Praise for NATHAN A. GOODMAN and
THE FOURTEENTH PROTOCOL
“Ripe with SUSPENSE, INTRIGUE, and RIVETING
ACTION, Nathan Goodman’s beautifully written novel preys upon our worst fears: Terrorism in our own backyard. LIKE JOHN GRISHAM’S
The Fourteenth Protocol
introduces characters on the climb in over their head, a plot that keeps you guessing, and an ending that will leave you hungry for more.”
─Michael Lucker, Screenwriter to Paramount, Disney, DreamWorks,
“CONSPIRACY WRAPPED BY SUSPENSE and tied in knots. If you read one thriller this year, this should be it.”
Special Agent, DEA
THOUGHT REACH PRESS
This book is a work of fiction. Names, places, incidents, characters, and all contents are products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any relation or resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, businesses, agencies, government entities, or locales is purely coincidental.
THOUGHT REACH PRESS, a publishing division of Thought Reach, LLC. Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America
Copyright © 2014 by Nathan A. Goodman
Cover art copyright © 2014 Nathan A. Goodman
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. No portion of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations used in articles and reviews.
First Thought Reach Press printing August 2014
Presidential speech adapted from President Barack Obama’s speech on May 1, 2011.
For information regarding special discounts for bulk purchases, or permission to reproduce any content other than mentioned above, contact the publisher at [email protected]
Cover illustrations by Gro Agency
Printed in the USA
To my wife, without whom I would be a lost soul, spinning about the universe, flailing for a purpose.
To my daughter Jenna, the first person to read and edit the finished work. And to my daughter Meg, whose creative artwork inspired me to create something of my own making.
This novel is dedicated to the men and women who have lost their lives in the defense of freedom. Their burden has lifted. And to those whose shoulders are still heavy—God be with you all.
For somewhere within all of our souls lies the demon, and the demon is hungry.
May 1, 2011
“One minute,” yelled the commander over the thumping helicopter rotor blades as they thrashed through the night air.
The SEAL team operators flipped down night-vision goggles, popped safety catches on their weapons, and flashed thumbs-up to one another. Fifty feet from the ground, a metallic cracking sound burst from the helicopter’s tail section, reminiscent of an aging piano cord giving up its long fight. The pilot wrenched the stick in a violent attempt to prevent the craft from rolling sideways as the tail swung in a wild circle. The helicopter impacted the top of a twelve-foot cement wall surrounding the compound. Navy SEALs spilled on top of one another as the craft teetered onto its side and slid to a stop. Unfazed, the operators burst from the damaged craft and ran towards the first of several doors they would breach.
The president made the announcement on a Sunday evening. “Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body. We give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the result of their pursuit of justice.”
It was a cool, springtime day in Atlanta under a crisp blue sky. Cade Williams’ windows sat half-open on his aging Honda/Toyota wannabe four-door. The car wasn’t going to attract any women, but it was paid for and had plenty of life left in it. He pulled out of his apartment, which was a pre-fab’d clone of every other apartment complex in the city. The grounds were so covered with pansies, it looked as if the owners had purchased a lifetime supply of the flower.
“Those are probably why my rent is so high,” he said to no one in particular. But being young and single in Atlanta meant you lived in the Buckhead area because that’s where the women were. Not that Cade knew any of them.
It was only a mile up Lenox Road to Peachtree Street and then to the office. Cade turned up the radio to hear the news as he limped through Peachtree Street traffic. Atlanta’s awful traffic was another reason he lived inside the perimeter. A tiny smile curled up the left side of his mouth. He had to admit, the rent was too high, but living inside the perimeter—or ITP, as they called it—had its perks. There was no reason to pay attention to the traffic report when you lived a mile from your office.
“Another explosion last night, this one at a Little League baseball field in Tucson, Arizona. Four are confirmed dead, one of them a child. Reports are still coming in from the scene. This makes the eleventh bombing in eleven months. The bomb appears to have detonated as the players were coming off the field. Fourteen are known to be hospitalized, two in critical condition. Tucson Sheriff’s Department spokesperson, Amy Rumbaugh. ‘We’re still assessing the situation. The FBI is on the scene with sheriff’s deputies. But it looks to me like another homemade device. We’re going to do everything in our power to find who is responsible.’”
Cade’s stomach tightened.
Little League baseball fields?
he thought. He’d played Little League ball at Murphey Candler Park in Atlanta when he was a kid. That seemed like a long time ago. He wasn’t exactly skilled at much of anything baseball-related back then, and as such, his backside became expert at cleaning the bench seats in the dugout.
