Excerpt for Hostile Takeover by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Hostile Takeover

A Romantic Thriller


J. Dee German


Alex Lucas and Kirsten Hanssen grew up together playing and skiing in the Colorado Rockies. As adults they remain friends even as Alex’s job as a Secret Service agent keeps them apart much of the time. When Alex goes undercover to expose a billionaire’s attempt to turn the nation into a socialist utopia he is forced to go on the run to escape both Government agents and the billionaire’s assassins. In his quest he uses his skills as a computer hacker to struggle through a maze of hidden financial accounts and payoffs as he tries to prevent a hostile takeover of the U. S. Government.

In the meantime Kirsten has given up her attempts to win over Alex romantically and begins a relationship with man she met on the ski slopes. But after they move in together he reveals his controlling and abusive nature. When Alex comes to rescue her she joins him in his flight to elude capture while resuming her personal quest to move her relationship with Alex to a more romantic level.

They travel throughout the southwest gathering evidence to expose the billionaire’s conspiracy to take over Congress and impeach the President. Along the way they discover a terrorist training camp in northwestern Georgia that is part of the takeover plan. While on a surveillance mission to the camp Alex and a friend are captured and tortured. They manage to escape just before the President sends in Air Force drones armed with Hellfire missiles to destroy the compound.

Meanwhile, back at their hideout in the Colorado Rockies, the leader of the assassins is coming after Kirsten. Using her wits she manages to turn the tables and defeat the assassin. When Alex returns he vows to get out of the secret agent business while they plan their future together.

Hostile Takeover is a fast-paced story of romance, danger, and political conspiracy that will captivate you to the very end.

About the Author

J. D. German retired from a 43-year career as a research scientist to a lake home in south-western Georgia. His career focused on the development of laser and optical devices for the several Government agencies, some of which show up as the “gadgets” that Alex Lucas uses in this story.

After his retirement he worked as a part-time technical consultant, but searched for something else to keep his A.D.D mind running at full speed. So in 2015 he wrote his first novel, The Hermetrius Conspiracy, and published it on the Smashwords website as a digital E-book. Since then he has published four additional novels and two non-fiction books, also available on Smashwords.

He has just started a new work of fiction titled The Priceless Linen, about a historic artifact known as the Shroud of Turin, which could be the cloth used to cover Jesus as he was placed in the tomb after his crucifixion.

You thoughts, questions, and comments about Hostile Takeover and my other books are welcome. My email address is at

Other E-Books by J. D. German


The Hermetrius Conspiracy – Lynn and Jack Preston Series #1

The Forsetti Solution – Lynn and Jack Preston Series #2

Revenge, Inc. – Lynn and Jack Preston Series #3

The Malthus Strategy

Hostile Takeover


Christian Principles – Food for Thought

Random Thoughts of an A.D.D. Mind

Soon to come

The Priceless Linen


The above books can be downloaded free from www . smashwords . com under the author’s name, J. D. German. They are available in formats that can be read on a PC, tablet computers, and E-readers.

Cast of Characters

Alex Lucas – 36, 6’2”, 210 lbs, slim, wiry, quick, with thick brown hair and steel gray eyes. He is an agent of the U.S. Secret Service with a PhD in computer forensics where he works as a Financial Crimes Investigator. He lives in Golden west of Denver.

Kirsten Hanssen – 35, 5’11”, 125 lbs, long blonde hair, blue eyes, slim but shapely. She’s an Economics Professor at Colorado University in Boulder.

Rex Sorenson – 72, 5’4”, 220 lbs. As CEO of RexSor Corporation he is the fourth wealthiest man in the world and a ruthless corporate raider who got rich by destroying companies to make money. Goal is to destroy the U. S. capitalist economy and replace it with utopian socialism.

Retired Admiral Martin Matheson – The newly elected President of the United States whose conservative philosophy got him elected on a platform of revived old-line nationalism, reduced Government control of individual choices, and opposition to the liberal belief that it’s our job to help out every country in the world regardless of their politics.

Members of Sorenson’s Socialist Utopia Council (SUC)

  • Gloria Zeigler – Head of media control.

  • Elizabeth Goldsmith – Former Federal judge who is to rid the court system of constitutional conservatives, starting at the top.

  • Michael Griffin – In charge of getting control of Congress and removing heads of regulatory agencies.

  • Sakhir Kurian – Head of clandestine operations. Former Isis leader who is a ruthless assassin, killing anyone standing in Sorenson’s way.

  • Gordon Koontz – In charge of raising money to fund the SUC by any means necessary.

Geraldine (Gerri) Tomblin – 6’2”, brunette, runner, elegantly tall and slim. Works in financial department at RexSor Corp. Ordered to get close to Alex Lucas to see if he is a Government undercover agent. When she crosses Sorenson he has her killed and frames Alex for the murder.

Minor Players

Robert (Bob) Joiner – Alex’s boss at Denver Secret Service office. When he makes inquiries into the suspicious death of a conservative U. S. Senator he puts his life in danger and he and his wife, Sherry, flee to their mountain home in the Rockies.

Madison Taggart – FBI director appointed by Pres. Matheson, First official killed in takeover.

Henry Owens – FBI Personal Security Director who investigates Madison’s disappearance and help Joiner find out what happened to the Walker murder evidence..

Hiram Walker (Ch 15)– Conservative congressman from Virginia who was poisoned at Sorenson’s orders.

Earl and Ruthie (Ch 21)– Own the gas station and country store in Estes Park where A & K spend the night on the run from Ft. Collins to Salt Lake City.

Jacob and Betty Levitz (Chap 30) – Former Asst. Attorney General who was fired for refusing to file impeachment charges against the President Matheson.


