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A Glitch in the System

A Glitch in the System


A Glitch in the System

Length:
266 pages
3 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jan 30, 2017
ISBN:
9781370200610
Format:
Book

Description

Angela Gianni lived a quiet, alternative life as a dominatrix on the outskirts of Los Angeles—until her closest friend and secret lover both disappeared, and a bloody corpse materialized in her beach bungalow. With no memory of the murder, and bodies piling up as fast as the incriminating evidence against her, Angela’s only hope may be F.B.I. agent John Bancroft and the potential link between his twelve-year-old cold case and her own. But with the walls closing in around her, and her circumstances turning from desperate to dire, Angela might not survive long enough to connect the dots . . .

Publisher:
Released:
Jan 30, 2017
ISBN:
9781370200610
Format:
Book

About the author

As a litigator in New York City and Washington D.C., and as a neurogenetics and neuropyschiatrics researcher earlier in his career, Adam Aust had more fodder for stories than he could reasonably keep to himself. So, he started writing. A Glitch in the System and Sanity's Only Skin Deep (a novelette) are the first of his efforts, but other works are on the way. Be the first to experience them by connecting with Adam directly at adamaust.com, Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/AdamAustAuthor/), Twitter (@AdamAustAuthor), and Goodreads (http://goo.gl/mwA8T1).


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Book Preview

A Glitch in the System - Adam Aust

Sincerest thanks to Maggie Astolfi, Rodrigo Fuentes, L. McCartney, and Matthew Sullivan. Your keen insights made this a much better work.

1

INSTITUTIONAL OVERSIGHT

Tears trembled at the corners of Angela Gianni’s aching, bloodshot eyes, but she refused to let them fall. This isn’t over yet, she thought, glaring at the tiny mounds and divots in the white cinderblock wall opposite her. The air was thick and stale here, but she kept inhaling it deeply. Her labored breathing was all she could hear in the isolation of her new quarters, where she’d been taken while the investigation intensified.

Strobing images of the lifeless body in her back room and tactile hallucinations of blood on her palms trammeled her thoughts.

There was so much blood . . .

She scrutinized her hands for residual traces.

They’d seemed easy enough to clean at first, but after she left the house she’d more than once noticed dried flecks under her fingernails. Now, at least, her hands looked completely unsoiled. She dropped them to her lap and returned her gaze to the wall.

What the hell happened with Oliver? Someone else had to have been there. That’s the only way it could’ve happened.

She felt the side of her neck for scabs. Nothing there.

Maybe not. But then how . . . ?

She drew her knees to her chest, encircling them in her arms. The rough, gray wool of the blanket scratched her yoga pants as she shifted on the cot.

Samara and Mark were still out there somewhere. Maybe alive. Maybe even together. But nobody was looking for them now. There was no apparent connection between them and Oliver, and Oliver was the sole focus of the investigation, despite the incidents leading up to his visit. None of it made sense.

Angela rested her forehead on her knees and rocked gently back and forth.

Though she’d been moved several times in the last few hours, she knew she’d be allowed to rest here for the night—if she could manage to fall asleep. But with her mind endlessly looping obtrusive memories, straining to extract figments of constructive truth, she knew that was unlikely.

Then there was the question of what would happen tomorrow. And the day after. She couldn’t go back home, not for a while. She knew that as soon as she was escorted away. But what would come next? It was the first time she felt unable to form even a premonition about the future.

She couldn’t talk to anyone again until morning. That much was self-evident. And while she initially welcomed the silence of her newfound solitude, and with it the chance to process all that had happened, the unnatural stillness of the room had a certain maddening effect that she was just starting to appreciate.

Still rocking, she squeezed her legs tighter and lifted her head, exhaling forcefully through pursed lips.

You can do this, she told herself. It’s just a matter of time until the truth comes out . . .

2

KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE . . .

Angela gazed into Mark Newsome’s glinting, gray eyes as the waitstaff cleared the table. He had taken her to Tête-à-Tête, the most exclusive French restaurant in town, where dining was both an experience and a statement. The restaurant’s décor was royally extravagant; the food was elegant and nuanced, unquestionably the best fare that Angela had ever tasted; and only society’s most elite seemed capable of getting a reservation. She couldn’t fathom how expensive the meal must have been.

She reached her hand across the table and he took it, squeezing gently. That’s what a man’s hand should feel like, she thought. Mark was urbane, fit, and oozed vitality, despite being mere months from his fiftieth birthday. Having experienced his magnetic charisma multiple times now, and having seen the gliding ease with which he bent the world to his will, Angela felt certain that Mark’s ascension to Chief Marketing Officer at Paulson Omnigroup had been inevitable.

