Seeds of a New Earth Sample Chapters

Seeds of a New Earth Sample Chapters2018-03-07T09:36:22+00:00

What follows are three sample chapters of Seeds of a New Earth, book 3 of the Kindred Series (due out late 2015 or early 2016). If you haven’t read book one or two, these samples aren’t likely to make much sense. The solution?

The Kindred Series Bundle: A Genetic Engineering Science Fiction Thriller Series (Books 1 & 2)

Also, remember these chapters haven’t gone through the final revision and polishing process so you are likely to find a few typos, or other changes that will be made in the final version. Feel free to point them out in the comment section.

Seeds of a New Earth

Chapter One

They must be sleeping late, Mimi Rawlins thought as she pulled the monocular away from her face and glanced at the digital watch she wore on the inside of her wrist. It always made her feel good to check the time. Knowing the time helped to keep her grounded in reality…well at least a little bit, and viewing it on the watch her Uncle Bo had given her for graduating with honors from high school made her feel, well, grounded in his love. She might be only his niece but in many ways their relationship was more like father-daughter. Since her own dad spent way too much time trying to climb out of a bottle, Mimi stayed away from him and over at Bo’s instead.

The watch flicked over to 10:05 am. Mimi wished she’d had the luxury of sleeping so late. She enjoyed that luxurious feeling of dozing, awakening, and dozing again. She often did it on weekends, especially Sundays, but not today for today she was on assignment.


She ran her long fingers through her short red hair (the color accentuated with a little help from Lady Clairol) that her boss, Aaron Aldridge, claimed made her look too much like a boy. But Mimi knew better. She’d caught him more than once goggling her slim, shapely figure. He knew all too well her gender. There were times when Mimi wished she was a boy — well, a man. At twenty-six, it was fair to say whatever her gender, she was an adult. In the world of journalism, being a man automatically placed you in the good ol’ boy network, while being a woman, especially an attractive one, just got you a lot of stares and snide remarks from said good ol’ boys.

She gazed down the hill to the log cabin below. Was that some movement on the porch? It was hard to tell. She placed the monocular against her eye and looked again, but the shadows eliminated most of the details. As she studied the porch, she thought she saw the figure of someone moving. In the next moment as a girl stepped into the light of the morning sun, her suspicions were confirmed. Evidently, her information gleaned from the secretary had been correct.

It had been an interesting week; completely unlike what she’d expected when she’d started out on Monday, but then had come the strange call from another redhead. They’d first met over the weekend in a sleazy bar that neither of them frequented. Kismet had brought them together no doubt. Well, at least that’s what Mimi liked to think. She believed in Kismet. She also believed in divine destiny, white and black magic, and that the physical reality in which she walked was only one reality and not necessarily the most interesting one. With a childhood like hers, anyone with half a brain would have believed in such things.

The redhead’s name was Rachael Phillips, and as so often happened with Mimi, it wasn’t long after the two were sitting at the bar of the grimy little speakeasy that Rachael began to talk to her. It was one of Mimi’s gifts that bordered on a special power. She’d developed it early in her life, soon after deciding she wanted to be a journalist when she grew up. Getting people to spill their stories seemed like an important talent, one that came naturally to her and was well worth developing.

With just a little prodding, a question here, a comment there, Rachael, who was already about three sheets to the wind as was Mimi, began to talk. At first, Mimi listened with only one ear. After all, she was off duty, right? Wrong! A good journalist was never off, as her encounter with Rachael proved for the hundredth time.

Mimi figured Rachael to be in her early to mid-thirties, was well dressed in a designer business suit that probably cost as much as a week of Mimi’s take home pay from Global Inquiry – the gossip rag she now worked for after quitting the better paying but oh so boring job at the Atlanta Journal. What had prompted such an upscale and uptight professional woman as Rachael to take refuge in one of the sleaziest bars in downtown Atlanta wasn’t clear, other than the fact that it had been a bear of a week, made even more so by some mysterious call she’d received earlier in the day.

