Kim Garcia leaned back in the lounge chair, crossing her bare feet at the ankles while the evening breeze tugged on the cover-up, trying to expose her bikini. Adults and children rested on chairs, clustered around tables, or bobbed in the water of the hotel’s rooftop swimming pool. Most focused on the meteor shower over their heads.
Swirling her wine, Kim raised the glass high and peered at the night sky through the burgundy liquid. Ancient humans had considered meteors and comets bad omens.
Not so for Kim. Each point of light was a dollar sign, recognition for her growing company, and that much closer to ending her association with Contact 21. The shady prick had already taken Tupper off her hands. Her future burned brighter than the space debris catching fire in the atmosphere.
She sipped her wine, rolling the liquid over her tongue and tasting the floral notes before the bitter hit — not a bad year. The chilled glass sweated in the warmth of the evening. She finished the rest of her drink in two swallows.
A couple oohed and aahed as a particularly bright meteor streaked across the velvety sky. Throttling the wine bottle, Kim tipped it up and dumped the rest into her glass. A single drop clung stubbornly to the lip. Like she would give up so easily. She shook the bottle, forcing the last drop to fall into her waiting glass. “Gotcha.”
A waiter appeared from the nebulous fringe of darkness beyond the pool’s aqua glow. “Would you like another bottle, madame?”
Madame. Damn, that made her feel old. Kim shook her head, then nodded. “A bottle of your finest spring water. Chilled on the bucket of ice and a cold glass to put it in.”
She giggled and ripples raced across her wine. James Bond had nothing on her.
“Very good, madame.” The waiter withdrew after wiping away the ring of moisture her wine bottle had left on the table. Like it had never been.
A chill snaked down Kim’s spine, and her stomach clenched. The sushi she’d eaten for dinner threatened to revisit her mouth. She swallowed hard. That’s what she got from eating fish in the desert. It had absolutely nothing to do with her solo consumption of a bottle of wine. She snorted then covered her mouth in case she snorted again.
So what if she was a little tipsy? She deserved this celebration. She’d finally found the last group of scientists to grow that damn fungus. She didn’t get why Contact 21 wanted so many companies on the job when a handful would do.
But God help anyone who tried to find answers.
Not that she had understood that factoid in the beginning. She shifted her drink close, splashing wine over the lip. She blotted the dots on her bare leg then sucked her finger. Those first mobile labs had problems—electricity, containment; even the stupid UV lights had glitches. But those bugs had been worked out months ago — no more freaky contamination issues.
She glared at her drink before draining the last mouthful. Holding it against her palate, she allowed her tongue to swim in the sensations. So why were they back to ten labs working on the solution? The first three were yielding fabulous results.
Hell, two were even on the cusp of achieving runaway growth of the fungus.
And receiving the promised financial reward.
Big money. Too much money for one person to invest in such a risky venture. It had to be a government project. She swallowed the wine. The world dipped and swayed as she sat up. She missed the blurry end table the first time but slid the glass on the second time. With a smile, she flopped back on the lounge chair and let her head loll back.
“Enough.” Why was she obsessing over the details? She was about to get paid. A bundle of cash that would make all her problems go away. She squinted at the stars then fidgeted in her seat. Nope, that nagging feeling had her by the throat and was throttling her.
Maybe she should keep an eye on things, not directly, but sideways, specifically through Iona Edwards. Yeah, Kim understood the inconsistencies the background check had revealed.
Although from middle-class roots, Iona had been educated at elite boarding schools and had rubbed elbows with the children of the upper half of the one percent. She’d spent holidays and vacations, not slumming with her family, but on yachts, castles in Europe, and private islands. Hell, the girl had barely managed to squeeze in her parents’ funeral service before jetting off to a party in Paris. Still, for all her cold-hearted lifestyle, she didn’t have the kind of connections required for industrial sabotage.
Too bad, her privileged friends attracted Contact 21’s attention.
Warmth traveled through Kim’s veins, and she yawned. Maybe tonight, she’d finally get a good night’s sleep. She ran her fingers through her hair, shaking the wet locks and draping the ends over the back of the lounge chair. A yawn threatened to unhinge her jaw just as the waiter appeared with her bottle of water.
He cracked open the bottle then poured the contents into a clean glass. “Will there be anything else?”
“Just the bill. Thank you.” She signed the ticket, then reached for her phone. Maybe she should go to bed early. The phone vibrated in her grasp, and she nearly dropped it in fright. She really was letting the job get to her. Laughing under her breath, she closed her fingers around, and blinked the readout into focus.
The phone vibrated again. Green bubbles rose from the bottom of the screen to hover near the top.
Dammit, when had she turned it to vibrate? Steadying her thumb on the home button, she unlocked her phone. Words swam into view. One leaped off the page. Funeral. Her mouth dried. The alcoholic haze burned off, clearing her thoughts. Whose funeral? There’d been so many in the beginning, but that was behind her now. Wasn’t it? She scrolled through the messages.
Who had died?
The bubbles grew in size as she scrolled. Dr. Peter Lynn lost his battle with cancer? Dr. Peter Lynn? Lynn? Lynn. The name clicked. She’d given his group the fungus two months ago. Kim straightened. Fear soured her mouth.
And he’d been exposed to the fungus in a lab accident a week ago.
There was no hint the fungus caused cancer. She sagged into the cushions. This death was natural causes. Thank God. She stared at her phone, looking for the information. Funeral services would be in two days. She would send flowers.
A link took her to his obit. Crap. His bio listed his association with her company and a special project he’d been involved in. Contact 21 wasn’t going to like that. In fact, he would hate it. She scrolled through the rest.
Still… She opened her email, looking at the Google results for a mention of her company. What the ….? Another obit mentioned her company. And another. She pulled each one up. Another cancer. Leukemia for the second. A third had a stroke and caused a car accident.
The hair on the back of her neck rose. Her company was the common link between the deaths. No, not her company. Contact 21.
Her internal alarms caused her to tremble. She stabbed the home button and searched for other researchers on the fungal project. Seventeen dead. That was everyone working on the project for the last two months and didn’t include those who had died from the cleanroom failures. She scraped a hand down her face then reached for the glass of water.
She had to warn the others. She had to… Say what? The head of the project is a lunatic?
A shadow stumbled into the chaise next to hers and mumbled an apology.
Her ears prickled, then her arm blazed with warmth. Her head snapped up as she cradled the limb. A thin red line snaked down her forearm. Her fingers tingled then numbed. The phone dropped onto her thighs.
“Let me get that for you.” The shadow shifted her phone to the table.
Contact 21! Her tongue was foam in her mouth. Panic clawed at her, but her body didn’t respond. Couldn’t respond. “Wh!”
Drool slipped down her chin.
“Relax.” His warm hand pushed her back against the chair. “It’s almost over. Just a few more seconds.”
Over? Her life. Her chest stopped rising and falling. Her brain screamed for oxygen, but it wasn’t going to happen. She looked into his face, the face of her murderer: hers and how many others?
He smiled at her. “My own concoction. Not even a tox screen will pick up a trace. It’ll look just like a heart attack.”
A bubble of rage built inside Kim. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t fair. The bubble grew pushing out everything until it consumed her, and then it popped, taking her life with it. As soon as she released her final sigh, Contact 21 walked away, whistling an old gospel song as he melted into the shadows.