One Last Scent of Jasmine by Dale Amidei - Read Online
One Last Scent of Jasmine
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In the aftermath of a midnight raid on a critical defense contractor, Boone Hildebrandt finds herself entangled in a covert plot: one meant to transfer missile defense technology to a foreign power. When a White House Senior Staffer dies, Executive Branch players become suspect in a budding case of international intrigue.

Deducing the international intelligence agency InterLynk has involved itself in negating the initiative, a Senior Advisor to the President orders the Director of National Intelligence to bring the private firm under control. The task falls to his new Senior Case Officer and on-again love interest: call her Boone.

Torn between conflicting loyalties, she is challenged to balance duty, secrets, and developing faith as events test her personal and professional fortitude. Powers romantic, domestic, and international emerge equally determined to overcome any opposition. Boone and InterLynk must press forward in a dangerous contest; in threatening the peace of the Northern Hemisphere, the stakes allow no choice other than playing to win.

Approx. 96,250 words / 330 pp. print length

Published: Single Candle Press on
ISBN: 9781524249779
List price: $3.99
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One Last Scent of Jasmine - Dale Amidei

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Chapter 1 - The More Things Change

Fairfax County, Virginia

Barely Saturday

It was after midnight, and Terrence Bain Bradley sat in the kitchen of his wife’s expansive Fairfax County home. The Colonial was the centerpiece of a horse property which had been her father’s gift on the occasion of her first marriage. Now her second husband lifted the glass of Scotch from the granite-topped island in front of him for another sip. He heard the ice therein tinkle at virtually the same time as the onset of noise announcing her overdue homecoming … the vibration emanating from the motor operating her garage door.

Friday had been a bad-to-the-bone fourteen hours finishing a work week nearly as intolerable. People overseas died in the service of their country yesterday, caught in the maelstrom of violence seeming to engulf one piece of American-held ground after the other. This time around, CIA was dead set against revealing the Agency’s involvement in placing personnel inside the command structure of the losing side. Bradley had found no reason to countermand the consensus of the Agency’s Director and Deputy Director of Operations. Two more black stars go up in the lobby in Langley. Two more Covert Action Star awards will be on my desk Monday for me to sign. Bradley heard the door of her crossover slam in the garage. There was time for another sip of his Scotch. At least I’m not the one who will call the families.

Her keys rattled in the entry door, and Janine Harrison-Bradley—his wife of just under a year—stepped in. A startled expression appeared on her face once she saw him sitting in the kitchen. Jan recovered, he noticed, as quickly as possible. Her dominant hand went to her tousled hair while the other tried to cover the incriminating state of her disheveled clothing. "Terry … you’re home."

"Hi honey," he replied, forcing the words. She walked over to the bar, looking contrite, and then angry, and then resolute all within the space of a few moments, he observed.

You’re not as late as you thought, she commented. I didn’t even see your limo on the road.

Bradley smirked. No. Once things get to a certain point there’s nothing left to be done. He shot her a look over the rim of his nearly depleted glass of whiskey. Know what I mean?

Oh, I know what you mean, Terry. Believe me.

He set the tumbler down in front of him, folding his hands. A heavy sigh followed. Janine, where have you been? he asked, knowing his eyes must have fairly pleaded for the truth this time.

Setting her purse down on the breakfast bar, she straightened, her hand going to her hip. Fucking Alec Harper, she said in a deliberately brutal tone. A disgusted expression took over her face immediately afterward. "At least, I thought I was."

Bradley sighed again, his head dropping. Goddammit, Janine. He felt his heart palpitate. It’s a good thing I got some Scotch down while I had a chance.

"Goddammit nothing, Terry. You knew. You knew all about it. How long did you let me go before you decided to put an end to it?"

What the hell is she talking about? He sent an angry look her way, only his confusion mitigating the rage he felt. Jan, are you insane?

She slammed her hand down on the granite surface beside her purse. "No, Terry. I am scared. Scared nearly to death by what you did to me tonight."

