ICYMI – Here's Snippet #1

Chapter 2

The last of the winter sunlight faded away, and Cody watched the clock on her tablet, counting the remaining seconds of her shift. At first, she didn’t notice the armored truck approaching the parking lot, but the deep, throaty growl of its engines alerted her, and she looked up in time to see the matt black truck nosing forward, the automated barrier rising to allow it through. Must be a delivery or a pickup. Security trucks arrived every day, shifting valuable equipment or taking sensitive data to be destroyed, but when the truck swung smoothly across the parking lot, she narrowed her eyes. What the hell is that thing doing here?

This was no security truck, but a BEAR—a tactical support vehicle favored by SWAT teams and the military—and it was turning up on Cody’s watch.

“We’ll soon see what this is all about,” Cody muttered. She pocketed her tablet and marched across the lot, on a path to intercept the vehicle. But the truck skirted the edge of the lot and ground to a halt directly outside the main entrance. Cody jogged to the truck. She hadn’t seen anyone step down from the vehicle, so she had to assume the driver was still inside, but the truck’s windows were heavily tinted and well above eye level, so it was impossible to see inside the cab. Cody looked along the vehicle, surprised to see no badge or identifying marks, then she took out her tablet and checked the delivery schedule. “That’s weird,” she murmured because there was nothing: no pickups or deliveries for the rest of the day.

She kept her eyes on the cab and walked around to the front of the truck, holding up her tablet and activating her scanner, but for some reason, the scan wouldn’t run. Cody tried again, but when someone opened the truck’s passenger door, she forgot about her tablet and stepped back, ready for anything.

The man clambering down from the cab wore a well-cut business suit over a dazzling white shirt, and he would’ve looked more at home in a Bentley rather than a BEAR, but even so, he had the relaxed poise of someone accustomed to being in charge. He buttoned his jacket as he strolled toward her, and when he spoke, his voice was deep and commanding: “There’s no need to scan this vehicle. We’re authorized to be here.”

Cody hesitated. “I’m sorry, sir, but you can’t leave your vehicle in this area—it’s for emergency services only.”

The man slid his hand inside his jacket, and when Cody tensed, her reaction seemed to amuse him. “Relax,” he said. “I’m just getting my ID.” He held out a card bearing the Vortax logo, and when Cody read the man’s details, she stood to attention, her eyes fixed dead ahead.

“I’m sorry, Colonel Banks, sir,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting anyone from V Division.”

The colonel pocketed his card and looked Cody up and down. “That’s understood. You’re doing your job, and we’d appreciate it if you’d let us do ours.”

“Of course, sir.” Cody’s mind raced. This could be a great opportunity, a chance to make a good impression on someone from V Div. But you couldn’t just soft-soap a colonel, could you? Cody cleared her throat. “If there’s anything I can do to help, Colonel, please let me know. In the meantime, I was wondering if I might—”

Banks didn’t give her the chance to finish. “Thank you, but it’s best if you go about your business as usual. We’ll be out of here as soon as we can, and that’s all you’re authorized to know.”

“Yes. I understand. Sorry to have kept you, Colonel.” Cody stood still, waiting to be dismissed, but the colonel was already walking away. He climbed back into the BEAR’s cab and slammed the door without a backward glance.

I was just a glitch in his day, Cody thought. An irritating interruption to be dealt with. She took a breath and exhaled loudly, then she headed back across the parking lot. The day had gone just about as badly as it could, but at least it was almost the end of her shift.

She took out her tablet and checked the time, and that was when she saw the notification on the screen: a new message. Her mood brightened. Perhaps it was Joseph, getting in touch to apologize for earlier. But when she opened the message, her smile disappeared. It was from Chalmers. A few terse sentences:

Milbourne – it seems you sent a parking fine to an official visitor from the State Department. Come and see me in the morning. And the guy covering the next shift phoned in sick, so you’d better cover for him. Stay put until I can find someone to take over. And no more tickets unless you check with me first.

“No,” Cody groaned. “This can’t be happening.” But the implication of Chalmers’ message was clear. If she wanted to stand a chance of keeping her job, she had to do what she was told without complaint. She had no choice.

