BlackMail Preview: Chapter 1

Chapter 1

You might not know this, but New York is really loud, no matter what time of day or year it is. There’s a reason it’s called the city that never sleeps. People here don’t go to sleep. Well, obviously, people do sleep at some point, but there are always enough people up at any given time that things are still crowded. Even though it’s Tuesday night.

All right, tonight is not like any other Tuesday night, It’s New Year’s Eve, and New York is party central for like, the entire damn world or something. Never mind that it’s already been the new year for most the rest of the world. London’s already passed out from their parties, but the world is still watching New York. Even those uptight, PC hippies out in California are watching us. I’m not sure what’s so fascinating about it, the same thing happens every year. Ryan Seacrest gets on his high horse and acts like it’s the greatest night of the year (though I suppose for Seacrest it might be, ever since Dick Clark let him take over) while whatever the latest, greatest pop act of the moment plays on some damn stage or other. There’s a giant mirror ball that should have gone out of style after the 1970’s, just like disco did, that hits bottom after a countdown from ten that signals that it is now the New Year in New York, and screw everywhere else where it’s already tomorrow.

Okay, it’s possible that I’m a little jaded over the whole New Year’s celebration. To be honest, my original plan had been to be there in Times Square getting drunk, wearing a sparkly hat and stupid 2048 glasses, and kissing some random stranger that would hopefully be a guy

(depending on how drunk I am) while rocking out to the latest, greatest pop sensation. Unfortunately, my superiors at The Third Party had other ideas. So instead of enjoying being twenty- five like I should be, I am using the party (the one in Times Square, not the organization I work for) as a cover to break into the Rand Corporation.

Perhaps I should be grateful. Times Square had become more and more obnoxious over the years. Times Square has always been an epicenter of consumerism. Stores of all types, giant billboards and televisions advertising some thing or other. Eventually advertisers had realized that technologies like SIRI could be combined with holographic spokespeople. Now rather than just having a giant television tell you could save fifteen percent on your insurance, a holographic gecko wanders around times square talking to people about it.

However it irks me that not only could I not be in the party (pun not intended, I am in The Party. Okay, I’ll stop that now.) but that I have to be right next to it, listening to everyone cheer as the ball starts to descend while I’m preparing to take a ride up to the thirtieth floor of this building. At least I get to ride the elevator. I’ve had a few missions where I got to climb a lot of stairs because the power was out due to some unforeseen circumstances that I had absolutely nothing to do with. There are some people who hate elevators. Personally I love the things. But I love things that move very, very fast, and elevators move very, very fast, so fast that you experience an extra G on the way up, and something akin to free fall on the way down. Thirty floors is a small trip, but since I’m not getting my thrills outside, I will take what I can get.

The elevator opens a moment after I press the button, as the doors slide open I brace myself for the ride up. The ride down is more fun, but I’ll take my moment of fun for now. The ride up is the most excitement I’m likely to have tonight, or any night. I’m here on what is probably my last mission for The Party for a while. See, somehow the Rand Corporation got some information on something that The Party doesn’t want to be known. What it is, I don’t know; I’m just a lowly agent, and not privy to the inner workings of the organization. Which is good. I know I’m doing my part to fight the good fight, but I don’t need or want to know everything that is going on.

The Third Party is an organization that likes to work behind the scenes for the betterment of mankind. We work to help move governments, companies, or other organizations in the right direction. We aim to end poverty, hunger, disease, human rights abuses, terrorism, and much more. We want to see a world where people work for the betterment of all, not for small green pieces of paper, or an imaginary number in a bank somewhere.

We work towards these goals in secret, and in many ways. Health care reform in the U.S. in the early 10’s? Bin Laden’s location? End of the Afghan and Iraqi wars? Those and many, many more., all thanks to the work of The Third Party. But like all organizations we are human, and were unable to prevent the events of 2001, though we tried to alert those who could. We couldn’t stop the so-called Patriot Act, but our lawyers did a lot of work to fix what we could.

But not all of our work is good and nice. In order to move the world forward we use all of the tools that are available to us. Sometimes it’s law, sometimes it’s information, other times it’s a push in the right direction, or blackmail. Other times, well, bad things happen. People, dictators, things, places can get in the way. Those things have to be removed, and just like the aftermath of any party, there’s a mess that has to be cleaned up when everything’s said and done.