The boy and the girl ran out of the village and started up the ravine leading to the hunting grounds. As soon as they entered the darkness of the forest they stopped talking. They didn’t want to scare away the deer. As they climbed, the boy, Alex Lucas, kept his eyes peeled for sticks. They had to be just right or they wouldn’t work. He only needed two of them, but they had to be curved just right and most importantly, long enough. Hunting deer was serious business.

He heard a bird whistle and looked around for Kirsten – that was her signal – then joined her in the clearing. She held a stick in each hand – both of them perfect to use as imaginary bows – and held out the longer one to him. He smiled, shook his head, and took the shorter one. She should have the best weapon; she was a better shot

Weapons in hand they crept silently through the trees, their handmade leather Indian moccasins touching softly on the forest floor. For the next two hours they hiked toward their favorite hunting place; a grove of pinion pines around a spring of crystal clear water. The deer favored this spot, especially early in the morning. As they approached the large granite rock, the one shaped like a bear, they crawled the final few yards. Kirsten raised up just enough to see the watering hole, then slowly sunk back down and held up three fingers. Lucas nodded, looked her in the eyes, and mouthed the word “Now!”

They both sprang up, bows ready to shoot and release their imaginary arrows. The three deer instantly raised their heads from the water and froze – but only for an instant. Then they plunged into the forest, their white tails bobbing as they disappeared into the trees.

They smiled and gave each other a high five. “I got mine, how about you?”

Alex shook his head. “Mine jumped sideways just as I let the arrow fly.”

“My kill should be enough to feed the village for a day or two. We’ll come back tomorrow.”

Kirsten issued a challenge. “Race you to the Glen!” and took off up the side of the mountain with Alex on her heels. By the time they were both at the top of the ridge, they had to stop to catch their breath. The altitude this far up in the Rockies was close to ten thousand feet and, even though they both were born here, they couldn’t keep up the pace for long. When their breathing slowed down to near normal they looked at each other and jumped onto the downhill side of the ridge, sliding side-by-side on a bed of leaves down to the place they called ‘the Glen.’ It was a small mountain meadow where the grade leveled off to a very shallow slope, allowing the creek that ran through it to slow down to a murmur rather that the roar produced by most mountain creeks.

They had stumbled on the place two years ago when they first discovered their passion for hunting deer without killing them. One of the bucks led them on a chase up over the ridge and down to this idyllic vale, shaded by trees and surrounded by rocks that had rolled down from the high peaks above. Since then, they always ended the deer hunts at the Glen. It was so beautiful that they couldn’t come up with a name for it, until Alex remembered stories of old Ireland his grandmother told him on her knee. She talked of a Glen where peace ruled and faeries lived; a magical place she herself discovered as a young girl. The description seemed to fit this place perfectly, so they named it the Glen. They even thought they felt the presence of faeries now and then.

Kirsten pulled her backpack off and laid lunch out on a rock – two sandwiches she made herself before dawn, some shortbread cookies her mother baked, and a thermos of iced tea, sweetened like they do in the south. That’s how Alex liked it. They both leaned against a rock and enjoyed the peacefulness while they ate. When they were finished, Kirsten put the plastic bags and paper cups into the backpack and buckled it shut.

They sat for a few minutes before Kirsten asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

“You asked me that a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been thinking it over. I’m pretty sure I want to be a spy.”

“A spy? Why?”

“I don’t know . . . The excitement and action I guess. The opportunity to protect my country against terrorists and people who want to destroy our Government. . . . How about you? What do you want to be?”

After a long pause, Kirsten asked, “Do you remember the last scene from The Princess Bride movie – a final kiss with the two of them sitting on their horses?”

“Yeah, I think I do.”

“What did you think of it?”

“It seemed a little sloppy to me. When they opened their mouths it was kind of gross.”

Kirsten paused again, trying to get up the nerve to ask him.

“Would you like to do that with me?”

“Uh . . . I Guess. But where are the horses?”

“We can sit on that log and pretend we’re in the saddle.”

They settled into position astride the log and looked at each other.

“Are you ready?” she asked.

“Okay. What do I do.”

“Just lean toward me and close your eyes.”

Kirsten kept her eyes open as she put her hand behind his neck, pulled him to her, and touched her lips to his.

Chapter 1 – Shocker!

Monday, 7 November 2016

Alex Lucas drove up the steep winding road to his home west of Golden, Colorado and parked his Ford Raptor pickup in front of the garage. The four-wheel drive vehicle was a necessity in the winter – it was the only way he could get up to his house in the snow, and it was also great for taking him off-road to high mountain trout fishing streams. He got out, briefcase in hand, and climbed the steps to the front deck of his small, mountain-style house. He usually paused on the deck to look back at the Rocky Mountains. His most important house-hunting criteria when he moved to Denver was a view of the magnificent mountains. After growing up in the ski village of Crested Butte, Colorado he felt incomplete when he wasn’t near mountains. During his last assignment in Washington, D.C. he sometimes hiked into the nearby Appalachians, but those were just hills. They couldn’t quench his longing to be back in Colorado mountain country.

He sent up a silent prayer to God, thanking Him again for the surrounding beauty, and unlocked the front door. As usual it was late when he returned from his job at the Financial Crimes Investigation Division of the U.S. Secret Service Agency in Denver. It wasn’t the 45 minute drive that made him late, it was his work. He got so focused on solving the latest case of computer fraud or overseas money laundering that he couldn’t break away from it until well after quitting time. He enjoyed the satisfaction of unraveling the twisted routes people created to hide their illegal financial activities – shell companies, multiple transfers through several offshore banks, encrypted financial records, false identities. And they came up with new approaches all the time. Those were the most challenging cases; the ones that Alex loved to work on.