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***

Cody hugged herself to ward off the cold and jogged across the snow-speckled asphalt, making for the Vortax building. She’d been forced to wait three hours before her replacement finally came to take over, and it was now almost eight o’clock. The night sky was dark and clear though the stars were obscured by the glare from the powerful spotlights that cast their harsh rays across the building’s glittering windows.

As Cody ran, her breath formed puffs of mist that curled up into the icy air until they were whipped away by the biting wind. But despite the cold, Cody smiled to herself. The working day was over at last, and she’d had plenty of time to figure out a plan for the evening.

She stopped outside the glass doors to scrape the worst of the snow from her boots, then she walked in and made her way across the lobby, her wet boots squeaking against the pristine marble floor. She took out her tablet, her fingers blurring across the screen as she placed a call, then she held it to her ear, waiting.

Her call rang a few times then went to voicemail: “Hello, this is Joseph Salter. Sorry, but I can’t answer right now. Leave a message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”

Cody tutted. She knew Joseph hadn’t left the building yet, and the man was practically attached to his phone—he never went anywhere without it—so why wasn’t he picking up her call? She pushed her impatience aside. “Joseph, it’s Cody. I’m heading over to Roberta’s for a pizza. I was hoping you could join me, at least for a quick beer.” She hesitated. The only time Joseph didn’t answer his phone was when he was elbow-deep in an experiment, and if that was the case it would explain why he was at work so late. The guy was just too eager to please. Sometimes, he needed saving from himself. “I’m headed up to your lab right now, then we’re going for pizza, and you’re coming with me whether you like it or not.”

She pressed the disconnect icon and frowned at the screen. If Joseph was working hard to meet a deadline, maybe she shouldn’t interfere. But everybody needed a break occasionally, and Roberta’s was only a ten-minute walk away. If Joseph really wanted to, he could always go back to work after he’d eaten. But she couldn’t wait all day for him. She’d already called to make her reservation, and she could almost taste the spicy sausage and sweet red peppers, mingling with the molten mozzarella.

Cody licked her lips and hurried to the nearest elevator. The door slid open, and she stepped inside, hitting the button for level three. The journey took only seconds, so it wasn’t worth trying to call Joseph again. Instead, she waited close to the elevator door and exited as soon as the doors opened. A list of names and room numbers adorned the wall opposite the elevator, but Cody scarcely glanced at it as she turned right and hurried along the corridor. She navigated through the maze-like level, turning the corners from memory until she came to a steel door labeled: Research Suite – Authorized Personnel Only. The research suite’s mundane title gave no clue as to its real importance. Here, some of the world’s finest minds worked together to create technologies that would one day change the lives of almost everyone on the planet. Cody understood little of what went on, but she picked up snippets, and there was such a positive atmosphere in the place: so much energy, so much drive. Anyone with half a brain could see these men and women were going places, and with the might of the Vortax Corporation behind them, nothing could stand in their way.

Very few people got to see beyond this door, but as a member of the personal security team, Cody had access. Most employees had to press their badges against the panel next to the door and then stand very still while a retinal scan completed. But not Cody. Some time ago, she’d helped Joseph out by volunteering herself as a test subject for a biochip system he’d been working on. A tiny device had been implanted under the skin on the back of her right hand, its chip loaded with a complete set of biometric data. She’d been a little worried about her privacy, but Joseph had reassured her, and she’d been happy to go along with it. The device had given her no problems whatsoever, and it granted her instant access to certain secure areas of the building, bypassing the tedious biometric scans.

She took hold of the door handle, and a faint metallic click let her know the lock had disengaged. Cody opened the door and went through into the long and brightly lit corridor beyond, then she hurried to a door half-way along on the right-hand side of the corridor: Joseph’s lab. She hesitated, remembering the way Joseph had walked away from her earlier. But Joseph wasn’t just a company asset to her, he was a friend. And Cody never turned her back on a friend.

She pushed the door and stepped inside. “Joseph?”

