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Gordon Cope

Secret Combinations

When FBI agent Jack Kenyon investigates his Aunt Lydia’s death in London, he uncovers not only a clever murder, but a plot to cripple modern civilization itself.

CHAPTER 1 — Sunday, July 3, 2011. San Francisco

Special Agent Jack Kenyon’s stomach growled.  It was after 3 PM, and he hadn’t had a bite to eat all day.  Not only was he hungry, but the afternoon sun was turning the inside of the FBI surveillance van into a furnace.   He peeled off his jacket, then tucked the Sig Sauer 9mm pistol into the back of his jeans and removed his shoulder holster.  He stood up, his long, lanky frame bent to avoid banging his head.  Squeezing between the jumble of equipment, he peered out the back window.

The van was parked on a side-street beside the San Francisco Deluxe, a run-down tourist hotel located on the south edge of downtown.  The sidewalk was deserted; most tourists were down on the waterfront, taking in the Independence Day Weekend festivities.

As Kenyon watched through the rear window, a dark grey sedan pulled into a parking spot behind the van, and a young African American woman got out of the driver’s seat. Jasmine Leroi was dressed in form-fitting blue jeans and an emerald-colored blouse.  After removing a casserole dish from the passenger side of her car, she approached the van.

Kenyon opened the side panel door.  “Sorry I had to haul you away from your family picnic, Jazz.”

“No problem.” Leroi climbed into the van.  “Uncle Vince was playing his ABBA records again.”

Kenyon’s nose twitched.  “Hey, something smells great!”

Leroi handed him the casserole dish. “I brought you some of mama’s ribs.”

Kenyon eagerly peeled the tin foil from the top of the dish and pulled out a succulent honey and garlic treat.   “Man, I love her ribs.”

“I don’t know why I waste money on perfume,” said Leroi.  “I should just wear some around my neck.”  She sat down at the main surveillance console and glanced at the screens.  “What have we got?”

Kenyon, his hands full, turned to expose a folded sheet of white paper sticking out of the left rear pocket in his jeans.  “Have a look.”

Leroi pulled the paper out and held it up to a patch of light.  It was a copy of an email addressed to Kenyon.  She read aloud; “Simon is selling a Nebula Labs program code-named Cyberworm at 4 PM today in Rm 313 at the San Francisco Deluxe.”  She glanced up. “Anonymous tip?”

Kenyon nodded.  “Got it this morning at my apartment.  I called Nebula and spoke to their security man.   When he heard ‘Cyberworm’, he hit the roof.”

Leroi handed the fax back.  “What’s Cyberworm?”

“Some software program.  They wouldn’t tell me what it does.  Nebula handles a lot of work for the military, so it could be anything.”

“And they’re missing this Cyberworm?”

“Yeah.  Nebula ran a check on their internal computer monitor system; Simon came in Saturday morning and loaded it onto a memory stick.”

“I take it he’s the subvert?” asked Leroi.

“Yup.”  Kenyon licked his fingers then pulled a thick, leather-bound notebook from the back pocket of his jeans.  He took a photo out of the notebook and handed it to Leroi.  It was a standard employee mug-shot; a clean-shaven Caucasian with receding hair and thick glasses stared at the camera.  “Simon’s a mid-level software engineer.  He was passed over for a promotion last year; management says he’s pals with Captain Morgan.”  The agent mimed a drinking motion with his free hand.  “Going through a messy divorce, wife got the house and kids, he’s living in a rental in Palo Alto.”

Leroi nodded. “I’m thinking he needs a little spare cash.”

“That’s my guess,” agreed Kenyon.

“Who’s buying?”

“You’ll never believe it.”  Kenyon pointed to a color print-out sitting on the console.  “I pulled this off the hotel’s CCTV monitor.”  The print-out showed a tall, clean-shaven man with close-cropped blond hair and a broken nose.  He was standing in front of a hotel check-in desk, picking up a key card.

Leroi whistled.  “Charlie Dahg.”

Kenyon nodded.  “When Marge heard we bad boy number one in our sites, she gave me the go-ahead to mount surveillance.”

“I thought he was into selling Sarin to the North Koreans,” said Leroi.   “What’s he doing in software?”

Kenyon chewed on another rib. “Maybe he got tired of wearing a gas mask.”

Leroi began to unpack a high-powered digital camera from its aluminum case.  “Who do you think he’s contracted with?”

Kenyon shrugged.  “Depends on what the software does.  The Chinese military would pay big time for the latest missile-guidance stuff.  With any luck, Dahg’s working for them;  we’ve been trying to close those boys down for a year.”

Leroi mounted the camera on a tripod.  “Where is he now?”

“Room 313.  He checked in about two hours ago.”

“We got video in the room?”

