Entanglement: A Johnny Denovo Mystery by Andrew Kent - Read Online
Entanglement
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Summary

In this, his third published case, Johnny must face a vestige of yesteryear. A former colleague needs his help – a powerful weapon has left the lab, and one person is already dead. But who is calling the shots? What are they really after? And why has Johnny’s most trusted ally vanished? Can he unravel the clues in time? Or will he be the next victim of a weapon that leaves no trace?

Published: Andrew Kent on
ISBN: 9781608447794
List price: $4.99
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Entanglement - Andrew Kent

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Page 1 of 1

coincidental.

CHAPTER 1

THREADS

Something was eating at him. And it wasn’t the virus.

Even now, almost a week later, Johnny still nursed a fever.

His body was baking the intruder out.

A half-dozen studio lights blazed a few feet overhead, insulting the black ceiling and sound baffles with a relentless slow heat of their own. It only compounded his problem. He needed to concentrate on what was really bothering him.

A rogue bead of sweat coursed down between his shoulder blades. He had to suppress an involuntary squirm. He stayed still, as if everything were fine. People were watching, always watching, and his image was his currency. He concentrated on keeping his pulse low, his breathing modest and regular.

Doing so made him look pensive and serious. He knew this. It fit with his image.

Biofeedback was something he’d learned long ago, in another life. It still came in handy.

He was struggling to suppress his natural craving for adrenaline while covering up an illness and baking in a lighted oven.

Even the pace around him was feverish.

Actors and stagehands rushed as sets shifted back and forth in a disorienting montage of alternate realities – first a cityscape, then a forest backdrop, then a subway car’s interior. Just a few feet away, the audience, held back by social expectations and flimsy railings, waited patiently, leaning forward slightly in anticipation.

It was either late at night or early in the morning. He wasn’t sure. But the energy from the crowd was high and people were loose. He had detected a slight whiff of alcohol off their collective breath. Liquor wasn’t allowed in the studio, but he was sure many in the crowd had come directly from an evening out.

Physical evidence wasn’t his bread and butter. But he paid attention to it. Earlier, when he’d noticed the whiff of alcohol, his eyes quickly found a bulging handbag. Its owner was wearing lipstick that faded too quickly from deep red to soft pink.

It suggested a flask being nipped at.

An hour ago, skulking around in a beat up jacket, a baseball cap, and sunglasses, he’d seemed beneath notice – a studio lackey of some sort. That kind of anonymity had let him look over the crowd without risking his identity.

But he didn’t care about a little audience inebriation. It was just a normal observation for him.

He was especially on-edge tonight, and observations were rippling through his fevered mind.

His face remained undisturbed by his brain’s dervish pace. He had to keep up appearances now. He’d lost the advantages of anonymity. He’d been through make-up and hair.

He was recognizable.

As Johnny peered around a prop, a few in the audience whispered excitedly and pointed in recognition. Even the young woman with the bulging purse and faded lipstick was fairly quick to see him stick his head out.

She must have run out of whiskey, he thought.

It was almost time for his scene. His brain took another nip of adrenaline.

His mind was sharp, but Johnny felt nearly as sick now as he had a week ago. His body was running on deficit spending. Sleep had been fleeting, restless, and furtive. The adenovirus had depleted his strength and vitality.

At least his voice had recovered and the river of congestion had retreated. But his muscles ached as inflammation pressed thin his nerves, strangling them. A deep fatigue cloaked his every movement. The virus was still working its way through his viscera.

But what really bothered him was that he knew that someone, somewhere, was watching with special interest.

Even though he ached from head to toe, what really had him bugged were the metaphors.

A snatch of song whispered through his memory – Why must we dream in metaphors, try to hold onto something we couldn’t understand.

Johnny understood metaphors, and he thought he knew what might be coming.

He was worried about a recent fire.

He was worried about what it portended.

