Ogden Fitzgerald glowered at the crime scene tech who held open the elevator doors. Ogden stepped inside, planted his hands on his hips, and cleared his throat.
The tech dropped his gaze to the floor then peeked at the reflective brass walls at Ogden.
Silence thickened the air. Neither man pushed the button to the lobby of the hotel.
The tech must be incredibly dense not to understand the unspoken conversation.
The elevator doors started to close. The tech shoved his hand in the narrowing space and mumbled. “Forgot something.”
He stumbled into the carpeted hall, looked left then right before shambling down the corridor, away from the crime scene.
Wealth and power always came with bonuses. Ogden waited until the doors closed. Removing a key card from his vest pocket, he inserted the card into the discrete slot near the control panel and the car glided to the penthouse. The elevator chimed softly and eased to a stop. Ogden stepped free.
Dr. Crawford paced the marble foyer, medical bag thumping against his thigh. “They’re all here.”
“Where else would they be?” Ogden didn’t slow as he approached his friend and lover. Their course was set. Their options nonexistent. “The Heralds of the Pyramid’s Eye look forward to their quarterly meeting more than the first bedding of their latest mistresses.”
Crawford swallowed a bark of laughter. “Especially today.”
“Especially today.” Ogden nodded.
After months of planning, the opening act had begun. Ogden’s long strides ate up the distance to the clean lines of the living room. Chrome accentuated the sleek black leather furniture. Two members, as young as Ogden, had been exiled to the margins of the circular seating arrangement. The sculptural marble and glass tables between them and the older members were practically insurmountable.
Bottles of expensive alcohol glittered on the waterfall island of the open kitchen. Almost as an afterthought, platters of stuffed lobster, modest piles of caviar, and assorted delicacies laid siege to one corner.
These were the men who controlled the strings of their corporate and political puppets. The faces designed to remain free of American anger.
Drinks in hand, men clustered in knots in the great room. Some puffed on fat cigars. The four men in ten thousand dollar casual wear controlled big pharma. The transportation kings gestured with manicured hands, sloshing their hundred dollar a sip single malt and destroying regional businesses as they quibbled over territory. Religious leaders flashed expensive watches while checking the fall of their two thousand dollar haircuts in polished surfaces. Political royalty made the rounds, fumbling with the awkward task of serving themselves food while looking to fill regulatory needs before selecting the candidates the American people would elect into office.
Twenty-two of the twenty-six men present had passed middle age a decade ago.
The passing years only made them more determined not feeble.
And the ticking clock gave them a deadline.
Death would remove some from membership. Even then, the seat passed only to family members… provided the other members hadn’t bankrupted the fortune.
Power hung thicker than the acrid smoke. The amount residing in this room would make a conspiracy theorist ejaculate in his pants. Ogden’s skin prickled. His gut tightened.
Twenty-five men, chosen by birth, crowned by money, who ruled the United States.
Ogden’s people. Many he’d called uncle and other relations according to a twisted family tree.
August Van derMiller, the spitting image of a marble Julius Caesar right down to the tamed curly hair, turned his back on the transportation kings and stalked toward Ogden.
Eyes followed his movements. Avarice, jealousy, and fear painted the fiscally inbred features of those present.
Van derMiller thrust out his hand. His smile never reached the calculating eyes underneath trimmed white eyebrows. “Oggie, my boy, it is good to see you.”
Crawford choked on his laugh then thumped his chest as if he’d coughed. The doctor would laugh at the detested nickname. His family had already been financially ruined by one of the men here.
“Thank you for inviting me.” Ogden would be damned if he allowed anything to tarnish the Fitzgerald name. Flashing his best artificial smile, he waded hip-deep into the slime of manipulation.
Van derMiller’s grip tightened. Golf calluses created ridges on the older man’s palm. “With your poor father gone, we needed a Fitzgerald to fill the ranks.” He leaned closer, impregnating the small space between them with his eye-burning cologne. “I nominated you.”