What the hell happened to her out there? Janine, I don’t know what—

"Oh, don’t give me that. My God, at least you could be honest about it."

The sheer irony of her barb struck him, and his brow furrowed. "Oh, honesty? Yes, Jan, let’s go there. How long have you been riding the Chairman of the Equestrian Board, for instance?"

Reddening, her grimace turned into a snarl a moment later. Since I gave up on you being home on nights like this one. She took the following silence and turned it into a moment of reinforced determination. Terry, she added, this thing I thought we could make work isn’t going to happen. Not in the way I thought. Not after what happened tonight. I won’t live like this.

He picked up his jacket from where he had cast it on the countertop. Yes, Jan, for the first time since you got back, I think you might be right. Traversing the kitchen, he headed toward the entrance she had used only a few minutes previously. The Director of National Intelligence realized his hand was trembling as he lifted the keys to his Tahoe from the hooks near the door. He turned his head enough to see her there, staring at his back. I’ll send some people over for my things, he informed her.

As long as it’s in the daylight, dear.

She looked, he thought as he held the panel open, as if she wanted nothing more than to see it close behind him. It’s over then. I should have known better. Good-bye, Janine, he said, knowing his tone conveyed more than just words.

Good-bye, Terry. Her inflection was a fitting end to their brief conversation.

Bradley stepped out into the garage, still lit by the activation of her remote, and pulled the knob until he heard the latch click into place. He thumbed the illuminated button which began the grinding ascent of another overhead door. In a matter of seconds, he heard her lock the dead bolt from the inside. Yeah, doesn’t that say it all, though? It’s time to find myself a room, I guess.

Her hotel was on the outskirts of Washington Dulles International Airport, from whence yet again an Air France flight would be winging her back across the Atlantic. Dr. Rebecca Boone Hildebrandt, her still-damp body wrapped in one of the hotel’s soft, terrycloth robes, looked into her steamed bathroom mirror. She tried and failed to tally the number of international air miles—both legitimate and covert—she had accumulated already this year. One that’s barely half over. You’re turning into a real jet-setter, kiddo.

She wiped the mirror as best she could. The high-temperature cascade of her hot shower had helped relax those muscles left positively wiry by postoperative tension. Adrenaline, she knew from its physiological symptoms, still lingered from her unsanctioned, late-night social work. It’s probably a good thing I’m leaving the country … after what I just did. Roughing one of the smaller hand towels through her bobbed, auburn hair, she tossed it onto the rim of the bathroom’s tub. Turning, she looked her reflection in the eyes once again. Here we still are, Boone. Making our decisions and then living with them. You think we’ll ever get better at it? she asked the woman in the mirror.

The soft knock at the nearby entrance door came just afterward, almost as a reply, and caught her by surprise. Oh, God. Who is this? Boone took the few steps to where her small pistol lay on the dresser and only then went to the door, approaching it as silently as possible before lifting herself up on her toes to use the peephole. Terry. Shit. Oh shit oh shit. She swung the door guard away and unlocked the dead bolt, her hand clutching Little Swiss yet hidden behind the panel. Cracking open her room’s door, she managed, "Terrence … this is a … surprise."

Boone, dammit, I know it’s too late. I just remembered once I knocked that you’re flying out tomorrow, he said.

Look at him. He’s not angry. He’s miserable. Boone felt a crushing wave of regret. Well, you told Janine tonight to straighten up her act or let him go. Looks like it didn’t take long for her to decide, did it now? Nonsense, Terry. It’s a late morning flight. Come in.

He accepted her invitation and moved inside, still looking remorseful. She relocked the door without a thought and moved past him, returning Little Swiss to the P290’s shoulder holster. With a mental start she suddenly realized her night’s working clothes, black from her mock turtleneck to the supple leather of her riding boots, were still strewn where she had left them:  on the first of the room’s two queen beds, the one also holding her luggage. Relax. You wear black a lot. Get your game on, Boone honey, or you’ll blow this. "So, Mister Bradley, sir, she said in an officious tone, is this unexpected visit business or pleasure?"