Five nights ago, he’d felt satisfied when he closed what he was calling the Case of the Green Monster – two greedy bio-terrorists had been killed and a decade-long, worldwide extortion plot was thwarted on the eve of its realization. His beloved Red Sox, innocent pawns in the plot, were now advancing into the post-season untainted by hijinx in the stands. Yet, for the second consecutive case, eggs had played a part. This time, it was only a tangential role. In the Case of Spam and Eggs, they had played a central role.

It couldn’t be a coincidence.

Metaphors didn’t meet by accident.

The convergence meant something. There was an agent, a force, a single mind behind the two seemingly unrelated cases.

Somehow, the same hand had been at work.

Thirty seconds, a black-clad female shouted from behind her headset to nobody in particular, her thin arms clutching a clipboard. Johnny shook his head to clear his thoughts, then scratched his trademark black hair. Nervous tics like these helped settle his mind.

He’d accepted this guest appearance on a late-night sketch comedy program thinking he’d be over the illness by the time it aired and that he’d have time between cases to enjoy the fruits of his labors.

He’d been wrong on both counts. So here he was, concealed on a television soundstage, waiting to make yet another major television appearance, sick as a dog and feeling pressed for time.

There was nobody to blame but himself.

Mona had done her part, her lovely face cresting his thoughts. Mona Landau, one-time she-devil and now his romantic partner, agent extraordinaire to Boston’s athletes and B-list celebrities. She’d gotten the producers to give him star treatment once he arrived in New York. She’d made them deliver the warm, scented, false embrace of show business – the limo, the obsequious producer, the well-mannered driver, the executive suite hotel room.

Throughout the journey to the soundstage, he’d been too sick and preoccupied to be flattered by the attention.

He remembered the request well. It had been just a few days ago. The sun had been high enough in the sky for the building opposite Johnny’s to glint. He’d slept some, but was stretched out on the couch while Mona hammered out a deal with the producer in New York City. The news was just breaking about how Johnny had helped shut down a major conspiracy, and Mona wanted to strike while the fees were at their pinnacle. Plus, she had an inside track with the producer she’d called. She was bartering favors, working them like a shell game.

He remembered the woman more than the deal. Mona had just showered. She’d smelled of flowers, while the scent of her fresh coffee mingled in alternating waves. It had been a pleasant morning – he’d felt safe in a domestic cocoon. The travails of the night before had seemed lost in another world.

Right after Mona had finished negotiating the deal and hung up the phone, another call had come.

There had been a fire.

While the details were still sketchy, his friend from the Boston PD explained, the fire had broken out before midnight in the office of his old mentor, Evan Chalmers. The flames had destroyed everything.

There was no sign of foul play, no indication of forced entry, no trace of arson. No incendiary device or trace of fuel could be found. The office’s doorjam and windows had survived, and everything had been locked from the inside. Security had been on duty and reported no visitors. Surveillance cameras on the inside and around the neighborhood hadn’t detected anybody in the lonely Cambridge neighborhood within the hour before or after the ignition time the arson experts had calculated.

The specialists were baffled. They couldn’t make sense of it.

Because Johnny had heard the story straight from the chief of Boston’s police force, he knew there weren’t any secrets. This wasn’t a case of a bureaucrat or spinmeister manipulating perceptions, concealing some secret evidence or covering up a botched investigation. Chief Sullivan had laid out the whole matter to Johnny, his voice filled with concern because his best forensic and arson squads were so utterly dumbfounded.

Not that the spinmeisters weren’t doing their jobs. Shortly after Johnny had received his private update, the story he’d watched play out in the media was about an office piled high with paper, a kindly old professor, and a tinderbox destined to ignite when old wiring finally threw off an ill-fated spark.

Even knowing the entirety of the situation, for Johnny the important connections were more abstract, instinctual, and metaphorical.

To others, the events of that evening would seem like an unfortunate coincidence – the very night Johnny stymied a plot to extort billions from nations around the globe, his mentor’s office went up in smoke.

Within minutes of stopping the plot cold, in fact.

Johnny knew it was much more than a coincidence. And Chief Sullivan had given him a crucial clue to validate his hunches and insights.

