Writing can be a very cathartic process. When life...and the world are out
In Book 3 of the J.J. McCall series, we pick up where we left off in Book 2. J.J. and Tony are on the way to New York to not only take down the financial hub of a Russian illegals network, but to stop a potentially bloody war between Italian and Russian organized crime. In a second subplot, if you will, I'm taking the readers on a somewhat cathartic journey to Moscow to catch an escaped spy who has run away with valuable U.S. intel and is threatening to take it to the press. Sound familiar? If not, it should. I will not state any names, but let's just say, the twists and turns the traitor's journey takes sure made me feel better! :)
In this scene (still in progress), we find out just how much damage U.S. National Security faces if J.J. and Tony don't take down the traitor before he gets in the hands of the Russians.
Tuesday Morning – Alexandria Jail
The U.S. Attorney’s Office had stacked so many charges against Maddix Cooper, the next time he set foot outside of a prison would be to take the pine box dive into a six-foot pit. They hit him with the really sticky ones too. Mandatory sentences for espionage, conspiracy, first-degree murder, and obstruction of justice. The necessary maneuvers had left FBI agents J.J. McCall and Tony Donato in a major predicament: How to convince a man with zero motivation to divulge information contrary to his best interest – without the use of torture. This question plagued J.J. as she and her co-case agent crossed through the barbed-wire fence into the detention facility. With only a few minutes before they were face-to-face with the lowest form of human in existence, the answer wasn’t coming quickly enough. Until inspiration struck, she and Tony agreed that the bees-to-honey approach would be more effective than idle threats, so they came bearing gifts.
The stench of confinement, an unsettling combination of despair and delinquency, permeated the cushy looking fortress on the outskirts of Northern Virginia and turned J.J.’s stomach. She’d spent more time in this hell hole over the past month than she had in her entire career and she didn’t care if she never saw it again.
Her last visit was at the behest of her jailed boss, forcibly retired Supervisory Special Agent Jack Sabinski, who’d been framed for committing espionage by his Jezebel, the dead Lana Michaels. Jack summoned J.J. and pled for her help in proving his innocence. J.J. was now set to interrogate her newest conquest—the man who ratted out Gary Mosin, the second member of Lana Michaels’ network of Russian intelligence sleeper agents. Although Mosin was off the grid and had fled to Moscow, Maddix, to J.J.’s delight, was on the verge of becoming some inmate’s bitch.
Never had a meeting been so pointless from J.J.’s vantage point. No way in hell would Maddix divulge Mosin’s plans to her or Tony. The only reason he confessed their connection in the first place was to escape J.J.’s wrath and a harsh sentence. Safely tucked behind the bars of Virginia’s premier correctional facility for newly arrested spies, he awaited a trial that would ensure that he could die twice and still have to serve 40 years. As far as he knew, a plea bargain might eliminate one of many life sentences. He had little reason to reveal another word. Certainly not out of the goodness of the cavernous pit where his heart was supposed to be.
The Sheriffs walked J.J. and Tony through a series of security doors until they reached the interrogation room. They left their overcoats with their escorts and tugged their suit jackets straight before entering. The sight of Kendel Phillips’ murderer shrouded in orange and shackled at the hands and feet gave J.J. a burst of pleasure she hadn’t felt since her early morning romp with Tony. As she prepared to speak, another scent overwhelmed her senses—the smell of contemptible swine.
“Figured you two would show up sooner or later,” Maddix said, his arrogance soaking up the little remaining tolerable air in the room. He scratched the 5 o’clock scruff seeping from his squared jawline. Maddix’s penetrating steel grey eyes were now peppered with red cracks and Lipton-sized bags bubbled from beneath them. His first few nights behind bars had apparently left him sleepless and worn, an inconsequential justice for a scumbag who offed his own fiancé in sacrifice to ensure the survival of his spy ring.
He locked his eyes on J.J.’s, all but ignoring Tony. “I hope you enjoy the view because I’ve got nothing to say to you…or your little partner here,” he said jutting his chin toward Tony.