Kenyon smiled as he tapped a monitor marked #4; it showed a grainy, black & white image of a hotel room.  Dahg was lying on the bed, idly flipping TV channels with the remote.  “We dressed Liz Parker up in a maid’s outfit.  She dropped off some towels and a remote hidden in a roll of TP.”

Leroi nodded her approval.  “Let’s just hope he doesn’t get the trots.”

While Leroi dug out the camera, Kenyon positioned the tripod so that it sighted out the front window of the van.  The side of the three-story, run-down hotel was visible across the street.   The view included the entrance to the underground garage.  A half-block further south, the downtown access ramp for the 101 Interstate cast its shadow toward the hotel.

“Who’s inside?” asked Leroi.

“We’ve got Cravitz and Low down the hall in room 326.  They went in half an hour ago with the honeymoon luggage.”  The FBI’s SWAT team kept a special kit  of bullet-proof vests, a heavy sledge, monitoring equipment and assault weapons packed into tourist suitcases.  “I’ve got Akita behind the front desk.”

“Where’s the subvert?

“Been home all day.  Benn is tailing him.”

Just then, a voice came on the radio.  “Benn to Kenyon.”

Kenyon picked up the radio mike.  “Jack here, over.”

“Jasper’s on the move.  Red Toyota sedan, license plate C-O-D-E.”

Kenyon glanced at his watch; it was 3:35 PM; twenty-five minutes to go to the arranged meeting time.  “Roger, Benn, we copy.  Out.”  Kenyon punched the radio button for all-frequencies.  “Jasper is approaching lair.  ETA  is 25 minutes.  Status check.”

The radio hissed; Akita behind the desk came in.   “Red dog’s on point.”

A second call from room 326; “Welcome Wagon ready to roll.”

Leroi glanced up from the camera equipment.  “All set here.”

A few seconds later, Benn radioed in his status report; “We’re on the 101.”

“Okay, Benn.  Let us know when you hit the off-ramp.”   Kenyon signed off and stared out the window. A lop-sided smile of satisfaction broke out on his face. Everything was falling into place.  Marge Gonelli, the Special Agent in Charge of San Francisco, had been riding him hard to get a big case against the espionage rings that infiltrated the Bay area. With any luck, they would be able to reconn the drop, then follow Dahg back to his masters.

His thoughts were interrupted by a rap on the sidewalk side of the van.

Leroi glanced up.  “You expecting anyone?” she whispered.

“No.”  Kenyon drew his Sig Sauer.

The side door to the van opened, and the balding head of Will Deaver poked into the van. “Don’t shoot!” he warned.  “It’s me!”  The assistant US attorney from the 93 Judicial District of San Francisco was a small, wiry man in his forties.   He was dressed in casual slacks and a golf shirt.

“What are you doing here?” Kenyon whispered hoarsely.  “You trying to blow our cover?”

Deaver ignored the remark as he climbed into the van.  “Hope I’m not too late.”

Kenyon glanced out of the corner of his eye at Leroi.  “No, the more the merrier.”  He flipped the video camera case on its side and tucked it against the back door. “Sit on this and stay out of the way.”

Deaver continued to ignore him.  “Hey, what’s that great smell?” He dug a rib out of the casserole dish.

“You still haven’t told me why you’re here,” said Kenyon.

“I hear you got Charlie Dahg in your sights,” said Deaver.

“Where’d you hear that?”

Deaver grinned over the rib.  “I have my sources.”

The agent didn’t doubt it.  Deaver was only an assistant attorney, but he had a rich  wife and an ambitious streak as wide as the Rio Grande; he was openly touted as the next Republican candidate for state governor.   Somebody looking to join the bandwagon must have tipped him off.

The AA craned his neck to peer at the video monitor.  “When’s the subvert  supposed to show up?”

Kenyon glanced at his watch.  “We estimate inside of 20 minutes.”

“Good. We take them down as soon as he enters the room.”

Kenyon cursed under his breath. A political hot-dog like Deaver was only interested in getting himself a nice, front-page story.  “Our plan is to follow Dahg to see who’s paying him,” he said.  “We want the entire ring.”

“No way,” replied Deaver, putting down his rib.  “The chances are too great he’ll slip away.”

“We have no probable cause for entering room 313,” countered Kenyon.  “We don’t even know if Simon has the stolen property on him.  If we bust in and they’re clean, we have a major liability.”

Deaver faced him square.  “If you don’t take them down, Kenyon, you’re going to have a major liability, and it’s going to be me.”

The AA was not, on paper, a superior to Kenyon,  but the FBI agent had no delusions about the problems Deaver could stir up.   He glanced at Leroi; she studiously kept her attention focused on the video camera.

“We do it my way,” said Kenyon.

