END TIMES Excerpt 4

A Perfect Hatred

Book One: End Times

Chapter 11

“Sinful Messiah”

The FBI had jammed a conference table sized for eight people into the large trailer, but Mai and Alexei noted the narrow quarters as they carried in the briefing packets. They put a copy before each chair and awaited their audience.

“I think you’ve already figured out Agent Fitzgerald is an overbearing asshole drunk on position power,” Alexei said and leaned against one wall of the trailer to peer out the polarized window.

“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”

He redirected his scrutiny to Mai, and she sobered.

“You never mince words, Alexei. Are you telling me to watch my mouth?”

Alexei shrugged and again looked outside. The active federal compound contrasted with the lack of movement around Calvary Locus, a pale rectangle wavering in the heat rising off the farmland. What lay inside that “church” to confront an intruder, he wondered.

“I feel compelled,” he said. “One of those senior agent duties.”

“I shall be sweet and compliant.”

“On a cold day in hell. Don’t let yourself react to his behavior, but don’t take any shit from him, either.”

“I never take shite from Fibbies.”

She joined him at the window. As they watched, one of the borrowed tanks rolled toward Calvary Locus and began to circle it at a fast clip, but at a distance. Alexei wondered if it were for their benefit or if Fitzgerald were trying to get the People of the Eternal Light inside to shoot. Alexei hoped Isaac Caleb had a calmer head than that. Alexei’s eyes drifted to Caleb’s standard atop its tall flagpole. The blue and white mimicked the Israeli flag, as did the six-pointed star, but a serpent plunged through the star’s center. Instead of a ball at the top of the flagpole, there was a Star of David. Caleb had emphasized to the outside world the Eternal Light Prophesies’ Jewish connection, real or imagined.

“I’m thinking this will be a waste of time,” Mai said.

“This is quality information. They’ll have to reassess their approach after hearing it. Any reasonable person would.”

“Reasonable being the operative word.”

“When did you become the pessimistic one?”

“Long years of association with you, I suppose. Look at them out there. Drunk frat boys playing army would have more class. And you know my distrust of the law enforcement mentality anyway.”

Alexei smiled, leaned down to her, and kissed her cheek. “For luck,” he said.

“Somehow I think Agent Fitzgerald would disapprove of such intimacy in the midst of a serious, tactical situation.”

“Ah, that’s Hollis’ problem. Caleb is getting all he wants from his multiple wives. Poor Hollis has but the company of men, a lovely U.N. operative with an attitude, and his good right hand.”

That got a smile from her, but before she could come up with a rejoinder, the door to the trailer opened, framing Fitzgerald. He stared at the two of them, close together. Mai edged away.

Five FBI agents filed in after Fitzgerald, whose introductions of the men were borderline rude. Two of the men were closer to Fitzgerald’s and Alexei’s age, and they wore the same expression of skepticism as Fitzgerald.

No wonder my ears were burning, Alexei thought.

The other three agents were closer to Mai’s age, mid-thirties. Their expressions held no hostility, but Alexei watched each of them appraise his wife’s physical attributes as they shook hands.

As the federal agents took their seats around the table, Alexei moved to one end of the trailer and hitched a hip on a credenza there. Mai’s hands went to her French braid, seeking loose strands. None were astray, but he smiled at the reflexive action he’d observed hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

With Fitzgerald occupying one end of the table, the “head” Alexei supposed, Mai went to the other end and remained standing, a subtle designation she was in charge of the briefing. Everyone would have to look at her and away from Fitzgerald. Score one for her.

The sophisticated British accent was back when she said, “Gentlemen, thank you for making the time in the midst of a difficult situation to listen. I appreciate your commitment to finding a peaceful resolution.” She smiled at Fitzgerald. “And thank you, Agent Fitzgerald, for sparing the time. I know the tactical situation here is critical, and I’m grateful you were open to this briefing.”

She sounded sincere, so much so, the younger agents frowned. Mai’s demeanor must not have jived with what Fitzgerald had told them. Indeed, her performance was so good, Fitzgerald himself gave her a nod of acknowledgement.

All the agents except Fitzgerald began to flip through the pages of the briefing.

“I thought I’d begin by going over some details of Eternal Light history,” Mai said, “with a focus on providing assistance for future negotiations with Caleb. He was the one who initiated a shift in Eternal Light’s history, and our analysts believe that’s a key to predicting both his behavior and how he proposes to end the stand-off.”

“He’s already indicated that,” said the lead negotiator, whom Fitzgerald had introduced as Special Agent Darren Knerr. “He says he has the firepower to disable the Bradleys. That pretty much tells me he intends to fight to the death.”