Brice Brennan sat alone at his computer watching a blinking cursor. He needed a story. A kick-ass story that no one else had.
And time was running out.
It was only three o’clock in the afternoon, yet he sat in the dark, courtesy of his blackout curtains. Today’s blog had to be up by nine. Fifty-five thousand and sixty-three fans, and six new advertisers, were waiting for it. After he’d exposed the United States’ deputy attorney general and the ATF’s collaboration on a gunwalking scandal recently, his readership had exploded.
His readers wanted scandal. Real journalism, not sugarcoated updates running ad nauseam or ratings-whoring gossip passed off as investigative reporting.
Brice tapped his thumb against his desktop. Three big news stories had flooded the blogosphere today. Each held potential for him, but none yet had generated any calls from his covert, and oftentimes dissident, sources.
Knowledge was power. Once he hit on a story, he became engrossed in it. He wouldn’t let it go until he exposed the truth.
As if summoned by his sheer desperation, his phone rang—the private tip line running through his computer. Brice’s pulse jumped. This could be it. The tip he was waiting for.
“‘The duty of a true patriot is to protect his country from its government.’ This is Hawkeye. Go.”
The Thomas Paine quote was his motto and what he founded the blog on. He recorded all his tip calls through the computer, which meant all of them ran through the speakers since he never used headphones. When you were always alone, what did you need headphones for?
“Hawkeye, this is Lodestone.”
Lodestone was a government employee who seemed to enjoy being Brice’s informant. He’d never said as much, but Brice knew the type. Knew the man had connections Brice could only dream of, and best of all, Lodestone never asked for money. “Go ahead, Lodestone. I’m listening.”
“I have information about the death of Chief Justice Raymond Turner this morning.”
A spurt of adrenaline shot through Brice’s limbs. “The road rage accident?”
“It’s no coincidence that he got held up on that bridge.” A pause—Lodestone deciding how much he could share? “A sensitive case was on the docket for Turner to decide whether the Supreme Court would hear it or not. Look into it. You never know what you might find.”
The line went dead.
Brice disconnected and stared blankly at the screen. If Turner’s death wasn’t an accident…
The screensaver had appeared on his computer. The Patriot Blog’s logo of an eagle. He tapped a key to wake the computer up, ready to start digging, when three loud knocks on his door interrupted him.
The first three were followed by a single knock.
Brice hung his head.
The coded knocks meant only one thing.
The Justice Team had arrived.
Maybe if he didn’t respond, they’d go away.
“Open up, Brennan,” Justice “Grey” Greystone called from the other side.
Brice swore under his breath. If he played possum, pretended he wasn’t even there, Grey would…
“Or I’ll have Mitch pick the locks. Either way, we’re coming in.”
How long was this going to go on?
Jumping up from his office chair, he hustled to the door, unlocked the three deadbolts and doorknob, and cracked the door open two inches.
“I’m not interested, Grey,” he told the leader of the Justice Team standing on his front porch looking like the Federal agent he used to be. Dark clothes, fake smile. Batman in his Bruce Wayne persona. “We’ve already had this discussion. Six times by my count.”
The weak smile on Grey’s lips struggled to stay in place. The man never smiled unless his fiancé was in spitting distance. He was trying to appear friendly and inviting. Mostly, he looked constipated.
“There are perks.” Grey glanced at Mitch, aka, Robin, and nodded.
When all else fails, go to your wingman.
“Like what?” Brice asked, chewing on the side of his thumbnail. “Being shot at? Having to send your girlfriend undercover as a stripper? Oh, yeah, that sounds better than medical insurance and vacation days.” He switched his gaze to Robin. “Oh, and how about being framed for your best friend’s murder? It’s hard to top that as a perk.”
Grey’s hard eyes turned to pure steel. Although the Justice Team’s past operations had all ended successfully, each one had put the members in extreme situations where things could have gone south in a hurry. Brice had been in on one of them in New Mexico with Mitch and his girlfriend, Caroline. Brice was lucky he was still breathing. They were all lucky they weren’t in jail.
Mitch grinned and shoved his way inside. His coat was unzipped and it fell open to reveal a T-shirt that read, I put the Hot in psychotic. He took up residence in Brice’s leather recliner with a big plop and Grey followed. “Jesus it’s dark in here. Are you a vampire or something, Brice?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “As far as perks, you get to look at my handsome face every day, Brice buddy. Best. Perk. Ever.”