It was somewhere around Rachael’s story about having been a part of a harem of professional women who’d used some guy for their sexual pleasure that Mimi’s journalistic radar began to beep. Rachael went on to share how all the women had become pregnant even though they’d all been on birth control and the man had supposedly had a vasectomy. But that wasn’t half of the strangeness. She had gone on to report that she and her preggie friends had all been hauled into a research lab in North Carolina where they’d been forced to have their babies under close medical supervision.

Mimi’s radar had almost broken into a hundred small pieces when Rachael claimed that her pregnancy had only lasted nine weeks! In fact, all the pregnancies had terminated at virtually the same time. Of course, by this time both Rachael and Mimi were on their fourth or fifth drink, or had it been their sixth or seventh? Anyway, they were both feeling no pain so the details had become blurred.

Mimi wasn’t even too sure how she’d gotten herself home, but she’d made it a point to pull out her latest journal and enter as much as she could remember just in case. It was a habit she’d developed as a teenager back in Foster Flat, North Carolina where she’d grown up with her alcoholic dad. Journaling helped her to sort out her life as well as becoming a reservoir for the many weird tales she’d heard about and even been a witness to a few times. But none were any weirder than the tale she’d heard that night so, as she sipped on her second cup of black coffee, she wrote down what she could remember. She then thought little about it until two days later when she’d gotten a call from Rachael.

How did she get my number, Mimi wondered? She then remembered she’d given her card to the woman as the two stood in front of the bar waiting for their respective cabs.

Mimi continued to watch the young girl stroll off the porch and over to the stack of wood. She gathered several pieces in her arm before heading back to the cabin. Evidently, the inside of the cabin was as rustic as the outside, Mimi thought. The West Virginia mountain air was cool for mid-June but not so cool as to warrant the need for a fire to Mimi’s way of thinking, so it was likely that it was needed for cooking. Was this young girl the one she was looking for, Mimi wondered? She looked to be about the right age, and while it was a little hard to tell from this distance, she thought she could see a reddish color to her hair.

Rachael had invited her to dinner that evening. The Polaris restaurant had recently re-opened on the 25th floor of the historic Hyatt Regency after over a decade of having been closed. Rumor around town said it was well worth checking out but not on a junior reporter’s salary at one of the lowliest of newspapers. So, even if Rachael’s story had been boring and uninteresting, Mimi would have accepted the invitation, but to get a good meal at a fancy restaurant while listening to an interesting story that might, just might, one day turn into an article for her paper; well, life didn’t get much better than that.

So, she graciously accepted the invitation to meet Rachael at 7:30 that evening. In its early days, the restaurant’s blue domed roof had been an integral part of Atlanta’s skyline. After all, it set on the tallest building of the city in the late sixties. But over the decades, Atlanta’s skyline had grown with ever taller buildings to the point that the Polaris had been increasingly less remarkable. Finally, the owners had closed it, but now it was arising once again as one of the in spots to be, thanks, in large part to Rachael’s advertising firm.

Mimi glanced around the slowly rotating circular restaurant with a central kitchen area. The patrons had the choice of a breathtaking view of the city or could enjoy watching their meal being prepared, just with the turn of their head.

The two redheads found each other at the same time. Rachael rose from her chair at the bar, said a final word to the man sitting next to her, and strolled over to Mimi. The maitre’d magically appeared next to the two and showed them to a table where a bottle of already opened champagne rested in its bucket of ice.

  • “I hope you don’t mind that I ordered us a bottle of champagne and then became thirsty so went ahead and opened it,” Rachael said as she pointed Mimi to the chair across from her.

  • “Oh no, champagne is fine,” Mimi replied, feeling suddenly awkward. Glancing around, it was obvious her black slacks and matching spaghetti strapped blouse was way too casual even for a Monday night at the Polaris. But it was the nicest outfit she owned so it would just have to do.

  • She watched as Rachael waved away the approaching waiter and poured a glass for Mimi before refilling her own.

  • “I think you’ll fine the cuisine here more than adequate for even the most finicky tastebuds. The chef is a personal friend of mine. In fact, he owes me his job so if there’s anything not to your liking, just let me know. I’ll have his head on a platter.” And then she chuckled with an edge that sent a chill through Mimi’s spine. Rachael motioned to the waiter as she opened her menu.

