The worst environmental disaster of the millennium leads computer security and forensics consultant Nicholas White into a labyrinth of intrigue and danger, a mystery with roots going back to World War Two. When an oil rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, the company Nicholas works for is held responsible for the catastrophe. Assigned to monitor and aid rescue/recovery sites along the coastline, Nicholas notices irregularities that start to form a pattern…. and begins to suspect the explosion was not an accident. With the help of an alluring but skeptical Interpol agent who has her own agenda, Nicholas unravels a web of deceit and death leading back in time to the Holocaust, and is forced into a final confrontation with an inhuman killer.
Excerpt from the novel SPIDER’S DANCE, by Will Graham:
Initial moves, the dance begins
Anglo Exploration Corporate HQ
Until the screaming started, it was just another Monday morning….
I’d come in early to review the weekend network traffic logs. I did that, sometimes, when the place was quiet and before the workweek began. I hung up my suit jacket, closed the door, and settled in with the stack of printouts. As I read the first page, I took out my cufflinks and put them in a trouser pocket, rolling up my sleeves until the air conditioner kicked in. In a silent protest against ‘business casual’, I kept my tie knotted, but unbuttoned my vest.
Besides, I wanted to see how long it would take someone to notice the abstract-looking pattern on my tie was really Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner.
An hour later, people came into the offices at Anglo Exploration, “AngEx” for short, one of those huge energy conglomerates that keeps the world moving.
Those of us who were there that early ran down the hallway toward the shrieks, wondering what in the world had happened. The intern in charge of delivering the morning mail was leaning against the wall next to a small private office, trembling.
“Nicholas,” a voice near me whispered. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
I turned my head just enough to see Natalie Wong had come up behind me. “I don’t know,” I said softly back. “Something bad, I’d guess.”
She craned her head forward, trying to peer in. The people behind pushed us forward. Natalie saw him first, gave a little cry like a tiny kitten, and hurried down the hallway, both hands clamped over her mouth.
I could see just enough of his face to recognize it was Roland Carlyle. Blood and brains were on the desk. The eye turned upward bulged with terror or agony. Both hands were stretched out, as if trying to pull himself across the desk and out of range of whatever hurt him.
It didn’t look like it worked.
I steeled myself and stepped inside, moving through the knot of people in the doorway. Trying not to gag, I felt his neck for a pulse. There was nothing. I glanced around long enough to see the office didn’t appear to have been disturbed; a shelf of project mementos and chunks of rock sat intact above the computer monitor, the blotter was on the desk, the computer itself was on with email open, a coffee cup on one corner.
Knowing what needed to be done, I stepped back outside and nudged the door shut with my elbow so as not to leave my own fingerprints all over while pushing people back into the crowded hallway.
The young woman who had found the body still leaned against the wall, her face paper white, hands shaking. I suggested that maybe she should sit down. She nodded without saying anything. On the third nod, her eyes rolled back in her head. I caught her as she slid to the floor in a dead faint, trying to lower her as carefully as I could. A couple of co-workers came forward and took over. I had a feeling she would re-assess her career options when she came to.
The same morbid fascination that makes people slow down and stare at car crashes on the highway had taken over among the group, and nobody moved, trying to peer in through the long narrow windows on either side of the closed door. It always surprised me how much people wanted to see a dead body, then once they’d gotten an eyeful, how sick they got. Or how long the nightmares lasted.
I turned as I heard footsteps behind me.
Ian Harris, one of AngEx’s senior managers pushed his way through the knot of people in response to the noise. “What the hell is going on around here?”
“Rolly is dead,” I said.
Harris’s face remained stony, but an eyelid flickered. This was just another inconvenience to him, a delay in the daily round of meetings where he got the chance to polish his gluteal massaging skills. Considering how far he’d risen on the Corporate Ladder, rumor had it Harris used Preparation H as lip-gloss but it was unproven.
“How do you know he’s dead?” Harris asked.
I hesitated just a split second. We didn’t like each other, and I wasn’t in the mood to be political. “His brains are on the desk,” I said bluntly. “Want to see?” I reached for the doorknob.
“No, no, that’s okay,” he replied, taking a step back. “What do we do?”
“Well, I’m just guessing here, but I think maybe calling the police would be a good idea.”
He pondered that a moment. I waited until his brain got through toying with possible ways to use this to his advantage; by the end of the day, he’d have found the body, contacted the police, and in all probability had more than one suspect he was investigating. There was going to be a hero out of all this, and his name would be Ian Harris. His skinny mustache twitched once, twice, he mustered up all his managerial skills and said, “Yes, of course. I’ll handle that.”
“Can you remember the number for 911?” I asked with a straight face, but he was already moving to his office.
More people were coming down the hallway, drawn by the noise and commotion. The buzzing down the hallway grew.
“What happened?” “What’s wrong?” “What is going on here?”
I ignored everyone, moving away from the door and down to my own office.
Once inside, I shut the door firmly, making sure it was locked. I knew from experience things were going to get very hectic very shortly, and I wanted to take a minute and get my thoughts together; the police would be here soon.
I sat at my own desk, blotting out the mental images of what I’d seen a few moments ago, and sat back. Christopher Lee stared back at me from the framed movie poster, his eyes red, fangs dripping, as he menaced an extremely well-endowed Victorian-era Virgin. Next to that was Bogart saying goodbye to Ingrid Bergman while they stood on an airstrip.
I occupied my mind by damning to eternal Hell whoever it was who had banned smoking in office buildings. I’d tried to remain calm, but sudden, violent death hit me like it hit most people. It’s not pretty, it’s not gentle, and it’s ugly as hell. The sanitized pabulum we get fed from movies and television made death look nowhere near as nasty as it really was.
