In Chains Again by Sharon GreenPart Three of the Chained Trilogy. Finally having obtained his release, Jake looks for Tain. As both agents try to unravel the mystery, they also move closer to finding each other again - and closer to a final... Confrontation? Or meeting of minds?
Part Three of the Chained Trilogy
Finally having obtained his release, Jake looks for Tain. He realizes she's right about many things, but before he can tell her, he discovers she's gone from Oliven, and he has no clue to where.
He's disturbed by what he feels, but even more disturbing rumors begin to surface. The 'slave drug,' used supposedly only on Oliven, has surfaced - and on much more 'modern' planets. Jake must put his feels from Tain aside to follow this serious development.
But Tain is already on it - and as both agents try to unravel the mystery, they also move closer to finding each other again - and closer to a final... What? Confrontation? Or meeting of minds?
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In Chains Again (Sample Chapter)
Part Three of the Chained Trilogy
© Sharon Green and Blushing Books, 2011-2013
Jake Killen sat in front of the large monitor, more bored than he'd believed was possible. The slender blonde on the monitor was naked, but she'd put on knee-high, high-heeled black boots and then walked to a full-length mirror. She turned this way and that to check her appearance, and a small smile played on her lips.
"Did I miss anything?" Matt Reardon asked as he came back into the room carrying cups of coffee. "Did her client get there yet?"
"No," Jake answered, quickly reaching for the cup that was his. "No to both of your questions, and that probably would be true even if you'd stayed away for an hour."
Matt chuckled as he took his place in the chair beside Jake's, already knowing that Jake wasn't enjoying this latest assignment Coleson had given the two of them. Matt was enjoying it just fine, as a rest from the usual kind of assignment he got if for no other reason. Matt's hair was a lighter blond than Jake's, his eyes blue instead of gray, and the man was boyishly handsome as well as tall and nicely made.
Which meant that Matt was usually used as a decoy for female targets, pretending to be an innocent who could be easily taken advantage of. Unlike most of the rest of the male agents in their department, Matt had a vulnerable look that made it seem that he was perfectly safe for messing with. Unfortunately for those who saw him in that way, Matt was almost as hard on the inside as Jake himself.
"Come on, Jake, you have to admit that the scenery is just fine," Matt said after the chuckle, gesturing to the monitor with his free hand. "Once her client comes we'll get them both on disk, hopefully along with the orders she gives him. We've already established who's giving her the orders she passes on, so once her client obeys her we'll have her employer on charges of illegal interference in business matters."
"Interference he's already made millions from," Jake was forced to agree. "If not for the little people who have lost money on their investments because of this game, I would have told Coleson to go to hell and walked out. The man only gave me this assignment because he knew it would bug me."
"Coleson is a bastard who'll probably get away with every dirty trick he's ever pulled," Matt said, no longer amused. "Three weeks ago all the rumors said that Coleson would soon be out of a job, but if it hasn't happened yet it probably never will. The bastard knows how to play his own game too well."
"If Coleson gets away with what he did to Tain, Ennie and me, I'm going to start a new game," Jake growled, not joking in the least. "Politics won't be part of the new game, but lots and lots of pain will. Pain for Coleson, that is. He's earned everything he'll get."
"Now, that I want to watch," Matt said before returning his attention to the monitor. "Hey, it looks like boots isn't the only thing she means to wear."
Jake returned his own attention to the monitor to find that the slim blond woman had put on a half mask of black leather. The mask was the kind that executioners were supposed to have worn back in the old days, with only the woman's mouth and chin uncovered. Even as Jake watched, the woman picked up what could only be called a buggy whip. The thin leather of the tail of the whip wasn't long enough that it had to be coiled, but it still wasn't something that Jake would enjoy having used on him.
"Was that a knock on the door?" Matt asked, voicing the same question Jake suddenly had. "The blonde doesn't seem to be responding, but I could swear I heard a knock."
"A very low knock," Jake agreed. "Maybe she isn't responding because - Yes, she heard it too, but she ignored it until she was in the mood to respond."
The two of them watched as the blond woman finally left the mirror and strolled to the door. She held the whip in her right hand, opened the door with her left, then stepped back. A moment later a naked man entered, but it wasn't possible to tell exactly how tall he was. He entered crawling on all fours with his head hanging down, and didn't stop crawling until he was in the middle of the room. The blonde had stalked past him to wait at the point where he stopped crawling, and when he stopped he immediately kissed her boots.
