Crime writer Matt Wells hasn't had much time for a career of late—he's been too busy fighting for his life. And now he can't trust anyone, not even himself.
His thoughts are not his own—his subconscious has been infiltrated and a single word can trigger hidden orders buried deep within Matt's memory, turning him into a killing machine.
The FBI aims him at the man responsible for his conditioning: an architect of Nazi revival and devotee of the Antichurch of Lucifer Triumphant. This man took Matt's life away and must pay.
Even in a nation rife with antigovernment paranoia and conspiracy theories, nobody could believe the things Matt has seen. In a nation infected with trained assassins and ritual murderers, only he can piece together the truth and save the U.S. from impending disaster.
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Paul Johnston was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and educated there and at Oxford. He is the author of eleven crime novels, the first of which, Body Politic, won the British Crime Writers' Association John Creasey Memorial Dagger for Best First Novel. He has also won the Sherlock Award for Best Detective Novel. He divides his time between Scotland and Greece. He is married to a Greek and has three children. www.Paul-Johnston.co.ukExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
A healthy mind in a healthy body—yeah, right. A crow cawed, then took off with a rattle of wings from the trees on my left. The sounds were immediately swallowed by the sodden vegetation and chill damp air. I came round the bend in the path and sprinted toward the timber wall. I'd been over it so often recently that I knew exactly where the hand and toeholds were. That didn't stop me getting more splinters in my fingertips. After I was over, I ran to the rope slide. That added to the abrasions on my palms. Now there was only the long stretch to the finish. My knee had started to ache from its old injuries, but I reckoned it would hold out. Since I had started doing the circuit, my body had found numerous ways to show its displeasure at being treated like a delinquent at boot camp. Which, of course, is what I was. There weren't so many twinges as there had been at the start. The winter air hadn't helped when I was given the go-ahead to use the course a couple of weeks back. It could have been worse. I'd been told that this part of Illinois could easily have had snow and been freezing cold by now.
I pressed the button on my watch—one of the few personal possessions I'd been allowed to keep—as I crossed the line in the ground. Twenty-two minutes and sixteen-point-six seconds. I bent over, hands on my knees, and tried to get my breathing under control.
I looked up. 'Close to my best time,' I said between gasps.
The tall individual in green vest and thigh-hugging shorts gave me an indulgent smile. 'Like I say, not bad.' He paused. 'For a civilian.'
'Uh-huh. What's your record, Superman?'
The soldier dropped to the ground and started doing push-ups at a frightening rate. 'You don't want to know,' he replied, his breathing still regular.
He glanced up at me and grinned. 'How serious do you wanna get, friend?'
'However serious you like.' I knew I was asking for trouble, but life had been dull of late.
'How about this?' the soldier said, still doing rapid push-ups. 'We race the circuit and then I tell you my best time. Oh, and the loser buys a case of beer.'
I went for it. The man in green had well-toned muscles all over and his height gave him a monster stride. I took him at the start, but by the end I was about fifty yards behind, my thighs and lungs on fire.
'Make it Bud,' he said, his sculpted chest hardly rising.
'Can't,' I eventually managed to reply. He gave me the eye. 'Ain't no can't about it.'
'Sorry,' I said, wiping my mouth. 'I'm not allowed in the canteen.'
He was unconvinced. 'Who are you? Even the FBI can buy shit there.'
The camp was shared by the army and the Justice Department, and no doubt what he said was true. There were different rules for me, though. I pulled up the right leg of my tracksuit so he could see the tracking cuff. 'Do I look like a Fed?'
The soldier took in the device. He looked at the stubble on my face and my less-than-perfectly-groomed hair. 'You don't sound like one, either. Shit, you're that foreign prisoner we ain't supposed to talk to.'
I extended my hand. 'Matt Wells.'
He took the hand dubiously. 'Where you from, Mr. Wells?'
'Call me Matt. I'm from London, England.'
'Is that so?' he said, reclaiming his hand rapidly.
'Now you know why I can't buy that beer. Not only am I barred from the canteen, but I haven't got any money.'
'Aw, forget it,' the soldier said. 'Way I hear it, you got other things to worry about.'
He gave me a hostile look. 'You really try to kill—'
'Well, if you count that I was brainwashed. They're working on getting me back to normal.' I didn't know how much had been made public about us. We had only been allowed newspapers in the last week, and the internet was still off limits. 'Seems to be working. That's why I'm allowed out here unsupervised.'
