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Authors: J. M. Erickson


BOOK: Albatross
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Albatross: Birds of Flight



Book One







J. M. Erickson




iUniverse, Inc.





Birds of Flight


Copyright © 2012 by J. M. Erickson


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.


This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.


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Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.


Any people depicted in stock imagery provided by Thinkstock are models, and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.


Certain stock imagery © Thinkstock.


ISBN: 978-1-4759-3413-7 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4759-3414-4 (e)

ISBN: 978-1-4759-3415-1 (dj)


Library of Congress Control Number: 2012911317



iUniverse rev. date: 07/06/2012


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21





O happy living things! no tongue

Their beauty might declare:

A spring of love gushed from my heart,

And I blessed them unaware:

Sure my kind saint took pity on me,

And I blessed them unaware.


The selfsame moment I could pray;

And from my neck so free

The Albatross fell off, and sank

Like lead into the sea.


—Samuel T. Coleridge,
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
, IV. 65–6


Chapter 1

Anthony Maxwell was just
waking up when he felt a burning sensation in his arm and a headache forming in the back of his head. He started to move his limbs, but they were firmly bound to a chair. Maxwell’s eyes were having difficulty adjusting to the room as a result of bright lights shining on him. He had been in the intelligence business long enough to know that he was being interrogated. While Maxwell had witnessed many interrogations and conducted a few himself, he had never been the subject of one. Though he was not fully conscious, he could sense someone was in front of him, sitting and waiting. He was sure the burning sensation in his right arm was an intravenous concoction to make him talk. His mouth was dry, and he wanted to talk; however, his entire body seemed to be devoid of liquids, especially saliva, which made talking very difficult. Maxwell knew he had to collect his wits and try to remember how he ended up in this terrible predicament. He remembered walking to his car after his impromptu meeting with his two contractors to provide a final briefing on a “foreign agent” who was living right over the border in Canada. It was a small mission of information gathering, and the briefing was supposed to finalize the logistics. Maxwell was all about security and being careful; being a senior field agent of the Department of Defense Foreign Intelligence’s Operations Center always meant being vigilant. If you wanted to live, the practice of being vigilant was a lifestyle and not just a good habit. So whoever was able to first track him and then get the drop on him before he was able to discharge his weapon was either very lucky or a professional … or both. With more saliva forming in his mouth, he was better able to croak out a question. “Do you know who I am?”

“Yes,” said a soothing, low, and calming voice.
Under vastly different circumstances, this voice could have been comforting
, Maxwell thought.

“What do you want?” Maxwell went on. From years of training and experience, Maxwell could tell he was in a room with wooden walls and windows. Maybe a house. If he screamed, he probably could be heard, provided he was still in a populated area. It felt like wood was under his feet. While it took time for his eyes to adjust, Maxwell could tell there was someone behind his interrogator. The man behind his interrogator seemed to stand still and watch the entire interaction.
Something about the way the guy is standing seems oddly familiar
, Maxwell thought to himself.

“I don’t want anything. We have what we want. Now we wait,” the voice went on.

Maxwell shifted his focus back on the interrogator sitting right in front of him. “Look. I’m a senior field agent of the Department of Defense. If I don’t check in with my people in a couple of hours, the federal government will be looking for me. That means they will be looking for you. Do you get it?” Maxwell was attempting to tip the tables to get his interrogator talking. He was hoping for the usual bravado, machismo, or arrogant response to his threat. Though he knew he posed no real danger while he was tied up in a chair, he still wanted to get a dialogue going. What he got was more chilling than he wanted to admit.

First, the interrogator gave a sigh, which was followed by a very even reply. “You are Anthony R. Maxwell. You are senior field agent of the Department of Defense’s foreign intelligence office assigned to the operations center located in Waltham, Massachusetts. Just so you are aware, the medication flowing in your arm is not any drug that will make you talk. It is a combination of Vicodin and Valium that will relax you and allow you to nod off and fall asleep,” the voice articulated.