After changing into casual clothes he took a Coors from the refrigerator and sat down at his computer – the latest, state-of-the-art laptop model. He often got hit with an idea about an investigation while he was at home and wanted to jump online to chase it while it was still fresh in his mind. The powerful computer was also necessary to support one of Alex’s tools of the trade – surreptitiously entering other computers to access, or change, files and software – a practice commonly known as hacking. Alex discovered in high school that he had a gift for getting computers to do his bidding, often writing his own operating software that worked better and faster than anything available on the market. He pursued it further in college with a degree in computer science and electrical engineering.

This evening he wasn’t doing anything more challenging than reading his email. The first email he opened was from his mom with a reminder that his father’s birthday was coming up on November 24th – the day after Thanksgiving this year – and asking him to come back to Crested Butte for it if he could get away. He didn’t often take time off because his mind kept working on cases no matter where he was, so a relaxing vacation was out of the question. But this was family, and family was more important than just about anything else. He quickly typed an answer that he would be there unless his work took him on a trip somewhere to solve a case.

The next email was from Kirsten Hanssen. He smiled as he opened it. They had remained best friends continuously since their childhood days roaming the mountains. Her message was simple.

What’s up boyfriend? You going back home for your dad’s birthday? Maybe I can make it too.

He typed the same answer he gave his mother, then added a second paragraph.

I’m having a party Tuesday night to watch the presidential election returns. Just you and me. Wanna come?

Her answer came back a few minutes later.

Whoopee, that sounds like a thrilling evening . . . not really. Everyone knows who’s going to win. There’s no way a candidate without any political experience is going to beat the well-funded lying bunch of thieves running on the liberal ticket. It looks like America will continue its inexorable march toward socialism. But the election isn’t the main attraction at your party – you are. Of course I’ll be there. And I’ll bring dinner. See you around seven?

He answered that seven o’clock was fine and made a mental note not to get so engrossed in his work that he would be late getting home. Then he realized that he seldom recalled the dozens of ‘mental notes’ he made, so he sent himself an email with a reminder.

In spite of the email, he didn’t remember to leave on time Tuesday afternoon. But the mental note popped up in his head thirty minutes later. If I don’t get stuck in traffic I can just make it home in time to shower and dress before Kirsten gets there, he thought as he crossed the South Platte River on the way out of Denver. But just as he had that thought the traffic started to slow down. Damn!

As he rounded the last curve and his house came into view he saw Kirsten’s car already in the driveway. He looked at his watch and saw that he was only ten minutes late, so he didn’t feel too badly about it. It looks like she already let herself in with her key, so at least she didn’t have to sit out here in the car. He started to grab his briefcase to go up the steps and stopped. Tonight’s not about work. I’ll leave it in the car.

As he closed the door behind him she called from the kitchen, “It’s about time you got here. I’ll have dinner ready in a few minutes.”

He went into the kitchen and saw her standing at the stove with her back to him, humming as she worked. He paused to look at her and thought, She’s a classic Norwegian beauty. Just under six feet tall, long blonde hair, blue eyes, slim build – shapely but not skinny. And she takes good care of herself with daily workouts and jogging, to stay in condition for winter skiing

That brought back thoughts of the two of them racing down the ski slopes of Crested Butte mountain when they were teenagers. She usually won, which didn’t bother him. Besides, watching her from behind as she twisted through the moguls was enjoyable.

“Sorry I’m late. I’m going to grab a quick shower before dinner.”

“Okay. But don’t take too long or dinner will get cold.”

When he stepped into the dining room ten minutes later she had dinner laid out on the table, ready to eat. Just like she used to lay out our lunches in the Glen, he remembered.

“Don’t just stand there. Have a seat.”

“What are we having?”

“Slices of deer tenderloin fried in bacon grease, fresh green beans from my garden, and a tossed salad.”

“Mmm. I love deer backstrap, especially the way you fix it. Did you shoot this one yourself?”

“No, I couldn’t find a long enough stick for a pretend bow. I bought this from the wild game processor the last time I was home.” They both smiled at the joke . . . and at the shared memories.

“I wonder if this was one of the deer we hunted down as kids?”

“It could be. They can live up to 25 years. Those were fun times, weren’t they.”

“Yes they were. Do you ever wish we could go back and be kids together again?”

Kirsten though for a minute. “Not really. But I relive those days often in my memories and dreams. . . . Remember our first kiss?”

“Yeah, but it didn’t do much for either of us.”

“Well, we were only ten at the time and the hormones hadn’t started flowing yet. But I’m glad. I wanted to stay your friend and not ruin it later with pretend love and fumbling sex.”

“That worked out well for us. We’ve been closest friends ever since; we’ve shared everything with each other. We’re soul mates, but not the lover kind.”

“That almost happened right after college, remember Alex? We were camping along the San Juan river. We’d gone there to catch some trout but got caught in the rain instead. You had hung your sleeping bag over a branch to air out and it got soaked. But mine was still in the tent, dry. We ended up sleeping together in one bag and almost gave in to passion. But you stopped it before it got out of hand.”

“I didn’t want to ruin a great friendship.”

“I still remember how you felt against me.”

“Fortunately we both found others to share that experience with. . . . How come you never got married? With me it’s always been my job – on the road for weeks at a time, working late at night, immersed in solving financial crimes even when I’m at home. It wouldn’t have been fair for a wife to have such a small piece of me.”

“I’ve had a few relationships that got serious, but I was looking for a life partner to be my friend, and none of them could compete with you in that department.”

Alex thought it was time to change the subject. “Well the election results should be coming in by now. Let’s clean up the kitchen and go see how much the bad guys are winning by.”