  • It took Mimi only a minute to find what she wanted. She’d spied a delectable looking steak on one of the tables she’d walked by. She didn’t eat red meat that often, partly because it didn’t agree with her digestive system all that well. Besides, it wasn’t easy finding a decent cut of meat that she could afford on her baked bean budget. So, why not splurge this evening on her new friend’s tab?

  • “I’ll have the same. Make my ribeye rare and no sour cream on the potato,” Rachael said as she closed her menu. “Oh, and bring us another bottle of Dom and a couple shrimp cocktails, dear.”

  • “Quite a view,” Mimi said after the waiter left. The night was setting in and the skylight of Atlanta lay before them, the lights winking on all around.

  • “Yes, it is,” Rachael replied. “And by the time we finish our meal, we’ll have made a complete circuit around, or close to it. But of course, that’s not why I asked you here, as I’m sure you know.”

  • “Why are we meeting again?” Mimi asked as she took a sip of champagne and felt the little bubbles tickle her button nose.

  • “You will recall from our previous conversation that I had a baby a few years ago that I then abandoned to the research lab.”

  • “Yes,” Mimi replied, leaning forward to show her interest, but keeping a blank expression so Rachael wouldn’t think she was being judged.

  • “Well, I think I also mentioned that I was in the bar because it had been a particularly hellish week, and I needed to blow off a little steam.”

  • “Yes, I do recall something like that.”

  • “What I didn’t tell you was that the culmination of that hellish week was that I’d received a phone call. It was from my daughter, or at least someone who claims to be my daughter, and I suspect it was. She said she was in trouble and needed help.”

  • “Wow,” Mimi said. She started to reach for her glass, then stopped herself. Something told her that she was no longer on a social outing but was now working her job.

  • “But wait a minute. Didn’t you say you had your daughter about three years ago?”

  • “Yes, that’s right.”

  • “That’s pretty young for someone to be calling on their own, wouldn’t you say?”

  • “Well, maybe, though these days kids and technology seems to go hand-in-hand, but there’s something you’re forgetting or maybe you simply don’t understand. Remember, my pregnancy…all of our pregnancies were extraordinarily sped up. We delivered in a matter of weeks, not months. That rapid growth continued after the delivery. While my daughter is only three chronologically, the girl who called me sounded much older and more mature.”

  • “Okay,” Mimi answered. “And why are you telling me this?”

  • Rachael picked up the bottle of champagne and filled Mimi’s glass and then her own. “Because I need for you to go find my daughter and bring her home to me.”

Chapter Two

“Why is it always my turn to fetch the firewood?” Kristin asked in a whining voice that had become her morning modus operandi which only seemed to worsen the farther along she came in her pregnancy. “You’re not the only one carrying a baby.” This last comment was directed to her sister, Tabitha, who had given her the order.

“I’ve told you before. Mel thinks I’m a much better cook than you are, so he wants me to cook and you to fetch. Now get on with it. He’ll be awake soon and will expect his breakfast to be ready. One guess who he’ll blame if it isn’t on the table.”

“Well, it sure won’t be Miss Goody-Two-Shoes,” Kristin mumbled as she headed towards the door. She really didn’t mind fetching the wood. It gave her a chance to be outside and away from her two companions. Ever since Tabitha had learned that she hadn’t been the only one that Mel had slept with on their first night at his old homestead, she’d become increasingly difficult to live with.

Try as she might, Kristin had been unable to convince her sister that Mel had forced himself on her. “You’ve had your eye on him from the very beginning. Don’t deny it. Well, you can just forget it. He’s mine, and if I so much as see you glance his way, I’ll cut your heart out,” Tabitha had screamed at her just a few nights ago. Kristin was just about to retaliate with her own threats, when Mel had intervened.

“Now, now, girls, settle down,” Mel had said in the syrupy smooth voice he used, like he was talking to two small kids, rather than young women who were almost exactly his same age. “We’re a family, and families have to get along.”

Yeah, like he knew anything about that. Hadn’t he bragged about the burned spot on the living room floor where he’d used one of his special powers to kill his own mother? Still, what Tabitha had said wasn’t far off. She had had her eye on Mel. He was a good looking guy despite the burn scar on the side of his face. And he had a certain animal magnetism that was undeniable even if he was technically their half brother.

