E-Force (Excerpt from Chapter Five)
Tempers were flaring at the manager’s meeting. Colt was certain that the Salem Witch Trials couldn’t have been more chilling. With the suddenness of an ocean squall, the forum had degenerated into a hostile volley of accusations and defenses. The handwriting on the wall was plain for Colt to see. The days of EcoFriends were numbered.
A female manager turned on the other five women. “I’m not paying the price for the bitch that ratted on us! Everybody knows I’ve put my heart and soul into this organization.”
“You’d sell us out in a heartbeat if you could profit!”One fiery vixen charged at the haughty accuser. “How much is the FBI paying you?”
“That’s right. Fight it out!” A man pumped his fist.
“Let’s make them all take polygraph tests.” One board member stepped between the two potential combatants.
“There’re better ways to get a confession than that,” another person said.
“Enough of this!” Howard Anderson finally took control. “We’re tearing ourselves apart because of one traitor. If we’re going to survive, we’ve got to stick together. The truth is going to come out. Whoever is guilty has one last chance for redemption. I’ll give you until the end of the week to come to me and confess. Then we’ll figure out how to make things right again.”
Adjournment was an armistice in an escalating war. At the reprieve, people scattered. Colt looked for Deb, but she was gone. The air in the building seemed poisoned. He hurried outside where he could breathe.
“Damned horde of barbarians,” Colt muttered on the sidewalk, shaking his head with disgust for the behavior his colleagues had exhibited. The organization was supposedly founded on trust and loyalty, yet every leader was bent on crucifying one of their own.
Anderson has lost his mind. Colt stormed toward the street. It was insane to prop up the terrorist group E-Force as a means to stabilize EcoFriends. It’s like skydiving without a parachute so you didn’t risk getting tangled in the lines. Everybody’s following him into the sea like a bunch of damned lemmings.
Without a doubt, Colt regretted his involvement with EcoFriends. Foolishly, he’d been a complacent passenger in his life and work. It was time to move behind the wheel and take command. EcoFriends was going to be part of the past, not the future.
“Colt, wait for me!” a familiar voice said.
Colt turned to see Deb dart across the street. A car braked to avoid running her down. She drew alongside Colt, ignoring the blaring horn as the vehicle resumed course.
“You almost got killed!” Colt was alarmed by Deb’s reckless action.
“What does it matter?”
“I don’t understand why you would ask that.” Colt evaluated his friend’s pale sickly appearance. “What’s going on? Where’ve you been?”
“Vomiting in the restroom.” Deb’s voice wavered. “We need to have that talk.”
“Let’s get away from the street.” Colt grabbed her by the arm. “I’ll walk you to your car.”
The pair didn’t speak during the brisk trip to a parking lot at the end of the block. When they reached Deb’s vehicle, she couldn’t contain herself any longer.
“Colt, can I trust you to keep a secret?” Deb asked in a hushed tone.
“Of course you can trust me,” Colt said, frowning. “What’s going on Deb?”
“I’m the one who went to the FBI. I told them about the money laundering.”
“So it was you.” Colt’s pulse quickened. “Holy shit. The meeting must have been a nightmare for you.”
“I can’t believe what’s happening.” Tears welled up in Deb’s eyes. “When I called from a payphone, the FBI agent promised my statements were confidential. I don’t know how Anderson found out. Colt, I’m scared.”
“It’s going to be okay.” Colt dabbed a tear from her cheek. “Nobody can pin the leak on you.”
“There’s more to the story.” Deb’s eyes were hollow. “All the dirty money went to E-Force.”
Colt’s heart skipped a beat at the assertion. Deb had uncovered the truth. Months ago, Colt had discovered that tens of thousands were going to E-Force. But he had done nothing. Like a fool, he continued to divert funds from his chapter, knowing the money was being laundered and funneled to E-Force.
“Is that what you told the Feds?” Colt sputtered. “How do you even know that?”
“I overheard a conversation between Anderson and Cain. And, yes, I told the FBI!”
“Deb, keep your voice down.” Colt cast a nervous glance around. “Maybe we should talk inside your car.”
“I haven’t told you the worst part,” Deb said after they were seated in the vehicle with the doors shut. “I’m not sure if I should.”
“What could be worse?” Colt felt as if he was about to be sentenced by a judge.
“Zed Cain is part of E-Force.” Deb was trembling. “If he finds out I know the truth, he’ll do something terrible. Colt, I don’t know what to do.”
“Just calm down.” A shiver rippled through Colt’s body. “This is bad, but I won’t let anyone hurt you. Did you tell the FBI about Cain?”
“Not yet.” Deb was obviously struggling to retain her composure. “But I’m going to. It’s the only way to stop these crimes.”
“But you don’t know who tipped off Anderson.” A light bulb went off in Colt’s head. “Maybe he’s got somebody inside the FBI.”
Deb shook her head with doubt. “We’re talking about Howard Anderson, not some foreign government.”
“Then how did he find out?” Colt’s unease was growing. “That’s a serious question, and we’ve got to find an answer.”
“Once Cain and Anderson are behind bars, it won’t matter. Then I’ll be safe.”
“It’s not going to be that simple.” Colt gripped Deb’s shoulder and looked her in the eye. “Something’s not right. There’s a hidden trap waiting to snare anyone who decides to be a hero.”
“Then what am I supposed to do?” Deb thumped a fist against the steering wheel. Another tear rolled down her cheek.
Colt suddenly felt conspicuous. “I don’t know yet, but we need to continue this conversation at a different time and place.”
“Okay, you’re right.” Deb nodded and reached for a tissue. “I’ll call you when I get back to Boise.”
They hugged for a few seconds before Colt stepped out onto the pavement. Deb ventured a weak smile and waved goodbye. Feeling lost and lonely, Colt looked after her car until it was swallowed in the traffic.
With eyes cast downward, Colt turned and walked away. Before he traveled twenty paces, a shadow crossed his path. Colt looked up to find Zed Cain standing in front of him. The man’s tall figure was imposing. With long black hair, he resembled a fierce Comanche warrior from days of old. Colt stopped dead in his tracks.
“Are you lost?” Cain asked without an ember of warmth.
A chill went down Colt’s spine. Did the alleged E-Force member suspect something? Maybe he overheard part of the conversation with Deb.
Colt managed a dismissive air. “I forgot where I parked. My vehicle’s over there. See you at the next meeting.”
Colt moved past Cain and retreated toward his Land Cruiser. He maintained a casual stride and resisted the urge to cast a backward glance.
James D. Kellogg holds a B.S. in Biology and a M.S. in Civil Engineering, both from Virginia Tech. His professional engineering experience encompasses ski area development and water resource management in western Colorado. Passion for adventure and imagination was the impetus for his thriller novel, E-Force. James’ life experiences served as catalysts for conception of protagonist, Colt Kelley. An outdoor enthusiast, James enjoys skiing, mountain biking, backpacking, rock climbing, and kayaking. He and his wife Kristen are raising their four kids near Glenwood Springs. Contact James at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://jamesdkellogg.com.