Later, as they watched the number of electoral votes climb toward a winning total for Judge Elizabeth Goldsmith they didn’t pay much attention. The first results were coming in from the large east and west coast cities where she had the strongest following. Her past career as one of the most liberal judges in the federal court system made her very popular in those citadels of leftist thinking. Even though her Republican opponent, retired Admiral Martin Matheson, had a core of support throughout mid-America, none of the political analysts expected him to come close to defeating the judge.

They talked, laughed, and psychoanalyzed their acquaintances while waiting for the final tally. When they took a break to get a piece of the pecan pie Alex had baked the night before they noticed the judge’s lead was fading. They sat back down side-by-side on the couch to watch what was happening.

“Maybe Matheson’s message about restoring the U.S. to the old values like nationalism and constitutional supremacy took hold with everyday people. Maybe they finally had enough of more and more Government control over their lives and property.”

“I think you’re right Kirsten. The country is headed toward pure socialism under the present regime, and Judge Goldsmith will take us there even sooner.

“It would be nice to see some of the changes Matheson wants to make, but a few of his plans go a little too far toward the right, just like some of Goldsmith’s ideas go way too far to the left. I suppose the best answer is regulated capitalism where the Government makes rules to control run-away greed. The key is how much regulation to allow without standing in the way of innovation and economic growth. It would be nice to return to earlier times when there was a reasonable balance.”

Alex shook his head. “It doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon. Judge Goldsmith and the liberal Congressional candidates get huge amounts of money from Rex Sorensson, the socialist billionaire. He has a dozen organizations passing out money so it can’t be traced back to him.

“He’s a real bad character. He manipulates the stock market by spreading rumors to raise stock and mutual fund prices, then short-sells all his shares at once, causing the stock price to plunge. Then he buys it back for pennies on the dollar. He does the same thing with the economies of entire countries. He single-handedly almost broke the Bank of Italy a few years ago by dumping millions of lira in a single day.”

“What happens to the retirement savings of the mutual fund owners?”

“I saw a TV interviewer ask him that question a couple of years ago. His answer was, ‘That’s not my concern. I’m only interested in making money.’ He also said that the American capitalist economy was based on greed and must be demolished. He thinks it should be replaced by what he calls utopian socialism.”

“What? His entire fortune was built on pure greed! Sorensson must be a lunatic.”

“I won’t argue with you on that, Kirsten. But he’s a lunatic with the power to buy the presidency and all the congressional seats he needs to essentially rule the country from his estate outside Atlanta.”

“Why can’t the Government stop him? We have laws against manipulating investments.”

“Two reasons. First, all his investment companies operate outside the U.S., so the Security and Exchange Commission regulations can’t be enforced.”

“What’s the other reason?”

“Our president for the past eight years, Dante Barnett, was bought and paid for by Sorensson to start the process of dismantling capitalism and the free market economy. Barnett put Sorensson’s hand-picked people in charge of all the key Government agencies. They make up their own laws without any say-so from Congress.”

“Maybe we should move back to Colorado. It will take longer for this shit to reach us there. Besides, all the people out there have guns. . . . Maybe we could create a hidden village in a remote mountain valley as a sanctuary for real Americans. . . . Kind of like John Galt did in Atlas Shrugged.

An hour and a half later they couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Gen. Matheson had overtaken the Judge and gotten all the electoral votes he needed. He won!

Kirsten laughed. “What a shocker! Rex Sorensson is gonna be really pissed.”

Alex added, “And that will make him really dangerous."

Chapter 2 – The Council

Wednesday morning, 9 November 2017, RexSorCorp Headquarters, Atlanta, Georgia

Rex Sorensson was on an encrypted video link to Elizabeth Goldsmith’s Manhattan town house. “I don’t give a rat’s ass if she was up all night, wake her up! . . . “She should be sober enough by now. Fix her some coffee and tell her I want to talk to her. NOW! . . . . . ”

Sorensson’s patience was about to snap when she came on the screen. He looked disgustedly at her disheveled hair, smeared makeup, and dull eyes. “H . . . hello, Rex. I was expecting your call.”

“I’ll bet you were! How in the hell could you lose the election? I had everything set up for you. All you had to do was keep out of trouble and smile a lot. But no, you had to get caught lying to the Senate Judicial Committee. I had to buy off several newspapers, magazines, and television networks, and pay an army of internet fake news sources to get that issue buried. . . . . . No, you were not defeated by the TNC news network. The people who watch that wouldn’t have voted for you anyway. . . . . Stop your sniveling.”

“But what do I do now? No one listens to a loser.”

“Don’t worry about that. I’ll have the news networks believing you were raped by Admiral Matheson when you worked for him at the Pentagon.”

“But I never worked for him, or anyone else, at the Pentagon.”

“That doesn’t matter. My people will spin a tale that anyone would believe. So pull yourself together; I still have plans for you – and they don’t include public drunkenness. You and ex-President Barnett will lead the attack on the Admiral’s plans and his character. We will have him impeached before his first year is up.

The next morning Sorensson walked into the large conference room on the top floor of the RexSorCorp headquarters building in Atlanta. He dropped several thick file folders onto the conference table with a loud smack that startled the six people sitting at the table.

He looked each one in the eye and held the gaze for a second or two. The last person he looked at was Howard Sinett, and he didn’t break that gaze. Howard squirmed in he seat until Sorensson broke the silence.

“You were in charge of keeping the media in line, Howard. You failed. You’re fired. Get out!”

As Howard left the room with his head hung down another person entered and took his seat at the table. Sorensson locked eyes with her and held it – not because he was trying to intimidate her, but because she had such lovely eyes.

