Can veteran Jacob Stearne and athlete Pia Sabel unravel a web of political intrigue, dark money, and murder in time to save the country?
Jacob was a killing machine for the Army until he started listening to Mercury, winged messenger of the Roman gods. Now he works for Sabel Security. He’s definitely lethal, possibly crazy, and detectives think he’s the next rampage killer. When a stranger with an indecipherable message is murdered in his driveway he must uncover the real assassins before the detectives lock him up with the criminally insane.
Pia Sabel asks about a $20 million overpayment and suddenly swat teams of assassins descend on her meetings. Forced to flee killers and rogue cops, she uncovers a web of political intrigue, dark money, and bribery. The only thing she knows for certain is that her country’s government is for sale to the highest bidder. Can she take down the billionaires intent on influencing American elections in time?
Brent Zola waited in a Washington DC diner on a frozen January evening, surrounded by the greasy smell of fries and the sharp clatter of dishes, unaware he was witnessing his best friend’s last hour of life.
Through a crusty, frosted window, he watched David Gottleib skitter on the salted sidewalk into a cone of light across the intersection. His short, plump friend stepped into the crosswalk and landed on his butt in the middle of the street.
Zola snickered and sipped his coffee.
A stranger gave Gottleib a hand up and put him back on his feet. Gottleib dusted off his top coat, doubled his caution, and tiptoed the remaining distance to the diner door. Inside, he pulled off his leather gloves, slipped off his porkpie hat, and scanned the interior.
Zola waved him over.
Gottleib made his way through the packed space to the corner booth. He hung his coat on the hook, tossed his hat and laptop bag ahead of him, and slid across the vinyl opposite Zola.
Zola grinned and leaned back, spanning his arms over his side of the booth. “Ask me how it went.”
Gottleib, looking pale and sickly, thumbed the menu to soups and grunted his reluctant interest.
“We were jamming with the Three Blondes.” Zola waited for a certain amount of adoration that didn’t come. “Like they were waiting for us, man.”
“The Three Blondes. Reporters from Hummingbird Online, FNC, and the New York Chronicle. Between the three of them, they own political coverage.” Zola leaned forward, incredulous. “The Three Blondes, dude.”
Gottleib looked up at the waitress as she twisted her way between patrons. “Chowder and a pilsner.”
“Caesar with avocado, and another pilsner,” Zola said.
She nodded without a word, grabbed the menus, stuck them between the napkin dispenser and the ketchup, and twisted back again.
“You’re not impressed?” Zola asked.
“The last thing you want is press.” Gottleib blew out a breath like a tired old man.
“They were there to intercept Koven. They’re trippin’ on the firm. They know we’re changing the political process.” Zola leaned across the table to play-punch Gottleib’s shoulder. “It’s like a sign, bro! They know we’re ascending. They said Koven is the man of the year.”
“They spoke to you?”
“Straight up.” Zola leaned back again with an expansive grin. “They said Koven is the king of kingmakers.”
“Duncan is the senior partner.”
“Think about it,” Zola said. “Duncan is old school, Koven is new gen. And the Three Blondes know he’s going to the top. We’re his guys, David. We’re going with him. Remember that promise Koven made us? He took you, me, and Rip from the back alleys of Baghdad to the top floor of K Street—just like he said he would.”
“What made them notice Koven? This town’s loaded with lobbyists.”
“We won two more accounts today—and we’re going to move Sabel from Duncan to our side of the house.”
“Moving Sabel is a bad idea.”
“Oh, dude.” Zola shook his head. “You’re so negative. What’s up with that? Alan Sabel RSVP’d to the symposium. He’s practically in our hands.”
Gottleib studied the laminated tabletop and swept some crumbs to the floor with the edge of his hand. “Alan Sabel doesn’t own the company.”
“What are you smokin’ these days, crack or meth? C’mon, man. I said Alan Sabel will be chilling at the Future Crossroads Symposium. At the Château Malbrouck. In France. This week.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Gottleib sank his head in his hands. “She’ll never go along with this.”
“She?” Zola laughed with his mouth wide open, tossing back his thick, sandy hair. “Do your homework, buddy. Alan Sabel, CEO of Sabel Industries, will hang with us. Plus, we already have the Omani contract—”
“Sabel Industries is a holding company. All shares are held by Sabel Trust 301.” Gottleib pulled a folder out of his laptop bag and tossed it on the table. “Do your homework.”
