Unfinished Mystery from 2005

Chapter One

 

Patrick Flannery broke out into a cold sweat as he clenched the muscles in his throat and stomach. The nausea was almost unbearable, but he knew that if he left the hall now to dash to the men’s room, he wouldn’t be allowed back in to see the keynote address. It was the pieces of uncooked chicken breast from his salad at the luncheon. Banquet food was always very spotty, the assembly line preparation methods left you feeling like you were dining on doctored up cafeteria offerings. He’d briefly made a mental note that the chicken was possibly uncooked, but had gotten caught up in a conversation with that lady. Patrick tried to think of her name as a way of getting his mind off his body’s attempts to deliver the half-processed chicken salad onto a fellow businessperson’s pressed clothes.

 

It made him so mad to not be able to remember the name of someone he’d just met. And, at those luncheons, the other person always seemed to be incapable of having any business cards on hand. That was frustrating as well. Why did they call them networking luncheons if nobody could remember to bring their business cards? Patrick kicked himself. Here he was, trying his hand at soliciting venture capital, schmoozing important decision makers, and getting his dream started—and one of the two most important rules of networking he always forgot.

 

At least he’d remembered the first important rule. Smiling had become almost natural for him, though he still caught himself falling back into his serial killer scowl at times—he knew this, because people almost always reacted to his facial expressions, not the other way around.

 

She wasn’t very pretty, but Patrick had detected some chemistry, and god knew he could use some female human companionship after over three years of driving himself into debt for the sake of being his own boss. Her name was something like Sarah or Sally, but more exotic than that. She was rather short and a little on the plump site, but her tight white blouse seemed ready to pop open at any minute where it revealed her cleavage. She’d needed to run off somewhere to make a phone call, and tossed a careless “meet you back in the hall at 2:30” over her shoulder when she stepped off the elevator at her floor.

 

The keynote address was to be prefaced by two of the U.S. market reps for Sinoworks. Then, the man himself, Mr. Lao Sung, the richest man in the world—the man who bankrupted Gates and Page all in the course of a year and then bought them off for a pittance. Every American whose job included a computer had learned Chinese, it seemed, when the management hierarchy started to populate itself with faces from the People’s Republic. In short, Lao Sung called all the shots around the globe now. Not the U.S., not English-speakers, not English-speaking businesspeople.

 

What Patrick knew, but so many of these people here didn’t know (or care), is that Lao Sung simply outresourced, outspent, and outbranded American companies for a number of years overseas before entering the U.S. market with a loud crushing blow. U.S. companies could no longer do business around the world unless they did business with people who used Sinoworks’ technology, and for most U.S. Fortune 1000 companies, that meant losing well over half of their profits. In short Mr. Sung beat us at our own game. He took the best of Starbuck’s, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Google, even Fox News, and rolled it all into his slick machine then rolled that machine right into every office around the globe.

 

Most of the people coming to see Mr. Sung speak didn’t care how he became a nigh trillionaire within the course of a decade, they were simply coming to feed off of his energy and hope a small portion of it would end up in their business plans and coffee cups the next Monday at work.

 

“The man is tremendous, is he not?” gushed a pale fellow with a black shirt and jade bejeweled bolo tie. Mr. Sung wore similar outfits with rubies in the inlays. Patrick didn’t pay much attention to fashion and accessories, but simply noted that the man was dressed like so many other attendees. Patrick defiantly stuck to his traditional bland Silicon Valley corporate semi-formal attire of shirt, tie (plain navy blue) and slacks with no jacket.

 

The man who was apparently trying to engage Patrick had a slight European accent (Patrick didn’t recognize or speak any languages other than American English), and had thick dark glasses that seemed to blink on the inner surface occasionally. Patrick noted the white cane.

“There is nobody like him that’s for sure,” said Patrick, trying to be polite but not inviting.

 

“Oh, no doubt. What I wouldn’t give just to serve him his tea. He drinks English varieties, you know.”

 

Patrick suppressed a gag. “You can see up there? You appear to be able to see what’s going on around you.”

 

“Try them.” The man removed his dark glasses to reveal white eyes that had only traces of the faintest blue in them.

 

Patrick donned the glasses slowly, as if expecting to contract something from the man. Something about the fellow made him feel slightly off balance, like the blind man was pulling Patrick toward him.

 

“Ouch, wow, what a headache.” Patrick briefly saw the packed all as if it had just been sharpened almost beyond recognition then beamed directly into his spine. He almost threw the glasses onto the man’s lap has he winced again, as if an aftershock from the first bolt were rocking him less strongly.

 

“Not for me. I don’t get enough light into my retinas. It’s like a video camera for the legally blind. Name’s Remi. Remi Puissant.”

 

“But, you can see 20-20 with them?”

 

“I get perfect images at a much slower rate than they appear to the naked eye. It pleases me enough just to be able to see for the first time the man who is like a god to me. Maybe he will grant me an interview. If I’m lucky.”

 

Patrick noted the press badge hanging around Puissant’s neck and the digital camera in his lap.

 

“What organization do you work for?” Patrick was slightly interested in the man now, trying to fish in his brain how he might convince Puissant to do a story about his own fledgling company.

 

“The Global Eye—it’s a nascent paper for the blind community.”

 

Patrick tried to remember what nascent meant. Respectable? Up and coming? He just nodded and smiled. The Sinoworks marketing people were almost finished, and the audience was growing impatient. He swiveled his head about the room catching stern faces and beatific ones. Sometimes his eyes would meet others, and Patrick tried to remember to smile, just in case they might be faces would meet to talk business with at the Sinoworks cocktail party that night. He tried his best to spot…Simone, that was her name…from the thousands of people in the crowd, but it was hopeless.

 

“And what do you do, Mr., uh?”

 

“Oh, sorry. Name’s Patrick.” He offered his hand, and Puissant delivered a wet limp grip in return. Must be the way the Finnish shake hands, thought Patrick, or is he Belgian? What did it matter? No culture was important unless it came from China or the U.S. “Nanobug tracking devices and software.”

 

Patrick expected the usual glazed look, polite bewildered smile, or disinterested yawn, but the blind man seemed to be almost paralyzed with a tiny epileptic shock.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

Remi cleared his throat, and then chuckled. “But of course, Nanobug tracking devices because the air could be full of little whirligigs ready to do you harm.”

 

Patrick was a bit incensed, but he’d encountered this rarest of types as well—they’d not only heard of Nanobugs, but actually mocked and disbelieved the serious threat they posed, deriding sellers of prophylactic devices, and either saying Nanobugs would never be a viable force to contend with, or that such things were to be decades in labs before being perfected. He even had a rather scripted response for these folks as well.

 

“I don’t actually have a working model with me, but…” Patrick swore that Puissant collapsed as if he were bracing for some bad news, “you should read this article from last October’s Washington Post. You see…”

 

“Ah yes, the softball picnic story.”

 

“So you’re quite familiar, actually.”

 

“The Austin, Texas Sinoworks company picnic and softball tournament. Fifteen of the brightest minds from that office dead, with traces of food poisoning. Bad chicken, but some say Nanobugs, and you are building a little empire on the fear of some.”

 

Patrick wanted to knock those oversized dark glasses off the man’s head. He refrained. So Puissant wasn’t to be converted. Yet. He bit his tongue, and continued with his script, even though it really was useless with such a doubter. “Not all of those employees were said to have had the chicken that day. A few who did have the chicken walked away without even so much a belch as a side effect. Remi, the next war on this planet won’t be fought with guns, bombs, viruses, or anything approaching conventional warfare. Enemies will target other enemies precisely and effectively, eliminating all trace of the weapon used to kill the foe.”

 

Puissant snorted. “Do you realize how much it would cost with present technology to build working Nanobugs that could actually fly undetected to their proper targets? Fifteen dead at that picnic would have cost the killers billions to pull that off. Billions. Only Sung has that kind of money, and he can certainly find in his own country fifteen people less valuable than his top American engineers to experiment on with Nanobugs.”

 

“I wouldn’t even be able to hazard a guess who killed those folks,” Patrick said, “But the security I sell is relatively cheap compared to the cost of manufacturing…”

 

Just then the crowd began to stand up and cheer. The infamous Sung salute required of his Chinese employees (and encouraged from his American ones) was a palm in fist above the bowed head. Many in the audience were performing this salute. Its meaning was that all Sinoworks employees were equal among each other, and bowed only to one man.

 

Patrick rolled his eyes at such rampant sycophantism that was pervading the U.S. business culture. He preferred the old school business friends who would complain incessantly about Microsoft bugs, and threaten to do all manner of harm to Gates under their breath. Sung had managed to turn all of them into Egelists, it seemed sometimes, to make them like those old dreadful Mac loyalists. The Mac loyalists, whose computers and mobile devices were now 100% subsidized by Sinoworks, were all anointed with VIP cards that got them into special sites and events put on by Sinoworks.

 

Although Americans had come to understand a little more of Chinese culture and language, they were still horrible about recognizing who different Chinese personalities were. The man walking up to the podium was one of Sinoworks’ chief engineers in Beijing, not Sung himself. Lao Sung was actually quite tall, and wore his hair rather long, in spite of his mandate that all his male employees keep their hair close-cropped.

 

Shi Jin began to speak. He and Sung knew perfect English but refused to speak it when presenting to audiences, especially American ones. This was a way letting Americans know that English was no longer the language of business. Most in the audience had intermediate knowledge of Mandarin, and Jin and Sung kept their sentences simple and slow, and vocabulary limited (not in deference to Americans being so inept with the language, but as a way of speaking to them as if they were mere children).

 

“Good afternoon everyone. I see many loyal, happy faces. That is good. Sinoworks loves loyal, happy people. You know this, because you love our products. We love Americans. They are our siblings for taking technology into new worlds. I hope you enjoy the party tonight. Mr. Sung is a very generous man. He shows his generosity tonight at his big party for all of his friends. I won’t talk long about our products. You know them well.”

 

This went on for about fifteen minutes, and finally, he left the stage, and the striking former supermodel Yu Jie Hong who was instantly recognizable by everyone, took a microphone and glided in a long shimmering gown.

“And now,” she practically whispered in English, “A god among men.”

 

Patrick thought that was laying it on pretty heavily, even for this crowd, who still mostly went through the motions down at their churches of choice. But, nobody seemed to mind as they were used to these grand pronouncements. Such a phrase might have been met with shock in the press a few years ago, then quickly brushed off by Sung as a poor translation on the part of the American linguist on hire.

 

She placed the microphone on a nearby table, and raised her hands with fist in palm and bowed her head, as Lao Sung entered briskly through a door to the right of the hall with attendants, wearing a ruby pendant set in his bolo tie. The look was badly Sinoized American Western, thought Patrick, shuddering that he’d lived to see such a thing.

 

Yu Jie Hong crumpled to the floor like a flower scheduled to die at dawn. The audience groaned in collective shock, and several of Sung’s attendants instinctively rushed to her. Then, Mr. Lao Sung, the wealthiest man to ever walk the face of the earth, made a sharp gagging sound, then fell in a much less graceful crash against a table, then to the ground.

 

Patrick suddenly wondered how a blind reporter took news notes for a blind person’s news organization. He turned to where Remi had been seated, but the man had left his chair. Patrick looked again, and saw Puissant madly tapping his cane and being buffeted about by much swifter, less disabled reporters. They were descending upon the site of the collapses like violent flies. Puissant appeared unsuccessful in his bid to get up there, and was finally knocked to the ground by medics rushing by.