“You all know Gloria Ziegler, President Barnett’s Communications Director. She is now the head of our Media Control Department.” The other’s smiled and nodded to acknowledge her. Her selection wasn’t a surprise to them. She was very close to Rex.

Sorensson looked up to address the Socialist Utopia Council – his personal cabinet of subordinates charged with turning twenty-first century America into a purely socialist entity. “Last night’s election results were a surprise to us all. Not only did Matheson win the presidency, but his party won a sizable majority of congressional seats. This will not keep us from our goal, but the delay is unacceptable. We must turn things back around – quickly. My plans include impeaching Matheson as soon as possible and getting rid of his supporters in Congress. I have put together a folder of immediate action items for each of you. I want daily progress reports. Any questions?”

Most of the group knew this was Sorensson’s way of saying the meeting was over, but Gloria needed to get up to speed. “What will we impeach the Admiral for? It has to be serious enough to get him removed.”

Sorensson showed some patience with her. “We’ll make something up, then sell it to the American people and Congress. And we’ll create irrefutable proof that he’s guilty.”

“What about his cronies in Congress? How will we get them ousted?”

“By creating scandals; scandals so terrible that no one will want them to stay in office. Several of them have past activities they’re hiding. We’ll blackmail them. We may have to resort to more extreme measures for the stubborn ones.”

“Couldn’t we wait until the med-term election to replace his supporters politically?”

“Last night proved that a political approach won’t work. It’s time for a hostile takeover.”

Rex Sorensson was the fourth wealthiest man in the world. Starting with an investment company when he was just out of college he bought and sold stocks, learned how to threaten or bribe to get ahead and, by the age of fifty two, was buying and selling entire companies. He was what many called a corporate raider – buying companies, breaking them up to sell the profitable divisions and close those that weren’t. When he wanted to acquire a privately owned company and the family didn’t want to sell, he would find away to threaten them or, occasionally, make sure the CEO met with a terrible accident. Now, at age 72 his target was the biggest company in existence. The United States Government.

Chapter 3 – Powder

Alex had a bag packed for the weekend back in Crested Butte. Kirsten drove up just as he was putting it in the back seat of the Raptor. She pulled her Miata up next to him, set her three bags on the driveway, and locked the car.

“You’re just in time. And I see you’re traveling light, as usual. Why do women take so much luggage with them? It’s only four days – two outfits, a change of underwear, an extra pair of shoes max – what else could you need?”

“I added some ski clothes. Mom said the slopes opened today and I thought we might get a chance to ski.”

“Good idea. Give me a minute to pack another bag and throw my skis and boots in the back.”

It didn’t take long to leave Golden behind for some beautiful fall mountain driving. The forest was mostly evergreens, but now and then they saw a valley of golden aspens, made all the more beautiful by the surrounding dark green ponderosa pines. They were quiet for most of the first hour, enjoying their return to mountain country. As the silence drew on Kirsten looked over at Alex behind the wheel. “You’re quiet today. Deep in thought?”

“Sorry. . . . Yeah, I started a new case last week that has me stumped.”

“Well . . . Don’t leave me in suspense.”

“You know I can’t reveal the details of my investigations.”

“So, change the names to protect the innocent. . . . and the guilty.”

“Okay. You’re good at seeing through the fog to find a solution. . . . A very rich man, let’s call him Jones, makes a lot of money bringing in drugs – serious stuff – from Mexico, and distributing it throughout the U.S. He has a series of distributors who pass it on to more distributors, who shuffle it on to suppliers, who deliver it to dealers. The dealers are easy to catch using undercover agents, but Mr. Jones has a staff of high-priced lawyers – all with untraceable connections to Jones – who get the dealers off with minimal time in jail. And many of his dealers are teenagers who can’t be charged as an adult and are back on the street in a couple of days. Hell, we can’t even spank them first.

“The key here is that Mr. Jones has so many layers of separation between him and the street handlers that the law can’t touch him. But he’s vulnerable in one area – getting rid of the huge profits without paying taxes. If he files tax returns his accountants have to show where it came from – create a legal source for the income. When you’re talking a billion dollars or two a year, that’s almost impossible to do.”

“So how do they hide it? They can’t just put it in a bank.”

“Ah, here’s where I come in, your friendly neighborhood financial analyst. Mr. Jones spreads it among dozens of off-shore investment accounts, all under fictitious names. That in itself is a challenge to investigate, but they bounce it among several international investment houses before it finally appears in the offshore holding accounts.”

“So how do you unravel all of it?”

“It’s like how do you eat an elephant – one bite at a time. I have to peel back all the layers, an account at a time, to create a chain of evidence to the final deposit.”

“So where are you with Mr. Jones.”

“I’m almost there. I believe Jones’ account is at Credit Suisse in Zurich, but his lawyers are trying to block the U.S. Government from gaining access.”

“I thought all the Swiss bank accounts were totally secret.”

“That’s how it used to be, but in 2009, under pressure from the U.S. and other countries, Switzerland changed the bank secrecy laws to allow foreign governments to access accounts of its own citizens. The problem is it takes a court order by a Federal judge here in America, and that’s what Mr. Jones lawyers are trying to prevent.”

“So Mr. Jones is a U.S. Citizen?”

“Yes. He was born in Miami, but he runs his illegal activities from a remote location in a Central American country.”

“So what’s got you stumped? Getting the court order?”

“No, the U.S. Attorney’s office will pursue that for us. Once he gets the warrant I can fly to Switzerland and bring back the bank records. The problem is that I don’t have the alias names and account numbers Mr. Jones is using. I traced the flow of drug money to a bank in Singapore but I lost the trail there. Thirty-two million dollars was deposited into an account there, but then it disappeared, with no record that the account ever existed.”

“If there’s no record the account exists how do you know that’s where the money is?”