My job is all of the above. I clean up messes. I cause messes. I have informed, killed, and protected. It’s not a pretty job, but it needs to be done, and I would do it all again. I’ve only lived for twenty-five years, and hope to continue to do this until the day I die, which will hopefully not be any time soon, but that is an uncertainty that comes with the job, a job that until recently had been mine to do alone. This is my last mission as a solo agent, for a while anyway. I’ve been informed that tomorrow I start to train a new recruit, an assignment that I am just super- duper happy to have.

I reach over and press the button for the thirtieth floor, then brace myself. The ride begins and it’s over before it really even starts. Just like that I’m on the thirtieth floor of the building, and outside I can hear the crowd chanting as that ball begins its descent. I look up and down a long hall that extends both ways from the elevator. The building isn’t actually owned by Rand. They just lease out part of the floor. The path to my left belongs to some kind of medical group that does some damn thing or other. It’s none of my concern; I’m worried about the offices to my right. Down the hall I see a large set of double doors that make no sense, but that office buildings tend to have anyway. I guess they try to make you feel small or something before you enter. I can almost feel someone behind me whispering, “Remember, thou art but mortal. Thou art but mortal!” over and over again as I walk up to the doors. To the side is one of those little black boxes you wave your little id card key thingy over. Obviously I don’t have one for Rand, but these boxes never were very secure, not when they’re all manufactured by The Third Party. I look down at my bag hanging from my side and pull out my little card key. I wave it in front of the box and it clicks open. I smile as I open the door. I might be mortal, but right now I am a powerful mortal.

I walk into the room and gaze at rows of little cubicles in the giant room. Gray lifeless walls meant to suck the joy right out of life sprawl ahead of me. There are offices in the back and other rooms to the sides. I move along the right side of the wall and gaze at people’s attempts to thwart cubicle terror with pictures of friends, family, happy moments, models and other things that remind them that just outside life is happening without them. I move along, then stop at a desk whose walls are covered with Dilbert comic strips. The desk is immaculate, with the only oddity being a red Slimline stapler crouching in the middle. To one side is a dual paper holder for in and out. I look at the inbox and see what appears to be several memos, all pertaining to the same thing. Corporate bureaucracy at its best.

I sit down at the desk, pick up the stapler and lean back in the chair. It goes way back and I assume the owner has back problems or sleeps a lot. I pull a micro drive, from my bag hook it up to the computer and power it on. The computer goes through its little start up, Google Desktop appears, and the micro drive goes to work. I get up and move back down the room. I’ll pick up the micro drive once I finish with the rest of my work. It’ll search for any files The Party wants to keep secret, and give our hackers access to the system. That’s assuming they aren’t still trying to resurrect the hacker group, Anonymous, which actually gave The Party no end of trouble until we shut them down. Now our computer experts want to bring them into the fold. I suppose it would be good to have them working for us, rather than against, as this little mission is at least partially their fault.

A little further down, next to the big honcho’s office is the file room. This is what I’m looking for. Hackers are all good and fine, but they always forget about hard copies, probably because they can’t access them with their little toys. That’s why people like me will always be needed, for the things computers just can’t do.

Filing cabinets stand around the room, I’ll have to go through each of them and look for what’s needed. Fortunately The Party has given me certain keywords to look for, and I am a champion speed reader. It doesn’t take me long, maybe a half hour or so of searching to find everything I’m looking for. I go back out and make sure to grab my micro drive and shut the computer off. I look at that stapler again, and just for good measure, I take it too. I’m sure they won’t miss it. Besides, it’s just a stapler. It’s not like they’re gonna’ destroy the place over it, right?

I move back out and find the elevator. The ride down is much better than the ride up. I get in and push the lobby button, and almost immediately feel my feet leave the ground. The free fall lasts for what feels like an eternity, but in reality was probably five seconds. The ride ends and I walk out like nothing happened.

