Excerpt for Episode 7 - Aces & Eights by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Orpheus Directive

(Season 1)

(Episode 7)

Aces and Eights

Copyright 2018 Leigh Barker

Published by Leigh Barker at Smashwords

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ISBN: 9780463529164

The Orpheus Directive

Season 1

(Episode 7)

Leigh Barker

Aces and Eights

Leonard Hofmann put down the phone and stared unseeing out of the big windows. The President was an ass. No, worse than that, he was a goddamned ass. How the hell had he been elected? Easy, the alternatives were even worse. The country was going to the dogs. Problem was, no one with any integrity and an ounce of intelligence wanted the crappy job, so the country got fools, cowboys, and the Texan.

He felt like he needed to wash his hands after talking to the man. Five minutes, that was how long he’d been on the line, and in that short time the man had told him he was the greatest man in the world six different ways. The only positive thing he could take away from the deluge of self-congratulatory drivel was that he’d not only agreed to meet, he was positively salivating at the prospect. The king and the kingmaker was how he’d put it. Jesus, the man’s ego could eclipse the Californian sun.

The man was an upstart, a common man who hadn’t even made his money himself. Handed to him on a platter.

He stood up and went into the bathroom to wash his hands, unable to deny it any longer.

The truth was, he supposed, had the President been a man of honor and integrity as the position deserved, he would’ve put down the phone the moment the phrase agency director review had been used, instead of agreeing wholeheartedly that changes were overdue in all the self-interested and anti-government agencies. It almost beggared belief.

He dried his hands and threw the white towel into the corner of the oyster-tiled bathroom. Christ, the man hadn’t even the semblance of a moral compass. One thing was certain… He stopped in the doorway as the thought crystalized. When this was over, he would have him squashed like a bug. The thought brought a smile and he felt the knot loosen in his stomach. His blood pressure was good, but there was no point pushing it.

He glanced at the wall clock. Four dots and two red laser pointers. What had he been thinking when he let her put that thing up. He looked at his wristwatch, as he always needed to since his Cartier had lost its place to that monstrosity. Three hours. He had arranged a meeting with the most powerful man in the world with only three hours’ notice. It was almost embarrassing how much the man wanted to suck up to anyone he perceived as his better. But it played into his hands, so okay, he’d take it.

It wasn’t as though he had to be friends with the oily little—

“I’m sorry to disturb you, sir,” a disembodied voice said from a hidden speaker.

“Yes, Bernard?”

“A…person is here to see you.” There was a long silence. “A Philip…” Bernard’s voice drifted into the distance but could be heard speaking. “Clayton-Thomas.” Silence again, speaking louder than any words.

“Has he completed his project?”

Bernard’s voice was distant again for a moment. “No, sir. He wishes clarification, I’m afraid.”

Hofmann closed his eyes. “I am not his mentor or his father confessor. Tell him to go away until the project is complete.”

There was silence from the speaker for several seconds.

“He has…slunk away, sir.”

“I have a meeting at the White House,” Hofmann said.

“Yes, sir. I have arranged for your driver to pick you up. I thought the Bentley would be appropriate.”

“It would, Bernard, it most certainly would.”

Ethan heard the pickup start up right on cue as the new day touched the top of the mountain range. He got up from the lounger and stretched his stiff back. Was a time he’d have thought the wooden bunk was comfortable and a sprung bed was a kind of torture. Funny what a few years will do to a man’s perception of what is and what is not. The .50 cals were coming, so any plans he might have for future comfort would have to go on hold.

The sheer lunacy of the thought made him smile.

He watched the sun shadow sliding down the mountainside. It looked like it was going to be a lovely day.

He tried not to jump as he turned and saw Gunny leaning against the door jamb and grinning.

“Thought I was going to have to throw a bucket of water over you for a sec there, Top. Or maybe plant a kiss to wake you up.”

“Remind me,” Ethan said, getting up a little stiffly, “have I shot you in the ass lately?”

Gunny put his hand on his chin and gave the question some serious thought. “Not today, that I recall.”

“Thought not.” Ethan pushed past him. “Day ain’t over yet.”

“Yeah, only thing that isn’t though.”

“Copy that,” Ethan said. “The boys up, washed and brushed their teeth?”

“Mostly didn’t sleep. Except Winter, he slept like a baby.”

“And the kid?”

“Glued to that computer most of the night,” Gunny said, following him down the narrow stairs. “What is it with technology and young people?”

“You have to ask, you’ll never get it.”

Gunny chuckled. “You sound like my eldest.”

“Gracie?” Ethan said. “How’s she doing?”

“Finished college this year. Austin’s starting about now. Can you believe that?”

“It’s what happens,” Ethan said, and pushed open the door to the kitchen. “She’s still talking to you, then?”

“Yeah, which is more than her mother is.”

“I hear you.”

“You too?”

“You reminiscing on the bliss of marriage?” Winter said, pulling his head out of the fridge.

“You dodged that one,” Gunny said, and joined him at the fridge.

“Came close a couple of times. They ran away.” Winter pushed the fridge door open so Gunny could reach in and pull out half a loaf wrapped in foil.

“Who keeps bread in the fridge?” Gunny said, unwrapping it.

“People who want to eat it without the mold,” Winter said, taking the bread from him.

Ethan took a quick look around the big room that opened onto a shaded internal courtyard. It would be very pleasant on a hot day. Like today.