 

Flannery couldn’t help but chuckling a bit, after being somewhat bruised by Puissant’s disdain of his business. However, Patrick was raised by polite Midwesterners, and trotted over to give Remi a helping hand.

 

“Tough being a blind reporter, huh?” asked Patrick, trying his best to sound sincere.

 

“Comes with the territory and all that,” muttered Remi absently. “So, what do you say, my friend, were our powerful heroes dropped by Nanobugs?” Remi seemed as derisive as ever about the subject, and a surprisingly less bereaved than Patrick would have expected for a man who had just been gushing about Sung less than an hour ago.

 

“Could very well be. Funny, but that wasn’t even the first thing that crossed my mind. The chicken in the salad was pretty raw, you know.”

 

Puissant thought that was pretty funny.

 

“My card, sir.” He produced a business card with an eye logo on it.

 

Patrick muttered and rummaged through his pockets, wondering why he felt obligated to bother giving a skeptic his own card.

 

“You never know, Mr. Flannery, when we might be in need of each other’s services.”

 

Remi politely excused himself from the hall, citing need of a dark hotel room after such violence having been wrought upon his system by American and Chinese clowns. Then, his speech descended into French babbling and muttering as he walked away furiously tapping his cane.

 

Chapter Two

 

“Just between you and me, friends,” said the Senator, “Texas is still the number one country in the world, in my book.”

 

The small crowd of mostly men gave a round of intense applause. A few of them let out hoots and hollers of approval.

 

“But, we are all Americans, second, are we not?” Heads nodded around the room. “And, our country is in serious trouble. How many of you have children who can speak Chinese or Spanish better than they can their own damn language?”

 

Nobody dared raise a hand, but the point was well-taken. In fact, everyone in this room, except for a few assorted ranch and chemical magnates, sent their children to private schools with other wealthy Texan children who all most certainly did not learn other languages before they were in High School. Even then, the second language was simply meant to be something that looked good on paper when it came time to pick a university.

 

“But that’s just a symptom. How many of you are busy buying as many Chinese products to fill your homes and businesses, or hiring foreign labor to man your phones, write your software or run your plants? How many of you with publicly-owned businesses have more Chinese shareholders calling the shots than American ones?”

 

A lot of faces looked away from the Senator, or stared at their half-eaten desserts.

 

“How’s a fellow to compete out there in the world, Senator, if his competition is beating him by doing everything you just said?” The question came from a roly-poly man with a long beard. He looked as if he would have been more at home a hundred and fifty years ago in a meeting like this one. Everyone knew him as old Colonel Jester, a man who’d made and lost billions off of energy speculation and more recently internet and wireless technologies. He was almost flat broke, but highly respected, and could easily get his hands on a whole pile of other people’s money for the Senator if he decided he liked Sam Denton enough. The Colonel was one of the few in the room who could get away with voicing such a concern in a meeting like that, as most of the attendees feared saying such would betray the fact that they were indeed busily utilizing as many foreign services, products and funding just to stay alive.

 

Sam Denton smiled. He was the descendent of many celebrated Texas heroes, and wore his pedigree like a lightly applied cologne. “Colonel Jester, I think a fellow could compete a little better if his hands weren’t tied behind his back by a bunch of damn no-speak-English Democrats and their regulations!”

 

The room roared with laughter and approval. Over the past twenty years, Republicans in Texas had watched their once all-encompassing grip on all things political erode away to almost nothing. In private settings like this one, it was often common to hear someone throw an insult at the large number of Hispanic Democrats who now mostly ran the show. Sam Denton wouldn’t be caught dead saying much of what he was saying to any reporter or outsider. His bid for Presidency was being carefully scripted and orchestrated at almost all moments by a consultancy firm of bright young political minds who didn’t believe their votes made a difference, but loved cooking up strategies to try to help an underdog win.

 

The cultivation of charismatic Hispanic personalities had been a gambit by white Democrats as a strategy to sway the millions of mostly politically agnostic people who’d most recently gained citizenship status. However, the businesses these men represented had been all but gutted from having any real clout in the economic landscape, as more and more Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and Brazilian companies developed energy alternatives, cheaper and faster information technology services, and more powerful (and powerfully polluting) plants. Many business interests outside the U.S. had set up shop in Texas, and the Americans who came to work for them rarely voted Republican.

 

Senator Denton was an exception to the rule because his opponent had been caught drunk with an highly underage girl the morning of the election by one of Denton’s crafty blog reporter friends, and the pictures had spread into the mainstream media. Many found the item in their inboxes where they stopped before casting their votes. Otherwise, Denton would have gotten about 30% of the vote.

 

It was also true that in the native countries of those businesses, regulation had continued to be lax, and new laws preventing pollution moved at a snail’s pace, while the U.S. had managed to completely hobble all of its more traditional industries with environmental protection laws. The alternative energy market was where the real money was at, and it was mostly run by, ironically, business interests that polluted heavily in their own countries.

 

“You see folks, it’s really pretty simple. You know why I am here today. There are too many outside interests shaping this country. Let’s be frank, shall we, America is dying. Can I look you all in the eye and say that without anyone squirming?”

 

There were some nods, and a few folks shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

 

“The question is, can we have good business, a successful and prosperous nation, hell, an economic powerhouse of a state—and—and, can we also have it without losing all of what it means to be Americans, to be Texans?”

 

Nobody answered, but most of the crowd appeared to intently mull the question over.

 

“Can the U.S. be number one again, without bending over to every goddamn yellow and brown feller that comes over here to throw his goddamn money around?”

 

“Yes!” shouted one of the younger members of the audience, caught up in emotions Denton was intentionally trying to whip up.

 

The Senator grinned louder than a chuckle (it was his characteristic trait). “You betcha. And that young man back there can have his pick of jobs when I become your next President.”

 

Laughter filled the room, almost in disproportion to the crack, as everyone’s tensions found release.

 

“No seriously, I mean it. The rest of you seemed a little unsure, a little skeptical, a little bit…unready to help me win this thing. That’s okay. I know the battle is going to be pretty damn tough. Let me tell you about tough. I spent six years fighting over there in Iraq, fighting for the same principles I’m fighting for today. Now, that young man ain’t old enough to remember…but it once was a matter of honor to be a Presidential candidate who’d served his country in combat.”

 

Some of them hooted assents that sounded something like amens at a spiritual revival.

 

“Now, of course, the honor is in how many startups you successfully managed to raise and sell off to Mr. Lao Sung’s outfit.”

 

More people joined in, this time, the shouts took on an angry edge. The Senator was referring to the incumbent, President Schulman, who’d based his entire campaign around how he was a friend of American small businesses, not a friend of tired old dying corporate entities. In reality, Shulman had sat on the boards of numerous large corporations, invitations that had come as a result of his successfully building over two dozen internet and wireless companies that had all been purchased by Sinoworks. His Republican critics said he was offering a lot of handouts to Americans to keep them from being better competitors, and his Democratic fans said his investments in many different sectors were keeping the economy booming and employment close to zero.

 

“Now, where was I?” asked the Senator good-naturedly after the commotion died down. “Ah yes, the battle. Folks, it may feel like utopia out there. I know that hardly a man, woman or child out there is hurting right now. But, at what price? At what price? America’s soul? Our most cherished culture, heritage and legacy of being who we are. Folks, we ain’t Chinese. We ain’t Spanish. Do we think like them? Was our constitution written by them? Do we talk like them? Well, some of you may be taking you some lessons to get you a piece of Mr. Sung for yourself, but I hope you don’t talk that way to your children. My daddy…” he wiped his brow with a magically produced handkerchief, then just as instantly, it was gone, “my daddy knew cattle. He knew oil. He knew guns, and he knew baseball. My daddy even learned how to e-mail before he died, cause my wife made him learn. But the most important thing my daddy understood deep in his heart…the most important thing he ever passed on to his boy was this…”

 

Faces leaned forward, some sweating with the intensity of anticipation, a few ladies and one gentleman were fanning themselves with papers. The air conditioning was rather stifled by the ventilation system to this room, a meeting room in the bowels of the Texas state capitol. Less than two miles away, mayhem was breaking out as Yu Jie Hong then Lao Sung fell abruptly for no apparent reason.

 

“My daddy said he could care less what color a man’s skin was, which kind of surprised me…but, he said he could care less as long as that man had America in his heart and gut and soul. Folks, you know I can go on about the Constitution, the flag, traditions, baseball, hamburgers, Ford Mustangs and the like. But you know where America is, and you know goddamn well that it ain’t in the heart, gut or soul of that Mr. Lao Sung and his ilk!”

 

The crowd of thirty or so people stood up and roared with applause and some shook their fists with fiery approval.

 

“And you know I can’t fight this coming battle, this war, by myself. Oh, I sure as hell would try if I had to, believe me. But right now, I need real Americans like yourselves by my side every bit of the way. You are my footsoliders. You are the ones who will be sung about in the patriotic songs of the future. Folks, when was the last time you heard a new patriotic song? Exactly. Well, I see I’ve taken enough of your time. I’ve looked each and every one of you in the eye and I’ve known true American blood was pumping through your veins. Now, I am going to need some true American fuel to run my machine right into that White House. Thank you, and please stop by this evening at the dinner. I will most certainly love to hear what each and every one of you have to say.”

 

Of course, not everyone was gleaming with eagerness to whip out checkbooks and help the Senator. Most everyone, but not everyone. One of the few women in the room, Denise Meyers, was intently sitting with legs crossed, unmoved. Her eyes betrayed nothing, and she flatly refused to show a single bit of response to any word or body language that the Senator through at the crowd. Her husband Toby Meyers, on the other hand, had been practically falling out of his seat with enthusiasm. He was the young man who’d been incapable of controlling himself when the Senator had asked if the U.S. could be number one again.

“You are probably having second thoughts about voting Democrat after a speech like that, huh, Denise?”

 

She smiled sweetly at her husband. He was a strange animal, but his strangeness kept things interesting. She mostly refused to socialize with his golfing buddies’ wives, and would find herself most of the time volunteering in various places, donating her time and what little money Toby allotted to her.

 

When they’d gotten married, they both seemed rather apolitical, but after ten years of being unable to produce children, each had gone off to opposite ends of the political spectrum. At least it seemed that way sometimes. Denise certainly didn’t get involved in reform movements that were completely socialist in nature, and until very recently, Toby had simply asserted that he was looking for friends who were a little patriotic and gave a damn about their country.

 

Toby’s business background, in fact, was more like the current President’s. He’d pioneered four successful startups, and was exploring opportunities with his friend Patrick Flannery on a fifth. Toby certainly wouldn’t have told any of the men and women in the room, with the exception of his wife of course, that Flannery was in the process right now of sniffing for some investment capital and business leads down at the Sinoworks technology conference.

 

“Too bad Patrick wasn’t here, or maybe you would have yourself two converts,” Denise laid the sarcasm on so lightly that it went over her husband’s head.

 

“Nah, he’s so apolitical. Though, you know, he certainly can’t stand eating with chopsticks. Why does everyone insist on eating everything with goddamn chopsticks? This America, for chrissake, at least make them an option instead of making silverware an option!”

 

“Amen to that brother!” boomed a roly poly old voice behind him. Colonel Jester strode up to the couple.