Outside, the New Year’s celebration continues to rage, the ball already dropped a while ago while I was searching for stuff. But drunk people don’t stop partying just because some sparkly sphere fell down. So being the awesome super- secret agent that I am, I party with them. I dance along, all the while making my way back out of Times Square to the parking garage where my car is. Some guy tries to kiss me, but you know drunks, they can’t keep their balance and this one ends up on the ground in agony.

It takes longer than I like with a purse full of files, but I manage to make it back to my car in one piece. Tonight I’m driving in my black Viper, and I mean black. Every part of it is painted black, even the dash and controls are pure black so that they can’t be used unless you know what they do, which is a good thing, as my car has some non- standard features. The black leather seats are made for comfort and to cushion during hard accelerations, which happen often. The seat belts look like they belong in a NASCAR, rather than something made for the street. The plates read BLKHOLE, and it fits. The paint almost seems to suck in the light, and nothing escapes me when I’m in it.

There’s a man leaning against my car, and I’m not happy about it. He gives me a speculative look up and down. It’s like in the movies when the camera starts at the feet and slowly pans up to give the full experience of how a woman looks. Yeah, he does this to me every time I meet with him, and I half expect his eyes to fly out of his sockets upon seeing me. I haven’t figured out if he knows he’s doing it, or if he does it just to annoy me. Either way, the effect is the same and I’m supremely annoyed, both from missing the party and having to deal with him all in the same night. I walk up to him and hand him the micro drive and the files I pulled. The red Slimline stapler falls to the ground from my bag. Silently he kneels down, picking up the stapler before taking the files and micro drive. Zenith quickly looks them over. He might be a champion speed reader too, or not, I don’t really know. I know very little about him, and I like to keep it that way. He, on the other hand, is always trying to “get to know” me better.

Zenith is about 6’2”, maybe a little older then I am, and always dresses in a three piece suit. He keeps his black hair slicked back with some kind of gel that makes it gleam, even in the parking garage’s fluorescent light. Black leather shoes compliment his suit, and I don’t doubt for a moment that it’s all Armani. His suit tonight is all black, including the tie, vest, and shirt. He gets up off of my car and moves around me. I’m sure he enjoys the view that the three inch heels on my black shoes give him, not to mention the black dress. I’m a little shorter than he is, without the heels I stand at 5’9, my hair is brown, and I like to think it cascades down to my shoulders like in those shampoo commercials. My body is slim but athletic, it’s hard to keep up with me, even in heels. Tonight with my heels on, I’m just two inches shorter than he is, but I know it’s not my height he’s looking at. Finally he comes full circle around me and actually tries to get to some kind of business.

Anyone notice you going into the building?”

I doubt it. Everyone was staring at the band waiting for the ball to drop.”

“This is everything?”

Everything I found in their files, and the micro drive did whatever it does.”

He flips through the files again but I know he isn’t actually reading anything this time before he gives me another once- over. “You want to go over this with me tonight?”

Zenith, the answer, just like every other night, is no. I told you, I don’t mix pleasure and Party.”

He seems kind of disappointed, but that’s was nothing new and he can live with it. “Very well. Are you ready for your trainee tomorrow?”

Do I have a choice?”

No, Not really.”

Yeah, Zenith, I’m ready. I’ll make the newbie into the best little agent I can. If there’s nothing else, I’d like to go now. Need to sleep and be ready to deal with the trainee in the morning, right?”

He smiles briefly before walking away from me, probably to wherever his car is. Doubtless one of those obnoxious racer things he likes so much. “Her name is Jade. She should be there tomorrow afternoon, so you’ll have plenty of time to sleep. Goodnight, BlackMail. And good work.”

Hey Zenith!” I call out to him before gets too far away. He turns back probably thinking I’ve changed my mind. “I believe you have my stapler.”

He looks down at his hand holding the stapler before tossing it to me. He flashes a smile at me and turns to disappear beyond one of the many beams holding the garage up. I watch for a moment, but he’s gone. I get into my car and put the windows down before putting the seat back. I set it to take me home. I’m not really that tired right now, but my head hurts thinking about tomorrow. The car’s electric motor kicks in and silently moves me out of the parking structure towards home. I close my eyes and let it take me home, I have a feeling I’m in for a long day tomorrow.

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