I’m about 1/4 of the way through Book 2, which follows Estella (now Esther) and Jaime (now Jacob) from ‘Buried Ladies’ to DC. There Jacob forms a cyberterror unit under Special Agent in Charge John Boyd of the FBI and a new cast of characters you’ll love (or love to hate). But danger follows them there and Jacob needs all his hacking skills to catch the killer.
I need a title for the new book, so please help by making a suggestion in the comments.
Here’s a taste of the book to get your creative juices going:
Estella, now using her Hebrew name, Esther, sat in her Intro to Finance class at Georgetown, bored almost to tears, when a bunch of cell phones pinged simultaneously. Thumbing on her device, she saw:
SHELTER IN PLACE; Campus on lockdown, active shooting in progress
A collective gasp rose in the tiered classroom as students quickly closed books and gathered up possessions on their way to the doors marked with large EXIT lights like cattle heading toward the barn at feed time.
“Wait,” screamed Dr. Henson as he rushed the doors to stop them. From his position at the bottom of the pit, so to speak, he was farthest from the doors. It was like trying to part the Red Sea, as soon as he moved one student out of the way, several others barred his progress. In their efforts to gain the doors, several students were knocked to the floor forcing other students to scale their prone, wriggling bodies as they tried to get upright.
Transcending the chaos, cell phones sounded in a myriad of ringtones. She heard everything from popular to classical, to buzzes, to bells, to strums as notifications came in over digital devices. Screams, shouts, cries for help, and the relentless trampling of feet added to the cacophony of sound surrounding Esther, but she remained calm. She knew danger, had lived through it several times, and knew this too would pass.
She looked around to make sure the shooter hadn’t entered their classroom, then joined the professor in trying to turn back the tidal wave bent on exiting the relative safety of their room for the prospect of danger in the hallways. Through the chaos, her shouts to stop joined with the professor’s. Being close to the right door, she simply rose and locked the exit door behind her only to have the force of other students push her up against the door, crushing her and trampling her feet. She could no longer get enough breath. The room began spinning as her field of vision narrowed – blurring on the outside edges as the stream of oxygenated blood reaching her brain diminished. If the crowd rushing the door hadn’t held her in place, she would have slumped to the floor.
Soon other students, recognizing they were in no immediate danger, joined in efforts to calm the raging crowd. Slowly, ever so slowly, the din diminished to the point where individual shouted instructions could be heard. As students stopped their efforts at egress, the crush on Esther’s chest lightened and she was able to draw several breathes of sweat air into her screaming lungs.
Students found seats and looked sheepishly at one another – embarrassed by their collective response. A few students, injured when others trampled on them, were helped to their feet, their injuries assessed by other students. No one was badly hurt; a few cuts, bruises that would make their appearance tomorrow.
Others thumbed phones on to get more information about the situation. After the tragedy at Virginia Tech, schools upgraded their communications systems for events just like this. Obviously, some drilling was necessary so students knew what was expected from warnings like the one they received. As information emerged, they learned the shooter was down, killed by first responders. His victim, Grigory Mikhalev, a former aide to Soviet President Vladimir Putin, was also dead.
Esther didn’t wait to learn why Mikhalev was on campus, although she seemed to remember a visit as part of the School of Public and International Affairs annual student conference, she had to reach Jaime, who also used his Hebrew name, Jacob, now. He would worry when he heard about the shooting.
After everything that happened before DC he’d be out of his mind with worry. She remembered back to 2 years ago — the kidnapping, the feverish escape from Arturo’s cartel enforcers, the rescue by members of the McAllen police department working to solve the “Buried Ladies” case, and the circumstances requiring the move to DC with new names and altered appearances. That was a terrible time. But, she’d survived.
Her phone rang in her hand. The display showed an incoming call from Jacob.
“I’m fine Corazon,” she said.
“I’m on campus. I’m coming to get you.”
