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The Loyalty of Pawns: Chapter 3

Politely listening to things he didn’t want to hear had never been one of Jameson Masters’s strong suits. Under the best of circumstances, he might only yell. This was not the best of circumstances.
                “Do you have an explanation buried somewhere in all this crap?” Jameson shook the bound report—a tome of such size that Tolstoy would have been impressed—as he spoke. The man to whom Jameson had put the aggressive question—Stevenson, the project director on this particular endeavor—opened his mouth to answer before thinking better of it and holding his tongue. “I asked how it could—not how it couldn’t.”
                No answer came from the suddenly flustered man under Jameson’s burning gaze. When Jameson threw the report across the office, the man practically jumped out of his seat.
                “Get out. Go back to doing whatever it is I pay you to do.”
                Stevenson was out of his chair and out of the office a little faster than dignity allowed. As preferable as firing the director outright looked in Jameson’s eyes, Stevenson was still the best man for the job; that fact grated at Jameson. As Stevenson left, Jameson waved his hand toward the open door; the gesture was an invitation for Jameson’s chief aide and confidante to close it. Until that moment, the aide—Bradley—had stood still and quiet in the office, practically invisible. Bradley’s unobtrusiveness stood in stark contrast to his appearance; the tall, bulky man could have played offensive line in football had the sport ever really caught on in Ireland.
                The office door closed with a click. Bradley took a seat and amply filled the chair vacated by Stevenson a moment before. Jameson opened a desk drawer and pulled out a shapely bottle and two glasses. As Jameson started to pour the brown liquid into the first glass, Bradley waved his hand to indicate he would pass; Jameson still hadn’t imparted a liking of tequila on his aide-de-camp.
                “I haven’t even had breakfast,” Bradley offered in a soft but insistent Irish brogue.
                “You may be on Spanish time, but it isn’t even morning on the other side of the ocean.”
                Jameson tossed back the extra anejo with all the reverence reserved for a bar’s well liquor; the nuttier flavors and smooth fire in the drink never resulted in the same grimace, though. As his belly warmed ever so much from the liquid, Jameson allowed himself to close his eyes and observe a momentary pause. Not that it was at all helpful. The only thing Jameson thought about was the impossible—what was supposed to have been impossible: the spontaneous escape of one of his prototypes from a project and facility that should have ranked among the most secret and secure in the world.
                “Stevenson is…” Jameson stroked his pencil thin and obsessively symmetrical red goatee as he sifted through some of the more choice words on his mind. “…not up to solving this problem. Get Mr. Hart and his Internal Affairs boys up here first thing tomorrow. And aside from us leaving and them coming, I want this place locked down. No one in or out.”
                Bradley’s eyes widened somewhat.
                “I thought we were staying to load the revised protocols before a test run.”
                Jameson shook his head as he poured a second shot of tequila.
                “The Corporate Committee”—Jameson practically growled the name; yelling at Stevenson hadn’t vented nearly enough of his anger or frustration—“has been made aware of our security lapse. I’m not at all sure how. I was told they would refrain from judgment for the time being if I could account for the problem and solve it. They want answers in person in two days; we leave here tonight.”
                Jameson tossed back the second drink. Taking less time to relish the flavor and effect, he sealed the bottle and tossed it back in the drawer. After a few moments, the two belts started having their desired effect. Jameson felt the tension in his neck and back lessen—not by a lot, but he’d settle for any small comfort at this point. If not relaxed, he was at least no longer enraged.
                A buzz interrupted.
                Jameson reached to the flat screen in front of him and answered the intercom with a tap of his finger on the screen; a voice issued forth from the screen’s speakers
                “Sorry to interrupt, sir.” The flunky on the other end genuinely sounded sorry; no doubt the manner in which Stevenson had left the office contributed to this subordinate’s lack of enthusiasm. “We have a call for you being routed through the Madrid office. It’s Michael Lawrence, White House deputy chief of staff.”
                Jameson suppressed a flinch. A quick look at Bradley was answered with nothing more than a shrug and questioning eyes.
                “Put him through.”
                After a second’s delay, one of two phones on the desk—Jameson’s private corporate line—began vibrating. Jameson accepted that using old style phones that resembled miniature pads was an affectation; when appropriate, he used the voice-activated eartabs—what had been called Bluetooth in their infancy but had since become self-contained units—like everyone else. Jameson looked from his vibrating phone back up to Bradley. Placing his index finger over his lips, Jameson reached to the phone, answering it with the speaker on.
                “Excuse the delay. I’m in a secure facility at present.”
                “Time was that the government was the keeper of the secrets and the occupier of ‘secure facilities.’”
                Jameson recognized Michael’s ever tired, ever bitter voice. Once upon a time it had been soft, quiet—friendly—when it spoke to Jameson; now when Jameson heard Michael’s voice, he heard only the rage—the only feeling it elicited was a spine-tingling apprehension at the start of any conversation.
                “I am quite certain you didn’t call to reminisce about the past,” Jameson answered.
                “You have a meeting with the Corporate Committee in two days. That meeting is to discuss your rather egregious security breach.”
                Jameson looked up from his phone to Bradley whose eyes had widened—practically bulged.
                “You’ve surprised me, Michael. And you don’t do that very often. I wasn’t aware that the Committee had informed you of our meeting.”
                Michael didn’t laugh though Jameson heard the vicious smile behind his next words.
                I was the one who informed the Committee of your problem. They were very eager to exercise their authority over the situation.”
                “I’m glad we all agree that the Committee is the body of authority in this matter. I—”
                “But your contract is with this government. So before you sit in that upscale conference room and pander, you will sit in my office and answer my questions.”
                “I would like nothing better than to comply. But I’m afraid—”
                “But nothing. This was part of the arrangement made with the Committee. You will be in my office at seven o’clock Thursday morning. I, for one, am looking forward to it.”
                Michael didn’t wait for a reply; Jameson heard the click of the line going dead.
                “What does he know? And how did he find out?”
                Bradley asked the questions as soon as the call had ended. All at once Jameson felt that small measure of relief imparted by the tequila evaporate.
                “Go,” Jameson said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Get on the line with Hart and get him in here.”
                It took no more prodding to be rid of Bradley. The aide-de-camp left quickly. Barely a moment later, Jameson dropped his head into his hands and tried to stem the tide of an onrushing headache.