“I can’t tell you that, but let’s just say I used certain computer skills I learned in my reckless youth.”

“So you’re one of those hackers who hangs around on the Darknet messing with people’s computers?”

“That’s where I spent most of my time online back in high school and college. Now I just go there every now and then when nothing else will work.”

“So you’re almost a spy.”


“That’s what you said you wanted to be that day in the Glen, when we were ten.”

Alex laughed. “I’d forgotten about that. Now that you reminded me, I don’t recall your answer when I asked what you wanted to be doing when you grew up.”

“Oh yes I did.”

Alex replayed the day in his mind, but couldn’t remember her answer. “No, I don’t recall that.”

“That’s because it wasn’t a spoken answer.”

“Oh yeah. So your answer was the kiss we shared. . . . That’s what you wanted to do when you grew up? How . . .” Alex had a flash of insight. “Ohhhh. I get it.”

She just nodded at him and smiled.

Three hours later they drove into the snow-packed driveway of Alex’s childhood home.

“It looks like dad got the snow blower out this morning. They got almost a foot of new powder last night.”

“I hear the ski slopes calling my name.”

“It will have to wait ‘til morning. Mom’s probably taking the turkey out of the oven about now.”

As he opened the front door he leaned over and whispered to Kirsten, “Prepare to suffer the torture of a thousand hugs.” He didn’t even get the door closed before his mother wrapped her arms around him in a death grip.

After the usual greetings and socially mandated questions – how are you doing, how was the drive up, were the roads on Monarch pass cleared, what did you think about that election, are you two seeing much of each other (this from his mother to the two of them) – things got back to normal. Kirsten joined Lucas’ mother, Elaine, in making the final preparations for the Thanksgiving meal while Alex and his dad watched Colorado and Colorado State battle it out on the football field. When he was still living at home, he and his dad never missed this traditional televised rivalry.

When Elaine let everyone know that it was time to eat they sat down at the table and bowed their heads while Todd gave the blessing and asked god to protect the new President from the troublemakers. Kirsten had started joining them at Thanksgiving six years ago, just after her parents were killed in an icy collision on Monarch pass. The memory always tempered the joy she felt as her adopted family shared the Thanksgiving holidays.

Alex’s mother got up and started clearing the dishes from the table, but Alex stopped her. “You and dad go relax. Kirsten and I will do the dishes.”

His mother started to protest, but he added “You prepared the meal so we clean it up. House rules.”

“It’s my house and I don’t have a rule like that.”

“Well, you should. Now go sit down.”

From her chair in the living room Elaine could see her son and Kirsten standing side by side at the sink with their backs toward her. They make such a lovely couple, she thought. They will make beautiful grandchildren someday – once they realize they were made for each other. That got her thinking about how Alex helped pay for his college expenses by working as an advertising model in Denver. At six-feet two, a little over two-hundred pounds – muscular but not buff, with thick brown hair and steel-gray eyes he was the perfect image of a rugged outdoorsman. Most of the magazine ads he appeared in included either a horse or the latest off-road vehicle, often with a snowy mountain in the background.

After the dishes were done they sat back down at the table to enjoy a game of Scrabble© – another family tradition. Although the conversation included lots of laughing and jokes, Alex’s mother managed to slip in her usual “Are you seeing anyone Alex?” and “It must get lonely up there in Boulder, Kirsten.” She was always hopeful that the two of them would get married and provide some grandchildren before she was too old to enjoy them.

The next morning Kirsten and Alex were up early putting on their long underwear and other warm clothing for a day on the slopes. While she was fixing eggs and bacon he took his coffee out to the garage, pulled Kirsten’s skis off the wall rack, and gave them a good coat of wax to keep the snow from sticking. Then he went out to his truck and brought his skis in for a wax job. When they finished breakfast they headed up to the ski area, bought lift tickets, and rode the chairs to the top of the mountain.

After stepping into their ski bindings they paused to take in the beautiful view of dozens of snow-capped peaks leading off to infinity. As they looked down at the dozens of trails they could take she said, “Let’s go over to the Teocalli Bowl and ski some double diamond drop offs?” He pushed off with his poles and hollered “Last one down buys lunch.”

By early afternoon they were running out of energy, so they decided to make one last run through deep powder. As they skied off the lift Kirsten took the lead through powder up to her waist, weaving in and out of the towering pine trees. Alex lost sight of her in the trees, but followed her tracks. Halfway down he saw a ski, a pole and her red mitten sticking up out of a pile of powdered snow. He veered left and sped down to her. As soon as he stopped he was out of his skis and kneeling down beside her. He was going to ask if she was okay, but she was laughing so hard he couldn’t get a word in. He brushed the snow away from her face. “How you doing down there?”

“Oh, I’m great. Nothing broken, nothing twisted. But I’m still attached to my skis. Reach down and release the bindings so I can get out of here.” Once her legs were free she wiggled around to try to get her feet under her but kept falling back into the snow pile. She reached her arms out to Alex. “Don’t just stand there. Help me up.”

He took hold of her hands and heaved to get her upright. Like an apparition, she rose up from the snow just as he lost his balance, falling backwards and pulling her down on top of him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and looked into his eyes. “I’m in no hurry to get up . . . How about you?”

“No hurry here. You feel good like this. . . . but at some point frostbite will set in and we won’t be able to get up. The ski patrol will find us in the morning frozen together in an eternal embrace.”

She paused a moment, then lowered her head and kissed him. He couldn’t help but return it. After a few minutes, when it began to get passionate, she lifted her head. “I figured that while I had you captive I would take advantage, if only for a minute or two.”

They both laughed as they clambered to their feet, put their skis back on, and headed for the lodge.