"It’s … personal, Boone. Sorry. I don’t have anyone else to dump on right now."

Damn you, Becky B. You’ve just broken up a marriage. "Terry, what is wrong?" she asked, giving up her usual Euro attitude as Bradley took another step and sat heavily on the edge of the second bed. Mere minutes ago she had planned on occupying it—alone. That would still be the best idea, girlfriend. She gathered the front hem of her robe into a more modest display and leaned backward against the room’s faux cherry dresser.

Sighing, Bradley shrugged. I get home earlier than I thought. He raised his hands, looking around as one would at an empty house. Janine comes in a few minutes later, looking like she’s just back from prom night. Hair messed, clothes torn up, the whole nine yards.

"Oh, Terry—"

Next thing I hear, my wife’s informing me she’s been … he seemed to reevaluate his initial choice of words, "having a damned affair."

Boone realized she had clenched onto her own arms and tried to relax her hands. "Terry, I’m so sorry. You don’t deserve this."

With an exasperated sound, he countered, Ah, that’s just it. Maybe I do. He continued before she could interject. Never home. Busy saving the world … or at least trying to salvage the parts Washington cares about.

To Boone he looked only a little better for having told someone. She watched his eyes turn back to her.

Now Janine thinks I’m having her followed, or something. I never heard what spooked her. For all I know, it’s paranoia. Hell … maybe she’s been doing coke, too. Bradley stood once more. I only know it’s over. Eleven months and six days tomorrow. His jaw clenched. His eyes fixed on her own now, weakening her resolve. I guess I wanted you to hear it from me.

Boone felt the sadness of her expression radiate. "Oh, bullshit. You needed someone to listen to you vent, and there was no one else. You don’t have enough real people in your life, Terrence Bain Bradley. All you have are seventeen agencies full of spooks and their emergencies. You should work on that … until I see you again."

The DNI—her boss, her friend and once not long enough ago her lover—nodded, perhaps realizing himself the danger of the two of them being alone in this room. Not a bad idea, Doctor H. Thanks for the advice. He moved uncomfortably near, passing in front of her to walk toward her door.

Staring at his back, still holding herself, she did not dare to join him there. Keep me in the loop, Terrence, please? she pleaded in a low voice.

You’ve got it, Agent Hildebrandt, he replied, forcing himself, as she could tell, to use his Director's Voice. He was through the door a second later—and not a moment too soon.

Her hand went to her face as she clutched her eyes and slowly shook her head, amazed at the devastation she could wreak by trying to help a friend. Dr. Rebecca Boone Hildebrandt, Level One Case Officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, raised her chin and stared into space, her fingers now at her trembling lips. Oh, Terry, you poor man. I’m so sorry.

McCormick Place

Chicago, Illinois

Four months later

It will be dawn soon. Is the symbolism not delicious? Valka Gerard, though she was standing offstage and not on the floor in the midst of his jubilant supporters, applauded with a vigor equal to any of them. Their President—and her protégé—now occupied the stage for his campaign victory speech.

The overnight wait had been long and tense. Going into the evening, Gerard knew the ground game to be in place in the key battleground states. She also knew the precinct captains in the urban areas—those where critical votes could most easily be generated by any number of methods—to be meticulously marshaled and schooled by her party’s National Committee. Despite the challenger’s slight lead in the polls leading up to Election Day, she believed the outcome was never really in doubt. Nevertheless, Ohio, the last state to be called and holding the deciding bundle of electoral votes, remained too close to call only an hour previously. Once the reserve ballots in Cuyahoga County were added to the tally, her President was indisputably in the lead there as well. Even the Eagle Network was forced to declare the long contest—and the hours of Election Night standby—finally to be over.

A gracious concession from the opposing candidate had followed, and then it was time to reward the patience of the true believers in the McCormick center. Expectations are to be put into place. Idolization is to be promoted. Catharsis is then released as reinforcement. Better than almost any other woman on Earth, Valka Gerard knew how to bring a politician into power in the twenty-first century. This is how things are done. And we are so much better at it than the other side.