When the check arrived with two complimentary boxes of Tête-à-Tête truffles, Angela felt like she was being unwillingly roused from a dream. Though full, she could have eaten another few courses. And while she didn’t interact with the aristocratic diners surrounding them, she was not yet ready to relinquish their company. Nonetheless, she and Mark rose from the table and walked casually out the front door past the maître d, who wished them a pleasant evening.

As the valet retrieved Mark’s car, Angela could feel the envious, searching stares of the proles passing by. It was fun to watch their not-so-furtive attempts to guess who Mark and Angela were among the Tête-à-Tête gentry. To amuse herself, she stood poised on the curb as though she were being photographed on a red carpet entryway, and she got into Mark’s Mercedes slowly, as if to show the world that time itself moved at her discretion.

Mark and Angela pulled away from the restaurant and drove back to Angela’s house in blissful silence, leaving Angela to ponder how best to consummate the date. She wanted to encourage more evenings like this, but she didn’t want to break character and let Mark take the lead tonight. That would be too much of a concession. Maybe she would pour him a drink, sit him on the couch, and dance for him as she slowly undressed. She would let him soak in every inch of her, and she would adapt her movements to his reactions, to those little unspoken signs that his desire was piquing when she moved a certain way or revealed those swaths of skin that unexpectedly and disproportionately raised his pulse. A guided tour of her meticulously crafted physique could be a nice departure from her dominance, and it would be a subtle way to show her gratitude without undermining their dynamic. Then she could conclude in more typical fashion.

They turned right onto her street and cruised up the hill toward her house. She looked over at Mark, who was peering at her thighs with saccadic glances when the streetlights temporarily lit them. She uncrossed her legs, put both feet on the dash between the driver’s and passenger’s seats, and slid the bottom of her cocktail dress toward her hips.

You should be able to see them better this way, she said.

Mark smiled.

Don’t crash, but don’t stop looking either. I like the feel of your eyes on my skin.

Mark stared longer and more deliberately, taking only quick glances at the empty road in front of them as a primordial part of his brain began to take over. He almost didn’t notice how near they were to her house until she retracted her legs, one at a time, and slid her dress back into place.

We’re here. Why don’t you focus on pulling into my driveway without destroying my mailbox, and maybe I’ll let you see more when we get inside.

Redirecting his attention, Mark turned into the driveway, sweeping his headlights across the yard and front steps in the process.

What the . . . ? Mark said, realizing what he just saw.

Angela, who had been soaking up Mark’s attention and getting herself into character for the performance she was about to give, didn’t notice anything until she saw Mark’s reaction. But looking toward the house, she saw a sobbing woman sitting on her front steps surrounded by luggage. The woman, hysterical, raised her head between a pair of heaving shoulders and stared straight at the car with two swollen, irritated eyes pouring tears over her prominent cheeks.

Samara? Angela said.

3

INSTITUTIONAL OVERSIGHT

There was no clock in the room, and Angela didn’t have her phone with her. It could have been 11 p.m. or 3 a.m. She lay on her side on her cot, mesmerized by the translucent dust motes floating fluidly past one another in the column of faint, silver light from the window. Her body ached. Laying on her back or side hurt her neck. Laying on her stomach hurt her back. Her meandering thoughts would ordinarily have presaged sleep, but soreness consumed her, keeping her awake.

She thought back to the last time things were normal, the last day she wasn’t worried about Samara or Mark or Oliver—or whoever sent those strange messages.

She could almost feel the stiff leather biting into her skin, like it did that day as she stared down the length of her smooth, extended leg at the black, stiletto-heeled shoe gripping her foot.

It had been the management consultant’s first session, and she hadn’t yet determined the secret things that excited him. Like most clients, he’d shared some basic desires over the phone before his visit. But, like most clients, he’d almost certainly held back. She knew unearthing his true yearnings would take time, but, at that moment, she could only experiment and make mental notes.

Lick, she’d commanded him, as he genuflected in front of her.

Yes, Miss Angelique, he’d said obediently, then began to inch forward.

It’s too bad we never got a follow-up session, she thought, half-smiling at the memory.

Afterward, after listening to the consultant’s sedan accelerate and disappear, she’d removed her stilettos, changed into shorts and an old t-shirt, and began cleaning. It was her ritual when the last client left: performance garb, off; casual clothes, on; then cleanse and disinfect all props, staging areas, and anything else within sight. Although it was a rental, she’d kept her bungalow spotless. And although she only saw clients in the back room, she’d often cleaned the whole house before stopping. She could almost hear her late grandmother’s voice when she scrubbed: A home is a reflection of the homemaker; a filthy home means a filthy life.

On her way to Hermosa Roast, the neighborhood coffee shop, she’d texted Samara Ryland: You going to tell me about this new guy, or what? There may be some vino in it for you, if you come over tonight.