Chapter 4 – Follow the Money

On the drive to work Alex’s mind was usually busy lining up his activities for the day. But this morning it was thinking about the weekend with Kirsten and, in particular the skiing, . . . and even more specifically, their kiss. He could feel the warm feeling inside start to rekindle as he thought of their embrace. Am I doing the right thing keeping our relationship limited to the friendship level? Couldn’t we be friends and lovers? . . . No, not lovers. That would kill the friendship eventually. But maybe if we were married. . . .

Alex spent the morning exploring ways to get into the computer records of Credit Suisse. He tracked the money transfers as far as DBS, the Development Bank of Singapore, and through some creative hacking found documents transferring the $320 million dollars to Credit Suisse. But when he got into the Swiss bank’s incoming transfer records, there were no transactions from Singapore. So if the money wasn’t in Singapore or Zurich, where was it?

He decided to go for a walk to clear his head, and pulled his cell phone for its lock box on the way out the door. They weren’t permitted inside the Secret Service offices so everyone had a small lock box just outside the entrance to the secure area. It was almost lunchtime so he walked the few blocks to the Denver Pavilions Shopping Center to eat. After reviewing the list of restaurants at the entrance he settled on the Corner Bakery Café – they made a great Rueben sandwich. Halfway through lunch his cell phone rang. He saw it was from Kirsten and thought about not answering. Talking with her will take my mind away from work to other thoughts – pleasant but distracting. But almost like his hand had a mind of it’s own, his thumb pressed the answer button.

“Hey boyfriend, what’s up?

“Still working on the ‘Mr. Jones’ thing. There’s got to be a way I can break this case.”

“Other than hearing your sweet voice, that’s why I called. I’ve been thinking about it and I think your best move is to backtrack.”

“Backtrack how?”

“Remember when we tracked deer through the mountain brush. We would follow their footprints, but sometimes they just disappeared. We’d turn around and backtrack to where the prints were solid – that was where they changed directions with a long jump. So we searched within a fifty foot circle until we found where they landed and tracked them from there.”

“So what does this have to do with Mr. Jones?”

“I think you should backtrack from the Singapore bank to the previous bank that had the money. Maybe it jumped sideways from there.”

“That’s great, Kirsten. Want a job?”

She laughed. “No, I’ll just be your secret advisor whenever you get stuck.”

“Thanks. You may have ‘broken the case wide open’ as they say on TV. I need to get back to the office and check this out.”

“Okay. Bye.”

Back in the office Alex pulled up the list of banks the money had been transferred through on it’s way to Singapore. He found the one he was looking for, the Islamic Bank of Dubai, and printed out a list of all the international transactions on the date the money was supposed to go from Dubai to Singapore. He found the transfer order for the $320 million going to Singapore, signed by Yousef Al Majid, VP of the international banking division. He studied it for discrepancies but found nothing out of the ordinary. Whatever’s going on there they’ve covered their asses with apparently legitimate paperwork. I’ll have to hack a little deeper into Mr. Al Majid’s computer. Maybe I’ll find some direct communications with the drug kingpin.

Usually the tough part of breaking into a personal computer is figuring out the password. There are an infinite number of possibilities, but some people ignore the advice of computer experts and choose something that’s easy to remember – a birthday, anniversary, pet’s name, spouse’s name – all relatively easy to find out through a background search. In his early days as a hacker Alex wrote some software that could slip into a computer through a ‘back door’ and search all the digital information looking for sequences that are used frequently. Now he used it that approach against Al Majid’s computers – both his desktop at work and his laptop at home. It was in the laptop that Alex struck pay dirt – encrypted email exchanges with someone who called himself El Jefe Rey – Spanish for The Boss King.

Alex downloaded them all to his computer where he could work on cracking the encryption code without risk of being detected. Modern encryption techniques are very difficult to break, and even if you break it for one document it won’t work on any other documents from the same computer. The seventeen emails he had downloaded could take days, even weeks to decode. There’s got to be a quicker way, he thought. Maybe I can find out something about Al Majid’s personal life I could use to pressure him to tell me where he sent the money. Alex’s conscience whispered ‘Isn’t that blackmail?’ But he quickly silenced it by reminding himself of the thousands of people El Jefe Rey got hooked on heroin.

To find some personal dirt Alex dug deeper into the banker’s personal computer, beyond the emails he already downloaded. He searched through dozens of unprotected files and documents and found nothing. If he has something on his hard drive he wants to hide, they would be protected by firewalls. That’s where I need to search.

Ten minutes later he found it. A separate partition of the laptop’s hard drive that was sealed off with the latest in firewall technology. Most hackers would be defeated by it, but with his PhD in computer forensics Alex broke through quickly. And what he found was a bonanza – pictures of the Arab banker sexually abusing children, both girls and boys. Apparently Al Majid was proud of his conquests because in most of the photos he was looking directly at the camera and smiling.

This stuff is terrible. Someone this evil deserves life in prison. Or to have his head chopped off by an ISIS terrorist. . . . What should I do with this information? Report it to my boss? . . . No, I got this illegally. I’d lose my job. . . . . . . . Well, the first thing I need to do is use it to get the account numbers at Credit Suisse. What I do after that is something I’ll worry about later.

Alex downloaded all the photos directly onto a DVD disk. He didn’t want that filth to pass through his computer. Then he selected four of the worst images and inserted them back into Al Majid’s laptop and added an anonymous message. When the pedophile opened his laptop tomorrow he would have a surprise waiting for him.

Yousef’s servant entered his bedroom precisely at 7 a.m. and lightly touched his shoulder, then turned and left the room. That was all it took to wake him up. After showering he went into the dining room and sat down to his usual breakfast of Turkish coffee with a plate of seasoned scrambled eggs covering a thick patty of fried Nablusi cheese and a large platter of assorted Arabic pastries. As he ate he opened his laptop to check the financial news. When it had booted up the screen shocked him.