                Escaping his employer’s presence served, almost always, as a source of near-infinite relief for Bradley Riley—the loosening of a leash. He couldn’t show it, of course. Bradley was Jameson’s right hand, and he therefore could only present himself as above reproach. So it was a foregone conclusion that Bradley’s first call after he pulled the office door closed would be—and could only be—to the Internal Affairs man, Leland Hart.
                “Yes, Mr. Stevenson is certainly not up to the task of identifying the leak that has compromised his security.” That was Hart’s response—in as neutral and banal a tone as could be imagined—after Bradley had laid out the situation. “But furthermore, he should not be charged with an investigation of his own failures—whether deliberate or negligent. It is an inherent conflict of interest.”
                “Don’t get ahead of yourself, Hart; you don’t know anything yet.” Bradley struggled to check his annoyance; his native Irish accent had a way of running away with itself when Bradley felt stress. And of course Hart’s presumption and use-a-paragraph-when-a-word-will-do mentality never failed to irritate.
                “I assume that Mr. Masters will share everything pertinent to a thorough investigation. But a security leak is a security leak regardless of the details. There’s no reason to anticipate anything different here.”
                “You’ll have full authority over the matter save answering to Mr. Masters and me. Good day, Mr. Hart.”
                Bradley didn’t waste time with anything further; he terminated the call and made a beeline for the nearest exit. His steps took him from the suite of offices near the facility’s far back corner through the wide open main room. Though disparate activities filled the space of that room, they all worked toward the project’s culmination, the fruits of which hung suspended in nine clear plexi cylinders—taller and wider than a person—near the room’s center. Bradley paid none of these things any mind as he found a side exit and left the facility behind.
                A damp chill hung in the air outside the facility—growing up in Ireland, Bradley knew from damp chills; but since Bradley’s bulk leant an insulating effect, he gave the temperature little thought. The glow of early morning lit the terrain around the unidentified facility—what looked from the outside like an oversized concrete bunker. Bradley understood that the property occupied the same space as certain estates had years ago—the Spaniards had grown grapes and made wine. Bradley cared little for those details except to know that everything natively European had been displaced by arrogance and overreaching from the other side of the globe. For his own safety, though, Bradley dared not reveal his view of the Americans as unwelcome occupiers.
                Bradley replaced the one tab in his ear with another, this one untraceable and most definitely not known to Jameson Masters.
                “Call one.”
                The spoken command set the small “phone” dialing.
                “Bradley? You have news?”
                Bradley recognized the voice. But then even if he hadn’t, he dealt with only one man in the resistance.
                “There’s been a problem, Tomas. Masters and I are leaving in the morning.”
                “How early?”
                “Too early. And we’re not authorizing the last protocols.”
                “We can’t change our timetable; we go tomorrow. Can you fix it?”
                Bradley closed his eyes and sighed; Tomas was demanding—always demanding. Bradley knew if the Europeans were ever to stand rightfully on their own again, though, they needed a leader who was.
                “Fix it? Problems here have already made this more dangerous. I’m no use to the cause if I get caught.”
                “But without that final information the rest doesn’t matter. The prototypes will be useless to us unless they’re finished.”
                Bradley paused a moment, breathing. He felt the chill of the air run a bit deeper.
                “Maybe if you get Stevenson, the project’s director. The man’s a coward—you should have no problem with him if you take him alive. And I’ll see what else I can do.”
                “Thank you, Bradley. Good work.”
                The line clicked dead. It surprised Bradley who had expected a longer conversation growing from this new wrinkle. Expending no more thoughts on the matter—virtually expelling it from his mind—Bradley swapped the tabs out again, his corporate line back in his ear. He revived his composure with a deep breath and walked back inside the facility.

Continue reading! Go on to chapter four.

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The Loyalty of Pawns
copyright 2013 Theron Couch

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