 

Toby briefly grew red and then it went away. He used to be tremendously embarrassed to the point of dizziness when his outbursts drew attention to him. Now, he mostly shrugged it off.

 

“Why Colonel Jester, it is an honor to meet you in person!” cried Toby, sounding more like an overly enthusiastic Southern debutante than an admiring young man.

 

The Colonel giggled. He loved all kinds of admirers, no matter how foolish they sounded.

 

“Toby Meyers, boy genius, wunderkind. Graduates from Harvard at eighteen and goes on to become a billionaire by the age of twenty-five. What in God’s great name are you doing lurking around at a meeting like this? Shouldn’t you be down there at the Saahnoworks convention, scaring up some more dough?”

 

Toby laughed a little uneasily, thinking wildly for a moment that Colonel Jester knew what his business associate was up to.

 

“Sir, there comes a time in every man’s life when he has to think about principles before prosperity, patriotism before his pocketbook.”

 

Denise groaned to herself and slightly rolled her eyes. She’d heard this line dozens of times over the past few months as Toby made his way into the network of the Republican party and the businesspeople who ran it. Many just smiled and nodded, as the Colonel was doing now, a few said “quite right,” and more than few looked at Toby as if he perhaps ambitions for political office. Denise knew that holding an actual place in office would bore Toby to tears, and that his real ambitions lie in taking on Sinoworks. He was laying the groundwork to get back politicians in office who would offer some protective tariffs and subsidize his new company.

 

“You know son, it saddens my heart that there aren’t more young men like you thinking about these things. So many of the young, wealthy set are either busy worshipping that Sung fellow, or…”

 

A microphone crackled, and then a voice cleared. Senator Denton’s campaign manager was standing at the lectern. “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. I have some breaking news to report to you all, if you haven’t received it already. Mr. Lao Sung, the owner of Sinoworks, has been reported dead, due to food poisoning. His son refused treatment from the St. David’s medics, preferring to use their own traveling doctors. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful at reviving him before the poisoning took his life. That is all. See you all tonight at the dinner.”

 

Everyone in the room stood in perplexed shock. Of course, nobody there was going to openly admit how glad they were the man had passed, in spite of the fact he was such a driving force behind making America’s economy number two. Those who thought in terms of what the implications this held for the future weren’t cheering, either. Lao Sung’s son, Sung Long, was notorious for having no scruples about making the U.S. a non-entity economically. While Lao Sung had built his business by playing fair with American businesses, Sung Long was ready to play dirty and even ignore America altogether as investment potential, opting for cheaper, more mobile business models out of Eastern Europe and South America.

 

“But if he decides to leave us alone,” one man was saying, “So what? We can lick our wounds and get back in the game on our own two feet instead of relying on Chinese handouts to run this country.”

 

Toby liked the way that man thought and told Denise as much.

 

“Or,” said Denise, “We could end up like France or Great Britain, subservient states to a larger coalition, with unemployment rates as high as 30% at times. Rioting in the streets…”

 

“Denise, that is why you have never succeeded at anything in your life. You depend on me, your husband, to offer you handouts, just like most Americans depend on Lao Sung and his ilk.”

 

“Well, it’s going to be Sung Long, now, but go on…”

 

Toby sucked in his breath in petulant indignation at his wife’s interruption, but continued, “And that prevents you from seeing things clearly. I, on the other hand, am mostly self made, a man who knows a thing or two about bootstrapping.”

 

Denise shook her head at her husband’s ludicrous assertions. How many of his companies had grown thanks to the careful food and water from Chinese investors? She knew that she could get on his private office computer in their bunker, and would discover Rabitfire Investments, the venture capital arm of Sinoworks in the U.S., on any number of old startup funding accounts.

 

“Sir, if you will,” Denton’s campaign manager had deftly stepped between them. “The Senator would like to have a word with you in private. Sorry, ma’am, he wants it to be man-to-man, but it will be quick. If you would like, Senator Denton’s daughter is arranging for all of the wives to take a bus to the Four Seasons, for tea or cocktails.”

 

That sounded to Denise like complete hell. She was dreading the dinner tonight at a ballroom in the Four Seasons. Even though the two of them lived only minutes from downtown, Toby had insisted on staying at the hotel with the out of town guests from Houston, Dallas, and other parts of Texas, to make sure he didn’t miss any late-night schmoozing over brandy and cigars, or impromptu runs to strip clubs.

 

“Toby, I think I want to just walk around Austin for a bit and see what is going on downtown. I hardly ever get the chance to do that. I’ll meet you back at the hotel.”

 

“Why Denise, you’ll melt out there. It’s up in the nineties today. Why don’t I call you a cab, and you can try to find Patrick before he leaves for wherever he’s off to next?”

 

“Sir, the Senator has a busy schedule. Please.”

 

Denise smiled sweetly at Toby, and bent to peck him on the lips. “Toby, Patrick will tell you it better tonight than I could relaying it, sweetie. Now, let me be a good money-spending wife, and you go have your big break into politics. Ciao.”

 

Denise liked the Austin heat, and her husband knew she jogged almost every day around the urban jogging trail that wound its way around the downtown reservoir. Even in her pumps and skirt, she felt better to be out in the dry air than stifled in a room full of men wearing bad cologne. She wasn’t the kind of woman that detested mingling with other women, she just didn’t like the wives of the company Toby now kept.

 

Walking down Congress Avenue, she saw that traffic had come to almost a standstill amidst the spillover from the Sinoworks convention, which was the only convention the company would put on in the U.S. this year. There were also pockets of protesters, throwbacks to an era when people were actually concerned about China’s human rights record. Rumor had it that hundreds of millions of people were still horribly impoverished in China, and performed various slave labor-like tasks to support the Sinoworks corporate machine. Those same people were said to live among the squalor and pollution of Sinoworks and other Chinese corporate plants, with life expectancies in the low twenties.

 

Nobody really believed it, as China clearly showed in all its broadcasts to the world how almost every single one of its billions of people were happily employed, living the same dream that was once called the American dream.

 

Denise wanted someday to see for herself whether such rumors were true, and try to find an effective way to stop it from happening. She suspected from hints Toby had dropped that the Republicans were anxious to use China’s human rights abuse as a tactic to scare Americans into participating less with the country, but so far strategists didn’t think enough of a population base could be mobilized that way.

 

What Denise wanted right now was a martini, and she decided to stop at Rico’s when she got to fourth street. Did she care to see the last few stragglers leaving the convention center, or try to track down Patrick? Not really.

 

The mood was somber inside the bar, and it was packed with attendees watching the flickering screens that revealed nothing but talking heads analyzing what the death would mean for the global economy.

 

“Mrs. Meyers?” asked a toneless, bland voice.

 

She was a bit startled, but quickly regained her composure. As much as she tried to stay out of the social spotlight for her charitable works, there was inevitably some admirer or critic of her husband that would accost her in public about his business practices. She always smiled and told the person, “Thank you for your comments, I will be sure to pass them on to someone who cares.” This might elicit a “bitch” snorted under breath, but rarely did anyone insist on pestering her.

 

“Agent Brandon Faulks, FBI.”

 

“Yes? May I help you? Maybe you can buy me a drink.”

 

Faulks said, “Heh. No, ma’am, I don’t think so. I would like to have a moment or two of your time.”

 

“I suppose I should say yes, huh? If it is about my husband, though, he’s having a word with Senator Denton and probably can tell you a lot more about his business than I ever could.”

 

“Once again, Ma’am, no. You donate a large portion of your time and money to the Bridgeworks, the Sino Adoption Partnership group, yes?”

 

“Well, certainly. We see a lot of unwanted children get picked up by loving, capable American parents who can’t afford to fly to China and deal for months on end with the bureaucracy over there. Some of our members deal with it over there for them, and then we foster large number of children we think are good candidates over here. It’s a good cause, and lots of notables donate to it. Why does my work for them elicit questions from the F.B.I.?”

 

“Mrs. Meyers, please. I will do my job and ask the questions, then be on my way. Now, have you traveled to China in the past six months?”

 

“Well, of course. My husband, being who he is, is always going back and forth to schmooze, and naturally, his jealous little heart likes to have me along most of the time.”

 

“And when you were over there, did you meet and hold conversations with anyone from the Bridgeworks’ Chinese offices?”

 

“Naturally. They were quite gracious about allowing me to see that side of their work.”

 

“Did you write any checks to individuals while over there?”

 

“Yes, I did. Yi Meng, the executive director, talked to me at length, and I wired a considerable amount into one of their accounts.”

 

“From your husband’s account?”

 

Denise grew tense and felt herself cold with quick anger. “No, sir, I did not. If you have done your research into my background, you know that I inherited a small sum of money from my late grandfather. He told me to use it to do great things. I’ve never told Toby about it. My husband gets his money just fine by himself, I think, and would simply use his lawyers to work it into his fortune if he knew about it. As far as I’m concerned, there are more noble things than simply making another billion.”

 

“Ma’am, did you have any conversations with Yi Meng about his personal ambitions or aspirations?”

 

“I could tell that he had many secrets that he wasn’t about to reveal to a donor.”

 

“Did Yi Meng ever mention Song Bang?”

 

Denise frowned. “Don’t think so. I have some difficulty with Chinese names. What is Song Bang?”

 

“Hmmm. Please stay in town. Thank you, good day.”

 

Denise shook her head, hurt that some random non-entity from the government could simply walk down to a data warehouse and know more about her than her husband did. However, she wasn’t one to obsess over such things. The bigger question was, of course, why would an FBI man care about what charity she gave her money to?

 

A breaking news alert interrupted her train of thought, as it disrupted the almost soothing droning of the talking heads.

 

“An organization called Song Bang is taking responsibility for the deaths of Sinoworks founder and CEO Lao Sung and supermodel Yu Jie Hong. Earlier in the hour, another organization, simply called Les Amis, took responsibility for the deaths. Both claim to have access to advanced nanoweaponry, however, the U.S. and Chinese State Departments maintain that such technology is nowhere near being perfected, and would cost billions of dollars to even fabricate working prototypes. I’m sorry, hold on. Just in…the U.S. and Chinese State Departments are now changing their position on this matter.”

 

Denise removed her mobile device and consulted SinoGu. Song Bang was an organization that had claimed responsibility for numerous DHL bombs, software viruses, and even Anthrax spreading among the offices of Sinoworks in various provinces in China. Song Bang was kept out of the mainstream news, mostly, because Sinoworks didn’t want them to have the publicity. Song Bang claimed that Sinoworks was responsible for the deaths of over half a billion people worldwide through a laundry list of negligence and outright aggression toward resisting indigenous peoples. Denise and every other educated citizen were familiar with vast swaths of genocide in Africa and South America, but Song Bang claimed all of it was sponsored by Sinoworks in the name of entrenching itself in those areas and pillaging the resources.

 

The leader of Song Bang was rumored to be Yi Meng, also the head of Bridgeworks, or Liang Yuan, as it was called in China.

Chapter 3

 

“Sinoworks is now really pushing for us to implicate Meng and his organization,” said his boss over the phone outside Rico’s, “The State Department has already got on board.”

 

Brandon Faulks looked at his notes and shook his head. He never imagined twenty years ago when he joined the FBI that a Chinese company would be pushing so hard to influence the FBI’s work. Faulks accepted it when American corporations started calling the shots. First, some of the big media groups came in with the politicians, then a few of the oil companies and technology companies had their say. But in the past five years or so, those corporations lost their currency. Literally. They were already heavily subsidized by the U.S. government, which had a line of credit all of the way out of the solar system, and that line of credit was good mostly down at Sinoworks’ bank.

