This week’s episode features Chapter Fourteen of Black Brick. Here is an excerpt from the show:  

IT WAS THE FIRST warm day in months, and the students of Kingstone campus were taking advantage of it. A group of people on the grass in front of the Lincoln library were tossing around a Frisbee, and there were even a few ambitious girls sunbathing. It was warm, but it wasn’t warm enough for that.

Several women who walked by chatted animatedly. In the brief snippets of the conversation I overheard, it sounded like they were discussing a celebrity, but I didn’t hear enough to overhear who. Not that it would have mattered if I did, I didn’t know much about those sorts of things.

I marveled at their energy. To me, they looked like kids, but I knew they were the same age as me, if not older. How was it possible for me to feel like an old man when I was barely old enough to be in college? What would I have become if I hadn’t been raised by the government?

I headed into the library. I wasn’t sure if I intended to get anything done, but I had to get out of Black Brick. It had been two days since the train incident, and I was going stir crazy. Beltran hadn’t even made us attend class, which I’d been thankful for until I felt the walls start to close in.

When I passed the lobby, I noticed Thor sitting at a table near the librarian’s desk and decided to go to the second floor. I didn’t feel up to dealing with the man.  

I found an empty table in a corner and pulled out my tablet computer and set it down without turning it on. It had been a long couple of days and I still couldn’t tell up from down. The last week had been intense. Explosions left and right, people connected to Diggon dropping like flies, and hidden agendas everywhere I turned.

Beltran could call it a test if he wanted, but that didn’t make it any better. When we’d been told that there would be a final test to become active, I’d expected a hard mission that tested my personal abilities and limits.

What Beltran was doing tested my faith in him and our organization. What else would Beltran be willing to do as a test? How far was he willing to go? Would he let people die?  

I was certain about only one thing. Payne and Martinez needed to be brought to justice.

Turning on my tablet, I avoided the temptation to check the news because it would be focused on the train wreck. More than twenty-five people had died so far, with more deaths expected. My subconscious had somehow been able to accept the fact that the situation hadn’t been of my own making and that I’d done my best. This kept the guilt from overwhelming me.

Yawning, I looked around the library and saw I was alone. Shelves of books towered all around me, providing me with the refuge and solace I sought. Shifting, so that my back was facing a wall, I decided it was safe to open work related information and review it. I needed to do something to keep my mind off the madness. The only way out was through.  

As a team, we had expressed interest in helping chase down Martinez and Payne. Beltran had refused our offer but given us Martinez’s file to review.  

“Make no mistake, you’re not on this case,” Beltran had said, “But Martinez knows enough about us that it would be best if everybody kept an eye out for his meddling.”

I opened the Martinez file and began to sift through it. Snorting, I realized that much of the information had been redacted or password protected. Later, if I had time, I’d try to get around the encryption on the documents. For now, I sifted through what was available.

Martinez had been recruited when he was twelve after his mother had died in a car accident. That wasn’t a surprise; all of us came from similar backgrounds. We’d all lost parents at a young age and never been adopted afterward.

I guess Beltran had adopted us all.

Did that make him our father? The thought made me shift in my seat. I hoped Beltran didn’t think of me as his son, I would never think of him in that way.

I noticed a file called activity logs and tried to access it, but found that it too was password protected. I'd been hoping to learn what Martinez had been doing the night that Andrews was killed. If he’d been using Payne and Kurt to get at Diggon, that made him our best suspect for the Andrews murder. Had he killed Gina to keep her from ratting him out? He could have killed us, but that might have drawn too much attention from Beltran.

“You made a mistake with Peck the other day, you know that, right?”

The statement broke into my thoughts like a cannonball diver at the deep end of a pool.

I looked up into the face of the dark haired girl that had been staring at me all semester. The tight pink sweater and jeans complimented her dark hair and it was an effort for me to remember that I was already spoken for.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

The woman smiled and shifted her head to the side. She was holding several books which she set down on my table. Without asking, she slid out a chair and took a seat.

“Peck’s going to call on you more frequently, just to see if you’ve done your reading.” She smiled, her white teeth stood out against her brown complexion. “Should I just call you Mr. Chever or do you have a first name?”

