It's a hot, sunlit day in the Bahamas at the Paradise Island Beach Resort, but he's ice cold. There's a damp wind blowing, sticking his shirt against his body, but he pays no attention to it, his sole focus on the man he's tracking, a man he's been after for years. Only this morning, one of his informants tipped him to a meeting, and maybe today would be the day he'd take him down, the day Jared Andrews would put an end to the evil career of Cesar Faison. With a deft movement, Jared takes out his voice communicator. "See anything?"
"Not yet," answers his partner, Les Cooper. "Quiet as a tomb here."
"Let me know if you see anything. I want this guy.
"Same here. Out."
Suddenly, there's a movement and finally, Jared's patience has been rewarded. Through the binoculars, he sees the small, brown-haired man whose small stature belied his villainy. Hard to imagine that such an ordinary man could be so extraordinary when it came to sheer evil, but in that arena, Faison was well respected. Still, the man with lank, shoulder length hair and a penchant for silk shirts stood silently smoking his thin cigar, conversing with......but Jared couldn't identify the person. The bushes obscured the face, the body. All that was immediately visible was a glimpse of red through the leaves. But, Faison was looking neither up nor down, so that might be indicative of height. Or not, Jared reflected. Maybe Les had a better view. "Hey Buddy. Can you ID the other person?"
"Not from here. I'll try to get closer."
"Me, too. Out."
Moving in and out of the few shadows afforded by the bright afternoon sun, Jared works his way closer to Faison and his associate, all the while taking care to appear to be casually strolling across the hotel's lanai. Les was supposed to be working as a gardener, and that might allow him to get closer, Jared muses. This time, Jared was the high roller at the resort, the guy in the tuxedo rather than the behind the scenes guy. At the moment, though, the tux was on a hanger and Jared wore island casual, white shirt and pants, very inconspicuous. Out of the corner of his eyes, he sees a couple, a young woman and a man approach, and then it happens. There's a popping sound, a silenced bullet that narrowly misses Jared's head, and as he hits the ground in a roll, he pulls his gun and takes aim in the direction from which the bullet came. Another whizzes past his left ear, and Jared ducks, diving under the red hibiscus that provides little cover. Sunlight glinting off a gun barrel is the only clue Jared needs, and he returns fire, two quick shots that echo still in his mind. Screams! Would they never end?? Jared stands, disbelieving his eyes, as a young woman dressed in white, the same young woman he'd seen walking across the lanai only a couple of minutes before, tumbles forward to the ground, a red flower of blood blossoming across her chest. Sickened, horrified, Jared starts to move forward, but then meets the eyes of the man who had been walking along side of the young woman. "She's dead!" comes the anguished cry. "You murderer! Murderer! Murderer!"
It had happened again!! With a muffled curse, Jared rolled out of bed and padded angrily to the bathroom. He'd gotten past the deep sorrow that had troubled his soul, and had graduated to anger, though, in truth, that was no better. Always before, he'd kept his anger carefully tamped down, regarding it as a lethal weapon which could be turned against himself, or others, and this attitude had carried him through a variety of dangerous situations in the past. Anger was a tool, much the same way he'd used pain when it could not be ignored. Flicking on the light, he stared at the haunted brown eyes looking back at him from the mirror, and wanted to curse. Not that it would do any good, he reflected sourly. Cursing, drinking, evening working himself half to death didn't help either. No, he had to face the facts that life as he'd known it, lived it, and loved it was over. What remained was to learn to deal with it on an entirely different level.
"Yeah, right," he snarled as he surveyed the face in the mirror. He'd been described before as ruggedly handsome, but ragged was more accurate. No, make that ravaged. His dark brown eyes were deeply shadowed and his face looked as though he'd forgotten to shave. For quite some time. "Hell, if it gets any longer, I'll have to comb it." On a different level, he noted the gray in his beard, a lot more than he remembered, and noted that his hair matched. When had that happened? Damn, he thought. One day you're on top of everything. Next minute, everything is on top of you.