The applause of the crowd seemed to be building on itself rather than subsiding. And why not? It was held long enough in waiting. Those managing the audience, per direction, had yet made no move to settle them down. The effect was as much a part of the man’s aura as any of the campaign’s many other engineered moments. Our side knows how to win. And in the end, that’s all that really matters.

Finally, once the arm raising, the gestures of acknowledgment and the broad smiles from the stage had placated enough of the significant attendees, the TelePrompTer system illuminated. She knew the floor crew would now begin the process of quieting the crowd so as to allow the man to speak. Indeed, when it was time, he began his delivery.

Gerard had not bothered to review the text of his address this time, allowing the President and his speechwriters to indulge themselves. It would be much the same as before, she was certain. Long on promises and nonspecific in regard to means, it would feed image and not perception. This, too, was part of the overarching strategy of those who knew How Things Were Done. The masses needed someone in whom to believe, not immersion in the minutiae of policy. Strategy is information for leaders, not followers.

Instead of listening to the speech, Gerard watched the faces of the people in the front ranks, those who had not even considered seeking a seat farther back on the floor or in the rows above. Few of them knew—or would care if it was so—how many of his words were actually hers. It had been so from the time he emerged from Illinois politics onto the national stage of his first and only Senate campaign.

A naturalized citizen, she was one who had come out from her native Estonia with her parents in the 1950s. As a result, it was she who could never directly experience election to the highest office in this land. Regardless, this night was hers as much as the President’s. Her philosophies, her strategizing, her priorities and her initiatives had constructed him whom the adoring faces in the front rows believed they saw. From such levels of support was derived the dedicated action of a campaign, and from action derived power. And power is what allows us to reshape a society into what it needs to become in order to accommodate the future.

The shape of things to come, she believed, would envelop and propel her politics into prominence, becoming the accepted norm. Too much time and energy is wasted in the current system. We need defined leadership. They need to accept reality without question; it is we who make the guiding decisions. Only then can the true engine of progress begin to turn and move us forward.

It was this night, effectively the beginning of the second term, which her every effort of the last two years had gone toward securing. The first four years in office, though they contained their own achievements, were merely the launching pad for the second. Valka saw something other than raw emotions in the sleep-deprived faces of the crowd now listening to him speak. She saw opportunity … and ever-growing power. The President’s Senior Advisor saw a significant barrier lowered now with concerns over re-election to a second term evaporated.

Demonstrated intent could now replace restraint for the sake of appearance. Candor would overtake inhibition. The subtlety of the first term was coming to an end though none of the smooth words now flowing across the reflective screens on either side of his podium would exhibit transition. She watched his head swivel from the left display to the one on his right, noting the set of his shoulders as he emphasized what they would hear as a significant highlight. She observed his practiced smile and accentuating nod as he delivered the image of a leader for the benefit of the cameras. Network news faithfully propagating the delivery was a given.

This is his victory. This is his night. But the things to come will be mine. With the rest of them, Valka Gerard applauded when the time came. Her introspection moved into the background of her mind, interrupted by the crowd’s programmed response to his cogent delivery. She did not feel the need for any recognition. No, visibility could sometimes itself prove counterproductive. A Senior Advisor required only respect for the power she had come to wield from the back offices of the West Wing. Respect, as she knew well after so many years in politics, was learned. Those who do not yet know will be need to be educated, and those who stand in the way will need to burn. She could barely wait to begin as she applauded once more, just as everyone in attendance did. Though her role was much different than theirs, she joined them so as not to detract from the moment, the purpose of the gathering. The apparent masked the unapparent this night, always as it did in successful strategy.

Valka, dear, let me offer my congratulations.

