From Chapter Twelve
State Route 123
Jordan had played her. Talia’s mind spun as her Civic clanked over the flattened hydraulic barriers of Langley’s southern gate. How foolish she’d been. No conversation with Jordan was ever just a conversation.
“Leave them wondering how much you know,” Jordan had told her moments before Talia walked into her first mock interrogation back at the Farm. “That’s the key.”
The Art of Interrogation–one of Talia’s worst memories from her training despite a syllabus that included Arctic Survival and Sewer Navigation. The memory filled her with regret. “But how?” she had asked Jordan. “Scott won the toss and played interrogator first. He has the advantage.” Talia watched him twiddle his thumbs on the other side of a two-way mirror. “The information is new, but the format is the same. The game favors Player One.”
All Farm students spent time on both sides of the table in a two-player game. Each had to extract a set of unique, fictional information from the other. The more information extracted, the higher the score. Talia held up well under Scott’s shouting, but he had gained enough points to take the lead in the class.
“Then think outside the game.” Jordan laid a hand on her shoulder. “Find a pressure point. Don’t dig. Poke it and let him stew for a while. Scott has a pressure point somewhere, right?”
Talia had seen Scott leaving a bar downtown a few nights earlier, and she had her suspicions about what he’d been doing there. “Yeah. I think so.”
As Talia took the interrogator’s seat, Scott gave her a wink. “Let me guess. You made me sit here alone for half an hour to soften me up. Good technique. I’m ready to talk just to hear my own voice.”
“You’re always ready to hear your own voice.” Talia opened a manila folder in her lap. “Name?”
He grinned. “Klaus.”
“Right. Klaus Karlson. But we both know that’s incorrect.”
“Mmm-hmm.” The folder was a prop. Talia had Scott’s file locked in her eidetic memory. Klaus Karlson was the sad alliteration name of a fictional Dutch-born American caught on the wrong side of a fence in the nonexistent state of Slapkovia—details created for the game. But she knew Scott. He wouldn’t talk unless she moved the conversation outside the game.
“So . . . Klaus. You’re married, right?”
The grin vanished. Scott looked past her to the mirrored glass.
“Don’t look over there. And don’t worry about answering. The tan line on your ring finger is enough for me.”
He covered the mark with his other hand. “What are you doing?”
“My job.” Talia lifted the folder into view, tapping its edge on her knee to make him wonder what else might be in there. The Farm was known for its tricks, not its fairness. She capitalized on the paranoia all of them felt. “You’re a young man. Right out of college, I’d guess. Young man. Young bride. Must be difficult to be apart so early in the marriage.”
“Where is this going, Talia?”
“Don’t use that name. You don’t know me.” Point one. She’d opened the door and let Scott lead them outside the scenario. Now she’d run with it. “Tell me, how often do you visit the Ninth Street Lounge and”–she thumped her ring finger on the table, making a guess from what she knew of his preferences–“that blonde.” Talia met his eyes. “What’s her name?”
The color drained from Scott’s cheeks. He leaned across the table. “Please. The cameras. They’re recording this. The instructors are listening.”
“You don’t look well, Klaus. Why don’t I step out and let you take a breather?” Talia walked to the door, waving at the glass. “The subject needs a break. Can we get a bottle of water in here?”
While Talia watched from the observation room, Scott fidgeted with the edge of the table, paced, sat again, and dropped his head into his hands. For nearly an hour, he looked everywhere but the mirror. When he finally did, with pleading eyes, Talia knew he was ready.
The instant she walked into the room, Scott started talking. He revealed line after line of the fake information he’d been tasked with protecting, anything to keep her from rehashing his visit to the Ninth Street Lounge. She stopped him before he gave up enough to get himself booted from the program.
Every word Scott spoke to Talia from then on was tainted with bitterness. In the end, the Agency washed him out of the program.