"You're pitiful and you disgust me," the blonde said to the man, her voice filled with vitriol as she stared down at him. "You're barely able to follow simple instructions, and if you thought you'd get away with such unacceptable behavior you were wrong."
"Forgive me, Mistress," the man begged in a low, servile voice without raising his head. "I tried to do exactly as you told me to. If I didn't do it right I'll certainly try again."
"Yes, you certainly will," the blonde agreed, her tone hard and allowing for nothing in the way of compromise. "But first you'll be punished for doing so badly the last time. We'll start off easy, then work our way to the more serious punishments. Take the proper position."
"Yes, Mistress," the man said at once, and then he was leaning on his forearms instead of his hands. That position put his rump higher in the air, and the blonde wasted no time ignoring the offered target. She caressed the man's bare backside with the end of the whip she held, and then she brought it down hard across his behind.
"Ow! Thank you, Mistress!" the man exclaimed, quivering with the pain but making no effort to protect himself. The second stroke of the whip brought the same response, as did the third, forth, and fifth strokes. The sixth stroke brought a louder exclamation of pain, and Jake noticed that the man was now beginning to writhe.
"That really has to hurt," Matt observed as the whipping continued. "Look at how red his behind is starting to be, but he's not doing anything to protect himself. I don't understand how someone can enjoy having that done."
"We all have our own needs and desires, and as long as we indulge them with others of like mind there's nothing wrong with it," Jake answered. "It's when people try to force their lifestyles on others that you run into trouble…"
Jake had been trying to resist, but seeing the way the man twitched and writhed every time the whip struck his behind, a set of memories forced themselves into Jake's consciousness. He'd been punished that way himself once, and no matter how the man on the monitor viewed the matter, Jake hadn't enjoyed being treated like that. The memories dragged Jake back to the time when he'd been forced to bend over a wooden form, as naked as the man on the monitor, the instrument of punishment a switch rather than a whip.
And not doing anything to protect myself was an order rather than a choice, Jake thought, unreasoning fury turning his hands into fists. I felt it every time that switch reached my bottom, felt the blazing pain and the worse humiliation, raving inside my head over not being allowed to defend myself. If I'd suddenly been freed I would have tried to kill everyone in reach, in the process probably getting killed myself. But even knowing that in advance wouldn't have stopped me…
"Yeah, I guess that being forced into someone else's lifestyle is worse," Matt agreed, only faint reluctance coloring his words as he saw Jake's point. "I'd hate having that kind of thing done to me, but that guy would probably hate never having that done to him again. People are never easy to understand."
"Some people," Jake qualified, having no trouble understanding what had moved the man behind Jake's own punishment. The man had been a slaver, and he'd been trying to terrorize Jake and his companion Tandro into withdrawing the complaint that they'd lodged against the slaver. He'd also had Jake and Tandro drugged, but apparently hadn't considered the drug enough of a weapon. Even though it had been enough…
Distantly Jake had been aware of the woman speaking to the man while she whipped him, and hearing the last of her instructions told Jake that it was a good thing the episode was being recorded. The woman had been giving the man his new orders, and once she passed on the last of it she paused in the whipping. The man was now crying softly, his body writhing slowly to the pain he'd been given.
"You now have your instructions, but I know you're too stupid and inept to remember them all," the woman said, the same contempt in her voice that had been there earlier. "As time goes by I'll be quizzing you on what you were told, and every mistake will bring you that other kind of punishment. You do remember that other punishment, don't you?"
"Yes, Mistress, I remember it," the man answered at once in a shaky voice, but his eyes had widened with what looked like real fear. "Please, Mistress, I'll try very hard to remember every word you said and repeat each word back to you. Please don't give me that other kind of punishment."
"We'll see how well you do, but don't count on getting away with it completely," the blonde returned with a nasty smile the man wasn't in a position to notice. "At some point you'll probably need a taste of that other punishment just to teach you your proper place. Go back to the other room now and put on your blindfold, then sit down on the low stool. I'll be with you in a minute, and I'd better not find you using your legs to make sitting easier."
"No, Mistress," the man responded with complete submission, then he turned and began to crawl out of the room again. His movement was a shade slower than it had been when he'd come in, Jake noticed, but that was understandable. The blazing red of his seat said that he was now in a lot more pain than he'd been in earlier. The woman stood and waited until the man was gone, and then she went to a cell phone that lay on a nearby table. She pressed a few buttons, then put the phone to her ear.