“My, my, my,” J.J. said to Maddix. She noticed a reddish blue bruise circled his eye and the cap of his jaw. His gaze crumbled quickly under the weight of her glare and fell to his twiddling thumbs. “What an ugly fall from grace. Too bad, they don’t make an Armani perp suit. You used to wear him so incredibly well.”
Tony, positioned directly across from Maddix, scanned the rat’s face and looked at him with a pained expression. “Rough night, eh? Did they forget to put you in solitary? Looks like you’ve been mingling with the locals.”
“Nothing I can’t handle,” he said with a shrug. Then he leaned back and spread his legs wide, his arms dangling at the sides. “So, this is the reason you came all the way here? To gloat?”
“No,” J.J. said. “While seeing you in this state is certainly a bonus, we’re here to discuss your comrade in arms—Hawk.”
Given Maddix was a former Secret Service agent, J.J. expected the usual good cop/bad cop routine would have zero impact. After all, he’d performed both roles quite well. The puppet show held no mystery and all the strings were dangling upstage like Christmas tinsel. The little information he’d revealed to date wouldn’t help a dog find bone. Even with the odds stacked against her, J.J. had to try to take down Mosin before he found comforting shelter in the eager, waiting hands of Russia’s FSB. He’d hatched a seemingly fool-proof escape plan before defecting to Russia, but even the best laid plans had vulnerabilities ripe for exploiting.
“Newsflash, doll,” he said, forcing out a roaring laugh. Overplaying his weak position just a smidge. “You get nothing from me without a deal. I want immunity.”
“Immunity?” J.J. said, blinking rapidly. After rolling her neck and eyes, she folded her arms over her stomach, lifted a single eyebrow, and prepared to kill any dream he’d concocted of shaking his bid. Although she’d arrived with the intent to take the path of least resistance, he clearly wanted to take the conversation off-road. “First of all, my name is J.J. or Agent McCall, not doll. Secondly, if you ever deign to—,” J.J. started before Tony stopped her. He rested his arm on hers to signal he’d take over. Tony knew better than anyone that the bees-to-honey approach went out the door with the word “doll.”
“Listen, you ain’t gotta make this difficult. We didn’t come here to pick a fight. Tell us what we need to know and you can go back to counting the tiles on the ceiling… or whatever it is you do on the inside,” Tony said with a put-upon calmness. He reached into his pant pocket, pulled out a pack of Marlboro 100s and a book of matches, and pushed them to the middle of the table next to a plastic ashtray. “Take ‘em. Enjoy. Our treat. But if you choose to take the difficult route, we can reverse course anytime.”
Maddix cupped his hands and reached across the table to pull the offerings near, his shackles jangling with his every move. He pulled back the foil on the corner of the pack and knocked the open end against his wrist until a cigarette emerged. Then his brow drew together, furrowed in confusion. “You don’t know, do you?” he said, his gaze ping-ponging between J.J. and Tony before he shook his head. “That’s why you’re here. You don’t know!” With a slight air of cockiness, the corners of his mouth edged upward in a slight sneer as he eased back against the chair. “At the rate you’re going, The Washington Post will get the scoop before you do.”
“The fuck you talkin’ about?” Tony snapped, his gruff New York attitude released like the Kraken. His face reddened as the sound of his grinding teeth emitted a low hum. Maddix’s arrogance stoked his anger, affecting Tony as easily as J.J. “What part of ‘you ain’t gotta make this difficult’ did you not understand? You’re already testin’ my patience. I’m promise you that’s not a smart move, especially for someone in your position…which in...” he glanced down at his watch, “about an hour will be bent over for some booty bandit.”
Maddix took a slow drag from his cigarette and rested the cancer stick in the ashtray. He again shifted his cocky gaze from Tony to J.J. “The great and powerful J.J. McCall. You don’t know either, huh? Man, I should tell both of you to go fuck yourselves. I don’t need you. You need me.”