Ogden nodded once. He was certain his collection of financial documents on Van derMiller had helped. “Thank you, sir.”
“No thanks necessary, my boy.” Van derMiller dropped Ogden’s hand. “We’re all in this together, aren’t we?”
“Not all of us.” Emery Wingate, second only to Van derMiller in the Pyramid’s Eye, glided over like an oil slick on water. Gray tinged his dyed coal black hair. Botox rendered the wrinkles on his forehead and eyes immobile. Carefully preserved thanks to his ownership of Stateside Pharmaceuticals, the septuagenarian’s blue eyes gleamed like a five-year-old’s. “Your father will never see us finally accomplish what so many of our ancestors only dreamed about.”
“No. He won’t.” Ogden nodded once. His father had been against the plan. And the men in this room had him murdered. Ogden had glimpses of the truth in the shards of evidence, but nothing concrete, nothing actionable. Just like the implied threat in Wingate’s words.
The Pyramid’s Eye gathered in the light, but their actions occurred in the shadows. Truth was a commodity sold to the highest bidder.
And these men worked to outbid each other.
Thanks to his ownership of the law enforcement firms, Ogden knew which bits were a good investment and which were useless. “Is the update for you or all?”
Van derMiller cocked an eyebrow. The man didn’t like others usurping his control or a direct question. “For all, of course.”
Wingate smoothed his hair.
The men in the room broke away from their clusters to take their assigned seats at the table. Wingate dropped to the chair to Van derMiller’s right at the head.
Ogden counted chairs. Twenty-five. Anger roiled through him.
Crawford would be left standing. The Heralds did love to humiliate those they’d destroyed. The good doctor’s lips twitched in amusement. Turning, he winked so only Ogden could see.
Exactly. They were here for the same purpose. The end was all that mattered. Ogden took his seat opposite Van derMiller.
The religious leaders flocked around him in expensive plumage that shouted their temporary status in the Pyramid’s Eye. These merchants would be driven from the Heralds as soon as they fulfilled their purpose.
Van derMiller clasped his hands together on the table. The meeting had begun. Malice resided in his smile. “Since you were expected an hour ago, I take it you didn’t quite know what to do with my little surprise.”
Ogden ground his teeth. A timeline had never been discussed. “I believe it’s important that we at least attempt to look like we are doing the job.”
“Of course. Of course.” Wingate played the peacekeeper.
Ogden recognized the play. One was always approachable; the other a hardliner. But the two worked side by side to rule the Pyramid’s Eye with an iron fist.
As if he’d been cued his line, Van derMiller snorted. “We could have assigned any number of the people as DOA director and they would have had the job wrapped up by now.”
“That’s because you tell them what to think.” Ogden was his own man. And the Heralds knew it. They also had known they’d made him the target of American ire when they’d had him appointed to the office. Already, some citizens grumbled about injustice. What would they say if they knew the Pyramid’s Eye’s real goal?
Van derMiller’s knuckles flashed white, a sure sign of irritation. “Of course, I tell them what to think. You can’t expect sheeple to interpret things correctly. If they had the connections, the intelligence, or any aptitude, they would be rich like us.”
Ogden bit his tongue. The rationale should have been confined to fairy tales since the drug dispensary owners had slipped by the gatekeepers. He glanced around him. And if those around the table had the connections, intelligence, or aptitude, they might have foreseen the rise in wealth, power, and hero status of men like George Shoppe, drug dispenser.
Instead, they’d been content in their power—deciding which candidate would win before the American people cast their first ballot, doling out healthy food to reinforce the propaganda that the poor deserved their fate, and turning an idea into a mindset. Helped by the preaching of the wealthy’s divine right to rule.
But the Addict’s Rights Movement threatened to undermine the Herald’s plans.
Hence the Pyramid’s Eye’s nuclear option.
Silence crackled around the table like lightning searching for the ground.