Seconds later, he was back in his bed, staring at the ceiling of his boyhood room, the moonlight coming through the windows. He turned to it, forced himself to think about it. Anything was better than thinking about the dream. Yes, moonlight was definitely better. You couldn't see the flaws in things, either, by the light of the moon. Even when he'd been working on something dangerous, he'd enjoyed the moonlight. Whether hunter or hunted, the moonlight had softened everything in a world that, for him, had been largely devoid of softness for years. Now, it was the only thing left of the night that he enjoyed. Sleep was out of the question-no sleep let the nightmares return. With a groan, he reached for the phone and keyed in a number.
"Jared?" The voice was feminine, sleepy, but still alert.
"How'd you know it was me?"
"It only rang once."
"Good point. Nobody else calls me at 3 a.m. on this line." There was a pause. "Nightmares?"
"Yeah," he answered after another pause. "Same thing." Odd how just hearing her voice was somehow reassuring.
"Any more details?"
"No. I get to the same place and wake up hearing the voice." He sounded disgusted with himself.
"It's okay, Jared. Just don't fight it. Whatever is trying to surface will surface sooner or later. Now, just go back to sleep."
"You could come over..."
"And keep you awake, too?"
"Best offer I've had all night," she whispered, her voice lowering suggestively.
The moonlight was filtering through another window several miles away as Gilbert Andrews typed busily, his eyes watching the computer screen as the words took shape. A cup of tepid coffee set next to him, a silent witness to the urgency with which Gilbert approached his work. And, then, it was finished. He reread it, checked it for errors, and then, dragging the cursor down the screen, copied it. A few seconds later, it was electronically transmitted through cyberspace. Soon it would be in the hands of his friend, his mentor, his agent, D.B. Saxton, a man whose face he'd never seen, whose voice he'd never heard.
Gilbert shook his head at the way his life had evolved the past few years. Had anybody told him that he'd be involved in this, this lifelong dream, he'd have laughed at them. He was a man of the soil, a farmer, a vintner. A staid old married man. But, the siren of the written word had beckoned him, facilitated by a word processor, and now, here he was, living out his fantasy. At least one of them. No, make that all of them, though most of them via Travis Hope, agent extraordinaire. Travis Hope, whose exploits had sold amazingly well. He smiled at that thought, and leaned back in his desk chair, savoring the thought of having something of his own creation
Silently thanking the high school teacher who'd insisted on teaching him the elements of writing, and then encouraging his attempts, Gil wondered how this latest book, Hope Springs Eternal, would sell. Saxton had told him that a screen writer had approached him for the rights to his last book, but Gil had yet to recover from seeing his name on the best seller's list. Well, not exactly his name, but Travis Hope, his pen name. Yes, this success certainly made up for some of his less stellar endeavors.
Deep in the labs of Matthew's Medical Research Firm, Thomas Cameron had been gazing at a computer screen, his fingers busily entering numbers, letters, and commands.
"Come on, baby," he whispered to the machine, "talk to daddy." Suddenly, there was a whirring, and the screen turned deep blue, then crimson, then vivid green. "Ah, baby," he grined. "I knew you could do it!"
With a self-congratulatory smirk, he continued, "No, make that I knew I could do it. This is perfect! Brilliant, even by my standards." With a shake of his head, he regarded the screen with reverence, awe. "Now, to test it, and if I'm right, if my model is right......Hello Serious Wealth! Mega bucks! More money than even I can spend! Which is no small sum."
With fingers laced together behind his head, he leaned back and contemplated his future, complete with beautiful women and fast cars. With this, he had only to name his price. A glance over his shoulder to assure himself that he was completely alone, and he quickly inserted a disk into the drive. His fingers moved rapidly over the keyboard, entering commands, and then it was done. He removed the disk from the machine, slipped it into his pocket, and then went back to the computer screen. Seconds later, it was blank, and the file carefully erased. No backup created, nothing to trace. Damn, he was good!!! Smiling, he sauntered out of the office and down the hall, finally emerging into the moonlight. With a deep breath of satisfaction, he headed over to his car and climbed in. Still smiling, he turned the key in the ignition.
It was then that he felt the icy barrel of the gun at his neck.
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