'Apart from that thing on your ankle,' he said, with a lopsided grin. 'I heard about you. Your wife was involved, too, yeah?'
'Partner. Karen's due to give birth in the next couple of weeks.'
'Hey, congratulations.' He relaxed, but not much. 'I mean, good luck when the time comes.'
'Thanks. Everything seems to be going fine.'
'Great.' The soldier glanced at his watch. 'I'd better be getting back. See you around, man.'
'Hey,' I called after him. 'What about the beer?'
'What's your name?' I shouted, feeling like the kid in the playground with no friends.
'Jerome,' he yelled, over his shoulder. 'Quincy Jerome.'
I watched him run off. I didn't know his rank or unit. The troops in the camp had obviously been told to treat us like pariahs. Which, to any normal person, was nothing less than we deserved.
I went back to the apartment we'd been given, and whined.
'Don't worry about it,' Karen said, her hands resting lightly on the prominent bulge in her abdomen. 'What did you imagine would be said about us? We tried to kill the President and a member of his cabinet, remember? That was hardly going to endear us to anyone, especially not soldiers. He is their commander in chief.' She grimaced. 'Your son's kicking like mad again. I might have known he'd be a rugby player.'
I went over and put my hand next to hers, then kissed her on the lips. There certainly was a lot of activity down below. 'Of course, rugby league players don't kick the ball nearly as much as those union tossers.'
'No, you just kick the opposition.' Although she'd been taken into custody with me after trying to kill the justice secretary in FBI headquarters and then the President in the Washington National Cathedral a couple of months back, her stern manner was that of the detective chief superintendent in the London Metropolitan Police she technically still was. 'That's enough about rugby, Matt. You haven't played for years.'
She was right. This was the first time in months that I'd even remembered the sport I played as an amateur for most of my adult life. The imminent arrival of my first male child had resulted in a revision of my priorities.
'Haven't you got a clinic this afternoon?' Karen asked. Her own sessions with the psychologists and neurologists had been suspended until after the birth.
'Oh, joy...' In fact, the treatment was becoming less arduous. At the beginning we'd been badly affected by the drugs we were given, Karen in particular finding it difficult to eat and sleep. I'd been worried that the baby would suffer an adverse reaction, but the experts assured us that wasn't on the cards. There had been long hours wired up to an overhead machine that reminded me of the device used by the Nazi twins back in their camp in Maine. I'd wondered if the so-called 'reverse indoctrination' would result in me singing the 'Star-Spangled Banner' and demanding a box of doughnuts for breakfast. The effects must have been more subtle, as I had now remembered a lot about myself and kept insisting on Oxford marmalade for my toast—not that I got it.
'What are they doing?' Karen asked. Her face was fuller than before and she looked a picture of health, her lustrous blond hair tied back in a chiffon. 'Still trying out triggers?'
I nodded. The Rothmann twins had programmed their subjects to go into attack mode when they heard certain words. One of them, 'Barbarossa,' had been the default trigger that activated a large number of people in the cathedral during a veterans' ceremony attended by senior government members. But each subject also had personal triggers that affected only them. The one I fell prey to back then was 'Goethe' and the experts had succeeded in deprogramming my brain from responding to it, which was just as well as it had made me zero in on the most powerful man on the planet with murder in my heart. There might still have been other triggers lurking in my subconscious, so hours were spent each week bombarding me with words, most of them German. I had reacted to two other triggers so far—'Landshut,' the name of a town, and 'zugzwang,' a chess move—they had also been dealt with. For the FBI, the worry was that Jack Thomson, aka Heinz Rothmann, had escaped capture despite my best efforts, and he might succeed in contacting me and activating a trigger—hence no internet and no contact with the outside world.
Karen was looking dispirited. 'They're never going to let us out of this place.'
I took her hand. 'Don't worry, I'm doing my best to drive them crazy. Soon they'll be paying us to leave.'
She let out a sob. 'I never...I never imagined our son would be born in a secure facility, attended by army doctors.'
I put my arm round her shoulders. 'It doesn't matter where he's born.' I kissed her cheek. 'All that matters is that you both come through all right and that he's healthy.' I nudged her gently. 'Besides, you'll have a room of your own with hot and cold running midwives.'