“Why are you on campus? I’m fine. Coming to campus is a little extreme, even for you.”
“No time to explain. I’ll see you in a minute,” he said and the phone went dead in her hand.
Dima Evancho entered the Ambassador’s office. Alina Wasik was the newly appointed Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States. Evancho, a career diplomat, served as her Chief Intelligence Officer with the official title of Defense Attaché. Today, he would brief her on the shooting at Georgetown’s SPIA that killed Mikhalev, the lapdog of their hated enemy, Putin.
“Ah, Dima, so good of you to come on such an occasion,” she said, handing him a champagne glass.
“A very happy occasion,” he replied. As he took the glass from her, he noticed how the sunlight caught the cut crystal, causing little rainbows to dance around the room. Disney couldn’t have created a better fairytale scene. Good triumphing over evil.
He looked around the room, seeing other high-ranking Ukrainian diplomats and wealthy locals who supported re-unification of the Ukraine. Many held identical glasses, which were refilled as toasts to a united Ukraine circled the room.
Ambassador Wasik glanced over at the CIO. Before taking this position, she’d reviewed the dossiers for her top people trying to get a feel for their strengths and weaknesses, their competence, and ensuring their loyalty to re-unification. Many were career diplomats, like Evancho, who might harbor sympathies for the Russians and their overwhelming desire to regain control of all of Ukraine, not just the eastern potion around Crimea.
She’d been impressed with his work. He was a dedicated and hard-working diplomat, with extensive training in covert tactics, intelligence gathering, and surveillance. His master’s degree in cybersecurity complimented his other intelligence stills.
As she got to know the man, her estimation of him as a loyal Ukrainian grew. His mother and sister were killed by Russians during the technical ceasefire announced 6 months ago – one in which hundreds of civilians had disappeared or been found murdered. The press reported both sides of the conflict violated the peace, but she knew first hand who was responsible. The Russians.
Evancho wasn’t intimidating to look at with his average stature and thin build, but the focused look in his dark eyes indicated that this wasn’t a man to be messed with. The cut across his left eye and cheek, a scar he frequently stroked when thinking about a problem, confirmed that suspicion. He wasn’t born as an armchair intelligence officer, he’d worked his way up the ranks; attaining his current position through skill, rather than connections, as she had.
Today, as usual, he was dressed in a custom-tailored dark suit and she reminded herself she must ask him where he got them – the tailoring was expertly done, the fit impeccable. She’d need more suits to look the part for her new role. The suit today was charcoal-grey, which suited him.
Moving from Evancho to the rest of her top staff members, her eye critically evaluated each one. Which were celebrating and which secretly hoped for a Ukraine subjugated to their former Soviet masters? Time would tell.
Once the toast were finished and celebrants drifted from the room to other activities, the room became quiet. Wasik placed her hand on Evancho’s shoulder, motioning for him to join her in her private office to the left of the anteroom.
“What do you know about this assassination?” she asked once the door was securely closed against those who might wish to overhear their conversation. The room was soundproof and swept for bugs daily.
“Not much more than the press reported an hour ago. I have sent agents to question the FBI and expect to hear from them soon. In the meantime, we’ve increased security around the embassy.”
“A good idea. No doubt there will be repercussions. Given the recent talks with Canada over responses to Russian aggression, many will point their fingers in our direction. The more we can say about who was really behind the attack, the better. Was there any indication or chatter about the assassination from our sources? Do we know who’s behind such a fortunate activity?”
“None. To my understanding, no one has claimed credit for the act. Initial reports coming through the FBI indicate the assassin was an Army sniper attending classes at Georgetown. Doesn’t appear to have a connection to the Russians or to us. They have no clue as to his motive or whether he was working with some political group. As I said, I’ll know more as the investigation continues.”
Wasik dismissed him with a wave of her hand. As she turned to other pressing matters, she missed the smirk that crossed his face as he closed the door behind him.