“No, No, No! How did this get here? Who did this to me?” He quickly looked around to see if it was a police trap, if they had set this up to arrest him as soon as he opened the computer. But he was alone. He quickly closed the laptop and hurried to his room. After locking the door he sat at his desk and reopened the screen. The four photos of him abusing young girls were still there. He shut down the computer, waited a few minutes, and started it up again. The incriminating pictures filled the screen. He clicked on the images and tried to close them, but there he was, staring out at him with a stupid smile on his face. He tried again to delete them by double clicking on the screen. This time a message filled the display.

Mr. Al Majid: I hacked into your computer and found dozens of photos like these hidden behind a firewall. Such defenses are useless against my skills. Unless you follow my orders these photos will be sent to the president of your bank and all the major banks that do business with the Islamic Bank of Dubai. The effect will be devastating to your employer and will probably put them out of business. Your career in the world financial market will be over.

To avoid this fate here’s what you must do. You approved a money transfer of $320 million to the Bank of Singapore on 10/13/2016, but the money never got there. I have emails from your office computer discussing this transfer with a man who calls himself El Jefe Rey – a major drug importer to the U.S. You will send me the details of where this money actually went, along with the account numbers, to: You have until noon Dubai time today.

Yousef began to tremble in fear. If I don’t do what the message says I’ll be ruined. If I do send the account information and if El Jefe Rey finds out, he will kill me. . . . No, first he will torture me painfully and long. . . . What should I do? These thought terrified him even more. He curled up on the bed in a fetal position moaning and crying. He couldn’t stop shaking. The terror finally made his mind check out – all thinking stopped. He wasn’t asleep, he was what doctors would call catatonic.

Three hours later it all came crashing back to him. His eyes popped open as he looked at the bedside clock. “No! I have less than an hour to send the information. I have to get to work!”

At ten minutes after 8 p.m., noon Dubai time, the message arrived in Alex’s temporary Darknet email account. As he read it he smiled. Instead of moving the money to another intermediate bank, Al Majid moved it to its final destination – Credit Suisse. He broke the $320 million into three parts and put it in separate accounts. With these account numbers Alex could go to Switzerland and come back with everything he needed to make a case against Arturo Diaz – El Jefe Rey. Alex picked up the phone and dialed his contact in the Attorney General’s office to get a warrant executed.

Chapter 5 – Switzerland

Arturo Diaz ran his drug empire from a 500-acre hacienda outside of Medellin, Columbia. The place was a virtual fortress defended by a small team of ruthless mercenaries. His Chief of Security, Maj. Charles Casey, had previously commanded a Seal Team Six unit in Afghanistan. After being dishonorably discharged from the Navy unit he put an ad in Mercenary magazine, expecting to find a position with much higher pay and a free hand to run things his way. After Arturo had to execute his previous security chief for stealing a shipment of cocaine, he offered the post to Casey. Since then El Jefe Rey had come to trust him completely and put him in charge of the day-to-day operation of his business.

Casey didn’t bother Arturo often when a problem arose, but this latest news was important – important enough to interrupt El Jefe’s supper. He sent a servant into the dining room to request an audience and was immediately summoned.

“What is it, Casey, that you must interrupt my meal with these two lovely ladies?”

“It is better that we speak alone, El Jefe.” When the women and servants had left the room he continued. “I have received word from our Dubai banker that his computer was broken into and certain compromising information was stolen. The thief threatened him with exposure if he didn’t reveal the numbers of your Credit Suisse accounts. With this information the U.S. Attorney General might have enough evidence to indict you.”

“That fool! Have him taken care of immediately. Not a suicide, but a bloody murder to send a signal to others who might think of betraying me.

“Consider it done.”

“Who is behind this attack?”

“I don’t know yet, but I’ll have the bank notify us if anyone inquires about those accounts. If the Attorney General is behind it, he will send someone to Switzerland with a warrant to access your accounts. I’ll have people waiting.”

“Good, Let me know when it’s taken care of.”

Two days later, warrant in hand, Alex landed at the airport in Zurich and took a taxi to the Credit Suisse building. After working his way through several levels of administrative defenses he was finally ushered in to see the head of international banking. He was greeted by a tall, thin man who introduced himself as Herr Gustav Schuler. “Welcome, Mr. Lucas. We look forward to helping you identify those responsible for international banking fraud. I presume you have the necessary paperwork?”

Alex extracted the warrant and several other government forms from his briefcase and handed them over.

“These look to be in order, but of course I will have to have our legal department review them to be certain everything is in order. It’s rather late in the day so they won’t be finished until tomorrow morning. Where are you staying here in Zurich in case we need to contact you?”

“I have a reservation at the Hotel Schweizerhof.”

“Good. Call me in the morning and I’ll let you know when you can pick up the account information.”

“Thank you Herr Schuler. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Alex took a taxi to his hotel and checked in at the front desk. The desk clerk was cordial and spoke perfect English – not the British version but good old American, probably from Texas based on her accent. Alex slipped into a Texas accent he used now and then for undercover jobs. His Secret Service training included three foreign languages and several dialects of American English. During an investigation speaking with the local accent puts subjects at ease. The attractive blonde receptionist noticed.

“You sound like a Texan. Where are you from?”

“I grew up in a small town a couple of hours southeast of Dallas – Streetman. You probably haven’t heard of it since the population is only 206.”

“Is that a little south of Corsicana?”

“Yes, it is. How do you know of it?”

“When I was a kid we used to drive through there when my daddy and me went fishing at the reservoir.”

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