Tall racks of servers lined the walls of the large laboratory, and twelve laboratory benches ranged down the center of the room, all covered with the paraphernalia of Joseph’s mysterious craft: twisted bundles of multi-colored ribbon cables, scattered circuit boards, and rows of black metal boxes, each boasting an impressive array of blinking LEDs.

Cody weaved between the benches, stepping carefully over the tangled mess of power cords trailing across the floor, and making sure she didn’t touch anything. “Joseph?”

She frowned. Joseph was the most goal-oriented person she had ever met; when he was in the building, he was in his lab, hard at work. He had to be somewhere nearby. She ran through the possibilities in her mind. Perhaps there was a very simple explanation for Joseph’s strange behavior. If there was a nasty flu bug going around, then maybe he’d just been feeling miserable, so perhaps he’d gone home sick and she hadn’t seen him leave. That seemed a little unlikely since she’d been watching the exit all afternoon, but it wasn’t impossible.

There was one easy way to find out. Cody pulled out her tablet and entered Joseph’s number, then she put it to her ear.

A shrill ringtone shattered the silence in the lab.

“Joseph?”

Cody forced down the surge of anxiety stirring in her stomach, and at that moment the ringtone cut off as Joseph’s voicemail took the call. She called again and followed the sound of the ringtone, but she had to call twice more before she tracked it down. The sound seemed to be coming from beneath a bench, but the phone was nowhere in sight, so she got down on her hands and knees and reached beneath the storage units. At first, she found nothing, but then her hand brushed against smooth plastic and she closed her fingers around the phone’s familiar shape and slid it across the floor. The phone was definitely Joseph’s; he’d kept the same old model for years and refused to upgrade, telling everyone who’d listen that it was the most reliable handset ever built. But this phone hadn’t just been dropped on the floor. The case was badly cracked with one corner missing completely, and a long, jagged split ran the length of the screen. It looked as though someone had made a deliberate attempt to destroy it.

“What the hell?” Cody stood slowly and swiped the phone’s screen. She wasn’t expecting it to work properly after the beating it had taken, but the screen burst into life. Looks like he was right to trust this old thing after all. The phone wasn’t locked, and when Cody checked the notifications, a list of missed calls flashed across the screen. There were several calls from her, but more worrying were the missed calls from Joseph’s wife; there were five of them, and all made over the last few hours.

Cody looked up and turned in a slow circle, scanning the room. Joseph would never have damaged his own phone deliberately, and he certainly wouldn’t ignore calls from his wife. What happened here? And where the hell is Joseph?

Her gaze fell on the door at the far end of the lab. When she’d been assigned to Joseph, she’d spent many hours in his lab, but she’d never been through that door; she’d never even seen it open. She’d asked Joseph about it once, but he’d told her it was just a server room. Perhaps Joseph was inside. Some of the server rooms had very noisy cooling systems, and that would explain why Joseph hadn’t heard her, or his phone. Yes. That made perfect sense.

Cody strode across the lab to the door and took hold of the handle. It turned beneath her hand, but when she pushed on the door it remained firmly shut. Cody pressed her ear against the door’s surface. There was the hum of cooling fans, but that wasn’t all. A metallic tapping sound, faint but insistent, repeated over and over. She stood back, a chill prickling the back of her neck. Something wasn’t right.

She raised her fist and hammered on the door. “Joseph! Are you all right?” No response. She hammered again, harder. “Joseph! Shout if you can hear me. Say something!”

Silence.

Cody set her stance and slammed her shoulder against the door. A wave of white-hot pain shot through her arm but the door didn’t budge. She bit her lip, thinking. Chalmers would have a passkey that could open the door, and she should probably call in and report that Joseph might be in trouble. But the image of Chalmers rushed to her mind: the flecks of spittle on his lips as he’d bawled at her, the smug superiority on his face as he’d exiled her to the parking lot to think about her attitude. She’d be damned before she’d make a fool of herself in front of that man again. And if it turned out that Joseph had just locked the server room door and pulled on a pair of ear defenders while he performed an experiment, Chalmers would make her suffer for wasting his time. No. She couldn’t risk calling this in. Not yet. First, she’d get this door open and investigate, and then she’d make a decision.