Man, it’s so hard to picture sitting there on the bench and having a freaking bomb go off,
Baseball was truly an American sport and was always played on great spring days like these. Nice weather, maybe a little hot, but my God, who the hell would set off a bomb? What are they trying to do, take away our ability to relax anywhere? Eleven small terrorist attacks. These weren’t the big ones like the Trade Centers or anything, but still. Kids. Kids.
Cade hit a red light in front of Lenox Mall, cruised farther down Peachtree, and turned into the office, a towering monstrosity that loomed over its neighbors. The black glass didn’t reveal much about the building’s hidden superstructure and thus looked like any other building. But underneath that layer of reflective mirror was a hardened shell designed to withstand tornados and even mild earthquakes. No, this was no ordinary building. It was a place designed to hide its secrets, and hide them well. In fact, Cade had slept here on more than one occasion as predicted tornados skirted the city. And Atlanta had its share of tornados.
“That building is the safest place in the city if one were ever to come through,” Cade had told his father. All of the glass on the exterior of the first eight floors was bulletproof. Not that the company expected an actual zombie apocalypse or anything. But bulletproof glass was an excellent way to shield the computer data center and its customers’ corporate secrets as they flowed across the servers.
Cade was an e-mail operations admin for a true Wall Street darling. Thoughtstorm, Inc. exploded onto the stock market four years prior. He loved his job running the highly technical e-mail servers, but it wasn’t something he’d ever tell a girl. Being a geek just didn’t pay when it came to women.
Thoughtstorm was the largest e-mail service provider in North America. Billions of corporate e-mails flowed across eighteen floors of rack after rack of servers. Telling anyone he worked in the e-mail service provider business, Cade would often see a glaze form over their eyes, but there was a lot of cool stuff hidden inside the racks of metal boxes covered in blinky lights. With all the corporate secrets flowing through, it was no wonder security was so ridiculous.
Cruising down Peachtree, Cade turned towards the parking deck. The morning sun reflected off the building and nearly blinded him. As he pulled up to the security gate, Cade leaned out the window, holding his ID badge for a guard known only as “Chuck,” who scanned it.
“Hey, Chuck,” said Cade, looking for any response. For four years Cade had been trying to get Chuck to say anything. Cade had been through a phase when he even tried treating Chuck like one of those London Royal Guards who won’t smile, no matter what you do. But he got bored with that as well. Chuck pointed to the finger scanner. Cade reached out his hand and put his pinky finger onto the scanner. He would try a different finger each day of the week, hoping that the scan would fail, and Chuck wouldn’t let him pass. Going through this check at the front gate each morning was almost stupid. Chuck knew good and well that he worked here and had access to go to the parking lot. But, the company did love its petty policies.
Chuck motioned Cade forward and raised the gate. Cade stopped at his usual parking spot, way up on the eighth floor of the deck. He went through the glass doors and scanned his card at the elevator. The lobby was another story. It always took a few minutes to get through. Cade put his whole hand on the scanner this time and keyed his security code onto the pad. The keypad itself was quite a piece of work. It wasn’t just a normal pad with ten numbers on it. This keypad was digital. The ten numbers, instead of being placed in numeric order, would randomly move around the pad each time it was accessed. This made it harder for someone to peer over your shoulder and steal your code.
A security guard behind a reinforced cement wall watched through four inches of bulletproof glass. Cade walked through the eight-foot-tall revolving turnstiles and put his hand on the cold, case-hardened door. He looked over his shoulder, waiting for the guard to buzz him in. Finally, Cade was “free” to go to the elevator. In the elevator, Cade had one more round of fussing through the same revolving keypad to get the elevator to grant him access to the sixteenth floor. This part of the job made Cade laugh—a Central Intelligence Agency security system and a Mayberry paycheck.
Cade reached his cube, not far from the server racks. The cube farm was separated from the servers by a long glass wall. This wall, however, was not meant to stop an armor-piercing round; instead, it was simply designed to keep the fifty-nine-degree air temperature of the server room separated from the employees who preferred to work without freezing their asses off.
Cade’s cube was a sight to behold, a true thing of beauty. He was easily the only guy in the building with a velvet Elvis tapestry hanging in his cube. Artwork of this quality was usually only found at the corner gas station, the local bowling alley, or hanging in a place of respect, right above the fireplace in some redneck’s single-wide trailer. But Cade, who was partial to being partial, admitted he was a bit eclectic. He had acquired the tapestry from an old friend who swiped it from a Dairy Queen late one night. None of his coworkers seemed to mind the bright yellow mustard stain on Elvis’s white leather pant leg.
Cade flipped open his laptop, which was secured to the desk by means of the obligatory cable lock. With all this tight security, Cade thought it amusing that a person without a key could easily open the lock with no more than an empty toilet paper roll, or anything else that would fit in the key slot, for that matter.
