Loose Ends - By Tara Janzen
Dylan Hart sat in the deepening gloom of his thirteenth-floor penthouse at 738 Steele Street, his gaze fixed on the large, dark painting hanging high up in the pipes and rafters criss-crossing the vaulted space of his ceiling.
He’d hung it there years ago, all twelve by eight feet of it, so he would never forget the price some men paid. The price they’d all paid. Now he had to wonder for what: freedom? justice?
A few times over the last fourteen years he’d believed in justice, maybe a few more times in freedom, but overall, he’d never been that naïve, not even in the beginning of his military career, when Special Defense Force, SDF, had first been created. The world revolved on power and the ties that bound men together, and Dylan was bound to the man in the painting: J. T. Chronopolous, The Guardian, wielding a broadsword in his hands, dressed in black jeans and a black T-shirt with his dark wings spread out on either side of his body, the feathers dragging the ground, an angel god of retribution without mercy.
Merciless—God knew the world was that and worse … far worse.
A heavy sigh escaped him, and he slid deeper into one of the overstuffed leather chairs in his living room, slid deeper into the ocean of guilt waiting to drown him.
Jesus, sweet Jesus, what have I done?
His throat was tight.
To die was one thing. Everyone in Special Defense Force, a black ops team run out of the underbelly of the United States Department of Defense, his team, knew their life was on the line for the job, and they’d all signed on willingly. Hell, they’d signed on eagerly, then trained their guts out, through blood and sweat and the crucible of their own experience to keep death at bay. They won their fights. They’d always won—except once.
He lifted his hand to his face and covered his eyes, let his palm rest there, a shield against the hard truth scrolling down the screen of his computer, the results of an eight-month investigation.
“This is ugly, Dylan, and it’s only going to get uglier,” said the woman who’d spent the day decrypting the files he’d brought with him from Washington, D.C. She was sitting across from him, blond and beautiful, dressed in a pair of bad-girl high heels and a simple, incredibly expensive gray dress that fit her like a glove. “Randolph Lancaster needs to have an accident, a very bad accident. Gillian and I can get on a plane to Washington tonight. No one else ever needs to know. We can survive this.”
Assassination of a top-level U.S. government official, that’s what she was proposing; that she and Gillian Pentycote, an SDF operator known as Red Dog, go to Washington, D.C., and rig Randolph Lancaster’s car to fail, or arrange for him to go swimming one night in his pool stone-cold drunk, with too much precisely administered alcohol in his blood, and drown. Or maybe one of the girls would take him out on his sailboat and drop him over the side, while the other shadowed them in a getaway speedboat.
Either of those plans was a better death than Lancaster deserved.
Through his own auspices at State, and through his “foreign policy adjustments” using a legion of pawns put at his disposal by the various intelligence agencies of the U.S. government, most notably the CIA, Randolph Lancaster had accumulated millions of dollars selling American soldiers through a company called LeedTech.
Lost boys—and none more lost than J.T., because of a LeedTech contract with a Southeast Asian company called Atlas Exports.
Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, a quarter of a million, the price of a man’s life—the computer had over a hundred invoices for the sale and delivery of over a hundred extremely skilled, superlatively fit soldiers to Atlas for “enhancement and experimental use,” each invoice tagged with a coded Department of Defense Special Operations Forces (SOF) identification number.
Dylan’s team in Denver, Colorado, comprised eleven elite SOF soldiers, and six years ago one team member’s coded ID number had been duly printed on an Atlas Exports invoice—J.T.’s number. He’d been sold by Lancaster as military chattel, set up to disappear during a sanctioned mission in Colombia and be sent to Southeast Asia.
He’d been sold out while under Dylan’s command—and then everything had gone even more horrendously, sickeningly wrong.
Dylan slid his hand down to cover his mouth for a moment and lifted his gaze to the woman across from him. She was right. Lancaster needed