 

Now, Sinoworks (and the American companies for that matter) didn’t completely determine who got put behind bars and who went free. They simply made life a lot cushier for the FBI men and women when those agents played along with them. Brandon usually didn’t mind going after the wrong person, because the wrong person was usually some other flavor of scumbag, and the real killer or embezzler typically was kind enough to duck out of the country. But this was different. The information Sinoworks provided basically stated that Denise Meyers had used her entire savings to fund the research and development of the Nanobugs used in various mysterious deaths around China and now in the U.S.

 

Faulks knew next to nothing about Nanobugs before two hours ago. After reading the official papers on the subject (before they were more recently altered or completely removed), he determined that filing an official report stating that the cause of death were tiny, self-destructing, smart missiles, tipped with poison and guided by some type of remote control device (which should have been detected in the hall), even while many at the convention complained of illness due to undercooked chicken, was the most ludicrous thing he’d ever been asked to do.

 

“Boss, do you really think the public is going to be so gullible? And, if they are, won’t this create a panic? People will be afraid to go out, and the economy will virtually shut down.” Brandon Faulks was sworn, as part of his duty as an FBI agent, to protect the economy.

 

“Sinoworks assures us, Faulks, that they will spin it such that people will believe that it can’t happen again.”

 

“I don’t know boss. And what about Denise Meyers? Her husband is fairly rich himself. He isn’t going to like having his wife hauled off to jail on some trumped up charges.”

 

“You don’t know, Brandon, maybe he’s ready to trade her in for a younger model.”

 

The two of them shared three to four short barks of laughter together and then maintained their character.

 

“Can I have a little time to look into this, boss?”

 

“You got three days, Faulks, to put a better case together. Sinoworks realizes that announcing the culprits immediately will lessen the credibility of the case with the public mind, you know, don’t run for the scrawny guy in the book depository immediately.”

 

“Right, sir. I will do my best to put together a case that will serve the FBI and the economy best.”

 

“I know you will.”

 

Brandon Faulks looked at his notes. Why did a French terrorist group, called Les Amis, claiming to also use Nanoweaponry, take credit for the deaths as well?

 

He looked up Les Amis. The Friends, they were called. They claimed to have a lineage of members going back to Louis XIV, but Brandon could only find information pertaining to them from the past twenty years or so. Les Amis believed that France’s glory days were yet to come, that after America and China spoiled themselves with economic riches and exhausted their resources, a new Sun King would appear and the remaining peoples of the world would basically realize that the epitome of sophistication and good taste in culture would be all things French.

 

Their mission seemed Quixotic in the extreme, and online appeared to be about as harmless as any old bunch of professors wanting to be kids again. So, why lay claim to such a violent act? Faulks admitted to himself that he knew nothing about France. He understood that they made some decent fries, and were good kissers, but in all of his education and investigations, he’d never bothered to learn much about any countries except China and Mexico.

 

Apparently, the present generation of French youth knew next to nothing about their country’s culture, either, and almost as little of their own tongue. Masses of them had left to find work elsewhere, and masses of Chinese had moved into France and apparently Sinofied much of it. And he thought America was being held hostage by a giant Chinese corporation. Basically, France was now a giant playground for Chinese tourists. They wanted French culture on their terms at their times in their tongue.

 

Les Amis had almost completely relocated to Texas. Faulks had known a lot of native Texans and had heard their attitudes about France and the French. He found it ironic that Les Amis had chosen Texas. However, Texas was one of the least-Sinofied states in the country in most of its rural areas. Les Amis bought a medium-sized ranch, and went about assembling books and artifacts that represented their beloved country and filling their bomb-proof, fire-safe compound with the items.

 

Their leader, a Remi Puissant, regularly posted diatribes against both China and America, and seemed to be the only hothead of the group. His dramatic calls to arms of Frenchmen everywhere seemed to go mostly unheeded online. Most of Les Amis seemed more satisfied with reading French literature and philosophy from the last several hundred years, drinking cognac and discussing Proust and Voltaire over pate. They humored Remi occasionally with assenting papers of their own, after all, he paid for their comfy existence.

 

Faulks thought about the conversation with his boss. What if they did have to haul Denise Meyers in to implicate her as one of the financial backers of the Sung assassination? Would her husband, a billionaire himself, use his money to get friends to pressure the FBI to take the heat off of her, or would Toby Meyers simply laugh his way to divorce court and find that younger model? It seemed a talk with Toby Meyers was in order.

 

“Brandon Faulks.”

 

A tall Chinese man asserted himself into Faulks’ space. He had a convention pass around his neck that announced he was with Sinoworks. Brandon jumped ever so slightly at the mention of his own name. Very few people here in Austin would know who he was, certainly not a man from Sinoworks (or so he thought as first reaction).

 

“And, you are…”

 

“I’m Sung Shu. I’m so glad I found you.”

 

“Because?”

 

“My brother has asked me to provide you with some help for your investigation.”

 

“The FBI generally doesn’t receive help in this fashion.”

 

“Of course. However, this is a very important investigation you are embarking upon. Both for your country and mine as well. Since you know so little about what goes on in my country, I have a lot of information for you about Song Bang.”

 

“I appreciate that, and perhaps some of it will be useful. However, much of my work will be to act as a detective here to see if there is any truth to what these organizations claim. My work is hampered right now by a number of things, one being the fact that your brother and his organization have failed to let my people perform a thorough autopsy of your father’s body and the body of the actress.”

 

“She is a supermodel. However, yes, we will allow this. Please, call your trusted examiners in, but you will see that a Nanobug leaves no trace. The poison used is undetectable after death, and the bug itself will disintegrate into dust upon the floor.”

 

“The FBI has a lot of sophisticated analysis equipment that can detect poisonous substances that might otherwise go unnoticed by your average coroner’s office. Also, I am still keeping open the possibility that the two of them died of food poisoning. The chicken served at the luncheon was pretty undercooked, from what I heard.”

 

“Mr. Faulks, do you really think my father ate what the common businesspeople ate? He is a mighty man, the most powerful man in the world. He brings his own chef, his own diet planners, and just between you and me, he had his own taster.”

 

“Mr. Shu, did it ever occur to you that whatever story the FBI chooses to report, and whomever it chooses to prosecute, will be made all the more acceptable and palatable by the entire world if I am allowed to do my job most thoroughly?”

 

“Mr. Faulks, I appreciate the sentiment you express here. I do hope you do your job well. I hope after this is through, you are able to continue doing your job well.”

 

“Come again?”

 

“What is it you desire, Brandon Faulks? Where do your dreams and aspirations want you to go?”

 

“That is a most unusual question to ask a man like me.”

 

“Well?”

“I see myself retired in Mexico in about twenty years, still happily married to my wife, with my children who are almost in college, well-educated from the money we’ve saved to help put them through.”

 

“And what if your choices were between making that dream happen in a few days, and a possible nightmare—like your wife and children dead, your employment reduced to being a night janitor someplace working until you die at an unhappy early age?”

 

“Do you have a crystal ball, Shu, or are you trying to bribe and threaten me at the same time?”

 

“Just think about it. If forces out there can take down the most powerful man in the world, do you think they will stop for a second with a lowly little FBI man who discovers and reports the wrong truth?”

 

“I’m not that lowly,” Brandon muttered to nobody in particular, because Sung Shu was already gone, probably off in a cab back to a hotel where he would report back and continue to monitor Faulks’ efforts.

 

Denise had said that Toby was meeting with Senator Sam Denton. Faulks made a call to his intelligence people to get an the Senator’s itinerary. He could’ve had the Senator on the phone with another phone call, but wanted to keep the meeting short and casual. Politicians tended to like to sweet talk an FBI man, always in networking mode in case they needed a new buddy to hit up for a favor. Some of his colleagues liked being buddies with politicians, but Brandon didn’t. He liked to think of himself as a man with something approaching principles, and believed in compromising them only to preserve the economy.

 

Brandon found the Senator walking down Congress Ave with his arm around a young man he recognized from the pictures he’d received of Denise.

 

“Toby Meyers?”

 

Toby looked up and scowled at Brandon, immediately ignoring him, until Faulks started walking beside him.

 

“Can’t you see that I am having a conversation? Do you know anything about networking, sir?”

 

“I’ll handle this, son,” drawled the Senator bigly, nodding to his shadow security.

 

“Not so fast,” said Brandon coolly, producing his credentials before the bodyguard could even grab his gun.

 

“Well, now there, son. You should have announced yourself from the get-go. My boy over there has one of the quickest trigger fingers in Texas.”

 

Brandon felt absolutely no need to remind the Senator that his badge could have just as easily been a gun, because that wasn’t part of Brandon’s job. He was simply there to gather information and put it together.

 

“I just need a moment to talk some things over with Mr. Meyers, Senator. I assume both of you are aware of the death of Lao Sung, the most powerful man in China and probably the entire world, correct?”

 

The Senator got a funny look on his face and coughed. Toby looked down at his feet.

 

“I take that as a yes?”

 

“Well, now, you can tell me anything you’re gonna say to Toby. A Senator is pretty damn good at keepin’ secrets, and you know I sit on a committee that appropriates for you fellows over there.”

 

“It is a private matter concerning Mr. Meyers’ wife. If Mr. Meyers doesn’t mind you hearing what I am about to say, then I don’t mind if you are part of the conversation, Senator.”

 

Toby spoke up, “There is nothing Denise hides from me, nor anything she would mind the Senator hearing, unless you have something sick and twisted on her…and I would recommend that you have some false information, then.”

 

“Mr. Meyers, are you familiar with Denise’s charitable work with Bridgeworks?”

 

“Certainly.”

 

“Does a Mr. Yi Meng mean anything to you?”

 

“Vaguely. I am aware that he runs that organization. That’s about it.”

 

“Well, Mr. Meyers, here is the lay of the land. Yi Meng is also reportedly the mastermind behind Song Bang, a terrorist organization within China that is notorious for its attacks on Sinoworks facilities and employees. We have enough evidence to believe this is so. We also have evidence that on your recent trip to China, Denise wired the sum of her inheritance, totaling almost a billion dollars, into the private account of Mr. Yi Meng. Today, Song Bang is one of two organizations taking credit for the assassination of Lao Sung by employing Nanoweaponry.”

 

“She had an inheritance of almost a billion dollars, you say?” exclaimed Toby, obviously more infuriated that there was something Denise did keep hidden from him—that something being his favorite thing.

 

“That is correct. Now, I don’t have conclusive evidence that Nanobugs are what killed Lao Sung. I will say that many people in my organization and other, peripheral organizations, are asking me to file a report that will implicate Yi Meng, your wife, and some other benefactors as the chief architects behind Lao Sung’s death.”

 

“Wow,” muttered Toby, “She had almost a billion dollars she never told me about. That bitch.”

 

“Son, if I may,” drawled the Senator gently, putting a delicate palm on between Toby’s shoulder blades, “This calls for the wisdom of a strategist.”

 

Toby didn’t appear to hear Denton. “I mean, I still love my wife, and all, but you know. No, I should definitely try to clear her. She might have lied to me, but surely she wasn’t mixed up in killing Lao Sung. That just seems beyond anything she’s capable of, I mean, she spends most of her days jogging and cleaning up orphans. Senator, you know people at the FBI, right?”