"It's me," she said into the phone almost at once. "He's here and I've already begun, so it won't be long before he has every word memorized. I want that first deposit made right now."
"It's being made even as we speak," a male voice replied, the words transmitted through the bug that had been put into the cell phone. "When you've finished with him and he's gone, the second deposit will be made. When he obeys the orders to the last word, the third and largest deposit will be made. Just like last time."
"Last time I had to remind you," the woman countered, her voice clearly showing her displeasure. "If the same thing happens again, I'll remind you in person and bring a couple of my toys along to make the reminder … sharper. The choice is yours."
"The choice usually is," the man returned, amusement in his own voice. "If I happen to forget you can call to remind me, but I would advise against coming to me in person. I'm nothing like your … clients, and neither of us will benefit if you force me to break you. Call me again when he's gone."
The click showing that the man had hung up was reflected in the anger on the woman's face as she also turned off her phone. She put the phone back on the table with a small bang, then turned and stalked toward the doorway leading to the next room.
"Oh, oh, that guy's in for it now," Matt said, his expression and headshake showing that he wasn't only pretending to be sympathetic. "Her partner got her angry, but her victim is the one who'll pay for the bad mood. I'm not sure I want to switch the view to the camera in the next room."
Jake was about to say they had no choice when his own cell phone rang. It took only seconds to answer, and the voice Jake heard belonged to the automated assignment coordination arrangement that every agent was conditioned to recognize.
"Agents Killen and Reardon are ordered to return to headquarters as soon as they're relieved at their current assignment location," the voice said. "Their relief will arrive at any moment."
"We've been relieved here," Jake told Matt when the connection to his phone ended abruptly after the last word. "AACA says we'll be replaced at any minute, and once we are we're to report to headquarters."
"I wonder what's up," Matt said, obviously knowing better than to demand answers Jake wasn't likely to have. "Not that I'm complaining, you understand. When it comes to watching the rest of this show, better the next guy rather than me."
Matt had shifted the view on the monitor to the camera in the next room while Jake was on the phone, and only a single glance made Jake agree fervently. The man who had been whipped a few minutes earlier now sat blindfolded on what looked to be a very hard wooden stool. The man's soft moaning and painful writhing were perfectly clear, just as clear as the sight of the various equipment in the room. Jake wasn't certain what all the equipment would be used for, but there was no doubt that everything was designed to add to someone's discomfort if not pain.
No more than a few seconds after the blonde moved close to the painfully seated, blindfolded man, a knock came at the door of the room Jake and Matt sat in. Matt got up fast to answer the knock, and when he opened the door Jake was able to see two of the department's agents in training.
"We were told to relieve you two," one of the men said as Matt stepped aside to let the newcomers walk in. "We were also told you'd have your own orders by now."
"Yes, we do, and yes, we're going," Matt replied as Jake rose to join him at the door. "All the cameras are set to record, so don't do anything but watch what's happening. And don't forget that we can't interfere no matter what you see being done. Unless you happen to see her kill him, that is. If she does kill him, call the police anonymously and report the murder and its location, then hang up."
Both of the new men looked at Matt oddly, but Jake just joined Matt in leaving the room without going into explanations. It had come to Jake as well that the woman's anger might make her go too far in her game with the naked man. If the naked man ended up dead they'd probably have a problem, but not one that would do the woman's partner any good. That one was already on record as having influenced the naked man in the past, so their case against the power behind the whip was already established.
It took more than half an hour for Jake and Matt to get back to headquarters, thanks to the traffic they ran into. When they finally made it to the message board and plugged in to find out where they were to go next, they got the same message.
"Isn't 'the conference center' what Coleson's office was called before it became Coleson's office?" Matt asked as he unplugged his code-sealed ear plug a couple of seconds after Jake did the same. "Why is it suddenly being called the conference center again?"
"I'm hoping for the best," Jake answered, finding it impossible not to grin evilly. "The only reason I can think of for the name change would be if the place was no longer Coleson's office. Let's take a look and find out for sure."
"Consider my fingers crossed," Matt answered with his own grin as they left the board and headed for the elevator. "If this turns out to be a joke of some kind, I'll probably end up hurting someone very badly."
"Not until after I get my shot at doing the hurting," Jake stated, glancing at Matt to show that he wasn't joking. "After all, I am the senior agent in this partnership."