Zola frowned and picked up the folder. He flipped through a few pages and stopped on one with a sticky flag attached. After reading and re-reading it, he whistled. “When will she turn twenty-six?”
“Three weeks ago.”
“Holy shit. Why didn’t you text me?”
“I just came from the trust attorney’s office.” Gottleib locked eyes with Zola. “Brent, we are so screwed. If she figures out why—”
“Relax, bro. Everything we do is legal. Citizens United is the law of the land.”
“Should it be?”
“We’re just doing what the court approved.” Zola adjusted the ketchup rack and smoothed his tie.
Gottleib clenched his fists and leaned forward. “The Supreme Court did not approve what we’re doing and you damn well know it.”
“They approved it. Maybe not intentionally, but same difference.” Zola calmed himself, then spread his hands wide across the table, palms up. “OK. Chill. We’ve hashed this out too many times. I know that’s how you see it, but…”
Sleet pelted the window, drawing their attention for a moment. The waitress slapped their dishes on the table and dropped bent steel utensils wrapped in thin paper napkins. She turned and walked away.
“That’s how anyone who follows the money will see it,” Gottleib said. “And believe me, when she finds the $20 million, she will follow the money.”
“C’mon.” Zola took a bite of salad and spoke with his mouth half full. “She’s just an athlete and—according to you—a multi-billionaire. How would she even notice a hundred million contract, much less $20 million in icing?”
“She doesn’t need our deal.” Gottleib pushed his chowder away and tossed his napkin on the table. For a moment, he watched the sleet pepper the glass. “So what did the ‘Three Blondes’ tell you?” He made air quotes with his fingers. “Or did they just pump you for information?”
Zola’s grin reappeared. “It was unreal. Like a dream. There they were, in the flesh, wearing party dresses and drinking Manhattans.” He laughed. “It’s like they bugged our meetings, dude. They’re clairvoyant or something. They knew we landed the new deals before the ink was dry. Awesome.”
“They called him, ‘King of Kingmakers’.” Zola closed his eyes, remembering the moment, then looked at Gottleib. “They knew we’d been promoted to junior partners. And they said my son would be running the firm someday. Can you imagine? Duncan, Hyde, and Zola?”
Gottleib scowled. “He’s fifteen and lives with his mother in California. You haven’t seen him in a year.”
“Ouch.” Zola crunched more of his salad.
Gottleib exhaled. “What else did they tell you?”
“That’s it. We danced with them on the Ritz’s fogged-up dance floor. When we came back with more drinks—poof—they ghosted on us.”
“Did you make any deals with them?”
Zola’s face pinched. “Of course not. We’re not going to do anything crazy just to get on TV.”
Gottleib stared at Zola with his mouth drawn tight.
“Calm down,” Zola said. “They can’t make us commit felonies.”
“We already have.”
“You’ve got them all wrong.” Zola’s eyes opened wide. “They’re sucking up to Koven because he has $100 million set aside for Super PACs. And Super PACs control the elections.”
“Do they know about the sources, Brent?” Gottleib balled up his fists. “Remember why we joined the Marines? Why we went to law school? We wanted to make a difference.”
“Take it easy, David.” Zola struggled for words. “We don’t make the rules, we use them.”
“If we don’t control the candidates, someone else will.” Zola spread his hands wide again. “You and I can keep tabs on these guys. We can drive this country.”
“Not me.” Gottleib sighed. “I texted in my resignation. I’m done.”
Zola’s mouth fell open. “We’re partners. We’ve been through some serious shit.”
“That’s crazy. Do you even have a job lined up?” Zola watched his friend gravely shake his head. “Then, what’re you going to do?”
“Remember Jacob Stearne?”
“Everyone in the 3/2 remembers that whacko. Is he still alive? What’s he doing now?”
“Works for Sabel Security. He can save us.”
Zola grabbed his wrist. “You’re not going to do anything stupid, are you?”
Gottleib gripped his beer so hard his knuckles turned white.
Zola let go.
After a long moment, Gottleib pushed the beer away. He put his hat on and started to say something, then bit back his words. He scooted out of the booth, pulled his heavy coat off the hook, grabbed his laptop case, gave Zola a curt nod, and wound his way through the tangle of diners to the exit.