Samara stopped by that evening.

Kicking off her wedge sandals, and shoving the chartreuse, orange, and pink throw pillows aside, Samara sat with both legs tucked under her left side and her right arm outstretched along the backrest of Angela’s L-shaped couch. She was tall and lithe; her soft, dark-olive skin seemed to glow against the beige leather upholstery, leaving only her pronounced, freckled cheeks and thick auburn hair in full focus.

Angela brought in two glasses of red wine, set them on the slate coffee table, and sat opposite Samara. Spill it. How’d you meet him?

When my sister was in town a few weeks ago, Samara began, lifting her glass and pausing to sip from it, "we went out for drinks. Preston—the guy—was sitting a few seats away, typing some emails on his phone after meeting with a client. He’s a lawyer, by the way.

Anyway, he was drinking some kind of rare vermouth, and the bartender poured me one by accident when I ordered a port. I took a sip and loved it, so I ordered a few more. But the bartender was an idiot and put all of my drinks on Preston’s tab. So when he went to pay, he saw that he had been charged for almost twice as many vermouths as he’d ordered. The bartender recognized his mistake and pointed out that I had been drinking the same thing. Preston came over to find out who this other mysterious vermouth aficionado was, and we hit it off.

I never would have pictured you with a lawyer, especially one named Preston. Does he know that you . . . ? Angela asked, hesitating.

"Of course not. I’m not that stupid. Besides, even if I wanted to tell him, I was with my sister when we met. So I gave him the same line I give everyone else: I’m an aspiring actress, but I teach private yoga sessions to pay the bills."

Angela cocked her head.

Samara mimicked her and scowled playfully at Angela through the tops of her eye sockets. Jesus, Angie. I can just see him for a while and then come up with some excuse to break it off. Or maybe I’ll figure out a way to make it work.

Eventually he’ll figure out what you do. And that’ll end everything, probably in an ugly way.

"Maybe. Or maybe I end up liking him so much I quit my side job before he finds out. Maybe I actually become a private yoga instructor, Preston and I get married, and we move to the valley and have a bunch of kids. Ha!" Samara said, smiling.

Angela rolled her eyes.

Like you’re one to talk. How is this any different from your situation?

Mark started as my client, Angela said. He still is my client, actually. So there is no risk of things blowing up because he finds out I’m a domme.

Yeah, and he’s married, Samara replied. So there’s no risk of it turning into something great either. Real storybook potential there, Angie.

You’re hopeless, Angela said.

We’ll see.

Angela rolled to her back on the cot. She folded her pillow widthwise and shoved it under her neck, but it quickly lost its shape. Grunting, she speared it with the crown of her head. A sharp twinge shot up the side of her neck.

Easy, Angie. At least you have a pillow. Things could always be worse.

She wondered if Samara was getting any sleep tonight. She had to have lost a lot of blood, and her hand was probably still throbbing. She was probably tied and bound, too—if she was even still alive.

Tears blurred Angela’s vision as she grabbed a handful of blanket and squeezed.

4

KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE . . .

Looks like I’m going to have to call it a night, Angela said, still sitting in the passenger seat of Mark’s Mercedes. Sorry.

I understand, he said.

She kissed him, exited the car, and walked toward her weeping friend.

Sam, are you OK? What are you doing here?

It’s Preston. . . . You were right, Angie. You were right. She could barely finish the thought.

He found out.

Let’s get you inside. We can talk more there.

Arms full, it took both of them to carry Samara’s luggage up the stairs and into Angela’s bedroom. They moved to the couch in the den, where Angela suggested they’d be more comfortable, and Angela retrieved a bottle of cabernet sauvignon from the kitchen.

Sam, I understand you coming over to talk, she said, uncorking the bottle, but why are you here with half your wardrobe?

I moved in with him, Angie! That’s how fucking stupid I am! Samara erupted into sobs.

Angela slid down the couch and hugged Samara from the side, massaging her shoulders. OK, OK, just take a breath. I didn’t know. I haven’t seen you in months.

I’m . . . sorry . . .

Listen, Angela continued, why don’t we just watch TV and have some wine for now. We can talk about everything in the morning, when you’ve had a chance to collect yourself.

OK, Samara managed.

Angela poured two large glasses of wine.

They drank fast and fell asleep an hour into the on-demand movie Angela rented, which was over when Angela came to. She nudged Samara awake and, as they both rose to retire to the bedroom, Angela saw a reddish-purple stain on the couch where Samara had been sitting. Angela clenched her jaw and took a forceful breath.

Samara, registering both the stain and Angela’s changed demeanor, apologized profusely.

It’s OK, Angela

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