Matt nodded solemnly to acknowledge the point, and they rode up in the elevator in silence. Jake knew that in a manner of speaking he and Matt had been joking just a little, but only because neither one of them wanted the promise of Coleson being gone to be untrue. If it turned out that Coleson had been promoted instead and had been given an even bigger office, Jake made himself a solemn promise that Coleson would not live long enough to gloat.
Stepping through the outer doors into the anteroom of the "conference center" showed Jake something that immediately made him feel better. Coleson's male secretary, a man whose name no one seemed to know, was no longer at the reception desk. Instead Maggie Hewlett sat at the desk going through a file, one of the several dozen that were stacked all around her on the desk.
"Ah, Killen and Reardon," Maggie said after looking up, a friendly smile of greeting on her face. "Rachel's expecting you, so just go on in."
Jake exchanged a glance with Matt as soon as Maggie's gaze returned to the file, the foolish grin Matt showed undoubtedly a complete match to the smile Jake had produced. Maggie Hewlett was the partner of Rachel Masterson, the two women being the most ruthless - and well-known - hatchet "men" of the Board of Directors. If someone was taken down because of illicit activities, Maggie and Rachel were always right there nailing the lid down onto the person's coffin.
"Coleson must have been into more than just playing politics," Matt murmured as he and Jake moved toward the inner door. "The Board never turns Maggie and Rachel loose on just anyone."
"Before they're through, Coleson won't have a secret left to his name," Jake agreed in a matching murmur. "And all of this couldn't have happened to a nicer guy."
Matt nodded his own agreement before opening the inner door and stepping through, Jake right behind him. Rachel sat at the giant desk that Coleson had always kept empty of everything but knickknacks, and the desk wasn't empty any longer. There were more than twice the number of files around Rachel than there had been around Maggie, but it was the same black-haired, brown-eyed face the files surrounded. The two mid-thirties women were twins, and most people weren't able to tell them apart. Jake could, though, and was pleased to see that the women were too busy to play the game of pretending to be "the other twin."
"Come on in, guys," Rachel called when she saw who had entered. "My sister and I are trying to get this mess straightened out before the Board appoints a new head of department, but some things can't wait for the appointment and you're two of them."
"Did you just call Jake and me 'things'?" Matt asked as he walked to one of the guest chairs and sat, Jake still right behind him and doing the same with the other chair. "And how come you have so many more files than Maggie does?"
"Maggie and I have an arrangement," Rachel said, laughter dancing in her dark eyes. "If there are two offices involved, the way there are here, the one who gets the smaller office also gets the smaller pile of work. We tossed for it as usual, and I won - or lost, depending on how you look at these things. And no, you two aren't things, it's only what I call what you've been thrown into. I have the file right here, which is why I'm the one talking to you."
When Rachel gestured with the file folder she meant, Jake finally realized that the women must have made hard copies of everything on Coleson's computer.
"Didn't Coleson have a destruct program guarding his files?" Jake asked. "If I'd ever had to bet on it, I would have bet that he'd insult the wrong person sooner than leave his files unguarded."
"Yes, he had a destruct program in place, but it didn't do him any good," Rachel said, her amusement turning into a grin. "I won't go into details about why his safeguards didn't work, I'll just say that Coleson didn't know as much as he thought he did." Then her grin disappeared. "One thing he did know really well, though, was how to screw things up royally. And a lot of his effort was done on purpose."
"He messed things up deliberately?" Jake said, not bothering to hide his surprise. "I always knew that Coleson was wrong for the job, but I never pictured him messing around on purpose unless a political end was at stake. Was that it? Did he screw things up because he had a political ax to grind?"
"According to his files, politics was more his hobby," Rachel answered, her face showing a grimace. "His game-playing may have looked like nothing but politics, but his true aim was to become the wealthiest man ever to have lived. Too bad he wasn't bright enough to understand that he wasn't bright enough to make that happen. All he could do was make trouble for the rest of us, and that he certainly managed."
"Where do Jake and I fit into that?" Matt asked, the man's curiosity clear even behind the fairly neutral words. "And where's Coleson now? Just a little while ago I said I didn't think he'd ever be tossed out, but happily I was wrong."
"That business with Ennie Farrow was more than just a bit of vindictiveness on Coleson's part," Rachel said, not quite answering Matt's questions. "The man really had no choice in doing as he did, but the action became the beginning of the end for him. The Board started out thinking he'd put people's lives in danger just to make a political point, so they set me and my sister to looking for any other stupidity he might have committed. They wanted to charge him with everything at once, but as soon as Maggie and I started to dig we found more than anyone expected us to. And that, of course, alerted Coleson as to what was going on, so he … took a trip."