“But I wasn’t ready to have his baby!” Kristin shouted to the great outdoors, but of course no one was listening. They were miles away from the next closest house which was probably vacant this time of the year anyway. She took the last few steps to the woodpile and started filling her arms with the chunks of wood of assorted sizes. At least she’d learned how to build a decent fire in the old wood stove they used for cooking.  You had to start with just a little crumbled up newspaper, then layer upon that a few small twigs, slowly increasing the size and thickness. Of course, she’d also learned to cheat just a little by including a layer of pine needles. Boy, did they burn well!But often times she found she could just stir the hot coals from the night before and then add fresh wood.

As she slowly straightened up with a full load of firewood, she thought she saw a momentary glare off to her right a few hundred feet up towards the top of the ridge. She paused for a moment, then caught it again. It was like the morning sun glinting off a piece of glass or mirror. But there wasn’t anything over in that direction, least not for several miles. She bent down again to pick up one last piece of wood, though in truth she had more than she needed already. As she stood up she glanced nonchalantly in the direction of the sparkle. Close to the top of the ridge was a line of pine trees and shrubs, but that wasn’t all. There was someone lying there, just barely visible behind the natural cover.

Kristin turned around and heading towards the house, fighting to keep her pace as natural as possible even though she felt like running and screaming that they’d been discovered. But she maintained her calm at least until she felt the door close behind her, then she leaned against it and took a deep breath.

“Well, don’t just stand there. Get the fire…” Tabitha stopped in mid-sentence as she noticed the astonished look on her sister’s face. “What is it?”

Kristin took a deep gulp of air. “There’s someone out there, on the ridge.”

“You sure?” Tabitha said as she walked over and relieved her sister of some of the wood.

“Yeah, well, pretty sure,” Kristin replied. She recounted what she’d seen.

“Could you tell how many there were?”

“I only saw one but there could be more.”

“Okay, go ahead and start the fire. We don’t want to alert them that we know they’re there. You didn’t…”

“Of course not. I just walked calmly back here. I’m not as big an idiot as you must think I am.”

“No, of course you’re not,” Tabitha replied. “No one could be that stupid.”

There she goes with her back-handed compliments that were really insults. Kristin was about to retaliate but before she could think of a good comeback, Tabitha was on to something else.

“Start cooking the breakfast. I’ll wake Mel. He’ll know what to do.”

Tabitha started towards the door to the one other room of the small cabin, then stopped, her hand on the knob. “Good job, Kristin. I don’t really think you’re stupid. You may have just saved our bacon.”

Mimi turned over on her back so she could take an inventory of the pockets of her cargo pants. She preferred the darker green pants over the beige. They showed dirt and stains less making it possible to get an extra couple days of wear out of each pair. They were her working uniform because the extra pockets allowed her to carry the tools of her trade without the need for a pocketbook. She hated pocketbooks. They were the scourge of the female gender in her estimation.

From one of the front pockets, she removed her digital recorder and checked to be sure it was working and well charged. Early in her career, dating back to her days as editor of her high school newspaper, she found it valuable to have a dependable recording set device that could be turned on at any time without anyone else being aware. Sure, such recorders were unethical and technically not permitted in a court of law but then again, she was a journalist not a lawyer. Once again, her Uncle Bo had come through, purchasing a top of the line recorder and helping her build a belt buckle with a bluetooth microphone. A tap on the side of the buckle and she was instantly capturing the sounds of her surroundings.

So, why hadn’t she used it that first night in the bar? She could only blame it on the shots of tequila. But she’d learned her lesson. Even though she felt underdressed at the Polaris restaurant that night, she still wore the belt with the mic and kept the recorder in the side pocket of her black slacks.

She’d listened to that conversation a number of times on her trip to West Virginia. She still remembered the long pregnant pause that had come after Rachael had asked her to go find her missing daughter.

“Well, huh, that’s really not what I do,” Mimi finally replied. “I’m a reporter not a private investigator, but I can put you in touch with a couple good P.I.s. I’m sure they’ll be happy…”

“I don’t want a P.I.” Rachael interrupted. “I want you.”