The deep, accented voice emanating from over her left shoulder belonged, she knew, to none other than Benedek Jancsi Novak. Like her, the man was also of foreign birth though his extraction was Carpathian. The Hungarian-American’s finances, however, were the internationally recognized colors of green and gold. From an accumulation of wealth thousands of times greater, he lavished millions exclusively on causes such as the long campaign effort which had only just prevailed this night.

Benedek! How good it is that you should join us, she said, turning to greet him with her most dazzling smile. The embrace and kiss on the cheek were perfunctory. His heavy features radiated as much of a sense of satisfaction, she was sure, as did her own. The financier, she was certain, had leveraged buyouts and brought down currencies using sums making the expenditures of other major campaign contributors seem trivial. This night is partially his as well, and the man knows as much.

A hard-fought victory! he exclaimed, beaming. His voice took on a lower, more subtextual tone. And to the victor belong the spoils. Was it not one of your own who said it so long ago?

Indeed Benedek … William Learned Marcy, who was a distinguished senator in his time if my recollection of history does not fail me. Her eyes returned to the supporters who had by now joined her President on stage to culminate the celebration. Supporters … but not insiders. We know our own.

Commenting with obvious derision, Novak replied, "Ah, senators. He included an addendum as his smile returned. Yet, it is possible to transform them into a more useful commodity, is it not so?"

"Benedek, she reproved him. Her eyes settled once more on one of her party’s most ardent and well-financed backers. I must thank you for the use of the jet. The value of the time it saved me during the course of the campaign is incalculable."

He gestured expansively. "Operating costs are deductible, my dear. And please, forgive my cynicism. It is an aftereffect of time spent in the real world. The billionaire motioned toward the stage. Your show is almost over, Valka. Whatever will occupy your days to come?"

As if you need to ask, old man. Valka restrained the smirk as her first inclination in response to his question. All things in their own time, of course. Look at him. He understands completely without a word needing to be said.

Ah, yes, and are those not the sweetest? His eyes had followed hers to the stage. After a moment, his gaze returned from there to her again. They are the fruits of patience, and the harvest of timing which acquiesces to the demands of practicality. Agendas … aged in reserve to perfection. It is much the same in politics as business.

They will all be the same concern soon. And you know how you will be there with us, don’t you, my old friend? Her eyes engaged his with warmth reserved for only a few. "You wax poetic tonight! You know we are grateful for your support in every area, Benedek. Not only your money, but your advice, and always your business insight." She thought the Hungarian look pleased. Yes, Benedek Jancsi. You know it is time.

Rest assured, dear lady, I will be there. With what shall we start?

The matter we last discussed, I should think. The moment seems to have arrived, does it not?

He appeared to agree. Yes, yes. All is in place, just as we expected. He smiled faintly. Their conversation concluded, with the late hour seeming to finally register on his flagging exuberance. He gave her one last evaluating glance.

A businessman’s expression. She had seen it before.

The hour is late, my dear, and it seems for now we have done everything necessary. Tomorrow brings its own priorities. Rest assured I will be attending those forthwith.

Valka Gerard delivered her last smile aimed at him just as expertly as she had her first. This one required less effort as he took her hand. Until I hear from you again, Benedek … thank you in advance for your help in what we will do together.

Indeed, my dear. Indeed. The financier moved away, and his people—experts themselves in remaining in the background—left with him.

At the same time, her assigned Secret Service agents carefully repositioned themselves in the shadows, even farther out of the glare of the klieg lights trained on the stage. So it begins already, she thought as she watched Novak and his entourage depart. Initiative upon initiative waited to follow, like water flowing over the top of a dam. The administration she served was now poised to transform the country. The other nations of the world waited in queue.

Chapter 2 - Level Zero

Fairfax County, Virginia

Wednesday morning

Traffic was light on the 495 heading up from Annandale. Rex Schilling knew it was due to the delayed election returns. The morning’s news had fully validated his late-night decision to give up on waiting and hit the rack. Whatever the outcome, he had known his body would still need a minimum amount of sleep to operate with anywhere near the mental efficiency his position regularly demanded.