"He's gone?" Jake asked, only faintly surprised but seriously disappointed. "Why wasn't he arrested before he had a chance to run?"
"He was supposed to be arrested when he came into the office the following morning," Rachel said, showing a small, wry smile. "We're still not completely sure what alerted him, but he may have had an alarm of sorts on his files as well as a destruct. If he did have an alarm he was at home when it went off, was probably able to tell that his files didn't destruct the way they were supposed to, so he packed some clothes and things and took off. They've sent people after him, but so far they haven't caught up."
"Sounds like the folks on his trail could use some help," Jake commented, trying not to look as delighted as he felt. "I have some vacation time coming if no one wants to make the assignment official, so - "
"Sorry, Jake, but we need you here," Rachel interrupted to say, her expression telling him she knew how he felt. "And you're not the only one who wants a piece of Coleson, but none of them will be allowed to go after him either. We need our people put back in the right place, not haring off after their former nemesis."
"Back in the right place?" Matt echoed while Jake cursed silently. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"It means that Coleson played games with the assignments he handed out," Rachel supplied, now looking pleased with the change of subject. "People like you and Jake were given assignments that some of our newer agents should have been handling, and the newer agents were given jobs they aren't yet up to doing right. Coleson was definitely trying to hide the fact that he was involved in something that isn't quite legal, but we still don't know precisely what that is. That's why we need you and Jake and the others, to find out exactly what Coleson was trying to do. Whatever it was, it made him a large amount of money."
"Will they let me go after Coleson once we have his hide nailed to a door?" Jake asked flatly, only partially mollified. "Ruining his game will feel good, but not as good as rubbing the bastard's nose in it all."
"If he hasn't been found and arrested by the time we have all the details, everyone after his blood will be turned loose," Rachel assured Jake with a wide smile. "My sister and I are even thinking about offering a reward of sorts for his capture, like promising not to notice the man's physical condition when he's brought in. But we won't put up that reward until we have every bit of evidence we need against him. Are you in?"
"Damn straight," Matt said at once, but Rachel was still looking at Jake. When Jake finally nodded his agreement, Rachel smiled.
"Good," she said, picking up a different file. "Now here's what I need you to do…"
Jake listened carefully, but part of his mind was on the picture of Coleson's sneering face. Once the hunt was over, he promised himself the pleasure of wiping that sneer off the man's face with a fist.
"So we'll be looking into the reports of strange behavior on the part of too many people," Matt summed up when Rachel finished giving them the outline. "And you're sure that the reports are somehow tied in to whatever Coleson is up to?"
"If the reports weren't tied in somehow, why didn't Coleson have any experienced agents looking into them?" Rachel countered. "You don't have to be particularly bright to know enough to send out your best people when you're faced with the unexplainable. It's what Coleson would have done in the past, but this time he did just the opposite."
"Which means he didn't want anyone to figure out what was going on," Jake said, making the obvious point. "But what about pure luck? Are you absolutely sure none of the new agents stumbled on the truth by accident? That kind of thing can happen no matter how new you are."
"It probably happened this time too, but Coleson took care of it his own way," Rachel said, now leaning back in her chair. "There are indications that certain reports are missing, but not knowing who filed the reports means we can't just go to a few people and ask for copies. We're in the process of asking everyone for copies of their filed reports, but we have an awful lot of people working in this department. Matching up multiple reports from many multiple agents will take a while."
"And during that while Coleson's plans will continue in whatever direction they're going," Jake said, getting to his feet. "Matt and I will get right on that assignment, and maybe he and I can figure out what's going on before you get to the missing reports. At least we're damned well going to try."
"Good," Rachel said, leaning forward again and picking up a third file. "I still have lots more snarls to unravel, so get out of here. And don't forget to keep in touch. If we get lucky and find those missing reports sooner rather than later, you'll want to know about it."
Jake nodded, then led the way out of the office again. Outside Maggie was busy talking to other agents, so Jake and Matt simply left the area entirely. Jake was more than eager to get to work on the mystery, and he had an incentive he hadn't mentioned aloud.
Maybe, now that he was no longer tied up on unimportant projects, he just might come across something to tell him where Tain Halliday had gone…