The door was too strong to be kicked in, but she knew the type of lock, and she knew how to break it open. All she needed was the right gear.

Cody crossed the lab to the nearest bench and bent down to rifle through the cupboards beneath. It didn’t take her long to find a rugged plastic toolbox, and she lugged it across to the door. Working quickly, she selected a large flat-blade screwdriver and pried off the lock’s fascia exposing the cylinder. Cody swapped the screwdriver for a heavy-duty pair of pliers, then she clamped the pliers’ jaws tight around the lock’s cylinder and wrenched it sideways. The cylinder snapped with a satisfying crack, and Cody grabbed a small screwdriver and inserted the flat blade into the lock’s mechanism. The damned thing wouldn’t turn, and she cursed under her breath then tried again, taking it slowly and feeling for the moment when the blade engaged. There. She turned the screwdriver gently, and this time, the lock cooperated, disengaging with hardly a sound.

Cody pushed the door open, a rush of chilled air washing over her, and the whir of cooling fans filled the lab. Beyond the door, the room was almost dark, lit only by the dim glow of a row of blue and green LEDs. She could see no sign of life among the eerie shadows, but there was the tapping noise again: louder, more urgent.

“Joseph, are you in there?”

Cody stepped into the doorway, but she kept her hand on the door. “Joseph? It’s me, Cody. Are you in here?”

There was no reply. She took a step into the room, and above her, the ceiling lights flared, flooding the small room with dazzling, white light. Cody flinched and raised her hand to shield her eyes. She staggered sideways and something snagged against her feet. She almost fell, but she threw her arm out and grabbed hold of the door frame to keep her balance. She looked down, kicking her feet free from the untidy tangle of wiring that had threatened to trip her, then she squinted against the glare to examine the room.

Coiled cables snaked across the floor, gathered together in thick bundles running the length of the room. And when Cody lifted her gaze to see where the cables led, she gasped.

A series of strange devices, like sleek black coffins with rounded corners, were arranged in two neat rows. Cody counted ten in total, and she stared in disbelief at the hundreds of wires and pipes that ran from the casket-like enclosures to the dark metal server cabinets behind them, where scores of tiny lights flickered and flashed. At the far end of the room, the entire wall was given over to a massive screen that streamed with numbers, charts, and codes that Cody had no hope of understanding.

She took a hesitant step forward, and when she ran her eyes along the forbidding rows of dark apparatus, a knot of pure fear pulled itself tight in the pit of her stomach.

The black caskets stood open, their glass lids propped upright. Except for one.

Cody stared at the sealed casket, and that was when she discovered the source of the tapping sound. On the floor beside the casket, something had fallen onto the metal grating of an air vent, and the powerful stream of chilled air blasting upward tossed the object from side to side, rattling it against the grating’s metal bars, over and over again.

“A shoe,” Cody whispered. “What the hell is that doing there?” But deep down, she knew without a doubt that the old-fashioned, brown brogue could belong to only one person.

Oh my God! Cody dashed to the closed casket, stumbling over the twisted cables as she ran. She laid her hands on the casket’s lid and peered down through the frosted glass.

“No!” Cody yelled, and the blood turned to ice in her veins. “Joseph!”

Her friend lay inside the casket, unmoving. His eyes were open, staring into space, but he didn’t respond when Cody called his name, and his fixed gaze didn’t even flicker when Cody pressed her face to the glass.

She clawed at the lid, scrabbling with her fingernails for a grip on its smooth surface, but there was no exposed seam, nothing to hold on to. She pushed and pulled, but the lid didn’t so much as move a thousandth of an inch. Cody slammed her closed fist down onto the glass, earning nothing except a jarring burst of agony that shot through her wrist and made her cry out in pain. She cradled her injured hand against her chest and glared at the casket. There had to be an explanation for all this.

Joseph must’ve been testing these devices, but something had gone badly wrong. He was obviously unconscious, but there had to be a way to get him free, some way of releasing the lid before it was too late.

