Los Angeles . . .
Ryan Parker had only a split second to realize everything was going to hell. The gun being pressed to his head was the second clue someone had sold him out. The first had been the rhetorical question The Suit’s alleged second-in-command had asked.
“Why do you think I know this person called The Suit?”
That had been his clue that someone had snitched on him since Ryan had never mentioned the international terrorist to Abdul. Before Ryan could act, the guard standing behind him had the barrel of a gun pressed to the back of his head. It wasn’t the first time, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. Ryan was having another bad day. As an undercover agent for the FBI, he wasn’t allowed too many bad days. But when your cover gets blown and you walk unknowingly into a trap, it happens. And this guard was about to find out what happened when Ryan was grumpy.
Ryan gave a deadly laugh. “Sure you don’t. You’re just his second-in-command.”
Abdul crossed his arms over his expensive Italian suit. Who knew terrorists were so fashionable these days? Expensive suit, fancy haircut, and Botoxed skin were a far cry from his modest lifestyle in Afghanistan.
“While we come from the same country, that doesn’t mean we know each other. The world isn’t that small a place. Or is the FBI just arresting everyone from that region? Or is it Homeland Security?”
Ryan just shrugged and sent him a smirk. “I guess you don’t know everything. Who said I was an agent? I’ve been loyal to you these past months.”
Abdul shook his $400 coiffed head. “It doesn’t matter who you are. You’re dispensable.”
“Don’t you want to know what’s about to happen to you and The Suit?”
“I don’t need to know.” Abdul stood at his full height and still only came up to Ryan’s chin. “I’m not the one with a gun to my head.”
“For now,” Ryan quipped as he sent a wink to the man he was trying to prove was a direct link to the international terrorist the FBI believed to be known as The Suit.
They had changed the face of terrorism. Gone were the mountains of Afghanistan. In their place were the foothills of Malibu. The Suit waged his war with deep pockets and fancy cars. Ryan was determined to find The Suit’s real identity.
Ryan had been on the case for seven months. He hadn’t talked to his family or friends in all that time. He had applied to an advertisement for fast cash online. Playing a clean-cut, laid-off businessman, Ryan had infiltrated the organization run by Abdul. He had become a recruiter in the affluent parts of Los Angeles for the organization. Sadly, he recruited way more teenagers than he had thought possible. He’d signed up enough kids that he was awarded a Ferrari by Abdul. All their names were now with the FBI, and his recruits were being rounded up at this very moment.
His cover had been blown. Ryan had pressed his watch and sent a signal to his handler as soon as it happened. Per protocol, all the people Ryan had turned over were being quickly picked up and isolated. Further, Ryan’s evidence showing Abdul was planning a terrorist attack during a big football game was enough to get warrants and arrests for those he had recruited and all the members of the organization. The trouble was it had become increasingly clear that while Abdul may be second-in-command, he was neither the money nor the brains behind this operation.
The one thing stopping Ryan from leaving the mission was because to this day he hadn’t been able to make a connection to The Suit or any leader for that matter. That’s why he was making this last-ditch effort to get Abdul to confess before the inevitable bloodbath started. Ryan just hoped it wasn’t his blood.
“For now,” Abdul chuckled. “You Americans all think you’re cowboys in the old days of the Wild West. You have a gun pointed to your head, two other guards waiting to tear you to pieces, and you think I’m going to let you walk out of here alive just because you might have some information for me?”
Ryan shrugged and the gun pressed tighter against the back of his skull. “Fine. If you’re going to kill me, at least tell me who your boss is before you do. You know, for curiosity’s sake.”
“Kill him,” Abdul responded as he turned to walk out the door.
“Not in a talkative mood?” Ryan called after him.
Ryan waited until he felt the subtle pulling back of the gun, indicating the man holding it had moved his finger to the trigger. The second he felt that slight release of pressure he dropped to the ground. The man fired into the air Ryan’s head had occupied just a split second before and the fight began.