 

Brandon simply stood there and watched the two of them, letting them feel as if he’d walked away. All three had stopped walking and each appeared to passersby to be in his own head, unaware that they were together.

 

“Son, look. If I may. Think about what we were just discussing. The scenario.”

 

“Yes, of course.”

 

“Now, it can only help us with our, uh, patriotic mission, if we help the gentleman from the FBI out.”

 

Brandon stood coolly, about to make a decision. As a man who moved billions around some days by making decisions that seemed to take place in the blink of an eye, he was quite good at going into what he called “Cowboy Zen” mode, then being happy and completely firm with whatever he decided.

 

“Now that you mention it, Mr. Faulks, my wife did behave quite strangely on that trip. She was more distant and removed, and twice she called poor Mr. Sung evil corporate scum. Now, as a competing businessman, I certainly have my days where I think poorly of him when he wins at a game, but I respect and admire his savvy, his sense of how to play things right. No, Senator, I don’t need you to pull any strings for me. If my wife has participated in conspiracy to assassinate a great leader, so be it. She will have to face the music.”

 

Brandon nodded, and bid good day. However, he decided to duck and tail the two of them for a little bit. Their reaction to his announcement of Lao Sung’s death, and the mention of the patriotic mission made him wonder what they were talking about before he greeted them.

 

“Wow!” Toby sounded like a little kid who had almost gotten caught playing with matches by the teacher. “That was…”

 

“Interesting, yes. Surprised that your wife has secrets?”

 

“Ah, well, you know. You think you know somebody, and…”

 

“Son, she is a woman. Women all have secrets. But, hell. The money is long gone, and she may be gone soon, too.”

 

Toby looked slightly hurt by the Senator’s callous reinforcement of the obvious. He’d learned a long time ago to utilize his feelings only to get people to do something for him, and knew that in spite of ten years of marriage, nobody, not even his wife, was going to stand in his way of getting what he wanted—especially a wife that kept almost a billion dollars hidden from him.

 

“So, you see?” started the Senator again, “We got what we wanted, now didn’t we?”

 

“Mmmm.”

 

Brandon’s boss intruded into his skull.

 

“Faulks, you might be interested in investigating another murder.”

 

“More Nanobugs?”

 

“Nope. Good old-fashioned strangling. Down at the Four Seasons, Remi Puissant has been found strangled by a bolo tie.”

Chapter 4

 

Down at the Four Seasons, Patrick Flannery was waking up from a much needed post-convention slumber. In spite of his mild headache and dry mouth, he was happy to see all traces of his food poisoning had disappeared. The time was 7 PM, and the sun had just set within the last hour. He didn’t like waking up at that time, it made him feel like he’d wasted a day, and required a lot of extra coffee if he planned to accomplish anything more of value that day.

 

He was scheduled to fly to San Jose on a redeye flight in two hours.

 

Flannery’s partner (the money) Toby Meyers had booked this room for an extra night in case Patrick needed the night to network with an especially hot lead. So far, the only thing approaching a hot lead had been Simone, the engaging, if not especially pretty woman from lunch. At least she hadn’t seen him white as a sheet during the mass exodus from the convention center.

 

Below, sirens screamed louder, then suddenly stopped. He looked out his window and saw that an ambulance and police car were parked in the pick-up area, and some people were milling about. This reminded him fully of what had happened just a few hours ago, and then he shifted into a trance, sitting on his bed with a crumpled white t-shirt in his hand.

 

He was suddenly recalling a dream he’d had during his nap, a strange phenomenon (actually remembering the dream) that had rarely happened to him since he’d left college. Remi Puissant was in the dream, adjusting a blue cravat. “Green is not my color, Patrick. It’s just my job. I probably would have worn a sapphire, if anything, but you know, I hate bolo ties, anyway.”

 

Patrick slowly eased his consciousness back into the dimly lit hotel room. He’d lost a semester in college to being incapable of controlling strange dreams and visions that would paralyze him like that. Such strange phenomena had been labeled as the onset of a late adolescent form of schizophrenia, and the doctor had recommended a rather robust cocktail of medicine to prevent it from coming back.

 

During an extended trip to China for his Senior research project, he’d lost his backpack that contained the meds, and the visions didn’t return.

 

Patrick dismissed the post-sleep invasion as a part of waking up, and set about to packing his clothes while the little four-cup coffee machine took a stab at his first attempts to awaken. He checked his messages.

 

Flannery was actually rather unsure of how Toby’s forays into politics were going to affect him or, more to the point, help him. It seemed like Meyers had kind of gone off the deep end by schmoozing with members of the minority party, but Toby kept reassuring him that he had a plan that would generate a more substantial cashflow and better access to classified governmental nanotechnology research.

 

The latter somewhat made sense. Patrick had cut his teeth on the science while at MIT, getting involved in special partnership projects with governmental labs. That was why he was certain his software and tracking devices could track, prevent, or even destroy harmful Nanobugs. However, he no longer had that privileged access as a student, so much of his recent work had been mostly the result of conjectures, theories and modeling. Patrick had basically stooped to selling his business based on fear, not much better than previous companies who had offered survivalist kits during times of pandemics and nuclear winters.

 

This disconcerted him a bit, to have strayed so far. He needed Toby, because Toby was one of the few people with actual money and not smiles who believed in what he was doing. An endorsement from Toby Meyers could go a long way, but so far the partnership on that side had been pretty silent and reluctant to broadcast to the world that it supported Patrick’s business model.

 

He had thirty-five messages, almost all of them from reporters, wanting to know more about Nanobugs. Apparently at SinoGu, his company still ranked high on the list of searches, and everyone watching the news had heard Nanobugs were claimed by two separate terrorist organizations to have been used in the assassination of Lao Sung.

 

There was one message from Toby, and strangely enough, one message from Denise. Meyers’ wife had always seemed quite indifferent to Patrick, in spite of the fact that he was certain there was some kind of chemistry between them. She rarely said more than a polite hello before breezing off to one of her meetings or fundraisers. Once, Patrick had encountered her on the jogging trail, and she’d simply flashed a smile and kept on running in spite of his rather oafish attempt to make conversation.

 

The last thing Patrick wanted to do was attempt an affair with the wife of his uberwealthy business partner. However, it irked him nonetheless that a woman could seem with her unconscious body language (the way she touched her hair or face, the way she shifted her feet or bit her lips) to have an attraction to a guy, but make every effort to hide it.

 

She certainly had never done anything so forward as to actually leave a message on his phone. He couldn’t help, out of curiosity, to skip Toby’s message and play her message first.

 

“Hello Patrick, it’s Denise Meyers, Toby’s wife. As you are probably seeing in all of your feeds, your little Nanobugs are hot stuff right now. I may be in a bit of trouble over some money I donated. The man I donated it to, Yi Meng, is probably in even more trouble. He called me, left a key to a quantoencrypt drop and stated in his message almost as cryptically: PATRICK FLANNERY’S CRAZY PAPERS ARE THE KEY. That’s it. I am down at the Four Seasons’ pub, awaiting Toby to take my arm to some godawful political dinner. If you are anywhere in Austin other than on a runway, please, please come and see me.”

 

Patrick thought about moving the message to an encrypted drive, then simply deleted it. He was pretty sure he would remember everything she just said. Any time someone left a message on his voicemail service that contained sensitive information, like passwords and credit card numbers, he would shake his head and cross his fingers, then in encrypt or delete the message. Although there wasn’t anything terribly sensitive about the mention of his “crazy papers,” his waking mind imagined a competitor getting a hold of the information and using it against him somehow.

 

Toby’s message wasn’t quite as interesting, but gave him quite a pause nonetheless:

 

“Hey Pal, if you decided to stay the night here, by all means, slip into a tie and jacket and show your face at the Greenlough Ballroom entrance there at the hotel. I want you to meet the Senator, and then, upon getting his stamp of approval, I can have you on a plane to Arlington to get your hands on some real Nanobugs to shape and fashion them as you please. We are about to do some wonderful stuff with nanoweaponry that will make us all quite wealthy.”

 

Feeling especially cautious, he deleted this message as well.

 

Arlington was the rumored site of intense Nanobug research, supposedly one secretive arm of the U.S. Government’s last ditch effort to beat the Chinese at something. Patrick drooled on occasion when he heard the word Arlington in connection with his research, and would have skipped Patrick to head straight for the Senator’s plane had the words “crazy papers” not still been ringing in his ears.

 

The crazy papers were his magnum opus of that terrible lost semester of college where he mostly dreamed and raved and spit at friends and family. During that course of time, he dictated over a thousand pages of dense, mostly unintelligible content regarding the connection between the behavior of symbols and matter at the atomic scale. In other words, he’d put forth his deluded, mystical, grand unified theory of human communication and nanoscale behaviors while at a young age and in an irrational frame of mind.

 

You couldn’t learn about the crazy papers by simply looking around at the Patrick Flannery story scattered on the internet, performing SinoGu searches here and there. You either had to be a family member, close and dedicated professor, friend, or simply a doctor at the institution, checking in to see the young man babbling in a horrifically prolific way. That young man also did something that dumbfounded his doctors. He often babbled in Chinese. That portion of the papers was only taken through a machine translation tool, and declared especially random and meaningless.

 

Patrick never bothered to have the so-called Chinese translated into English by a human linguist. As far as he knew, the crazy papers were in his mother’s basement, in Missouri, along with the originally recorded audio data.

 

“Mom!” shouted Patrick. “Can you hear me?”

 

“Of course I can hear you. You don’t need to shout with this new hearing aid of mine. Why are you calling, are you in trouble?”

 

“No, Mom, I was calling about my crazy papers.”

 

“Oh my.”

 

“Mom?”

 

“I thought you’d pretty much dismissed those as junk for the moths and rats. A nice man came around at my garage sale this year, and saw them sitting off in the corner. I told him they were just some useless things of yours from college, headed for the trash, and he offered to pay me twenty-five dollars for all of the boxes. I said sure. I went out and bought…”

 

“Mom, couldn’t you have asked me first? Was he Chinese?”

 

“Oh yes, but Patrick, you know, we’re not supposed to discriminate when we describe a person. There are lots of Chinese…”

 

“Sorry, Mom, I was just trying to be brief. Look, did the man leave any information about himself, did he say who he was?”

 

“No, I can’t say he did. Although, he wore a strange green cravat, like an old-fashioned European tie, you know? And, he dropped a card, but I threw that away.”

 

“Do you remember what his card said?”

 

“Well…some kind of society. It was mostly in Chinese, and my Chinese isn’t so good. You know, I’m learning how to speak it pretty well, but…”

 

“Mom, I love you. I got to go.”

 

Patrick ended the call before she could say another word. He used to feel guilty about doing that, but her mind and mouth in front of a phone could occupy entire weeks of his time if given free reign. Flannery liked to leave the room with things somewhat straightened out, even though he knew the housekeeping would come along and remove the towels and linens, and rearrange everything anyway.

 

He stood at his open doorway, performing one last fly and breath check, then plunged off down the hall to the elevators, with suitcase, laptop and backpack. Flannery stood off to the site to let the first car open and go, as the arrow was pointing up. A plain-looking man with eyes close together and close-cropped hair stepped out of the elevator. Patrick didn’t notice him at first—he looked like he could be any number of tech geeks with a miserable sense of fashion, wearing their one white button down shirt and dark blue tie for the purpose of attracting foreign investment.