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This week’s episode features Chapter Thirteen of Black Brick. Here is an excerpt from the show: 

THE CONFERENCE ROOM AT Black Brick smelled like sweat, and I wasn’t the only with a ring of perspiration around my neck. We’d all made it back within a few minutes of each other and were waiting for Beltran to join us. It wasn’t going to be a pleasant meeting. I took a sip of coke and stifled a groan as pain shot up my chest.

I’d spoken with Dolores, who had been manning the reception desk in the lobby again, and learned that my instincts about Martinez had been correct.

He had in fact betrayed us. After taking Payne, Martinez had called Beltran. Dolores hadn’t known what the conversation had been about, but Beltran had ordered Black Brick into lockdown and restricted Martinez’s access to our base and internal systems.  

I leaned back in my chair, trying to find a more comfortable position, immediately wished that I hadn’t, and sat up again. In addition to my chest screaming with every move, my lower back also hurt. I must have done something to it when I fell after getting shot. It was a miracle I’d been able to run as far as I had on the way back here.

The painkillers I’d taken hadn’t kicked in yet. I took another swig of Coke, wishing I’d thought to bring in another can or two because I was afraid this was going to be a long meeting.

When Beltran entered the room, the temperature seemed to drop a few degrees. His face was a cold mask, but the anger danced in his eyes as he struggled to retain his composure. Beltran would sometimes fly off the handle, and all we could do was wait until he was done shouting.

I took another sip of my drink as Beltran set a folder he was carrying onto the table. He leaned down, putting his hands on the top and scourged us with his eyes.

“Why did you let Martinez take Payne?” Beltran demanded. “I wouldn’t have assigned your mission to another team without telling you. You know that.”  

Shannon was staring out one of the windows, fiddling with a pen. Cherry didn’t appear to be listening. Tom was handling Beltran the best of any of us because he hadn’t been there for the Martinez part of it all.

I wasn’t in the mood to say “I told you so” or give the others a knowing glance. Meet back at Black Brick to sort this all out, indeed!

This failure was as much mine as theirs, if not more mine since I’d realized something was off. Beltran was angry, but not as furious as I was expecting. The betrayal of one of his most trusted agents should have been accompanied by a tirade of swear words and yelling.

There was something about all this that bothered me.

“How long have you known Martinez was a traitor?” I asked.

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This week’s episode features Chapter Twelve of Black Brick. Here is an excerpt from the show: 

SHANNON GRIMACED WHEN SHE heard Cherry’s voice and her demeanor changed. Before, Shannon had been alert and ready for anything. Now, her face tightened, and she twisted her neck to either side. I hoped she wouldn’t do anything stupid. If she did, I’d have no choice but to back her up.

Of the four of us, Cherry was the most cautious and the least likely to do something that would get her caught, but I wasn't surprised that she was nervous.

It wasn’t that she wasn’t capable or a good shot—she was calmer in stressful situations than Tom—but I’d always seen her as the weakest among us. I wasn’t the only one. Shannon and Tom were protective of her too, which isn't a good sign if you're a spy.

The conversation continued, but I wasn’t paying attention to the words. I listened for the sound of her voice, willing away my desire to rush blindly to her aid. I grabbed Shannon’s arm as she made a move for the door. She glared at me and held up her pistol. She didn’t aim it at me, but her message was clear. Get out of the way.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered why Payne hadn’t just shot Cherry outright. He wasn’t one to have a conversation when a bullet could do his talking. I pushed the question away with relief that he seemed content to banter with Cherry, whatever his reason.  

I pointed to Becca. “We can’t let her get hurt.” Becca had become pale and was cowering in her chair. Her arms were folded as if she was trying to hug herself.

I whispered an instruction to Becca to get under the desk while keeping my eyes on Shannon, I expected her to bolt towards the door.

I tried to think of a way to keep Shannon from barging out, but by the time Becca had crawled under her desk I hadn’t been able to come up with anything. I couldn’t let Shannon go alone, but I also wanted to live through the day.

“Tell me how many more there are,” Payne said, “and it will go better for you.”

Cherry snorted, but it was cut off with a shriek.

“Wait to see if they walk past our door,” I whispered. “We’ll take them from behind.”