I knew enough to know I’d better get my act together, and fast. There was about to be a storm outside, and I needed to be ready for it. Professional experience had taught me on more than one occasion the authorities preferred their witnesses coherent. I wasn’t a witness, but as my office was three doors down from the murder scene, I knew I’d be questioned.
There was a knock on my door. A glance at my watch told me an entire half-hour was gone. I stood up, and went to the door.
A woman stood there. A nicely tailored dark blue pinstriped suit, but on her it looked like a uniform. Her eyes were a startling shade of gray, bright and beautiful. I pegged her for late thirties, early forties. Her reddish blonde hair was styled and hung just above her shoulders.
“Mr. White?” she asked while flipping open a leather credential case. “I’m Michaela O’Brien, with Interpol. May I come in?” There was the slightest touch of a burr in her voice.
Despite the circumstances, something went ‘click’ in the back of my chest. I wasn’t sure if it was her eyes, her voice, or the breakfast burrito with extra jalapeños I’d eaten on the way in; as someone once said, it’s hard to tell the difference after fifty. Her eyes swept over me and into the room beyond with a thoroughness likened to a surgeon examining a CAT scan.
I knew that look.
The flat, all encompassing ‘I see all and know all and am smarter than you’ look all law enforcement officers cultivate. “Of course,” I replied, stepping aside so she could enter.
I gestured to one of the guest chairs and went back around my desk. Before I could say a word, Inspector O’Brien asked, “I understand from another witness you found the body?”
“Not really. One of the admins actually opened the door. I heard her scream, and went to see what the problem was.”
She had pulled out a notebook and wrote while I talked. “Did you go into the office at all?”
“Just long enough to see if Rolly was alive or dead. Then I shut the door.”
“How did you know he was dead? Did you check his vital signs?”
“Checked his pulse and got nothing. I saw what appeared to be brains on the desk, and backed off.”
“Why did you shut the door, sir?” No one can be as polite as a police officer. It’s a way of distancing themselves, overt formality putting up a barrier.
“No need for people going in and out, making a mess of the scene.”
She glanced at me sharply. “You seem to know a lot about this sort of thing.”
I shrugged. “I read a lot.”
She nodded as she made another note. “I see. And then what happened?”
“I closed the door, told everyone to stay out, and came back here.”
“Why did you come back here, sir?”
“So no one would notice my knees were shaking.”
She looked up from her notepad. “How well did you know the deceased?”
“We worked in the same building, and that’s about it.”
“So, you wouldn’t say you were friends?”
“Hardly. Rolly was the CLO here, Chief Logistics Officer. We occasionally crossed paths in a meeting, or when new computer equipment or personnel were needed, but on a personal level not at all.” I sat up straighter in my chair and rolled my shoulders back to try and ease the tension in them. “He came over from the Edinburgh office about a month before I was brought in. I’ve heard he has a wife and two children, but I’ve never met them.”
“What do you do, Mr. White?”
“Well, I do some consulting.”
Another neat note. “What kind of consulting?”
“That’s a broad term.”
I nodded. “Network security, hardening of the system, protecting against intrusion, computer forensics, data recovery.”
“It can be.”
A slight smile, but nothing more. “What can you tell me about him?”
I paused for a moment. “What do my impressions have to do with anything?”
Once again, her head came up and she hit me with the flat-eyed look. On anyone else, it might have worked; I was raised on it, so the stare was about as effective as my tonsils. “Just asking questions, Mr. White.” She frowned for a moment. Stern wasn’t working, so she tried friendly. With a smile, she asked, “Your name is familiar. Have we met?”
I had a sneaking suspicion I knew where she was going, and it wasn’t territory I cared to re-visit. “No, I don’t believe so.”
“You sound positive.”
Inspector O’Brien shrugged again, but I saw her eyebrows arch. She looked over at the shelf above my desk, noting the framed photo of a woman and a young girl. “Your family?” she asked.
“My sister and her daughter,” I replied.
“They’re very pretty.”
“Thank you.” I left it there; there was no reason to talk about what had happened.
She made another neat note in her book, and asked a few more questions.
I guess I finally satisfied her curiosity, because she snapped the book closed, stood up, and fished in her pocket. “In case you think of anything else, feel free to call me,” she said handing me a business card.
I stood also, taking the card. “I will. Mind if I ask you a question?”
“Why is someone from Interpol investigating a local homicide?”
There was a pause that went on a moment longer than it should have. “Just routine, Mr. White.”
She ignored that one. “Most people would have said ‘a murder’ or ‘a killing’.” She paused. “You said ‘homicide’. That’s interesting.”
I said nothing.
“If there’s anything else,” she said as she opened the door, “we’ll be in touch.”
She turned to the door, taking a moment to look at the posters on the wall. “Interesting choices,” she said.
“I like old movies.”
She glanced at me again, then left. I leaned out the doorway and looked down the hall.
The crowd of people around the dead man’s office hammered home the messy reality of murder. Crime scene investigators were in and out, labeling everything, the flash of a camera working overtime.
I rolled my shirt sleeves down, digging into a pants pocket and fastening my cufflinks. I waited for things to sort themselves out. Bright yellow ‘Crime Scene’ tape had been put up on either side of Carlyle’s office, about midway between the offices on either side.
Staying out of the way gave me an excellent view of the proceedings. Crime scene techs were coming in, lugging tackle boxes of equipment, while others milled about, trying to see, trying not to see, pressing in, getting pushed back.
Inspector O’Brien kept glancing my way. I bit back a sigh as I realized it was only a matter of time before she came back to talk to me. But it wouldn’t be about the murder. From the look in her eyes, she remembered where she’d heard my name before.
Some things are not even worth swearing over. I found myself irrationally irritated by the fact she had recognized me, at least my name, but there was nothing to be done about it.
I had nothing to hide, just things I tried to forget.