Ryan swept out his leg and kicked the gun holder behind his knees. The man fell to the ground hard, and the gun skidded across the marble floor. Ryan spun around the guard and wrapped his thick forearm around the man’s throat from behind before hauling him to his feet.
The other two guards had their guns aimed and were awaiting Abdul’s command. “What are you waiting for? Kill them both!”
Ryan used the guard as a human shield as the bullets flew. He had to use all his strength to keep the dead man upright. It felt like hours, but it was only seconds until he heard the click of two empty gun clips. Not hesitating, Ryan let the dead guard drop to the floor and leaped for the gun lying on the ground.
His hand closed around the butt of the pistol. From where he knelt, he aimed it at the guards at the same time they clicked their fresh clips into place. Abdul stood behind the two men and looked in shock and anger at Ryan.
“You still think you are going to come out of this alive, cowboy? You have two.”
Bang, Bang. Ryan shot the two guards. They dropped to the floor at Abdul’s expensively clad feet.
“You were saying?” Ryan stood up and walked toward Abdul with the gun still drawn. “Last chance before I turn you over to the higher-ups. I’ve heard they have some new techniques they’ve been dying to try out. You tell me everything now, and I’ll see what we can do to keep you alive.”
“I’m not going to tell you anything, cowboy. You can’t make me talk. I’ll be released in no time. I know people. Powerful people. I may be sent back to my country, but I certainly won’t be dead.” Abdul tried to act cocky as Ryan continued forward with the gun pointed right at his head.
“That’s all right. I’ll let it be known you’re cooperating with authorities.”
Abdul sent him a forced smile and shook his head. “You’re persistent. I’ll give you that.” He held out his hands. “But you might as well take me away. I’m not talking. I’ll be a martyr for my cause.”
“I won’t give you the notoriety. You’ll be locked in isolation for the rest of your life with no word of this in the media. You’ll just vanish. So much for your martyrdom. And when you realize how little you mattered in the grand scheme of life, you’ll ask for me and you’ll tell me everything.”
Abdul didn’t have time to respond. The door to the penthouse office crashed open as an FBI SWAT team swarmed the scene. Abdul held up his hands and went down onto his knees in silent surrender. The team handcuffed him and dragged him from the room. Ryan lowered his weapon and cursed as his hands were pulled behind him and the handcuffs were slapped on.
“I got this one, boys. Sweep the entire floor and pack it all up. I want to look over every piece of paper in here,” a man in a cheap suit ordered as he grabbed Ryan roughly by the shoulder.
“Tell me you got something from the wiretaps?” Ryan demanded as his handler led him from the penthouse.
“Enough to lock him away, but nothing to lead to his boss. Do you know you’re shot?”
Ryan looked down at the blood seeping onto his pant leg and over at his bicep. “Damn it, not again.”
* * *
Ryan sent a wink to the doctor as she put the finishing stitch in his arm. Her cheeks turned a cute shade of pink, and Ryan knew he’d found his entertainment while he was riding the desk. Being shot sucked.
“Is he good here, Doc?” his handler, Arnie, asked as he stepped into the room. Arnie was in his early forties and had light brown hair liberally streaked with gray that always seemed to look like he had just rolled out of bed. In fact, Arnie's entire appearance always looked like he had just rolled out of bed. He was perpetually wrinkled but his mind was as sharp as a tack.
The doctor smiled at Ryan and let her hand slide down his bicep. “All done. He’s finishing off a bag of fluids and some antibiotics. We will keep him overnight to make sure there’s no sign of infection. You were lucky the shots weren’t more severe. You should be good to go in a couple days. I’ll be back to check on you in an hour.”
Arnie waited for the doctor to shut the door before he plopped down in the chair next to the bed. “I’ve posted guards outside.”
“Is that really necessary?” Ryan asked.
“Yeah. It is. While your real name isn’t known, your cover is blown, and by now The Suit will be out looking for you. I’ve covered your tracks well. You’re dead now.”
Ryan smirked. “It’ll be hard to work if I’m dead.”