Mimi took a long swallow of champagne before replying. “Why me?”

“Because I think I can trust you to be discrete and well, I think you might relate to my daughter better than some private dick.”

“But I investigate stories, not people,” Mimi replied.

“And that’s the other reason,” retorted Rachael. “I want those bastards at Bio Vita Tech to pay for what they’ve done, but I can’t come right out and blow the whistle on them, but you can. I’m offering you an exclusive on the story of the year, maybe of the decade. Breaking this story could make your career.”

Mimi felt her reporter’s salivary glands turn on. She knew Rachael was right. If even twenty percent of what Rachael had told her turned out to be true, it would be a story worth telling, would at least get her a promotion and a raise at Global Inquiry, maybe even a job at one of the more prestigious rags.

“Oh, and one last thing,” Rachael added as she emptied the first bottle of champagne into Mimi’s half empty glass and motioned for the waiter to open the second one. “I’ll cover all your expenses during the investigation.”

That pretty much sealed the deal, Mimi thought as she remembered the late notice that her landlord had slid under her door over the weekend.

“Well, I might need an advance to cover some expenses in prep for such an assignment,” Mimi finally said.

“No problem,” Rachael replied as she pulled a leather checkbook with her initials monogrammed in gold thread out of her purse. “Would a thousand handle it?”

And now, here she was lying on her back on a hillside in West Virginia spying on a young girl who might be Rachael’s missing daughter. Of course, it hadn’t been a straight shot here. All Rachael really had to go on was the phone number from where her daughter had called. Mimi had done a reverse lookup to find the call had been placed from the ski resort in Snowshoe West Virginia, but she needed more to go on than that, so on the way north she decided to stop at the Research Triangle Park and see what she could learn from the folks at Bio Vita Tech.

She knew better than to present her Global Inquiry reporter credentials there, but she figured she still looked young enough to pass herself off as a student at one of the local universities doing a research paper on the newest innovations in genetic engineering. After all, most scientists loved to talk about themselves and what they always considered cutting edge research. Unfortunately, that was not the case at Bio Vita where she’d been stonewalled. She couldn’t even get any of the lay staff to open up. The entire staff had been well schooled on what not to say at least to the public at large, but how about others in the area? Mimi found her stool pigeon in one of the secretaries in the building next to Bio Vita Tech who regularly had lunch with a Mrs. Petty, the executive secretary of the head of Bio Vita Tech.

It was from that secretary that she’d learned that much of Rachael’s story was true. There had been a number of professional women that had been housed at the Bio Vita Tech facilities for a few months a few years ago. It had all come to a head a few weeks ago when a fire broke out in the building across from Bio Vita. Despite a comprehensive investigation, the cause of the fire had yet to be released. When Mimi asked her source about West Virginia, the woman had paused for a moment to think about the question. She thought she remember hearing that one of the scientists had accompanied the FDA agent assigned to the case on a trip to West Virginia in an effort to find a Madame Sarrah who was reportedly involved in the case in some way.

That gave Mimi two important points to connect — Snowshoe, West Virginia and Madame Sarrah who was also from West Virginia. It didn’t take long after arriving in Snowshoe to find out where the former Madame Sarrah had lived. Mimi had heard a variety of different  stories about how Madame Sarrah had died. The only consistent points were that it probably had something to do with fire and it had been a gruesome death.

That news probably should have her reconsidering this whole crazy assignment, but it only served to intrigue her that much more. Mimi was no stranger to unusual and often gruesome murders. For example, there was the brutal killing of the founder of Biogentrix near her home in the neighboring town of Waynesboro. **  [Footnote: As chronicled in FreeForm.] And how about those mummified corpses discovered in the dining room of the Grace House bed and breakfast on the outskirts of Foster Flat. **  [Footnote: As chronicled in Fantastical True Fables of Foster Flat.]  No, gruesome and unusual murders were right in Global Inquiry’s wheelhouse of stories that increased circulation. And as her boss always said, increasing circulation is really the name of the game in the rag business.

Still, she’d have to tread lightly on this assignment. No one seemed to know for sure who had murdered the old lady, though many of the local folks she talked to seemed to think it was one of her children that had done her in. That was just one more juicy details for her story if she could verify that fact, or even if she couldn’t. Her boss wasn’t nearly as picky about the difference between facts and speculation as her superior had been at the Journal.