Psychotic did not begin to describe Mitch Monroe. Brice left the door ajar and went back to his chair. He didn’t like people in his space. Especially not Batman and Robin.“I’m sure Caroline enjoys that, but it takes more than a pretty face to make me want to give up my blog.”
“You don’t have to give up your blog, right, Grey?” Mitch nodded without waiting for his boss to agree. “Investigating conspiracies is exactly what we want you to continue doing.”
Cyber resistance against government corruption wasn’t just a theory for Brice. The First Amendment Patriot blog was his life. While he valued his privacy and didn’t like to call attention to himself, he had a strong internal sense of right and wrong and had no trouble blowing the whistle on corrupt politicians and government agencies. Others appreciated what he did. Donations to the blog paid his bills and he cared little about material wealth or possessions. As long as he kept his lifestyle lean, he’d be fine.
Grey didn’t look all that happy about Brice keeping his blog “We have nine open cases right now that involve crooked politicians, lobbyists, and potential cover-ups. Your skills and contacts would help tremendously.”
Brice’s ego did indeed like it, too. He was damn good at running his blog, and he’d once enjoyed being part of a taskforce. Lived for his job as an undercover ATF agent. The commendations in his folder had proven his worth, and the team of men he’d worked with had always had his back. Failure had never entered his mind.
Until his boss—his former partner—and the ATF sent him down in flames. The men he’d been closer to than his three brothers turned on each other.
Those days were over. Lesson learned. Never trust anyone.
Facts were more trustworthy than people. Detachment and autonomy were important to doing a good job.Exposing government coverups and bringing dirty cops, politicians, and even heads of the most powerful agencies in the world to heel from the safety of his computer was what he excelled at now.
“I’m no longer a team player.” Truer words had never been spoken. Swinging his chair around to emphasize his point, he turned his back on the two men he had let into his personal circle and now regretted. The safety of his computer beckoned. “I just got a lead on a breaking story, and I’m not coming to work for the Justice Team. Show yourselves out, ladies.”
Behind him, the leather chair squeaked as Mitch stood. An uncomfortable silence followed, complete with strained murmuring—Batman and Robin trying to figure out their next move.
Let ’em talk.
“What story?” Grey asked.
“Chief Justice Turner. The road rage accident that killed him may not have been an accident at all.”
“Murder?” Mitch slapped him on the back. “Make you a deal, Brice, ol’ buddy. You join the Justice Team, and I’ll help you investigate your lead on Turner.”
He was grinning like his offer was an obvious slam-dunk. Brice stood, grabbed Mitch’s arm and hustled him to the door. “I don’t need your help, Mitch, ol’ buddy, and I can investigate Turner’s death on my own.”
Mostly true. If there was anything worth investigating.
Grey stood at the computer, looking at the screen, one hand cupping his chin. “What makes you think Turner’s death was murder?”
“I got a tip from a very reliable source.” Brice didn’t need to prove anything to these men, and yet, the investigator in him liked the credibility. “Claims Turner had a sensitive case on his docket that he was deciding on whether the court would hear it or not. Maybe nothing, but he told me to look into it.”
“Sounds far fetched to me. The Chief Justice probably had a long list of possible cases for the Court to hear.”
Mitch jerked his arm out of Brice’s hand. “Yeah, and every one of the plaintiffs believes their case is sensitive. It’s going to take a lot of work to dig into each and every one of them.”
A smile—the genuine thing—crept over Grey’s face. “How about I make you a deal, Brice? We help you get Turner’s list and do the digging. Save you a lot of time. If, of course, you help us out with a few of our cases.”
He itched to jump on this right away, but he didn’t need help. What he needed was for these two to leave him alone. “I’ll think about it and let you know my decision in the morning.”
Grey seemed unfazed by his delay. “Fair enough.”
After Batman and Robin left, Brice dropped back into this chair. A few clicks of his keyboard and he had the phone number for the Public Information Office of the Supreme Court.
He’d do his own investigation, like always. If that lead nowhere, he’d consider Grey’s deal.
As the phone rang on the other end, he smiled to himself. Nothing like a good conspiracy to get the adrenaline flowing.
Want to meet Hope Denby? Read her excerpt here.