Cody looked frantically along the side of the casket, searching for anything that could help get Joseph out. She ran her hands along the smooth black metal, and as if sensing her touch, a small panel lit up on the casket’s side, a circular red icon glowing bright. She slammed her palm against the panel, and the casket emitted a raucous, two-toned siren. Cody flinched. What had she done? Had she made things worse?

But the siren cut off as abruptly as it had begun, and from somewhere within the casket came the dull drone of motors whirring into motion. With a muffled sigh, the glass lid lifted a fraction of an inch, and the casket hissed as a mist of icy vapor poured out through the narrow opening. The whir of motors grew louder, and the lid swung upward until it was fully upright.

“Joseph, it’s all right. I’m here!” Cody leaned over the edge of the casket. But what she saw made her breath catch in her throat.

A streak of dried blood ran across Joseph’s temple, the stain unnaturally vivid against his pale face. She reached out to touch his cheek but found no trace of warmth. Tiny crystals of ice clung to his hair, and even his eyelashes were rimed with frost.

“No,” she whispered. “I’m not too late. I can’t be.” She pressed her fingers against his throat, searching for a pulse, but she felt nothing. “No.”

She shook her head, unable to accept the truth. How could this have happened? What the hell was she going to do?

Her hand went to her radio. She had to call this in. She’d have to explain to Mr. Chalmers. And someone…someone would have to tell Sarah.

I should’ve helped him, she told herself. He was worried. I knew he was worried about something. But I didn’t…I didn’t do anything. I just stood there and let him go.

The weight of Joseph’s death pressed down on her shoulders, and she let out a strained sob. She had to get away, to clear the sight of Joseph’s frozen corpse from her mind. She stumbled back, dragging herself as far from the pod as she could within the close confines of the room. I’ve got to call Chalmers, she told herself, but every muscle in her body trembled, refusing to follow her instructions.

Something clattered in the lab beyond.

Cody’s head flew up. “Hello? Somebody help! In here!”

A shout split the air. The rumble of boots reverberated across the lab, and two men burst in through the open door. They were clad in black body armor and helmets, their faces concealed beneath their dark goggles. Their assault rifles were held ready at their shoulders, the barrels pointing squarely at Cody’s chest. More dark figures hustled in through the door, and everyone was shouting at once: barked commands and dire warnings.

“Do not move!”

“Stay exactly where you are! If you move, we will open fire!”

For a split second, Cody could only stare in horror, but then she saw the Vortax logo emblazoned on the men’s body armor. V Division! She lifted her trembling hands. “Please help! Someone has hurt my friend. I think he—”

But the men didn’t let her speak. Two of them lunged forward, snatching hold of her wrists and turning her around, yanking her arms up behind her back. She felt something cold and hard wrap around her wrists, then it tightened until it bit into her skin. The men turned her around again, but they kept their hands clamped on her upper arms, almost lifting her from the ground.

She opened her mouth to protest, but at that moment, the men in the doorway moved aside, and a familiar figure stepped into the room.

“Colonel Banks!” Cody called out. “Thank God! You can help. I work here. We met in the parking lot. Remember?”

The colonel had swapped his suit for black combat gear and body armor, but at least his face wasn’t hidden behind a helmet. He looked her in the eye, but there was no spark of recognition, no trace of emotion. “Cody Milbourne, you are under arrest for the crime of—”

“What!” Cody yelled. “You don’t understand. I only just came in. I couldn’t find him in the lab, and then…” She glanced down at Joseph, and her voice trailed away. The sight of her friend sent a sharp pain to blossom in her chest, and it almost masked the agony in her arms, her shoulders. Almost, but not quite.

“What’s going on here? Let me through!” There was a commotion at the door, and Chalmers bustled into the room with a police officer at his side.

The colonel turned and stepped forward to face Chalmers, barring his way. “You’re not needed here. We have the situation under control.”

Chalmers pulled himself up to his full height. “We had an intrusion alarm for this room, and protocol is to call the cops and follow up on it, so here we are.”

The police officer forced his way around the colonel, and when he saw Cody and Joseph, his hand went to his side-arm. “What the hell is going on here?”