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This week’s episode features Chapter Eleven of Black Brick. Here is an excerpt from the show:

AS I STEPPED INTO the high-rise office building, I resisted shaking my head to get the ringing out of my ears. From what I could tell, my hearing was normal, even though it felt like there was cotton in them. It had been close to an hour since we'd left the site of the train bombing and I hoped that the ringing would soon go away. It was making my headache worse. Or maybe it was the other way around.

Shannon and I had popped into the bathroom of a gas station and done our best to clean up. I had smoothed out my hair and done what I could to make my coat presentable. I was lucky that I was wearing a black shirt as well as a black suit, the blood stains that I was sure were there weren't showing.

There were several minor tears in the fabric of my suit jacket, but nothing that would cause the casual passerby to take special note of me. If anyone looked too closely, they might wonder, but I doubted that anybody would suspect that I’d survived an explosion.

Despite our better judgment, we’d also taken a moment to call Black Brick to give an update on what happened. Beltran's voice was calm, but I could tell he was struggling to keep it that way. Initially, he'd ordered us back to Black Brick. I had pointed out that Cherry and Tom were chasing a mad man with a team of thugs by themselves so unless he was willing to call them back as well, we needed to catch up. There had been a long pause before he'd spoken.

“Find Lauren Griffith and Payne, kill Payne if you have too. Then get back here. It won’t be long before the police are looking for you. In all that confusion somebody took pictures of you two, guarantee it.”

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This week’s episode features Chapter Ten of Black Brick. Here is an excerpt from the show: 

I OPENED MY EYES with a start. The heavy smell of smoke, burning rubber, and blood filled the air. The train car had been cast in gloom, but there was light overhead. From my vantage point, I couldn't determine the exact source of the light, but I could at least tell that some of it was coming from a fire. Alarmed, I looked around and was relieved that I couldn’t see flames.

How long had I been out? I looked at my watch, but I couldn't remember what time it had been when the bomb had gone off. My best guess was that I'd been unconscious for only a few minutes. I hoped it hadn't been longer. The emergency response crews would be on the scene shortly, Shannon and I needed to be gone before that happened.

I tried to stand but slipped and fell, knocking my head against an armrest. The floor was wrong.  I looked up and saw rows of seats on the wall. I felt foolish for not remembering that the train car had been knocked over by the blast.

Once I was on my feet again, I could see that the light was coming through the broken windows that were now overhead. My original assessment that the reflected firelight had been coming from outside was correct. I could just see the tips of flames dancing out there.

When I took a step, shards of glass crunched underneath my foot. I paused and tried to listen for the emergency response vehicles over the sounds of the nearby burning fire and the cries of injured passengers. It was made doubly hard because there was a ringing in my ears as well.

Nothing.

A wave of guilt hit me when I heard a long groan.

I had done this. I’d thrown the bomb out the window.

Taking a deep breath, I released it and closed my eyes. I hadn't been responsible for this, and I knew it. I tried to put the matter from my mind; this was something to deal with later.

“Shannon?” my voice came out unsteady and cracked. It sounded far away. There was a dull ringing in my ears. I licked my lips and tasted blood. I tried a bit louder. “Shannon.”

“Nice job dummy,” Shannon said.

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This week’s episode features Chapter Nine of Black Brick. Here is an excerpt from the show: 

THE BLACK BAG HAD a large zipper at the top for the main compartment. There were several pockets on the side. After I checked the outside pockets and found them empty, I eased back the large zipper, wondering if it had been booby trapped. Once it was open half an inch, I put my index finger into the bag and felt the zipper as far as my finger could stretch. I felt nothing but the zipper teeth. Odds were it would be safe for me to open the bag but I would still have to be careful.

There was a disturbance behind me. I turned as a large African American man pushed to the front of the crowd that had gathered several feet away from Shannon and me. He had a good couple of inches on me in height and was broader as well. His suit hung off his frame in a way that underscored the fact that he was in good shape. As he pointed a hand at us, I could see his bicep threatening to burst open the sleeve of his jacket.

“What are you idiots doing?” he asked. “You’re gonna get us killed.”

I shook my head. “The man that left this won't hesitate to blow us up.”