This is bad
, Maxwell thought. This guy had his real name and the location of the operations center, and he was not interested in information. That meant these men already had what they wanted. That made Maxwell expendable. It was time for a new strategy.

“Well, maybe you might want to know some classified data?” Perhaps it was time to make some offers, bargain, and maybe buy some time. It was hard though. Maxwell was getting sleepy. His arms, legs, and stomach started feeling like lead. He had to focus.

“No, Mr. Maxwell. There is no need for that. We already texted your contact team to meet you here in three hours. They will more likely be here in two hours or so,” the interrogator concluded. But then there was a follow-up question.

“Mr. Maxwell, you do know what today’s date is, don’t you?”

Odd question
, Maxwell thought.
Maybe there is something about today’s date that is either an anniversary or a target or mission date.

“May 1. ‘May Day’ in Catholic tradition. It’s an important day for the old Communist—” Maxwell attempted to keep talking, but he was fading much faster than he thought. It was difficult for him to form thoughts, let alone sentences.

“No, Mr. Maxwell. Today’s date is May 2,” the voice corrected. There was no judgment in the interrogator’s voice; this was just a correction of the date.

The shadow behind the interrogator had been slowly moving toward Maxwell as he was fading. As he was nodding off, Maxwell knew from the person’s build and profile that there was something definitely familiar about it. Maybe it was somebody from his past. The date was also familiar. Maxwell began to feel light-headed and elated. Then, before he completely slipped away, he uttered a barely understandable word. It would be the last cogent question Maxwell would ever ask. “Burns?”

The shadow stopped moving, and the interrogator crossed his legs.

Maxwell looked away for a moment to try to focus on something else to stay awake. His mind was wandering. While his first thoughts were on old friends and family, they faded too quickly, he thought. Instead of seeing other friendly faces, he saw the faces of past enemies, victims, and collateral damage he had caused. He couldn’t help but feel weighed down by these thoughts. Maxwell shook his head to clear his thoughts, but the faces stayed in view.
he questioned.

“Why them?” he asked out loud.

Maxwell looked at the interrogator, and he was positive the man was Alex Burns—one of the faces he was seeing.

“Why him?” Maxwell tried to finish.

But Maxwell reached that critical threshold where he no longer cared about the world anymore. All his cares seemed to recede. The faces were the last to fade. He drifted off into an opiate-driven sleep.

The shadow waited just outside the backside of the house, where he had passively watched Maxwell’s interrogation. With full knowledge that Maxwell was in a deep sleep, still bound to the chair in the middle of an empty house, the shadow recalled the last time he and Maxwell actually worked together. As part of their business, they never used first names. First names were too personal. Last names only were used both in the field and off. Seeing “Maxwell” in his drug-induced condition did make Burns feel bad. After so many years of Burns being missing, he was amazed that Maxwell did recognize him as “Burns.” He was also amazed that he felt no enjoyment at Maxwell’s situation. In the past, he would have had no empathy or sympathy for his victim. Even though he had good reason to hate Maxwell, Burns felt bad for him. Burns’s companion, the even-spoken interrogator, was not surprised that Burns had empathy for Maxwell. As Burns waited outside the house, he smiled at the interaction he had with the interrogator, David Caulfield, right after Maxwell passed out. David had predicted that he would feel bad for Maxwell.

“You know, David, for a trained professional, you’re not very good at hiding your emotions, especially when you’re right,” Burns commented. Burns had watched David interrogate Maxwell and had been impressed with David’s natural ability to be soothing even in such a terrifying situation. Burns did find it unnerving that David could guess that he felt some pain for Maxwell. In the past, Burns was unreadable to colleagues, superiors, and enemies. Burns could not remember having friends or close family.
Maybe they could read me,
he thought.

“It’s not my first day on the job. Interviewing, that is. It also helps not being able to see what’s really happening. I can pretend I am in an office,” David countered.

Burns knew David would need assistance to the basement. Once they navigated through the rooms and down the flight of stairs, where David would wait, David said to Burns, “Please be careful.” Burns assisted David into a waiting chair before he left him to wait outside in back of the house.

BOOK: Albatross
4.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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