Colonel Banks bristled. “I said, you’re not needed, and that’s precisely what I meant.” His voice was a low growl of restrained rage. “Now, I suggest you remove yourself from Vortax property before I’m forced to take this further.”

The police officer looked Banks up and down. “I don’t know who you are, buddy, but you’re in a whole world of trouble, so stop talking and stay put. I’m going to need names and addresses for everybody, and I’ve got to get a team in here, right now.”

The colonel looked down at the officer’s name tag, and then he smiled. “Officer Pernell, I can see you’re only trying to do your job, but perhaps I haven’t made myself clear. This woman has damaged a valuable Vortax Corporation asset, and under our agreement with the federal authorities, we have a right to detain her pending a full and lawful internal investigation.”

Officer Pernell shook his head. “Sir, whatever she’s done, she has rights too. Seems like we might have a murder on our hands, so I need to take this suspect into custody and follow the procedure.”

“No!” Cody yelled. “I didn’t do it. Joseph was my friend. I found him like this.”

“Save it for the jury,” Pernell said. “But don’t say another word until I’ve read you your rights.”

“I’ve heard enough,” Banks said. “This woman has no rights, not as far as you’re concerned.”

Pernell jutted his chin forward. “Excuse me? Are you trying to prevent me from making an arrest?”

Banks let out a weary sigh. “This woman has waived her rights. This is an internal matter, and we have a prior claim on this woman.” He looked at Chalmers. “Tell him.”

Mr. Chalmers looked uncomfortable. “Strictly speaking, he’s right. We all sign a contract, and there are certain things, like damaging company assets, where we waive our rights and agree to cooperate with V Division.”

Pernell tucked his thumbs into his belt. “Look, buddy, I know how Vortax run things as far as day-to-day security goes, but offenses like this always get handed to us. We have to carry out a proper investigation.”

“And so you shall,” Banks said. “We’ll hand the suspect over when we’ve finished with her. But we have to clear her first. There are secrets in this room that affect national security, and we can’t allow this woman to leave the building until she’s been debriefed and processed by the Corporate Crimes Unit. After that, she’s yours.”

Pernell scowled, his cheeks tightening, but Banks held up his hand to stop him speaking.

“What precinct are you with, Pernell?” Banks took a phone from his pocket and tapped on its screen. “In fact, forget it. I’ll talk with the Chief of Police. That should cover it.” He held his phone to his ear and gave Pernell a wry smile. “Hello, Jeff. Yes. It’s about that issue we discussed earlier. Yes.” He paused, listening. “And you’ll square it with the D.A. later? That’s great. I’ll just put Officer Pernell on the phone.” He held the handset out and nodded to Pernell. “It’s the Chief of Police—he’d like a word.”

Pernell frowned in disbelief, but when he took the phone and listened, his face fell and his body stiffened. “Yes, sir. I understand. Thank you, sir.” He looked down at the floor for a moment, then he passed the phone back to Banks without a word.

“Okay, Pernell, are we clear how things stand?” Banks asked.

Pernell hesitated, then he cast a glance around the V Division men, his eyes lingering on their assault rifles. “Well, I guess she isn’t going anywhere. And so long as she gets handed over eventually…”

“Of course,” Banks said. “The Corporate Crimes Unit will be in touch as soon as they’ve finished their…procedures.”

“All right then,” Pernell said. “I guess I’ll leave you boys to it.” And he turned to go.

“Wait! No!” Cody called out. She strained against the heavy hands holding her back. Banks’ words had only just sunk in. The Corporate Crimes Unit weren’t interested in justice; she’d heard far too many horror stories to believe that. At least with the police, she’d have the chance of a fair trial. “Officer, you’ve got to arrest me. Take me in. I’ll cooperate. Anything you want.”

Pernell glanced back at her with sad eyes. “I’m sorry, miss. This is out of my hands.”

“But that can’t be right,” Cody insisted. “Joseph is dead. His killer is getting away.”

But Pernell gave no sign he’d heard her. He lowered his head and hurried out the door, disappearing from sight.