Deaver stared hard at the agent, but the younger man didn’t blink.  The AA finally turned his attention to the console.  “Is that Dahg?” he asked, pointing to monitor #4.

Leroi glanced up.  “Yeah, that’s him,”

Deaver turned back to Kenyon.  “If you see Simon pass anything to Dahg, we got probable cause, right?”

Damn, thought Kenyon.  “Right.”

A smile broke out on Deaver’s face.  “Then you go in the moment we see the exchange.”

You little piece of shit, thought Kenyon. “It’s your funeral,” he finally said.

Deaver smiled.  “I knew you’d see it my way.”

Kenyon turned to the radio and called the tail car.  “Benn?  This is Jack.  What is your status?”

“Just passing over Army Street, heading north.  Traffic is clear.  ETA 10 minutes.  Over.”

Kenyon turned to all-frequencies.  “This is Jack.  ETA is 10 minutes.  There’s been a change of plan.  I want take-down after Jasper enters the room.  Assume extreme counter-force.  Do you copy?”

“We copy,” said Cravitz from the surveillance room.

“Ditto,” came Akita’s reply from behind the desk.

Kenyon pulled the keys from the ignition and opened a foot locker behind the driver’s seat.  He lifted out two light-weight armored vests with large yellow FBI letters on the back and handed one to Leroi.  After donning his vest, Kenyon pulled out a pump-action shotgun and a handful of shells.  He loaded five rounds into the 12-gauge and handed the gun to Leroi.  She racked a shell into the chamber and propped it beside the radio.

Kenyon turned to Deaver.  “No matter what happens, stay inside the van unless I say otherwise; you got me?”

Surprisingly, Deaver merely nodded.

The radio crackled.  “This is Benn.  Jasper exiting at Mission.”

Kenyon grabbed the mike and crouched at the rear window.   A few seconds later, a red Toyota sedan turned the corner.   “I have visual contact.”  The car slowed, then turned into the underground garage.  “Jasper has just entered the parkade.   Akita, stand-by on visual.”

Kenyon licked his lips.  Thirty seconds passed, then a minute, and still no response from Akita at the desk.  Kenyon clicked on the mike.  “Akita, do you have a visual?”

The response from the front desk came through clearly.  “Nothing yet.”

Kenyon tapped the mike against the van wall; it was taking too long for the subvert to get up to the reception.  Did he have a change of heart?  Was he sitting in his car, frozen by indecision?  Something was wrong.  Kenyon  stripped off his vest and opened the side door of the van.  He glanced up and down the street, but no one was on the sidewalk.  He turned back toward Leroi.  “I’m going into the garage.  Keep everyone on stand-by until I return.”

Kenyon hopped out of the vehicle and crossed the street toward the entrance to the underground parkade.  Just as he reached the ramp, a blue commercial van pulled out of the garage. The agent jumped to one side as the vehicle rushed past, then he ran down the ramp, into the darkness.

It  took a second for his eyes to adjust to the gloom.  He looked around, but there was nobody moving in the garage.  He scouted the rows of cars until he spotted Simon’s red Toyota.  It was parked, the motor turned off.  As far as Kenyon could tell, there was nobody in or around the car.  Good, thought Kenyon, he’s headed up.  He relaxed as he approached the rear of the vehicle.

As the agent crossed over to the driver’s side, however, he spotted two feet sticking out along the ground.  A man lay on his back, his eyes staring at the cement ceiling.  Kenyon pulled his Sig Sauer and chambered a round, simultaneously glancing left and right.  Seeing no one, he advanced cautiously toward the prone man.  It was Simon; there was a large, dark stain on the chest of his white shirt.  He was alive, his breath ragged and labored.

Kenyon turned and ran for the garage entrance.  He pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911 as he galloped up the ramp.   “We need an ambulance at the San Fran Deluxe now!” he shouted.   He sprinted across the road and reached the open door of the command van.  “Simon’s down!”  He shoved the cell phone into Deaver’s hand.  “I got emergency on the line;  guide ‘em in.”

Kenyon scrambled inside and grabbed the mike.   “Cravitz!  Bust in now!  Do you hear me?  Now!”

“We copy,” responded Cravitz.

Suddenly, Kenyon remembered the other vehicle.  He turned to Deaver, hunched by the door, the cell phone pressed to his ear.  “Which way did the van go?”

Deaver looked at him in confusion.  “What van?”

“A blue van came out of the garage when I was going in!  Which way did it go, dammit?”

Deaver stared up and down the street.  “I don’t know!”

Leroi leaned forward. “I saw it out the back window.  It went down the street and turned left.”

Kenyon grabbed  Deaver by the shoulder. “Gimme your keys.”

“Why?”

“Gimme your keys!”