The election results—and an account of the swing-state drama preceding them—were prominently featured on his clock radio’s top-of-the-hour headlines upon his waking, and the reporting had not been to his liking. As the Senior Case Officer for USIC Director Terry Bradley, however, Rex oversaw assignments which were at their core disturbing and intolerable nearly every day. At least today, none of them will involve management infighting. Ohio was called at four in the morning. Good God, half the town will probably be sleeping until noon.

True to form, traffic seemed to sense him coming as he approached the Leesburg Pike. The lure of the more freely moving rightmost lanes sucked him in. As if on cue, a slow-moving vehicle ahead of his Corvette and a tractor-trailer beside him combined to congest what were, seconds ago, the fast lanes. In apparent synchronization, they compromised what should have been a painless a.m. commute.

C’mon, buddy, Rex thought as he sent a telepathic message to the driver ahead of him. Unless you want us both to go onto the 7, we need to get out of this lane.

Finally, the van ahead seemed to understand what the overhead signs had been telling them for the last three-quarters of a mile. It accelerated briskly and then really put the horses under the hood to work as the lane divider changed to dotted white; soon it would become solid, signifying the imagined point of commitment to the exit for Virginia SR 7. The Chevy V-8 powering his Corvette responded as Schilling accelerated in his determination to follow the vehicle ahead. It was a last bid to pass, albeit on the right, the semi pacing them.

Another vehicle, big and black like the reinforced battlewagon SUVs the Secret Service and his own USIC fielded, came up fast on his six o’clock. It appeared the newcomer also wanted to squeeze through the fast-diminishing window of opportunity to escape the 495’s slowdown.

You crazy son of a bitch. You’re never going to— He barely saw the brake lights of the van ahead illuminate and didn’t see at all whatever had prompted its driver to suddenly change his mind. Worse, the driver of the SUV behind did not seem to heed the warning lights in the least. Idiot! Are you trying to kill me?

The van again raced ahead now, and Schilling’s foot moved from the brake to the accelerator in an attempt to prevent the rear-end collision his mind warned him was coming anyway. Nope.

The crash bar's jarring impact on his vehicle’s rear quarter lifted the back wheels of the sports car from the roadbed. To Schilling’s amazement, it turned his entire vehicle straight toward the concrete traffic barriers lining the shoulder. He heard the roar of the motor behind him and realized the big vehicle to his rear was doing nothing to prevent what was happening. The notion stayed with him as the roll of his car seemed to shift into slow motion. The world tilted crazily, with the top of the barrier heading straight toward the fragile roof of his red convertible. His final thought was the unjust irony of his death being classified in the police report as an accident.

Those who might have been not only nearby but monitoring the correct FRS band might have caught the terse order passing between the van, the black SUV and the tractor-trailer via short-range communications equipment. The code word uttered, though, would hardly have been understood. Afterward, the pair of passenger vehicles returned to the 495 as did the big rig. Its covering action assured there would be no effective witnesses to the operation just concluded. Upended with its passenger compartment bisected by the top of the traffic barrier, the mangled state of the red convertible left no doubt as to the effort’s success.

United States Embassy

Paris, France

Wednesday afternoon

Boone was busy assimilating the afternoon additions—morning, really, since they originated in the U.S. Eastern time zone—to the USIC global SITREP. Her MacBook was limited inside the Embassy building to hard-wired connections only. Network security regulations further restricted the personal machines of authorized visitors and employees, such as hers, to the isolated ports available only in this particular room on the other side of the wall from the Com Center.

Renee—the communications supervisor—appeared, sticking her head through the doorway of the staff research library. Doctor Hildebrandt? You have a call from Director Bradley in McLean. Would you prefer taking it on the clean phone? the portly woman asked, wearing a detached headset around her neck.

Surprised, Boone looked up. Oh, yes. Thank you. I will be there right away. As Renee disappeared, Boone hurriedly folded her MacBook. She then detached it from the patch cable tethering her to the interior wall of the study cubicle, stowing the machine in its Apple backpack.

Her status since