 

“Leaving town, Patrick Flannery?”

 

“Do I know you?”

 

“Brendan Faulkes, FBI.”

 

Patrick instantly remembered the message that Denise had left. PATRICK FLANNERY’S CRAZY PAPERS ARE THE KEY.

 

“Ah, yes. My shameful crazy papers. In high demand, right now, huh?”

 

Faulkes gave him a quizzical look. “Mr. Flannery, why don’t you come with me down to the hotel lobby and answer a few questions?”

 

“I was headed in that direction, so, why not?”

 

Faulkes didn’t wait for the car to reach the lobby, before he began his interrogation. “Mr. Flannery, what is your relationship with Remi Puissant?”

 

Patrick frowned. Of all the people he’d met who’d bring the FBI around his door. He started to slip into a trance, remembering a snippet from his dream. Green is not my color, Patrick. It’s just my job.

 

“I’m afraid my relationship with him consisted only in the trading of business cards.”

 

“The man seemed to think you were someone he could count on while in the last moments of his life. My records show he tried to call you a dozen times, and two of those times, stayed on the phone long enough to have left a message. Since we don’t have any activity recorded from your end at that period, I can assume he was either trying to get you to respond while having a bad connection, or he left a message.”

 

Patrick had listened to three or four of the messages left by the press wanting an interview with a Nanobug expert. He’d simply scrolled through the rest to find the numbers of the Meyers. Now, he wanted to go back and look at every unfamiliar number, and try to find Remi’s. He pulled out his phone.

 

Faulkes deftly snatched it from Flannery’s hand. “Sorry, sir, I can’t have you tampering with the evidence. This is FBI property now.”

 

“But…private property, and—”

 

“Heh. Mr. Flannery, stick around in Austin for awhile, please. It will make things easier for the both of us.”

 

“But, how long is it going to take you to sort this out?”

 

“No more than a few days. If you really did just trade business cards with him, then you might still be able to catch that flight.”

 

Patrick was by no means a great persuader when authority stepped in and asserted itself. He didn’t even question Faulkes’ credentials, something a more suspicious, assertive man might have done. Flannery decided to walk over to the bar and see if he could spot Denise. He turned to Faulkes, who was already fumbling with his phone.

 

“Just curious, Mr. FBI guy?”

 

“Names, Faulkes.”

 

“Sorry. Mr. Faulkes…how exactly was Remi Puissant killed? Surely you aren’t suspecting Nanobugs, are you?”

 

He watched Brendan’s eyes upon him, as if sizing him up to determine whether he was worthy of having semi-classified information divulged to him.

 

“Somebody strangled him with his own bolo tie.”

 

“Ouch.” Patrick’s dream suddenly flashed hard into his skull. “Didn’t even like bolo ties, just his job.” He muttered the words uncontrollably.

 

“Come again?”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Did I say something?”

 

“I think you did. You say he didn’t like bolo ties? How do you know this?”

 

“Oh, uh, it was a dream I had this evening while I slept.”

 

“Right.”

 

“I think it was just triggered by an incongruity in pattern that my mind quickly sublimated.”

 

“What do you mean by that?”

 

“Ordinarily, men’s choices in fashion aren’t exactly the subtle details I would notice. However, the jade inlay in Puissant’s tie struck me as
being—”

 

“You said jade? He was wearing a green stone inlaid on his tie?”

 

“Oh, absolutely. Why?”

 

Brendan frowned at the ground, and appeared to ignore Patrick, returning to fishing for messages.

 

“I said…”

 

Brendan waved his left hand as if to shoo away a small child. “Go on, this is my investigation, and I’m one of the more fair seekers of truth that you’re gonna find at the FBI, so, don’t worry.”

 

Patrick spotted Denise leaving the bar. He ran over to her as fast as he could with all of his luggage.

 

“Denise! It’s Patrick!”

 

She saw him and smiled, then cringed.

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“That man over there. He’s with the FBI. Mr. Brandon…”

 

“I think his name’s Brendan. Brendan Faulkes.”

 

“Yes. He accosted me outside of Rico’s bar a few hours ago. What the hell is he doing here?”

 

“You didn’t see him talking to me just now? He thinks I’m mixed up in some French guy’s murder.”

 

“A French guy? Come on, let’s step back into the bar. I certainly wouldn’t mind a few more glasses of wine.”

 

“Don’t you have a dinner tonight with Toby? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to tell you…”

 

“No, that’s okay. I know you weren’t trying to tell me where I’m supposed to be. Yes, that’s at eight, and most of those ladies will be fashionably an hour late while their husbands arrive a little early to mill about and check out the serving staff and schmooze a little more. I was kind of thinking about feigning mild heat exhaustion, which will be pretty credible don’t you think after a few more glasses of wine?”

 

“Uh, sure. So, what exactly is going on with you? What does is this Yi Meng fellow have to do with anything, and what I can’t figure out—how does he know about my crazy papers?”

 

“Well, sit down. What do you want to drink?”

 

“Let’s see. I generally drink Scotch on the rocks at this hour, but…”

 

She called the bartender over, and ordered their drinks.

 

“…I am just waking up…ah, well. Hmm. So, are we both in trouble of some kind?”

 

“It is kind of looking that way right now to me. I mean, I’m not to worried. Can you imagine the wife of Toby Meyers being blamed for a conspiracy to murder Lao Sung?” She told him about her work with Bridgeworks, and the supposed connection between Yi Meng and the terrorist organization Song Bang.

 

Patrick did admit that it was hard to believe they would make an example out of such a high profile woman, especially the wife of someone who could hold a fair degree of clout with many organizations, as he imagined Toby would—unless, he thought blackly and only just a little in jest, Toby decided there was profit to be found in such allegations against his own wife.

 

“I’m not so worried about the trouble I am in, either. I traded business cards with a guy, and he called me a few times while I was zonked out, then somebody strangled him to death.”

 

“Ouch. Was it somebody important?”

 

“Said his name was Remi Puissant, a reporter with the Global Eye, some kind of news org for…what?”

 

“Remi Puissant? Have you been paying attention to the news at all?”

 

“Well, I kind of figured since I witnessed the big ticket item firsthand, I hadn’t really missed anything during my li’l nap.”

 

“Oh, you missed something all right. Song Bang wasn’t the only organization that took credit for the assassination. Remi Puissant heads up Les Amis, the other group claiming to have opened a can of nanoweaponry on Lao Sung’s ass.” She was starting to feel a little punchy from all the wine.

 

“That guy? It’s gotta be a different Remi Puissant. My guy was a geeky little fanboy, all gushy for Sung with his own bolo tie outfit and everything.”

 

Patrick slipped briefly back into his dream. “Green is not my color, Patrick. It’s just my job. I probably would have worn a sapphire, if anything, but you know, I hate bolo ties, anyway.”

 

“Patrick? Hello? Is that Scotch a little too much for a boy after his nap?”

 

He could hear somebody teasing him, and snapped back to staring at Denise. She was so exceptionally beautiful at that moment, he wanted to kiss her. The look on her face grew from gentle teasing to perplexed.

 

“What, do I have something on my mouth?”

 

“No. Yours is a natural beauty. I can see why Toby married you.”

 

“Oh, you can?” she was now grinning mischievously. “Toby could’ve had his pick of women. He was a rising star, a boy genius. He married me because he thought I was pregnant, and his overbearing father, who was about to stress himself to death, said that he would cut Toby out of the inheritance if Toby sired a bastard.”

 

“But you weren’t pregnant?” Patrick seemed kind of surprised. Denise didn’t look to be the kind of woman who would trick a man into marriage that way.

 

“Oh no, I most definitely was.” She frowned. “Let’s discuss the present…and the future. To the future!” She raised her glass, giggling, and now obviously a little more than a little tipsy.

 

“Mr. Flannery?”

 

“Oh, there you are. So, are we good? What did Puissant have to say in his last minutes? Was he in need of some protection from Nanoweaponry?” Patrick was laying on sarcasm, still remembering the man’s disdain for his business.

 

Faulkes gave Patrick an odd look. “Mr. Flannery, it seems you know more about what is going on with these murders than you are letting on to me. Your bland, Midwestern clean-cut guy routine isn’t working on me.”

 

Patrick was a little confused. Maybe Puissant really did think he was in need of protection from Nanoweaponry? “Would you mind playing me the three Puissant messages, or would that be tampering with the investigation, or something?”

 

“See, there you go. I think even you have yourself fooled. However, since you are in some pretty deep shit, have a listen.”

 

He fumbled to fast-forward to each message left by Puissant.

 

“Well, Flannery, we have succeeded in proving a need for your little armor company. Two dead and nobody will question the method employed like with the softball fifteen.”

 

“Green is not my color, Patrick. It’s just my job. I probably would have worn a sapphire, if anything, but you know, I hate bolo ties, anyway.”

 

“Damnit, Mr. Flannery, pick up the phone. I’ve carried out your orders. Now, where is my money?”

Chapter 5

 

Denise watched her husband’s partner trudge away with the FBI agent looking all kinds of confused. She looked at her watch and felt a little dizzy upon standing up. Toby would be looking for her, and she felt like being anywhere but inside a ballroom at a formal fundraising dinner. He would want her to dress in an evening gown, being her wife, and representing to all what a solid choice he’d made in a partner. She could care less.

 

She’d tried to reach Toby several times after the FBI agent had questioned her, to no avail. This suddenly made her remember the reason she’d left a message on Patrick’s phone to get him into the bar. Yi Meng, and the mention of those crazy papers. What the hell were they, why did Yi Meng (assuming that it was really he who left the message) know about them, and now her head hurt and the room was freezing cold in this sleeveless top and summer skirt.

 

Denise stepped out onto the terrace overlooking the downtown reservoir. The sun had now set, but she could make out down on the trail the joggers still trying to eek out the last bit of illumination in the sky to guide them back to their cars. Toby hated it when she did that, always afraid that someone would recognize her and kidnap her, and demand an exorbitant sum of money. That was his honest-to-god rationale for why she should never be out alone in the dark. Not for fear she would be mugged, raped or murdered. Just out of fear that the harm that came to her would cost him more money than he felt justified in spending.

 

疯狂的纸came up on SinoTrans when she asked for “Crazy Papers” in Chinese. She did a search, just for the heck of it, not expecting anything by Patrick Flannery to turn up. A website called the Dragon’s Eye returned results with his name in it. Some of the words were in English, some of them were aided by SinoTrans.

 

“Rising stars in technology world. Patrick Flannery, seen with Toby Meyers, old rising star from ten years ago. Who is he? Where did he come from? Young man from the Midwest, attended MIT. First two years was politically-minded in favor of China’s major minority party, Song Bang. Participated in demonstrations on campus against Sinoworks. Got involved in Nanoweapons research. Had mental breakdown in Junior year. Dictated and wrote much work, collectively known among peers as “crazy papers.” Claimed he was operating in multiple dimensions and developing highly advanced weaponry no advanced researcher on Earth could touch. Mostly all dismissed as delusion. Recovered, and performed respectable research into Nanoweaponry shielding.”

 

The post was created only a few hours ago. Nothing else turned up in her searches. The author was a female, Guan-Yin Ping. She hit the back button to the post, and the post had been deleted by the author.

 

As far as Denise knew, Patrick had never discussed participating in anything political. She couldn’t even imagine it. The guy was generally so bland and boring, talking business or technology, and maintaining an appearance that screamed deadend office manager.