There was evidence that this fire hadn’t been an accident.

There had been a focal point of ignition, one that couldn’t be explained by wiring, a chemical catalyst, or other simple accidents.

No trace of fuel was found. More troubling, no ignition system known to any of them was as discrete and focused as what the experts had been able to reconstruct.

It had been a pinpoint ignition.

And it had started within minutes of the boat exploding in Boston Harbor, according to the arson specialists.

Within minutes.

No wonder Johnny felt uneasy.

Someone was watching.

The timing alone was suggestive enough, the attack on his mentor coming just as he and Tucker had brought down a major conspiracy. But for Johnny, it was the symmetry of that night’s metaphors that was the real story. It told Johnny what he truly needed to know.

Just hours before the fire started, he’d been sinking in Boston Harbor, unconscious, a boat burning only a few hundreds yards away. Fire and water. Then, less than an hour later, a fire had engulfed a lonely academic office in Cambridge.

The linkage was unavoidable, even if it had been made subconsciously.

Metaphors worked that way.

Destroying Evan’s office had been a choice. More significantly, using fire had been a choice. And the person who had made the choices must have known they would register with Johnny, resonate. They meant something.

They were intended to. Johnny was convinced they were signals.

The hand that was at work was a hand he’d seen before.

It was someone who understood his methods.

And that made him even more uneasy.

A message was being sent, even if it was crude and indistinct at the moment. Someone was using his language to signal.

He knew it. He could feel it. He believed strongly in thinking without thinking. He’d spent years tuning himself to those frequencies, understanding them, learning to respect them.

His limbic brain was pulsing with urgency, arraying the facts and metaphors before him and returning his thoughts to them again and again, forcing him to circle them like a dog circling a scent.

The signal he’d received was the culmination of a chain of events, a plan, a contingency.

The message might have been waiting to arrive for weeks or months now, unseen until that night, when circumstances revealed it, unleashed it.

Five nights ago, its moment arrived.

Signal latency, they called it in telecommunications.

The message is sent, but takes time to arrive.

It was the same in neuroscience.

It’s why you can’t catch a dollar bill dropped between your thumb and forefinger – it takes too long for your brain to receive the visual signal that the bill was dropped and then respond down the long nerves in your arm leading to your hand.

He’d missed this one. The parallels of the eggs should have tipped him off, but he’d been too sick to see it right away. The connection had dropped quickly, hanging midair one moment, fluttering and on fire the next.

Something new and threatening was emerging right in front of him, but his vantage point was inadequate to understand it completely. He couldn’t see it well enough. From here, he could only peer around the corner, catch shadows darting in the dimness, hear the distant breath of something menacing, watch the scenery change.

But somewhere, someone was looking back. He knew it.

The signal’s timing had been nearly perfect.

Metaphors helped him synthesize disparate evidence and anticipate the possibilities. But he didn’t have what he needed yet for whatever awaited. He was vulnerable. The metaphors were floating freely, not attached to any person.

In one night, one mystery had ended and another had begun, with a juxtaposition intended to send a message, put Johnny on notice. It was a taunt, a dare, a poke in the eye.

Now, he stood fighting fever on a hot television soundstage, worrying that somewhere a clock was ticking, a moment of reckoning approaching.

Fifteen seconds, the female assistant director bellowed. Actors began taking their places, and the audience settled back into expectant silence. In about ten seconds, the house band would begin playing, an applause sign would light, and his mind would have to devote itself to the task at hand.

In the remaining time, his thoughts returned to Mona.

In addition to being his girlfriend, she was his agent, representing him in the media, booking him on television shows, scheduling his appearances, and handling his business matters. He pulled down large fees quite often. She made sure he had money in the bank, and that his foundation was funded.

He figured she was a target now, as well.

He was glad she had been in the limelight with some of her other clients earlier in the week. She would be harder to find, threaten, or attack.

The spotlight, in particular, afforded safety.