“Not you, Jonathan Turner. You died in the penthouse. Your alias got shot in the face by the SWAT team after you resisted arrest. Sorry about that.” Arnie let out a tired sigh and ran his hand through his hair again.
“Thanks. I appreciate you covering for me.” The situation must be bad if they went to such extremes to hide his identity. “So, what aren’t you telling me?”
If it were possible, Arnie’s hair seemed to stick out even further as he ran his hand through it again. “There’s a leak. We don’t know if it’s internal or if someone just got lucky. Yours is the third cover to be blown. You’re the only one to walk out alive. So now we just have to wait to see if someone tries to kill you.”
“Wait, there were two others undercover before me? Why didn’t you tell me that?” Ryan stared at his boss and friend as he repositioned himself in the bed.
“Didn’t want to worry you. It would make you act differently. It would cause anyone to do so without even realizing it. I’m leaving this with you.” Arnie pulled out a file and tossed it onto the bed. “The rest of the office thought you were on loan to the Boise office. Here’s the case you were supposedly working on.”
Arnie shrugged a rumpled shoulder. “It was punishment for overstepping your bounds. That’s the story I’ve put out. Plus the head of the Boise office, Agent Shaw, is a friend of mine from the Academy. I trust him and so should you. If anyone calls to verify that story, he’ll do it and then notify me.”
Ryan flipped through the case. Yikes, mail fraud. That would be punishment indeed. “What’s this?” he asked as the Idaho case turned into Arnie’s personal notes.
“Those are copies of my notes on The Suit. I know there has to be a connection somewhere. I don’t know if I’ve just looked at it too much or what, but I can’t find it. I was hoping you could look it over during your time off.”
Ryan raised his eyebrow. “And why am I taking time off?”
“In a couple days, I will tell the office you’re returning in a week. It would look too strange for you to return right after someone’s cover had been blown. Since you’re recovering from the gunshot wounds, you might as well do something useful with your time besides seeking comfort from the doctor.”
Ryan only grinned at his boss. “I’ll see if I can squeeze in some time to look it over.”
There was a quiet knock on the door and a nurse stepped into the room. “I’m sorry, sir, but visiting hours are over, and Mr. Owens needs his rest after suffering the trauma of a mugging.”
Ryan slowly placed his blanket over the file to hide it from view. After Arnie had uncuffed him upon leaving the penthouse, they’d driven to a bad part of town and Ryan had gotten out of the car. Arnie fired off a couple of shots into an old dumpster and left Ryan with nothing but the clothes on his back and his gunshot wounds. Ryan had beat on doors until someone had agreed to call him an ambulance. For the police, EMT, and hospital records, it would read that a Tommy Owens was mugged on the opposite side of town from the penthouse.
“Thanks for coming, Dad. Tell Mom I love her and not to worry,” Ryan said with such sincerity that the nurse took his hand in hers and gave it a squeeze.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Owens. I’ll take great care of your son tonight.”
Ryan tried not to laugh when Arnie rolled his eyes. Ryan was twenty-eight, and it drove his boss crazy that he could look old enough to pass for his father.
“Rest up. Remember, no strenuous activity or you could injure yourself.”
Ryan felt the nurse gently press her fingers to the inside of his wrist to take his pulse. She checked his blood pressure and filled out his chart before sending him a wink and a promise to bring him some ice cream. As soon as the door closed, Ryan pulled out the folder. He opened it first to the Boise case and reviewed the file until he had it memorized. A small medical team came in to check on him before he could look at the notes on The Suit.
“How are we doing? You look like you’re in pain,” the doctor asked as she looked over his file.
Ryan kept his hand on the folder hidden under the sheets and tried to relax his forehead. “I’m better now that you’re here.”
The doctor smiled at him and nibbled her lower lip as the nurse measured out a shot. “Then you’ll love this. This will help with the pain so you can get some sleep. We’ll be back to check on you later.”
Ryan smiled as everyone left and then pulled out the file. He was eager to jump into the notes, but his darn eyelids kept falling. He pushed the file under the sheet and covered it well. It would have to wait until tomorrow. Somehow, he would crack this case.