 

Denise’s head still hurt, as the effects of the wine started to wear off. She decided to walk down the jogging trail to the Congress Bridge, and stare about the city and think.

 

An old woman with a hump, ambled up to her as she stood on the bridge, smelling the guano from the last of the bats that remained in the city. “Lady, you believe in Heaven?” A jade pendant swung between her eyes from a small chain that was clasped fast around her head.

 

“Yes, of course. I go to church.”

 

“You believe Heaven is right above us, or within us?”

 

Denise considered the question. There were reasons to believe in a metaphysical sort of place that rested above the Earth, in the clouds, when one was feeling especially in need of returning to childhood comforts. But there was also the statement that came to mind “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” and many yoga teacher’s admonition to seek out an inner tranquility. But, Denise wasn’t sure, and at the moment, she really didn’t care.

 

“I don’t care where Heaven is, lady. You might because your time draws nigh, but Earth is where I live.”

 

“My son said you are a smart woman. Wiser than you pretend to be.”

 

“Your son? Do you know who I am?”

 

“Not important. There is going to be a great battle, nay, a war soon. The forces that will fight are the primal ones.”

 

“Good and evil?” Denise asked the question a bit mockingly. How utterly clichéd to hear a crazy street person talking about the ultimate final battle.

 

“Nay, Heaven and Earth. Those who will control Heaven have the key to preventing Earth’s destruction. You must help us get the key back.”

 

“What exactly is the key, and how do you propose I get it back?”

 

“You are taking a journey soon to the bowels of the dragon. There lies the key. My son has already described the key to you.”

 

She gave a surprisingly agile wave of her arm, and a Fleet swooped down and scooped her up.

 

Of course, the key had to be Patrick Flannery’s crazy papers, the mysterious old woman, Yi Meng’s mother, who was no doubt more than a little off her rocker herself. As for the bowels of the dragon, Denise thought that was as apt a description as any for the dreaded dinner party she was starting to be less than fashionably late for.

 

She fell into a deep sleep back in the hotel room with the air conditioning running on high and the wine still slowing her down, and then her husband was rousing her. “Come on, get up,” he snapped.

 

“Huh?”

 

“Come on, damnit! You’ve missed most of the dinner, and I kind of figured you’d taken to the bottle again after seeing the FBI was on to you.”

 

“Excuse me? You are headed some place I don’t think you want to go.”

 

His demeanor and behavior she’d only seen once before, when he thoroughly castigated one of his brokers for missing an important deal. Toby was notorious for being a cool, reserved man, and never lost his cool.

 

“Did I stutter? Aw, Jesus, Denise. I thought that we didn’t keep secrets from each other.”

 

“It was my money. You would have had a team of your lawyers descend on me, take it away from me and reinvest it in a venture, leaving me a slightly larger allowance than the one I get from you. Maybe I decided there are more important things in the world to use money for besides making more money.”

 

“Like paying terrorists to kill CEOs?”

 

“Oh, give me a fucking break. Do you really believe that shit?”

 

“What am I supposed to believe when you kept secrets from me?”

 

“Right, as if you and I always shared every last little thing about our pasts with each other.”

 

“You withheld a secret worth almost a billion dollars from me, as well as a little secret about conspiring with terrorists.”

 

“Once you at least put up a decent façade that you cared about something other than money. Is it just getting too damn hard to keep that up anymore?”

 

“You just better hope that the FBI clears you, otherwise, you are in deep shit and I will wash my hands of you. Now, please put on something elegant for me and come be sociable before everyone retires. The wives are all quite drunk now, so you’ll fit in fabulously.”

 

He stood there with his arms folded.

 

She looked back at him. “I would feel a little more comfortable with some privacy. I will meet you down there.”

 

“Right. No. I’m your husband, I’ve seen you naked for ten years. Just strip down and throw a gown on. That way, later, I can just…” He grinned wickedly, and the grin was positively evil.

 

“Eat shit.”

 

He looked like he wanted to slap the hell out of her, but remained locked standing there with arms folded. The last thing Toby Meyers would do was jeopardize his reputation by completely losing his temper to physical violence. She could now plainly see that he was capable of it though, if he could get away with it. A strange thought crossed her mind—did he take advantage of prostitutes while traveling alone in China, and do with them as he pleased?

 

Seeing he was determined to stand there and make sure she didn’t fall back asleep, she grabbed her black gown they’d picked out together last week for this dinner. How bizarre those two people seemed to her, joking and having a relaxed time shopping together for clothes.

 

He took her arm, and they marched out of the room to the elevator. As the doors closed, a housekeeper shoved a cart onto the elevator, and pushed the floor below. Toby rolled his eyes but said nothing.

 

The housekeeper leaned over and whispered Chinese into Denise’s ear. “In the bowels of the dragon, the way to curry favor is to say to those in charge ‘I do the work of heaven. I am red.’”

 

The elevator stopped and the housekeeper got off, pushing her cart, and not looking back.

“What the hell did she whisper to you?” he demanded suspiciously. Denise knew intermediate Chinese, but Toby relied mostly on interpreters when doing business with those who refused to speak English.

 

“She said that I have a big powerful husband, and I’d better work to keep him mine.” She smiled sneeringly at her husband, clutched his arm, and practically pranced her way off the elevator to the ballroom.

 

Toby just shook his head, sensing something in the way of sarcasm. However, his demeanor changed to smiles and broad gestures upon walking into the ballroom where a few couples danced, but mostly, men and women had segregated themselves into separate groups.

 

Denise hated the site of it. It looked like any social function from Junior High or High School, full of people so terribly obsessed with perpetuating gender stratification, or perhaps simply incapable of changing once taught to be a certain way.

 

“Everyone,” Toby practically shouted, his voice cracking slightly. He no doubt had meant to make a grand proclamation in the same vein as a Senator walking into a room, but his effort fell short somewhat, and only a few heads looked up. Denise didn’t see the Senator, only his wife, thick in the middle of the ladies’ group, remarking about how terribly sexy an aging movie star still was. “Everyone, this is my lovely wife Denise. Some of you remember her from this afternoon. She has been busy making important decisions regarding her charities, and makes a grand late appearance.”

 

People smiled politely, and then the looks on the ladies’ faces turned almost completely sinister all at once, but of course, Toby didn’t notice this. He dropped his wife’s arm and dashed over to the boys, asking about who was winning a playoff game.

 

Denise stepped over to the ladies’ group and smiled shyly, and glanced about for a waiter with drinks.

 

“Oh sweetie, I think the magnificent staff has all gone home. Dreadful, but we have to walk over there and help ourselves.”

They all thought this was terribly amusing, and some even giggled. Denise’s first reaction was to think this was somehow a stab at her, based on something Toby had told them, then realized that there were probably cute young male waiters running drinks to them all evening and providing much of the food for conversation.

 

“Well, I guess I have some catching up to do, huh?” Denise smiled, expecting at least a nod or two in return to her question, but all of them had chosen to completely ignore her, and return their focus on the matter at hand, speculating on just how well the aging actor might be able to do in bed. As she turned to walk away, she noted that the speculation prompted them to turn the conversation to discussing all matter of aches and pains and neuroses and doctors they recommended and pills they took.

 

The small cash bar had been left open for these guests to do with it as they pleased, part of the largesse of the Senator—of course, the guests were really paying for it themselves by purchasing ten thousand dollar plates for the evening.

 

Her phone buzzed and she took the call.

 

“You have decided to play the game with the Chi Tian? You are the wrong side.”

 

“Who is this?”

 

“Maybe someone who wants to help. Maybe someone you don’t want to know.”

 

Denise decided to try something. How could it hurt—after all, several strange people had decided to play games with her. “I do the work of heaven. I am red,” she said very slowly.

 

“That is a fine thing you may need to say sometime. But I don’t need to hear it. I just warn you. You would be better off leaving to someplace you only know tonight. Your husband can’t be trusted.”

 

Denise had already begun to figure this out herself, and somehow, having a strange voice confirm it made it all the more true. She tried to take one more stab at seeing what the mystery caller knew.

 

“Do you have Patrick Flannery’s crazy papers?”

 

There was silence, a voice in the background announcing its arrival into the room of the caller, and then a click.

 

“So, sweetie,” said a voice directly behind her. It was Toby. He put his arms around her and it felt dirty and groping. “Can you please forgive me for being a little, ahem, tense?” He kissed her gently on the neck, and she didn’t know why, but she softened to the caress of his lips.

 

“Do you really believe I could knowingly hand my money over to be used for an assassination?” she asked evenly.

 

“No, of course not, baby. I understand that you want to do beautiful things on this Earth.”

 

“You do?” she was still a little skeptical.

 

“Yes, and I realize that both of us need to take a vacation together, just the two of us, not business, not charity, just romance.”

 

She smiled now. This was something she’d been begging him to do for a long time. “Yeah?”

 

“Of course. Now, I want you to do something for me.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“I’ve promised the Senator that I would throw a party at our house, and invite all of my techy-biz friends to meet him and just, you know, get a chance to see what the Senator is all about.”

 

“To see that he is anti-free trade, and wants to roll back the U.S. economy two hundred years?”

 

“Sweetie. Let’s let the Senator and I worry about how stuff like the economy works, and you worry about planning my party for me. Okay?”

 

She smiled, in spite of her anger. She felt tricked, even though planning a party wasn’t such a big deal—just the fact that Toby could still manipulate her emotions so easily. “Okay.”

 

“Oh, and the Senator’s wife Judy and some of her friends will be helping you. When she heard about it, she knew she just couldn’t resist lending a helping hand. I mean, after all…”

 

“Well, shit, Toby.” Now she was getting a little mad. “Why don’t you just let Judy plan the whole goddamn thing and leave me the fuck out of it.”

 

Toby gulped and looked around the room. It was almost empty. Judy and most of the wives were gone. The few remaining couples sat talking quietly, and merely glanced up at them.

 

“Look,” he snarled, “You can sit around all day playing with your orphans, if you want. Just take some credit for being the hostess and planner. After all, it is my house.”

 

“No, Toby, I think I am getting out of town for awhile.”

 

“Oh, that’s rich. Where could you possibly go?”

 

“I have some old girlfriends I’ve been meaning to visit. You can’t make me stay here.”

 

“Denise, I will make sure that the FBI clears your name, and implicates other donors, if you just stay and help plan my party for me. Then, you can be off to do whatever you want for as long as you like. Otherwise, if you decide to run now, I will have myself a different kind of little conversation with that agent, what was his name?”

“You shit. You are truly a monster.”

 

He grinned and cocked his head. “And you Denise, kept a big secret from your husband. It’s time to make up for it, okay?”

Chapter 6

 

The Economic Preservation Agency (the overarching agency under which so many other agencies operated) kept in data warehouses compressed archives of every transmitted conversation, as well as many conversations recorded in public areas, businesses, and even most homes. Every new home was wired, of course, as well as many old ones from renovation activities. While businesspeople and politicians claimed the unabated era of economic prosperity to the U.S.-Chinese relations, those who ran the Economic Preservation Agency knew behind its secretive doors that early detection software prevented crime, thereby creating a stable environment in which to conduct public affairs.

 

Brendan had confiscated the phone to compare the saved messages with any Patrick might have recently erased. He then lined all of the cryptic messages up in written form on his computer, and asked the EPA for analysis, semantic matching, historical precedence, styles, similarities, and anything else that might yield new light on the data. Of course, he also took advantage of his own brain and gut to attempt to sort through them. The two that were erased were very interesting, and rose to the top.