Crawford stepped into the breach. “I’ll admit, I’m a little surprised at such a high profile target. Senator Spellman’s daughter. Bold move.”
A few of members stiffened at the doctor’s breaking protocol by speaking.
Van derMiller preened. “The Senator will think twice about encouraging the tyranny of the people over our dictates. Only we have the vision to save our great nation.”
Wingate set his glass of bourbon down so hard it splashed the tablecloth. “Our measure could have failed. He needs to know who is his real boss. Democracy is hard on the bottom line.”
One raised his glass. “Freedom is not free. Soon the rabble will pay us for their rights.”
“Soon, they’ll be thanking us for relieving them of the burden of democracy.” Van derMiller corrected. “Once we return to a true Republic, all will be well again.”
Ogden waited a moment, timing his reply to grab their attention. “If the good senator is going rogue, I might have the right leverage to bring him in line.”
Several men blinked.
Van derMiller’s eyes narrowed.
“Thank God you’re on board. Your father said the man was untouchable.” Wingate downed his drink.
Ogden smiled. “No one is untouchable.”
A muscle ticked in Van derMiller’s jaw. “Colleen Spellman’s death is part of our plan. Now, ordinary American sheeple won’t feel safe. Are their precious children taking drugs or not? Does the age constraint matter? The drugs epidemic will invade their safe little homes and bring the threat of the looming drugs war right to their doorstep.”
Words like brilliant and inspired were bandied around the table.
Sycophants. Kissing ass wouldn’t save any of them if Van derMiller turned on them. Ogden waited for the self-congratulations to fade away.
Van derMiller’s attention drifted to the righteous Reverend Ashfork.
The televangelist smoothed the lapels of his tailored suit. The light caught the diamond cross on his gold pinky ring. “How is the latest recruit to the DOA?”
“He’s asking questions.” Ogden lobbed the verbal bomb at Reverend Ashfork, knowing the preacher would take the blame when Callum French disturbed the plan. Ogden would leverage Agent French to his advantage.
“He’ll fall in line like a good little soldier.” Van derMiller rested his chin on his steepled fingers.
“And don’t forget his background.” Ashfork’s voice rose and fell in the cadence he used to mesmerize his congregation before harvesting their money. “His sister died because the doctor treating her was high. His best friend is head of Sinner’s Salvation. He spends most of his days there, volunteering.”
Van derMiller lowered his hands to the table.
At the leader’s command, Reverend Ashfork choked on the rest of his sermon.
Van derMiller waited until the coughing stopped. “If Agent French proves troublesome, we’ll donate to Sinner’s Salvation and bring a little pressure to bear.”
Wingate sloshed bourbon in his glass. “It’ll be cheaper than a freshman senator, and the spin will be good publicity.”
He slurred his last few words.
Van derMiller’s lip curled at the sign of weakness in his second. “We wouldn’t need publicity, good or otherwise if the plan works.”
“True.” Wingate lifted his full glass in salute then sipped it.
“Speaking of the plan…. I’m sure you’ll want this back.” Dr. Crawford opened his satchel and fished out the vial. “Agent French thought it was odd that any dealer would sell drugs to a young woman when the picture flashed an old man.”
Information Ogden erased before uploading the data he’d been issued. He accepted the Cain’s mark and held it up to the light. “Don’t worry. The target hasn’t changed. Jane Doe is still slated for erasure.”
A few members looked as if Ogden held the Holy Grail. Even Van derMiller and Wingate eyed the little red chip.
“Judge O’Keefe is waiting to hear from you.” Van derMiller held out his hand.
Instead of handing the vial around so that all might hold the chip, Ogden handed it back to Crawford who delivered it personally.
Van derMiller eyed the Cain’s mark before tucking the vial into his pocket. “Jane Doe’s death should occur within twenty-four hours. Let’s us refine stage two of our plan. How do we leverage the loss to incite the drugs war, making sure civilian casualties are at an all-time high?”