The AA dug in his pocket and pulled out the keys to his car.   Kenyon turned to Leroi as he stepped out of the van.  “I’m heading south on Valencia.  Tell SFPD to keep a look-out for a blue plumbing van.  It says ‘Al’s’ or something on the side.”

Kenyon jumped into Deaver’s car.  He pulled a U-turn, crashing over the curb, then  sped down to the end of the side street and turned left onto Valencia.

Kenyon raced the car up to 90 as he roared down the block.  There was a red light ahead; he zigged into the empty oncoming lane again and hit the brakes, squealing to a halt at the intersection.  He glanced on the floorboards, but there was no cherry.  Goddamn civilian car.  He nosed the hood out into the intersection, then roared across the intersection through a break in the traffic.

Valencia ran through a bustling Latino neighbourhood.  People crowded the sidewalks, ordering food at take-outs and drinking beer on the curb.  Kenyon tried to imagine how long it had been since he saw the blue van; one minute?  Three minutes?  He glanced nervously down side roads as he passed; he had no idea if the van had turned off the street.  Too much time, he thought,  too much time.

Then Kenyon saw the van.  It was sitting in the left lane at an intersection, three cars back from the stop light.  The light turned green, and the van pulled slowly away.

Good, he hasn’t spotted me, thought Kenyon.  The agent swung over to the right lane into the driver’s blind spot, and followed at a safe distance.

Time to call for back-up.  Kenyon felt in his pocket for his cell phone; he suddenly remembered he had left it with Deaver.  He scanned the interior of the sedan, but there was no phone or radio hook-up.  Shit.  He would have to follow the van until it stopped, then call for back-up.

The vehicle continued south until it reached a commercial district. Still moving sedately, it turned onto a side street.  Kenyon waited for a few seconds, then followed.

The side street was lined with run-down warehouses and boarded up factories.  He eased in behind a parked car and watched from a distance as the blue van pulled over to the curb.

It stopped in front of a high steel gate.  The driver, wearing a baseball cap, black sunglasses and gloves, got out of the van and opened the barrier.  He got back into the van and drove into the yard, disappearing around the far side of a building.

Kenyon looked around the street.  There were no pay phones nearby.  The van might reappear at any time; he couldn’t risk going to find one.  Just then, a brown coupe came around the far corner and drove toward Kenyon.  The FBI agent jumped out of Deaver’s car, flipped open his ID and stepped in front of the coupe, forcing it to stop.  “I’m with the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” he said.  “I need your help.”

The driver was an older Latin man.  He rolled his window down a fraction of an inch. “What’s wrong?”

“You got a cell phone?”

“Yeah.”

Kenyon pulled out a card from his ID wallet.   “I need you to call this number.”

The man took the card through the slit at the top of the window.  He glanced at it briefly.  “What should I say?”

Kenyon turned and read the faded sign over the warehouse door.  “Agent Kenyon is at the Salmon King fish packers, just off Army Street.  Send reinforcements.”

As the man drove off, Kenyon entered the gate and ran across the yard to  the front of the warehouse.    He peered around the corner.  The blue van sat 50 feet ahead, beside a door.  The motor was turned off.

Kenyon pulled out his automatic and advanced on the van, trying to keep out of view.  He reached the rear window and glanced inside.  The vehicle was empty, with no sign of the driver.

The agent turned the warehouse door knob.  It was unlocked.  As quietly as he could, he opened the door and eased inside.  The interior of the warehouse was lit by sunlight pouring through small windows high on the walls.  Long zinc-metal tables covered the concrete floor.  Kenyon listened for sounds of movement.  Except for the dripping of water somewhere in the interior, all was quiet.

The agent glanced down; a fresh set of footprints receded in the dust.

Kenyon slowly advanced along the room. He followed the footprints to a set of wooden stairs.  They led up to an office that overlooked the warehouse floor.  The windows to the office were shuttered.

Kenyon sniffed the air; he detected the unmistakable aroma of fresh cigar smoke.  The driver was up top.  He tested the stairs; the wood was old, but solid.  He eased his way up, placing his weight on the side of the steps where they met the riser.  He kept his gun pointed at the door to the office, the trigger cocked.

Kenyon reached the top of the stairs.  The door to the office was closed, but the smell of cigar smoke was very strong.  He braced himself on the top step, then rushed against the door, bursting it open. “Freeze!” he shouted.  “FBI!”

A shadow darted from behind a desk.  Kenyon lunged to the left to cut off his retreat.

Suddenly, there was no floor.   The FBI agent’s foot shot into a gap and he pitched forward onto his face.  His gun clattered across the room.  Kenyon tried to rise, but his boot was stuck in the joists.  He struggled to free himself.

That was when he heard the crack of a gun.  It felt as if he had been punched in the back with a sledgehammer.  The floor rose up to his face in slow motion, and  a wave of blackness engulfed him.

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