 

“The man I donated it to, Yi Meng, is probably in even more trouble. He called me, left a key to a quantoencrypt drop and stated in his message almost as cryptically: PATRICK FLANNERY’S CRAZY PAPERS ARE THE KEY. That’s it.”

 

The computer threw up a recent post that had been placed on a message board and then removed. It said there was a 92% chance that the caller was utterly clueless about whatever she was talking about. (Brendan had recorded his conversations with Flannery, and had noted that the computer gave him a 27% chance here. That is why Faulkes was almost certain Flannery was hiding something.)

 

“I want you to meet the Senator, and then, upon getting his stamp of approval, I can have you on a plane to Arlington to get your hands on some real Nanobugs to shape and fashion them as you please. We are about to do some wonderful stuff with nanoweaponry that will make us all quite wealthy.”

 

The computer showed that Toby Meyers had recently been put on a “murder B list,” and that murder was almost 100% the intent behind the words communicated in this message.

 

“Well, Flannery, we have succeeded in proving a need for your little armor company. Two dead and nobody will question the method employed like with the softball fifteen.”

 

The computer said there was a 95% probability that this message was a lie.

 

“Green is not my color, Patrick. It’s just my job. I probably would have worn a sapphire, if anything, but you know, I hate bolo ties, anyway.”

 

The computer said there was a 99% probability that this message was true.

 

“Damnit, Mr. Flannery, pick up the phone. I’ve carried out your orders. Now, where is my money?”

 

The computer said there was a 95% probability that this message was a lie.

 

After almost ten years of the technology being correct 99.9% of the time, Brendan still found it working against his gut and his logic at the same time. He thought for sure the last message would be almost 100% true, because Patrick obviously knew something.

 

The message with “softball fifteen” in it seemed to confirm that it was more likely that Song Bang had been responsible for the assassination, not Les Amis. But why would Remi Puissant take credit for something that would get him killed?

 

Brendan did a search in the non-archived records and SinoGu for any documents that had both “Les Amis” and “Song Bang” in them. (Archived searches could still take months, if not years if the searcher was digging especially deep.)

 

A stub of an article greeted his efforts.

 

“What does a group wanting to restore France to its mythical status and an organization that employs violence throughout most of China have in common? Very little, it would seem, aside from a passionate hatred for the likes of Lao Sung and his rising star of a company, Sinoworks. What is more interesting, however, is that both of these groups met last year with Sam Denton, a self-claimed Texas secessionist who will tell anyone that will listen that restoring Texas as a Republic is good for the health of the U.S. economy. Of course, he is dismissed as a crackpot, Les Amis is mocked as being quaintly Quixotic, and Song Bang is represented in its country by those who aren’t members as being downright evil. Which is what makes the meeting all the more interesting. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall out at that ranch in Texas.”

 

The article was from five years ago. Brendan thought about the now Senator Sam Denton, and ambition and befellows, and how a man will change drastically to get the things he wants. Or had Denton really changed that much at all?

 

Faulkes couldn’t touch Denton properly without permission from his boss, and his boss was simply letting Brendan feel good about announcing to the world in three days that Yi Meng and Denise Meyers should go behind bars. Still, a visit to the Senator to feel out his reaction to the mention of the meeting of five years ago.

 

His boss popped and crackled into his ear. “Faulkes, we got back the autopsy reports on the supermodel and Sung. I don’t see anything would be particularly helpful, but I don’t have time to go through everything.”

 

The autopsy reports were supposed to be a massive data aggregation of every square nanometer of the dead’s body, which the coroner or investigator could then query if he or she knew what to look for. Major signs of trauma to the body were, of course, automatically presented if detected, but something as subtle as a certain kind of poison, Nanobug, or heart-stopping pulse, would go undetected without further querying.

 

The man who would know what to query to detect the invasion of a Nanobug was sitting across the hall in an empty room, bewildered, but obviously hiding something.

 

 

Next Patrick:

 

Sung Shu walks up with some Sinoworks’ toughs, and says, no, Mr. Faulkes, we need him.

 

Brendan gets on the phone with his boss, and his boss says, yes, he has to let Patrick go.

 

Patrick is asked to come with them to take a flight to China.

 

**Notes:

 

Right now

Patrick needs some mystery. Mysterious visitors with mysterious messages. Patrick will go from being an average tech geek to becoming a paranoid seer of symbols everywhere.

Patrick also gets a visit from Sung Shu with an invitation to visit Sinoworks in China—they are interested in his Nanobug-stopping technology. Patrick is an MIT student where he had access to government-funded experimental NanoWeaponry.

The Senator also has access to it through a network of friends, but can’t afford to use it. He needs Toby’s money. He allows Toby to meet some of his friends, a few who recognize Toby from preliminary meetings with Patrick.

Denise needs some mystery. Mysterious visitors with mysterious messages. Her visitors are, of course, part of Song Bang, and they are providing clues about another powerful secret group, which really runs Song Bang and Yi Meng.

 

First half ends thus:

 

Brandon decides there isn’t enough evidence (but witnesses something that puts his life in question), and accepts Sinoworks’ conclusions.

Yi Meng and Denise are off to the bowels of a Sinoworks/Chinese prison.

Toby abandons Jack and hops on Senator Denton’s campaign trail.

Patrick has been taken into the inner sanctum of Sinoworks as a Nanobug-prevention guru, but is slightly suspicious about things.

 

Second half plays out thus:

Toby is divorced and is planning a faux war with China to generate patriotic fervor. He and the Senator have ran the most clever of dirty campaigns, somewhat surprising and upsetting Sung Long, the new owner of Sinoworks.

Brandon gets a suspicious letter delivered to him, and he is out of cushy retirement to investigate Sinoworks. Then, he is killed.

Denise cleverly found a way to manipulate the Sinoworks system and deliver the letter to Brandon, but then learns of his death. She continues to try to plot her escape.

Senator Denton is planning a Pearl Harboresque scenario to get Americans to hate Chinese and fight them. So is Sung Long, but he is building a large fleet of “starships” to convince the entire world that they are in peril, so that the entire world gets behind him.

Patrick discovers that old Lao Sung and the supermodel are still alive, being the victims of a Haitian voodoo poison (or pineal gland or something) that made them appear to be completely dead. The father is kept blissfully medicated and entertained in quarters within the Sinoworks inner sanctum, and the supermodel is one of Sung Long’s mistresses. Of course, as Patrick begins to know too much, his life becomes more and more in peril.

Toby is murdered in a botched assassination attempt on the Senator that was planned by the Senator to increase support for himself.

Patrick gets thrown into prison, meets Yi Meng. Somehow, through cleverness, they are made to escape and so is Denise, and the three of them race to stop the madman Sung Long.

Sung Long is apprehended, bound up, and incapacitated, while Patrick and Denise race to get the message out to the world of his evil plan. They are assisted by a surprise mystery helper who was aiding Patrick all along—Sung Long’s younger brother, Sung Shu, who helps them alter the perilous course.

Sam Denton’s attempt to stage a faux attack on the U.S. is botched because he can’t provoke the Chinese into any aggression (they are now under the control of Sung Shu)

Sinoworks is dismantled, carved up, and sold off into various pieces. Sung Shu, a regular visitor to France, is more interested in being a part of Les Amis than running a company.

The Chinese government, which for almost ten years had essentially been run by the officers of Sinoworks, is formed and run anew by a man Sung Shu chooses, Yi Meng. Yi Meng decides to adopt the U.S. Constitution as his model for running the country.

Sam Denton is impeached, and his Vice President promises a new era of cooperation between China and the U.S.

 

Further notes on the characters and the novel:

Patrick
Trying to fund a startup that will intercept nanobugs. Back in college was a hot-headed, anti-Sinoworks idealist developing nanoweaponry but lost his brain during his research (the big secret is that he time traveled and ordered the killings of Lao Sung). Became sane, and did “safe” research on nanoshielding, beginning his startup career with Meyers.

Simone
Sexy woman Patrick was smitten with

Lao Sung
Murdered CEO of Sinoworks

Sung Long
Son of Lao Sung, doesn’t care about Americans, has no scruples whatsoever.

Sung Shu
Other son, brother of Sung Long, assisting in the family business.

Remi
Blind reporter, suspicious, leader of Les Amis, strangled by a bolo tie. Appeared in Flannery’s dream about the time of his murder, and left a message while Patrick slept. Puissant thinks that Flannery ordered the murder of Lao Sung.

Toby Meyer
Friend of Patrick, wants to take on Sinoworks for crass, business reasons, acts suspiciously when confronted with news of Lao Sung’s death, and is quite ready to sell out his wife.

Toby offers Denise a deal, plan a party with the Senator’s wife or he will turn her in to the FBI.

Denise Meyer
Wife of Toby, involved in charities and social work like Bridgeworks, unwittingly contributed to Song Bang a terrorist organization that is out to take down Sinoworks. Yi Meng is said to be linked to Song Bang via Bridgeworks, by Brendan Faulks.

Brendan Faulks
FBI–He ain’t buying, or wanting to sell, as it were, the Denise-Song Bang-Nanobug theory as proposed by Sinoworks. He has twenty four hours to come up with a better explanation of what happened to Lao Sung and the ex-supermodel.

Sam Denton
U.S. Senator, wants to take on Sinoworks and China for crass, political reasons, acts suspiciously when confronted with news of Lao Sung’s death. Supposedly met five years ago with representatives from Les Amis and Song Bang.

Les Amis, terrorist organization competing with Song Bang to claim responsibility for Lao Sung’s killing. Les Amis hates Sinoworks as much as the Sam Dentons, Toby Meyers and Song Bangs of the world, for reasons of destroying the French Culture.

“Of course, the key had to be Patrick Flannery’s crazy papers, the mysterious old woman, Yi Meng’s mother, who was no doubt more than a little off her rocker herself. As for the bowels of the dragon, Denise thought that was as apt a description as any for the dreaded dinner party she was starting to be less than fashionably late for.”

The housekeeper leaned over and whispered Chinese into Denise’s ear. “In the bowels of the dragon, the way to curry favor is to say to those in charge ‘I do the work of heaven. I am red.’”

“What does a group wanting to restore France to its mythical status and an organization that employs violence throughout most of China have in common? Very little, it would seem, aside from a passionate hatred for the likes of Lao Sung and his rising star of a company, Sinoworks. What is more interesting, however, is that both of these groups met last year with Sam Denton, a self-claimed Texas secessionist who will tell anyone that will listen that restoring Texas as a Republic is good for the health of the U.S. economy. Of course, he is dismissed as a crackpot, Les Amis is mocked as being quaintly Quixotic, and Song Bang is represented in its country by those who aren’t members as being downright evil. Which is what makes the meeting all the more interesting. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall out at that ranch in Texas.”

Confucius quotes:
The superior man, when resting in safety, does not forget that danger may come. When in a state of security he does not forget the possibility of ruin. When all is orderly, he does not forget that disorder may come. Thus his person is not endangered, and his States and all their clans are preserved.
Confucius

Men’s natures are alike, it is their habits that carry them far apart. (Confucius, Analects)

Study the past if you would define the future. (Confucius, Analects)

I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am one who is fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking it there.

To learn and from time to time to apply what one has learned, isn’t that a pleasure? … Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous. (Confucius, Analects).