“So, I’ll tread lightly,” she said softly as she gathered herself to return to her VW bug, parked down the hill.

“I’m afraid it’s too late for that,” another voice answered, making Mimi almost jump out of her skin. As she turned around, she came face-to-face with a teenage boy standing a few yards away with one of the largest shotguns Mimi had ever seen. She was no stranger to such guns. Her Uncle Bo was an avid hunter back in Waynesboro, and she’d accompanied him many times. But this gun was different. Guns pointed at your heart tended to grow in size and significance.

Chapter Three

Chickowski sat in the corner booth of Nick’s Bar & Grill watching the front door. The fake mustache made his upper lip itch and the dark glasses made the already dark interior that much darker. The front door opened for the fifth time in the last fifteen minutes he’d been waiting. Nick’s was never known to be the hottest place in town which was why Chickowski used it for such meetings. A woman walked through the door and started towards the rear of the bar without a moment’s hesitation.

Was that her, Chickowski wondered?  He glanced over the sunglasses in an effort to get a better look as the slender figured in a tight fitting black dress strolled confidently in his direction. She still looks pretty good for an old broad, Chickowski thought, then wondered if it might not be his failing eyesight fooling him once again. As Mrs. Petty approached, he began to pick up more details; the graying roots of her hair, the crows nests around her eyes, the slightly sagging breasts too large and heavy to be completely supported by the bra.

That’s okay. She’s still good in bed. Besides, he wasn’t looking all that good these days. Like his mom often said, “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

“Oh, how cute,” Mrs. Petty said as she stood looking down at him. “Who you pretending to be, Groucho Marx?”

“Sit down Miriam,” Chickowski whispered as he glanced around. “I’m a wanted man, remember?”

Miriam Petty snickered as she slid into the booth across from him, placing the matching black purse in the seat beside her. “Well, I’ve been wanting you for the past couple weeks, but it didn’t seem to make any difference as far as I can tell. Why didn’t you call me sooner?”

“Sorry, I just had to hang low for a while to let things cool off a bit. You want anything?” he asked as the waitress approached their table.

Miriam pointed to the drink in front of him. “Gin and tonic? Any good?”

Chickowski nodded twice.

“Okay, I’ll have one too.”

“Give us two more of these,” Chickowski told the waitress who turned back to the bar.

Miriam reached over and pulled the mustache off Chickowki’s lip before he could stop her. “Take that silly thing off,” she said. “It makes you look twenty years older, and believe me, you don’t need to be adding any age to your looks. I might lose interest.”

The two of them sat in silence for a couple minutes as they waited for their drinks. After they arrived and the waitress had retreated to her corner of the bar, Chickowski smiled and tipped his glass at his companion.

“Here’s mud in your eye,” he said as he took a long swallow draining half the glass.

“Never did understand that toast,” Miriam said as she took a sip from her own glass.

“What did you want to see me about, other than wanting to climb my bones?” Chickowski asked.

“Don’t be gross, Thaddeus,” Miriam answered but with a gleam in her eyes that let him know that she wasn’t all that grossed out by the comment.

“As a matter of fact, there is another reason I wanted to see you besides the obvious. I want to propose a partnership.”

Chickowski played with the ice in his drink, twirling it around with the swizzle stick. “That’s a little hard to believe,” he finally answered. “My luck hasn’t been going all that well lately as you well know.”

“No, it hasn’t,” Miriam agreed, “but it’s about to change.”

“How so?”

“I want you to get back in touch with your overseas contact. I believe his name is Mr. Brown.”

“Why in hell would I want to talk to that double-crossing S.O.B.? He tried to kill me.”

“Oh really, Thaddeus, holding a grudge is so unbecoming on you, especially considering how important Mr. Brown is to our future partnership.”

Miriam reached into her purse and pulled out a small vial about half full with a light blue liquid and placed it on the table between them.