Fame had provided Johnny with multiple layers of protection over the years, and now it was protecting Mona as well.

The stage lights kept thugs at bay, he knew. They hated light, even the metaphorical footlights of fame.

He’d kept his worries about Mona’s safety to himself. There was no purpose in raising the specter of the patronizing boyfriend. Besides, Mona’s ability to protect herself had increased significantly as the reality of Johnny’s world had become apparent to her.

She’d have her guard up.

Mona was alone now, adding to his concerns. Her friend Izzy was returning to New Hampshire. Izzy. It had been an eventful two-week visit for the vivacious little redhead. She’d gotten more than she’d bargained for on her vacation from the farms of the White Mountains – two Red Sox games, a new boyfriend, and a scrape with a psychotic on the docks of Boston Harbor.

Ten seconds, the same voice cried. The set became ever more silent as backstage hijinks ended, actors turned inward, directors steadied themselves, and stagehands disappeared.

The house band began to play as if they had been wailing away the entire time. The audience started to clap along.

In a few moments, the spotlight would fall on him yet again.

It still made him a little uncomfortable, all this prominence.

But it was the life he’d been given.

He knew his lines, his spots. He could see the exact locations where he would stand, turn, exclaim, and fall, each carefully formed by white tape crosses and angles on the floor.

The rehearsals earlier in the day had gone well. He was a quick study. He was practiced at playing the role of Denovo daily, so adopting new mannerisms and patter felt second-nature.

His identity was malleable.

Years ago, as an academic in a remote facility studying neuroscientific concepts, John Novarro would never have imagined what the future would hold.

It was only after helping the government with the Case of the President’s Pianist that his life had been transformed – a typo and a spell-check twist in the initial reports changed his name, government intervention cemented the mistake in place and changed his past, and the pull of fame and fortune changed his mind. In less than twenty-four hours, he’d been transformed from John A. Novarro, PhD, into Johnny Denovo, enigmatic detective of the mind.

Now he was worried part of his past was catching up with him.

This sidelong, nervous thought added an ember of anxiety to the fever and chills. It was a reluctant confession of fear and truth, one he’d been avoiding for many days now.

Five seconds, a voice cried above the building applause. Four, three, two.

One was mouthed silently, the lady with the clipboard looking straight at Johnny, her eyes warm and friendly. She was a flirt at heart, he realized.

Johnny shook his head once more and strode on stage, his veneer of cool and poise restored.

Miles and miles away, a man watched the guest star stride on-stage and began to contemplate another message.

But he was worried.

It was getting out of control.

CHAPTER 2

STRING

OK, let’s get out of here.

Johnny was tired. Fever still seared his skull. But he didn’t let it show as he was crowded out onto the dank morning streets of New York, piles of garbage bags spilling out of the gutters. The mainstay actors, on the other hand, knew this drill well, and slid easily into post-show meltdowns and letdowns.

I completely sucked tonight, said one actress as the troupe lurched through the stagedoors together on their way to a nightcap at a bar a few blocks away. She was obviously fishing for a compliment, but the only thing biting was the sarcasm.

Yeah, you always suck, the tall male impressionist responded, a bit of the President’s nose still stuck to his left nostril. You sucked in that movie last summer, too. And on your cable special. And your new sitcom next spring is going to really suck. I wish I sucked as much as you, Miss Insecurity.

The actress smiled at her antagonist with a crooked grin.

You’re safe. You suck twice as much as I do, she shot back, throwing her bobbed hair in his face.

Johnny walked a few paces toward the back, out of harm’s way. The banter was a superior form of casual harassment as weary comics vented after a long week and a complicated show.

You know, we don’t have to go to this, a soft female voice said just off his right shoulder.

Johnny turned slightly.

Oh, hi, he said. Do you come to these?

The clipboard girl smiled a gleaming young smile.

Only when I want to, she replied. I tag along now and then.

I see, Johnny said quietly. His head was pounding. He was only attending the after-party as a favor to Mona. She’d said she owed the producer