The black man took another step forward.

“Stay back,” I said. He looked like he'd be able to handle himself in a fight but I didn't have time to duke it out with him. I needed to take care of the bomb.

As I sized up the man, I wondered how he would respond if I escalated the situation. Would he back off? There was little chance that he was armed. Knowing that Shannon would chastise me later, I took out my pistol but kept it pointed at the ground. We needed to get this bomb off the train or disarm it, and we needed to do it now. I couldn't afford to let this man become a distraction.

“He has a gun,” yelled a woman. She continued to yell, but I couldn't make out what she said because she was drowned out by screams from other passengers. I didn't take my eyes off the man in front of me as I waited for him to respond. His eyes went to my pistol. The lack of alarm on his face made me wonder what he did for work. Had I guessed incorrectly? I felt a stab of panic and hoped that he didn’t have a gun. Was he a federal agent? A detective?

“Well, that didn’t help,” Shannon muttered. “I’d put away your pistol before somebody decides to be a hero. That black guy looks like he could break you in half.”

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This week’s episode features Chapter Eight of Black Brick. Here is an excerpt from the show:

THE CITY PASSED BY as I looked out the train window and tried to relax. The morning news coming out of San Diego said the explosion at the Kurt home was a gas leak, but I knew better.  Four people had died. In addition to Jason and his sister, their parents had been home as well.

Vargo would have a lot to answer for once I could prove he was behind it.

I yawned and tried to clear my mind. The train was slowing down, and I could make out the stop ahead when I leaned in closer to the glass. It had been a low key day, but I was afraid that wouldn't last for long. The morning had been spent in a biology class.

After that, Shannon and I had met up with Cherry and Tom, and we began to make plans to apprehend Lauren Griffith. It turned out that Beltran had already known of her connection to Janessa and wanted to exploit the division in her loyalty.

I’d been a little surprised when we’d followed Lauren onto the train. When she and her bodyguard had taken the seats at the back, Shannon and I had opted for seats just behind the doors at the center of the train car. Cherry and Tom were several rows behind us.

We believed that Griffith sometimes acted as a courier for Vargo by moving information and items that were too sensitive to be trusted to the normal ways of communication and transportation. At some point in the day, she was going to make a pickup. After that, we were supposed to bring her into Black Brick.

I was surprised at the boldness of our orders but couldn’t help but wonder if Beltran had leverage on her or Janessa. We didn’t bring somebody in unless we had evidence that they were involved in something serious. As far as I knew, we didn’t have anything like that on either of them.

It made me curious about what Griffith was picking up. If the pickup was supposed to happen on the train, we wouldn’t notice from our vantage point. But we didn't have any other option.

“If it looks like she’s heading back to work after this,” I said, “we’ll have to move in.”

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This week’s episode features Chapter Seven of Black Brick. Here is an excerpt from the show:

IT TOOK CONSIDERABLE CONTROL to not wolf down my food when our orders arrived. I was famished and bit into the hamburger, swallowed, and took another bite. This was the first chance to eat since some stale peanuts I'd had on the plane.

There hadn't been time for a meal after my run on the beach with Tom and Martinez earlier that morning. As soon as we finished cleaning up, we had left for Kurt's house. I’d downed a Gatorade and eaten a Cliff bar on our way.

After our work there, I'd been too distracted by my worry about what police had on us to think about eating. When we'd gotten off the plane, Beltran's order to return had stopped us from getting dinner.

I ripped off another bite and looked around the restaurant, trying to appear like a casual observer. It was unfortunate that I wasn't going to be able to enjoy my meal properly. We’d had to scramble after our briefing with Beltran and the others to get here before Vargo. It was loud and hard to hear. The stale smell of fries and onion hung in the air.

My eyes glossed over Vargo and the woman he was with, Janessa Carlton. They were several tables over, and their conversation was being relayed to us from the surveillance van several blocks away. A member of the surveillance team had been able to slip a bug onto Janessa before they’d entered the restaurant.

Vargo was paranoid and had his office, his person, and everything else around him swept for bugs on a regular basis. It was lucky our team had been able to get to Janessa as they entered the restaurant; otherwise, Shannon and I would have been sitting here in the dark.