Willow glanced around the spacious bedroom suite that had become her home away from home since joining the Sheik’s payroll. Her space had all the amenities of a luxury suite one might find in the finest hotels, even though this one was in a wing of the Sheik’s reproduction of Falcon Lair. The original Falcon Lair had been purchased by the silent movie star, Rudolph Valentino, in 1925 and was located on four acres of prime real estate in Beverly Hills, California.

The Sheik’s Falcon Lair was also on four acres of even more prime real estate as part of the Falconcity of Wonders on the outskirts of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The Sheik had used the sizable influence he’d acquired by marrying the sister of one of the ruling families of Dubai to get permission to build his reproduction of Falcon Lair. Of course, it was far from the only or even the most prestigious reproduction. Others that were in process of being built included the Eiffel Tower, the pyramids, and the Tower of Pisa, as well as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. So, all things considered, Falcon Lair was a fairly modest home and Willow’s abode a drop in the bucket of opulence that surrounded her.

Willow walked over to the full size refrigerator to get a glass of water. It was time to take another dose of her medication the Sheik’s physician had placed her own after she returned from her last mission. It seemed to be slowly working. It had been at least twenty-four hours since she’d coughed up blood, and though he was still painful to take a deep breath, the doctor assured her there’d be no permanent injury.

Besides, the painful breathing helped to hone her hatred for the young boy who’d somehow caused her so much pain. It kept reminding her that she had a debt to pay and a mission to complete. She was just downing the last pill and finishing off the glass of cold water when she heard a light rapping on her door.

“Come in but only if you have good news to report,” Willow said as she walked back over to her desk.

There was a momentary pause before Widget entered the room, a broad smile on his face. “Just so happens I do have good news for you on this fine morning.”

“Please, not so much exuberance. It’s too early in the morning for that.”

“Okay, sorry,” Widget replied, more subdued but still with a smile on his face. “We’ve found him…I mean, them.”

“That is good news,” Willow said turning around to meet his gaze. “So, you were able to track him down through the rental car?”

“That’s right, just like you suggested,” Widget replied. “They drove to West Virginia, near a ski resort where they turned in the car. I’ve had a couple guys asking around town. It appears the boy returned to his old home where he’s been hiding out since we last saw him.”

“Excellent, get the rest of the team together. I want to be in West Virginia by this time tomorrow. We’ve a few loose ends to tie up.”

Chickowski stared at the vial with the blue liquid for several seconds before finally locking eyes with Miriam Petty.

“Is that what I think it is?”

“Yes,” Miriam answered simply. “It’s exactly what you think it is.”

“But how?” Chickowski started then stopped and stared back down at the vial. “How did you ever come into its possession?”

Miriam smiled. “Oh, you men are all alike. You think just because a woman is a secretary, even if she’s the executive secretary of a highly influential man like Franklin Pruitt, that we don’t have a brain of our own when in fact, such a position gives a perfect cover.”

She picked up her drink and took a couple sips before continuing. “I’ve kept my eyes and ears open for years while being virtually invisible to most of the people at Bio Vita. After all, I’m just a secretary. What does a secretary know? Well, I’ll tell you what this secretary knows. I know a highly valuable piece of research when I hear about it, and it’s right there in front of you.”

Chickowski picked up the vial and held it up to take a closer look. “So this is what all the fuss is about? Lionel told me someone stole it.”

“I told you that your luck was about to change. That’s my part interest in the partnership.”

“I see,” Chickowski replied as he continued to study the blue liquid. “And my part is to negotiate the sell to Mr. Brown’s boss.”

“But why should I put you in touch with him when I’ve got what he wants right here in my hand?” Chickowski asked as he closed his hand around the vial, smiling smugly at her.

“Because, you idiot, that vial in your hand isn’t the real thing. Do you think I’d be foolish enough to bring it with me to this public place and to let you put your grubby hands on it? No, I have the real template in a secure location.”

Miriam picked up her gin and tonic and finished it off.

“Listen to me, Thaddeus, dear. I’m not going to double-cross you nor will I allow you to do the same to me. Is that understood?”

Chickowski nodded, a sheepish look on his face.

“Now, order us another drink while I go powder my nose, and then later I’ll let you take me out to dinner.”

“And afterwards?” Chickowski asked.

“Let’s just see how the evening unfolds.”

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