Smokey and Loco were out in the yard, Smokey with his feet up on a wicker table and Loco cleaning his M40. Andie was ticking away at her keyboard and frowning, as usual. It could’ve been just another day instead of their last.

“Time to put your game faces on,” Ethan said. “Company’s coming.”

Smokey and Loco got up and came into the kitchen and waited. Gunny and Winter waited. Andie stared at him, her eyes too big for her face. Expecting him to save her. Save them. But that was his job, right? Always had been. Except there wasn’t any way he—he squinted at the wall Gunny was leaning against. It was made from rocks from the mountain, chiseled a little, but still mostly small boulders.

He stepped out into the corridor and looked around for the first time in daylight. The ground floor was made the same way. Two walls of rock making a very effective insulator against the summer sun. And .50 cals.

Gunny saw him touching the rough stone and moved up beside him. “Yeah, that could work.” He ran his hand over the granite. “Gonna be noisy as hell for a while though.”

“Slow things down is all,” Ethan said.

“I’ll take that. But yeah, it’ll stop the fifties for a while, but we’ll be out of position when they storm the place. Sitting on the can when the bad men kick down the door.”

“Ground floor will keep us from getting chewed up, but that killing machine’s gotta be stopped or it’ll pin us down while the troops rush in.”

“Got anybody in mind to go stop it?” Gunny shook his head slowly. “You’re just crazy enough, right?”

Ethan leaned into the open kitchen doorway. “Smokey, go get the Viking. Pick a ground-floor window each and keep your heads down.”

“Are you going out there, Top?” Smokey said, his voice rising a little as he realized that was exactly what Ethan intended.

“Yeah,” Winter said, picking up his rifle, “me and Top are going for an early morning constitutional. Mountain air’s good for you.”

Ethan thought to say no for a nanosecond, then checked his M16’s mag. “We’ll knock out the fifties; then you skedaddle upstairs and prepare to repel boarders.”

“I’m coming,” Gunny said.

Ethan shook his head. “We’ll likely stop for coffee so not get back in time for the infantry assault. It’ll be down to you to make the price too high and send them on their way.”

Smokey came back down the stairs with Marius on his heels, looking drawn and tired. Somebody else didn’t get any sleep.

Marius took one look at Ethan and Winter and knew. “You’re going outside?” He glanced at the ornate front door. “The Toyota’s pulled up on the crossroads. Three hundred meters.”

“That’s close,” Gunny said. “I’m guessing it’s the only line of sight in all this rock.”

“And you’d be correct,” Marius said. “And the other thing about all this rock. There’s no way down into the village except that road.” He saw Ethan glance out through the kitchen. “No, that way is a sheer cliff, or near enough it doesn’t matter. And the same on the other side. A glacier came this way at some time.”

“So they have to go right down the middle of the road,” Gunny said, shaking his head.

“Unless they can fly,” Marius said.

“We’ll be getting wings soon enough,” Winter said, and started towards the door. “Maybe they’ll take time to set up.”

“What’s to set up?” Ethan said, following. “Fifties are mounted on the pickup.” As he reached for the door handle, he caught Gunny’s eye. “Do your thing, Chuck. Keep them safe.”

“Copy that.”

Philip Clayton-Thomas was muttering to himself as he walked down the long hotel corridor and squeezed past the maid’s trolley. Respect, was that too much to ask? After everything he’d done for the organisation and for Mr. Hofmann. Not being treated like an idiot seemed little to ask. He should resign. That would make them sorry. They’d soon miss him. Realize just how much he brought to the role. How much work he did under the radar, not looking for brownie points or special treatment. No, just a little respect. And by the time he’d driven out of the gate, his desk would’ve been taken by somebody else and people would be saying Philip who? He’d seen it a hundred times, said it. Okay then, he’d do something spectacular and make them notice him. Yes, that was better than quitting. Nobody likes a quitter.

The room he was looking for was at the end of the long corridor, of course. He raised his fist to give it a hard rap, realized what he was doing and tapped it with his knuckles.

A muffled voice came from inside, a woman’s voice. Had it been otherwise would’ve been a surprise. The door was open and he went in and looked around. Nice.

And so was the young woman leaning back against the headboard, her breasts above the wrinkled sheet. He didn’t notice.

“Did you do it?” he asked, eager to get this over with.

No, I just thought I’d lie here and rest for a bit. In the middle of the morning.” She made a sheesh noise and shook her head, her breasts moving in counter-time.

“Good,” Philip said, and noted that the bedspread color clashed with the walls. “No condom?”

“Christ! What’s the matter with you, man? You think maybe I’m not up to following a few simple instructions? Maybe a nutjob or somethink?”

Something,” he said, before he could stop himself.

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

Something had annoyed her, but he had no idea what.

“You got my money?” She swung her legs off the bed and stood up, her tight thighs showing red marks of heavy contact.

He flinched and looked away, but forced himself to look back. This plan was going to get high fives from Mr. Hofmann. Concentrate, man, it’s just a woman. And men liked this? Things where they shouldn’t be, and missing where they should be. He’d never understood why men bothered. These creatures were manipulative, vindictive, incredibly violent, and hurtful. Mother. Well, yes, but that was different. How was it different? She was all those things. And more. Saturdays. Saturday was the day from hell. Unless she’d been drinking, then she’d just pass out in the hallway and he’d have to put her to bed. Her rules, laid on him with the brown strap, said he’d better not wrinkle her dress. So he’d had to undress h—

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