That wouldn’t have been so bad, it had been weeks since the last time we’d managed to slip out of work and enjoy ourselves.

I was only giving casual attention to Vargo’s conversation over my ear bud. Based on what I’d heard already, Vargo didn’t seem likely to discuss Diggon’s covert activities with Janessa. At the moment, they were discussing an employee that was giving Vargo a headache.

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This week’s episode features Chapter Six of Black Brick. Here is an excerpt from the show:  

I REMAINED IN MY seat on the airplane when the seatbelt sign turned off and the pilot announced we could get up.

Those around us stood and began to remove luggage from overhead bins. Beside me, Shannon was flipping through emails. She hadn’t waited for the plane to stop moving before she had turned on her phone.

I checked my watch, it was almost seven in the evening, it had been an eventful day and we'd still need to brief Beltran once we returned to Black Brick.

We’d waited for clearance from Black Brick before heading to the airport. It turned out that the video that we’d been panicking about had been too grainy to give the cops anything useful. I hadn’t seen it yet, but it showed us approaching the alley, taking out our weapons and then heading in.

Despite the assurances from Black Brick that we were safe to return, I was a little nervous that we’d find police waiting for us at the airport.

“I’m starved,” Shannon said. “Think we have time to grab a bite before heading back to Black Brick?” As she spoke, her phone rang. She listened for a moment and answered affirmatively before hanging up. “Beltran wants us back immediately. He just learned that we took a later flight. Apparently, we’re late for a meeting.” Shannon stood and pushed past me, almost running over an elderly man in the process.

I apologized to the man before following Shannon off the plane and into the airport. When Shannon decided on a course of action, heaven help anybody who stood in her way, even an old man with a cane.

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This week’s episode features Chapter Five of Black Brick. Here is an excerpt from the show:  

I WAS WAITING FOR Jason Kurt’s last computer to power down when there was a sound at the doorway to Kurt’s bedroom. I turned from the bank of computer screens expecting to find Shannon but instead recognized Lisa, Jason Kurt’s younger sister. Somehow we’d missed the fact she was still here when we’d broken into the home.

“Hey mister,” Lisa said in a small voice. “Whatcha doing?”

The little girl stood in the doorway, her hair in pigtails and a smudge of something on her cheek. Grape jelly? She wore a shirt that sported cartoon characters I didn’t recognize and clutched an ugly orange stuffed animal that looked like the progeny of a horse and a dolphin.

I covered up my surprise. Shannon and I had already been in the home for half an hour and had gone through every room. How had we missed her?

Cherry and Tom must have assumed Lisa had left with Kurt’s mother. I should have confirmed that they’d seen Lisa leave as well.

“Oh, I’m just helping your brother out with a few things.” I smiled at the girl, wondering why she wasn’t afraid of me. Lisa twisted around and disappeared into a room down the hall. I thought about pulling the plug on our mission as I watched her go.

She didn’t appear bothered by our presence, but I was uncomfortable having her here. Innocents were supposed to be left out of things like this. Shannon would have overheard the exchange through the earpieces that both of us wore. Her silence was telling. That meant she’d found Lisa and hadn’t told me.

I had already removed several cameras that Kurt had set up in his bedroom and Lisa had seen us. If we didn’t snag the hard drives now, we might not get a second chance. Things would be okay, Lisa was too young to give a reliable description of us, and we’d be gone soon.

I looked back at the computer monitor; I still had a few minutes before it shut down. I shifted, brushing more garbage from the desk onto the floor. How could somebody live like this? Candy wrappers and empty soda cans littered the desk and a nearby bookcase. The floor was barely visible and covered with clothes, books, a half-eaten bag of chips, and loose paper. How could Kurt’s parents tolerate an adult child who chose to live in squalor?

My mother would never have put up with this, I was sure. Unbidden, my focus shattered and the memories came rushing back. I could see every event vividly as if watching a movie, but more real. The smell of fresh vomit, the feel of my father’s cold, stiff body when I tripped and fell on top of him, the shrill screams of my mother, the loud explosion of the revolver and the acrid smell of gunpowder. The man’s laugh still echoed in my mind.

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