consultants, customers or suppliers. It applies to independent contractors like her, too. One strike and you’re out. Not that I would be dating. I’m happily married, you see.” He pointed at the pictures.

Miracle glanced at them, then back at him. “But if you were single, you’d have been tempted.”

“She was way out of my league. I had the feeling she was here to work on this project and that she’d bought some long-term contracts on UP stock. When we released Romantika or word got out, she’d make a fortune. I don’t think she was seeing anyone. From here, I mean—we all love our jobs. A lot of the crew goes out on Fridays for Happy Hour; and I think they do trivia at a bar on Tuesday nights. Trivia Tuesday. I don’t get invited and couldn’t go anyway. Maybe she did hook up. That’s what they say now, right? Hook up?”

“Did she send expenses through United Pharma? We’ll need those records.”

“Yes, of course.”

“Where were you yesterday?”

Farnsworth frowned. “Let’s see. Church. I did the readings. Lunch with the in-laws. Then I came into the city to do some work, got home in time to watch the end of the Knicks game. Fell asleep in front of the TV. Went to bed about two, I think.”

“Very good, thanks.” Miracle made a note, then stood. “Show us her work area.”

“Right, right this way.” Farnsworth came around his desk and Miracle held her breath for a moment. She could smell the acrid fear on him, strong enough that she was afraid it wouldn’t wash off. She let Fyn precede her, and his passing mixed enough air that she could breathe without wanting to gag.

Farnsworth took them to a small office. “If you need anything…”

Fyn pulled a small thumb drive from his jacket pocket and flipped it to the man.

Farnsworth caught it in both pudgy hands, fumbling with it before closing a fist around it. “Company policy forbids…”

Fyn raised an eyebrow.

“Well, you are HSS.” Farnsworth smiled. “Not like you’re going to put a virus into the computer or anything, right?”

“Her expenses, outgoing emails and instant messages in your system, please. And a list of everyone in your department.” Miracle gave him an encouraging nod. “We’ll see ourselves out after we’re done here.”

“Yes, of course. I’ll have this for you.” He pulled the door shut behind himself.

Miracle sat down at Pelham’s desk. “So, what kind of software will that plant on his computer?”

“Keystroke logger, plus it will just rename instead of delete files and send us copies of the files he wanted gone.” Fyn looked toward the door. “We have seventy-two hours to get a warrant, if we need it.”

But the files will remain accessible forever. She looked up at him. “What do you think he’s hiding?”

Fyn shook his head. “Not my department, you’re the detective. I’ll listen if you want to share.”

“He had lust in his heart for Nancy Pelham; which must have been tough given what they were working on. Work with her all day, then go home to his wife.” Miracle began to go through the desk drawers. “Dammit, neat as a pin. Nothing out of place.”

“Sterile.”

Miracle nodded. “Yeah, that’s it. It’s like a room service meal with plastic wrap over the dinner. It’s unspoiled. No pocket litter, nothing from trivia night or happy hour. Driscoll said she took long lunches, but not even a receipt. And thing of it is this: I know she’s a collector. She had these weird dolls in her apartment. Folks that collect tend to amass things. It’s just what they do. But she didn’t.”

“Except the dolls?”

“Yeah.” Miracle stood and headed for the door. “Could be she was all digital save for the dolls.”

She passed back through the office to Farnsworth’s domain.

He looked up and pulled the thumb drive from his computer. “Here, I think that is everything.”

She took it from him. “Two other questions.”

“Yes?”

“No pictures, nothing in her office. Was she just not sentimental?”

“Oh, no.” Farnsworth smiled. “She had them on her computer, the screensaver. Her parents, brothers, sisters, pets. A lot of old summer trip pictures.” He pointed at the shot of himself with his kids. “Perfectly normal stuff.”

“Did she mention dolls, or have pictures of them?”

Farnsworth shivered. “I saw one, once. She’d come back from lunch with it. I think she won it in an auction on Ebay. Said it cost a fortune. Something spooky about it. Two feet tall, black hair, dressed all like the folks in Sense and Sensibility, you know, old-timey clothes. I didn’t like it.”

“Very good, thank you.” Miracle gave him a nod and placed a card on his desk. “If you think of anything else.”

“Of course.”

In the elevator down, Fyn’s eyes tightened. “There was something significant about his describing that doll.”

Miracle arched an eyebrow. “How do you know?”

“You covered most of your reaction. What was it? Had he seen the doll at her apartment?”

“Not likely.” Miracle shook her head. “He’s right, the things are creepy. I’m sure he remembered it and got the description right. I don’t doubt it was expensive. The significant thing is this: it isn’t at her apartment, and we need to know why not.”

_________________________

Thanks for taking the time to read through the sample chapter of Perfectly Invisible. I had a lot of fun writing it, and am looking forward to more adventures with Miracle, Fyn and the rest of Team Krait.

The full novel is available for purchase right now from my webstore. Just click on the cover image to the left, or on that link. The novel runs $3.99, and the package in my store has both the Kindle and epub versions of the books, so you’ll have a copy that works with any of your readers. As always, the books are presented without DRM (digital rights management) and I have a note with instructions for getting the book onto ereaders and smartphones. Please remember, by purchasing stories direct from authors, not only do you pay less, but you become a patron of the arts. You vote with your dollars, and that tells us what you’d like to see us continuing to write.

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2 Responses to “HSS: Perfectly Invisible Chapter Three”

  1. Got it, at $3.99 US ($4.24 AUS) it is a bargain! Going to finish Talion first though, so I am probably going to have a few sleepless nights catching up on reading.

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  1. New Excerpt From Michael A. Stackpole’s Perfectly Invisible « Roqoo Depot - 30. Sep, 2011

    […] Update: Chapter 3 is now available online for free. […]