As Tony’s fist curled into a tense ball, J.J. pressed her hand against his arm to dissuade him from acting impulsively. Like an electric current coursing through her brain, the touch sparked an epiphany, brought to light an answer to the question she posed to herself earlier. The solution to her Maddix predicament was so simple. How do you make a man divulge information against his best interest?
“You’re right, Maddix,” J.J. said. “You have valuable information about Mosin that we need. Score one for you. But, uh, I have some intel that might be of interest to you. We’ve contacted an attorney on your behalf. He’ll be here shortly to discuss the latest twist in your case.”
“What? I told you I already understand my charges. I’m not ready to talk to some shit public defender.”
“Public defender? With all the money you’ve been…” she paused. “Wait, he cleaned you out didn’t he?” Of course he did. The question she had was why Maddix would still protect him.
He cut his eyes at her and then took a long drag from his cigarette.
J.J. offered a cocky smile. “Hate to add insult to injury, but there’s been a new development. Justice is filing capital charges.”
He jerked his head back. “Capital charges? They wanna give me the death penalty? Bullshit!” His brow furrowed in confusion and then anger. Then he laughed. “You two should become an act. What do you take me for? I’ve already seen this routine. Invented it. Now, could you get on with this farce so I can get back to counting ceiling tiles? Go ahead. I’m listening…cooperate with the FBI or blah blah blah. You know how it goes.”
J.J. caught the initial shock in his reaction and knew she’d spotted the chink in his armor despite his bravado. Now she’d dig in until he released the truth.
J.J. gave a half-shrug as the corners of her lips curled up into a smirk. “Blah, blah, blah, huh? Is that what you were saying when you got cracked in the skull last night? What your bunk buddies do to your ass in prison is nothing compared to the stench of your burning flesh after seven minutes in the hot seat. And right now, only two people stand between you and a, shall we say, shocking finale. I’ll give you two guesses as to who they are. Go ahead. I’m listening.”
Maddix paused and rolled his eyes up to the ceiling, ditching his poker face. “There’s no fucking way you’ve got the evidence to make death penalty charges stick. I’m law enforcement, remember? I didn’t contribute to the death of a covert agent. Nor did I give information to aid and abet our enemies in the time of war. So you can take your piece of shit threats and stick ‘em up your asses. Then pound sand back to FBI headquarters. I’ve got nothing left to say,” he spat, as he tamped his cigarette in the ashtray. He reclined in his seat and said with a smug grin, “Except one thing…thanks for the smokes. Guard! Take me back to my cell.”
“Au contraire, mon frère,” she said, sitting back in her seat and flashing a smug grin. “You can head back to your quarters, but take this with you. We’ve got you on tape confessing your willing participation in the spy network responsible for the deaths of not one but two of my sources—Mikhail Polyakov and Kostya Belikov. Two covert agents. Dead. You may not have loaded the gun, but your prints are all over the trigger.”
He shook his head feverishly. “No, no, you’re making this up,” Maddix said. The arrogance drained from his face along with the color, leaving him pale and sapped. J.J. figured he hadn’t considered this new angle.
“Trust me. I’m not a good actress. Justice plans make an example of you to discourage your little treasonous alliance from further illegal activities,” she said, her voice soft but convincing. “They want to send a strong message to the network and to the Russians. And since you’re the only member of Lana’s network in custody…well…you da man, so to speak.”
“No, no. Justice will never take this to court. The government won’t risk releasing classified information to the public.”
“Ah, but you forget. My sources are dead and the Russians are fully aware of their identities. They’ve already conducted a damage assessment to determine exactly what’s been compromised. Probably fed them bad intel to pass to us. I no longer need to protect them or their intel,” J.J. lied. “Besides, you yourself suggested Mosin’s going to the press. Once he makes the information public, we won’t have to worry about disclosing anything in court. Any bargaining chip you have will dissipate the second Mosin’s safe in Moscow.”
Maddix’s face turned flush; the little bit of life remaining drained from his eyes. He leaned forward on his elbows and cupped his head with both hands, pressing his fingers into his scalp until blood gathered in the tips.