Pulling up to a stoplight behind an old hatchback more than a year later, Talia had no illusions as to whether Jordan had known about Scott and the blonde. She’d looked so proud when Talia left the interrogation room.
Leave them wondering how much you know.
Jordan was still the master.
How much did she know? If Jordan was on to Tyler and his merry band of thieves, she could have Talia drummed out of the Agency for working with them.
The worry as she waited for the red light to change left her so distracted she didn’t see the man approaching from behind until her passenger door opened.
Finn, with something akin to a blunderbuss under his arm, slid into the seat beside her. “G’day, princess.”
Her Glock came out before his shoulders had settled into the seatback. “What are you doing here?”
Setting the blunderbuss in his lap, the Aussie pulled a short-bladed tool from his belt. He cupped one hand behind the other and started pounding the blade into her windshield.
Talia shook the Glock. “Stop that.”
“You know this is loaded, right?”
“I’m doing this for your own good.” The tool bounced repeatedly off the glass. “Tough windshield.”
“True blue? I thought they only gave that to important people.”
“The special activities guys installed it after they hijacked my car last year, along with an armored hood.”
Finn inclined his head toward the passenger window. “What about that one?”
“Standard auto glass.”
“Right.” He smashed it out with the back of the tool.
“Hey! You could have rolled that down!”
“Takes too long.” Finn tossed the tool on the floor and snatched up the blunderbuss. “We’re out of time. Look.”
The light had turned green, but the car in front hadn’t moved. A big guy with stark white hair climbed out of the driver’s side, raised a cheap MAC-11 machine pistol, and opened fire.
Rounds pelted the hood. Talia threw the car into reverse and stepped on the gas. “What is happening?”
“Assassination attempt.” Finn stuck half his body through the open window and blew the rear window of the hatchback to scattered bits. “Can’t get the angle on our man. Little help?”
With a frustrated grunt, she switched into drive and gunned the engine. She hit the rear corner of the killer’s car full force.
The hatchback skidded sideways and knocked the man down. He tried to rise as Talia continued past, but Finn dropped him with the blunderbuss.
“Did you just kill him?”
“Boss wouldn’t like it.” Finn pulled himself back into the car. One of his arms was bleeding, caked with chunks of broken glass. “But I’ll wager that rubber ball Matilda planted in his chest shattered his sternum.”
Talia could only assume Matilda was the blunderbuss. She checked the rearview mirror. The attacker had dragged himself back into the vehicle. Two more cars drove through the intersection as if nothing had happened. Standard Washington, DC.
(C) James R. Hannibal, Revell, 2020. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
Young CIA officer Talia Inger has reconciled with the man who assassinated her father, but that doesn’t mean she wants him hovering over her every move and unearthing the painful past she’s trying to put behind her. Still, she’ll need him–and the help of his star grifter, Valkyrie–if she hopes to infiltrate the Jungle, the first ever crowdsourced crime syndicate, to rescue a group of kidnapped refugee children.
But as Talia and her elite team of thieves con their way into the heart of the Jungle, inching ever closer to syndicate boss the White Lion, she’ll run right up against the ragged edge of her family’s dark past. In this game of cat and mouse, it’s win . . . or die. And in times like that, it’s always good to have someone watching your back.
Former tactical deception officer and stealth pilot James Hannibal takes you deep undercover into the criminal underworld where everyone has an angle and no one escapes unscathed.
About James R. Hannibal
James R. Hannibal is no stranger to secrets and adventure. A former stealth pilot from Houston, Texas, he has been shot at, locked up with surface-to-air missiles, and chased down a winding German road by an armed terrorist. He is a two-time Silver Falchion Award winner for his Section 13 mysteries for kids and a Thriller Award nominee for his Nick Baron covert ops series for adults. James is a rare multi-sense synesthete, meaning all of his senses intersect. He sees and feels sounds and smells and hears flashes of light. If he tells you the chocolate cake you offered smells blue and sticky, take it as a compliment.