“You brought this on yourself,” Chalmers chipped in. “I knew you were trouble.” He shook his head and walked out, his hands in his pockets.

“No!” Cody kicked and strained. She almost managed to pull her right arm free, but a solid blow landed in the middle of her lower back, knocking the wind from her lungs. She slumped forward, gasping for breath, her body only held upright by the men grasping her arms.

“Cody Milbourne, the charges are these,” Banks began, then he looked down to read from his phone. “You entered a restricted zone when you had not been instructed to do so. The logs show you entering this area without completing the necessary retinal scan as laid down in company protocols.”

Cody blinked up at Banks, struggling to focus through the waves of pain spreading from her spine.

“Witnessed!” barked one of the V Div men.

“Confirmed!” called another.

Banks nodded and resumed reading. “Further, you attempted to abduct a valuable asset of the Vortax Corporation, one Joseph Salter, in order to steal intellectual property belonging to said corporation, and I offer the following recording in evidence.” He held up his phone and Cody’s face fell when she heard her own voice:

“Joseph, it’s Cody…you’re coming with me whether you like it or not.”

“During this abduction,” Banks went on, “you caused the death of Joseph Salter which you tried to conceal, damaging company property in the process.”

“Witnessed!”

“Confirmed!”

Banks paused and gave Cody a stony glare. “You are hereby charged with theft, criminal damage, abduction, and murder, all of which have caused serious damage to the company.”

“Witnessed!”

“Confirmed!”

Cody drew a rasping breath. “No! You must know I didn’t kill Joseph! You said it yourself—the logs will say when I arrived. And he must’ve been dead for hours. He’s practically frozen!”

“We will now pass sentence,” Banks intoned. “Do you have anything to say?”

“You can’t do this. Whoever killed Joseph is still out there. I spoke to Joseph today, he was worried about something. He must’ve been in trouble. Please, there’s something going on here, can’t you see?”

“Under company law, the Corporate Crimes Unit is entitled to seek compensation for all losses, during which time the defendant will be assigned to a containment unit within the Fortress Program. For the crimes listed, the statutory period of confinement is up to forty years.”

Forty years? No!” Cody whipped her head from side to side, but all around her, the men stood perfectly still, their faces hidden beneath their anonymous goggles. It was as if she’d fallen through a hole in reality and landed in a sickening nightmare. She knew the stories about the Corporate Crimes Unit, but she’d always shrugged off the rumor that they used V Division to do their dirty work. She’d looked up to V Div. For crying out loud, she’d wanted to join them. But there was no escaping the truth. This was happening, and there was nothing she could do about it.

Banks pocketed his phone. “How does the court find the defendant?”

The chorused reply was immediate and unanimous: “Guilty!”

The floor shifted beneath Cody’s feet. She moved her lips, but her mouth was too dry, her throat too tight.

“The court has found Cody Milbourne guilty,” Banks said. “Sentence to be carried out immediately.”

Cody swallowed hard and found her voice. “But, I didn’t do it.”

Banks nodded to the men at Cody’s side. “Administer the sedative.”

A sharp pain spiked the side of Cody’s neck, dark clouds billowing across her vision as she fought to cling on to consciousness. She wondered how they’d tell Joseph’s wife, Sarah. Would they say that Cody had murdered him? Would Sarah believe them and blame her? Would she curse Cody’s name and feel utterly betrayed?

Cody’s stomach clenched. This isn’t right! I haven’t done anything wrong. I just came to help, to make sure Joseph was okay.

She tried to stop her eyes from closing, but the sedative had her in its grip and she was powerless. Her head slumped onto her chest, and time slowed. Time. It had been less than half an hour since she’d tried to call Joseph from the lobby, and yet it felt like a lifetime. Perhaps it may as well have been. And as she slipped into dark oblivion, a single thought remained in her mind: No one was going to miss her. No one.

[/et_bloom_locked]


I hope you enjoyed that snippet.

Prison Quest is available on all Amazon Stores and can be read for free by members of Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime. To learn more visit: Find Prison Quest Online

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