To say Thoughtstorm was paranoid wouldn’t quite sum it up. The paranoia level was palpable, something that could be seen and touched. Once, Cade had seen an employee, who he suspected worked upstairs on the seventeenth floor, be taken into the security office. Word was they had strip-searched him. Needless to say, that guy’s keycard was deactivated that day. But no one seemed to know what he had done in the first place to get fired, much less strip-searched. Cade knew, although he couldn’t prove it, that there were cameras watching all of them. It was really just a sneaking suspicion. So one day, Cade decided to place a little piece of masking tape over the camera built into his laptop. He always hated those things. You never knew if the camera was turned on or off. The thought that the Thoughtstorm security team was watching, all the time, sat on his stomach like a pint of rotten moonshine. He had affixed the tape to the camera fairly well, and sure enough, the next morning the tape was gone.
No way that just fell off, no way.
That was a while back. He hadn’t tried it again, figuring if they were going to watch, he might as well not fight the system. Besides, the job actually did pay well, and Cade pretty much got his run of the place. His immediate supervisor didn’t even work in Atlanta, so no one hovered over him, micromanaging his every project. The freedom was excellent.
“Dude,” came the lispy voice from the other side of Cade’s cube wall.
“Did you see that instant messenger was down again?” Whitmore was Cade’s cube-neighbor. At five feet nothing, Whitmore could almost stand up and walk under his cube. He was an effeminate guy to say the least, but could be trusted with anything.
“No. Hey, give me a chance to boot up will you? And by the way, what time do you get in here anyway? It’s like you never leave. Is that the same shirt you had on yesterday?”
“Oh, go screw yourself.”
“Well, you know you and I can’t function without instant messenger. I mean, we work four feet apart. God forbid we’d have to speak to one another instead of using IM.”
“No way I’m talking to you, man.” Whitmore couldn’t contain the sarcasm that came so naturally. He was a real piece of work, as they say. He never seemed to be seen outside of the office. A hermit, but an office hermit; the kind of guy every company secretly loves to hire. Tireless, smart, never whines. The true team player. “Never fear. I’ll figure a way to fix that IM before the day is out.”
Standing up and leaning over the cube wall, Cade said, “So how exactly does an art director fix the instant messenger software, anyway?”
“Not your problem, my man. Not your problem.”
Cade sat down, spun his chair into position, and started in on the day. His job was to project manage all upkeep and maintenance of the servers on the sixteenth floor. Eleven hundred and fifty-six servers, to be exact. The floor space rivaled that of a Wal-Mart.
“That’s a lot of black boxes with blinky lights on them,” Cade would say as he entered the server room each day. No matter who was walking by as he said it, they’d always give him a look as if to say,
What a nimrod
. That was the fun of it. Know your shit inside and out, and you can act like an idiot. And Cade did know his stuff. At twenty-eight, he was by far the youngest admin in the company. He graduated just ahead of schedule from Georgia Tech and had gone straight into the work of managing e-mail servers. He didn’t care so much about the business of e-mail itself; it was just a gig he fell into while co-oping towards the end of undergrad. And why not? Thoughtstorm was growing like crazy despite a million know-it-alls predicting the end of e-mail due to the rise of social media. If e-mail was dying, all these blinky lights wouldn’t be going bonkers all day long firing out millions of e-mails.
Even though Cade had been at Thoughtstorm six years, there was always one thing that bothered him. There was something wrong with the seventeenth floor. That floor was packed to the gills with servers as well. But you never seemed to meet anyone that worked on that floor. Not at lunchtime, the company Christmas party, on the elevator, nowhere. Hell, occasionally you’d meet someone from the company that you didn’t know at Good Old Days, the hole-in-the-wall bar across the street. But, even then, they never worked on seventeen.
The Buckhead area was the epicenter of nightlife in Atlanta. And after all, even server geeks go out once in a while. Thoughtstorm employees packed the place after work on Fridays because you could just walk across the street. Well, that and the fact that if you got there before six p.m., the pitchers were half price. The place was hopping.
But no one from the seventeenth floor, never. The more Cade thought about it, the more he realized how odd this was. He worked one floor below, yet never met anyone from there. Stranger still, there had to be a group of server dudes up there just like him, all operating black, blinky boxes, yet you never saw them.
What the hell is that all about?
Do they have their own sneaky elevator or something?
At any rate, it wasn’t a mystery Cade was going to solve today. Not before he waded through all the e-mails in his inbox anyway. Cade had to admit, he might get paid a lot to control servers that sent massive amounts of e-mail, but he hated an inbox full of the damn things.