“Funny how things worked out, huh? Seems no one needs the FBI to find Mosin more than you.” Tony said, handing him a new cigarette. “Here. Light this and take an after-sex puff…because you’ve royally fucked yourself.”
Maddix sat soundless, all motion frozen. He didn’t turn or glance up. Just remained statue-still, shackled to the table. His lies and deception had ricocheted and exploded in his face like Karma on a scum-seeking missile. At once, his body trembled and he released a burst of sniffles, weeping like a child. “You don’t understand. Look at my face. You see this?” he said, pointing to his bruises. “The network—they’ve got people inside. They’re gonna kill me if I talk.”
“I’ve got news for you. They’re gonna kill you if you don’t,” J.J. said. “They’re ruthless and this prison has no walls strong enough to protect you. But if you cooperate, we’ll ensure you’re placed where you can safely serve out your sentence. That’ll depend on the value and reliability of what you provide.”
He grudgingly sat upright in his seat and scooted his chair close to the table, his eyes inflamed and wet with tears. “Fine. What do you want?”
“Mosin’s location and a detailed accounting of the information he stole from the White House,” Tony replied.
After letting out a long hard breath, he said, “He’s taking a passenger freight … to St. Petersburg. I don’t know which shipping line. From there he’s taking a train to Moscow. Understand, this guy’s fucking paranoid like no one you’ve ever seen. Doesn’t trust anyone he can’t kill. Not in Moscow, not anywhere. And he’s scared half the Russian Security Services are working for the U.S. or our allies. So he’s planning to walk in.”
Maddix nodded, as J.J. and Tony exchanged strained glances.
Tony sat up straight. “And what intelligence is he trading?”
“The man was the mastermind of the operation to bug the Situation Room—the fucking Fort Knox of intelligence,” Maddix said, his expression incredulous. “Isn’t it obvious?”
Tony pinched his lips together released a heavy sigh. Through clenched teeth he growled, “This ain’t fuckin’ Blues Clues. You’ve got thirty seconds to spill before I crack your fuckin’ skull open.”
J.J. turned to Maddix and glared in silence. Her twisted expression sending a strong message: If he didn’t offer an explanation soon, he wouldn’t live long enough to receive the death penalty.
“Must I spell everything out for you?” Maddix said. “He’s got recordings . . . of everything. The President, National Security Council, Joint Staff, CIA. Maybe years’ worth. Every meeting that took place in that conference room. Every word spoken. Plans. Strategies. Damaging high level discussions about our enemies…and our allies. I mean you gotta figure the batteries couldn’t last for too long. But they probably lasted long enough.”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” J.J. swallowed hard and tried to control her breathing which had become more labored. The thought of this information getting to the Russians, or worse to the press, could cause untold damage to U.S. national security. “How could he…there’s no way. No way.”
“Voice activated recorder with extended battery reserve. This system was meant to serve as the back-up he would deliver to the Russians in the event the bug failed. He installed them at the same time. Must’ve removed it the night the fire alarm sounded in the Sit Room and took it with him when he defected,” Maddix said.
“How…how do you know the recorder was there? And that it’s now missing?”
“He told me. Had me by the saggy bags so he knew I wouldn’t rat him out. Mashkov’s people would chop me up like last night’s sushi. I searched for it after you guys located the bug. Came up empty.”
“Ain’t this a bitch!”
Maddix continued, “I don’t need to tell you what’s gonna happen if that gets into the hands of the Russians.”“Not to mention the press.” J.J. briefly clenched her eyes shut. “The president will be massacred…even
more than usual. We’ve got to report this to the director immediately. As for you,” J.J. said, slicing
Maddix with a machete sharp glare. “You better pray we find Mosin before the FSB does or you’ve
just committed suicide. Because if you don’t die in prison, I’ll take you out myself.”
S.D. Skye Novels on Amazon – Kindle and Paperback
S.D. Skye Novels on Kindle – Worldwide Links