Karen looked away. 'We tried to kill the President, Matt,' she said, her voice pitched low to elude the listening devices. 'Even if they give us a trial, we aren't going to be let off and sent home.'
She had a point. Although people from the British Embassy had visited a few times, we hadn't been allowed to see lawyers. When I complained, I was told we could either stay where we were or join the general population in separate federal prisons. I certainly wasn't going to allow our son to be born in a prison infirmary without me present, so I shut up. The fact was, we were better off being deprogrammed in the camp. Peter Sebastian, the FBI homicide chief with responsibility for us, said the Justice Department had no desire to drag us through the courts, citing not only my assistance with the authorities, but the political desire not to have a sensational trial that would overshadow the President's entire domestic agenda. But they had to be sure we no longer posed a danger, and that stage hadn't yet been reached. As usual, the British government had been completely craven and had caved in to American pressure, even though Karen was a high-ranking and decorated police officer. So much for the special relationship between the two countries.
Karen's eyes were wet. 'It isn't fair. He deserves better.'
I felt my son kick against the palm of my hand. 'Of course he does,' I said softly. 'Especially since his names are going to be Mick and Keith.'
That earned me an elbow in the gut.
'I told you, Matt,' Karen said, a smile playing on her lips. 'No wrinkled Rolling Stones' names. It's Algernon or nothing.'
I laughed and brought my mouth close to her bulge. 'Hey, Nothing!' I called. 'Stop kicking your mum!'
Her elbow made contact again before I could get away.
Later on, I went to the FBI's version of Frankenstein's laboratory. It smelled as bad as usual: of dubious chemical compounds, half-finished plates of food from the canteen, and apprehension, though I may have been responsible for the last.
'Good afternoon, Mr. Wells.'
I nodded to the elderly scientist. Dr. Rivers wasn't a bad type, but he was over-keen on formality. Despite the fact that I'd told him weeks ago to use my first name, he stuck to my surname. Maybe he thought that would reinforce my comprehension of what I really was—a British crime novelist who had got involved with more killers than was good for his health, rather than the mindless pawn of Nazi conspirators.
'Today we will try some new triggers that the computer has thrown up, if you don't mind.' Rivers led me to the secure room. It had armored glass windows on all sides and the only furniture was a chair bolted to the middle of the floor. At least they weren't chaining me to a bed anymore—that had got very tedious. Now I was free to walk around in the room.
I sat and watched as electrodes were attached to my head and body. The wires ran to a transmitter that was hooked onto the pocket of my orange jumpsuit. Then the glass door closed behind the doctor and his technician, bolts shooting into their sockets with a loud thunk. My legs twitched as tedium gripped me. Things only got interesting when we came across a trigger, but that hadn't happened for a couple of weeks. I was still on edge—the experience was weirder than smoking camel dung.
'Ready, Mr. Wells?' Dr. Rivers's voice came through a speaker above the door. He had taken up his usual position behind a bank of screens.
I raised a hand.
'Matthew Wells, session number twenty-seven, December fifth, 1612 hours,' the scientist said for the recording. He paused, and then started reading out the list of words slowly.
'Faden.' He paused again, waiting to see if I metamorphosed into a psycho killer. Nothing.
And so the list went on. I sometimes tried to guess what the unfamiliar words meant, but I'd never studied German so I remained generally clueless. It was often hard even to discern which ones were proper names.
That was easier. I had the impression there had been some important Nazi offices in the Berlin square of that name. Since I remained in control of myself, the Roth-manns obviously hadn't deemed it worthy of use.
My mind began to drift. Rivers didn't protest when that happened; in fact, he'd told me at the start of the process that it was probably better if I didn't concentrate on what was said. So I let my thoughts wander. Inevitably I found myself thinking about Karen. She was right. We might well be kept in the camp indefinitely; it might become our personal Guantanamo Bay, Illinois-style—we'd only been told which state we were in after a week had elapsed. There had been no sign of the therapy ending. For prisoners, we were comfortable enough. We had a fairly decent apartment and wholesome food provided but were under constant surveillance, with cameras and microphones in every room. The tracking cuff had only recently been taken off Karen's swollen ankle. Given her condition, she was hardly going to make a dash for freedom—not that the high, razor-wired fences could be scaled, even by someone as fit and long-legged as Quincy Jerome.
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