Author: Chuck Waldron
Purchase at AMAZON
In the prologue, the backdrop for Lion’s Head Deception is set, amongst rioting and unrest in a destabilized city.
Matt Tremain is a shy, private person who discovers a passion for writing blogs—a mission that propels him into investigative reporting. A tipster warns him of a diabolical scheme Matt simply can’t ignore. After the tipster is killed, Matt honors his memory by going forward to investigate the truth behind the conspiracy. He meets a television reporter and a cameraman also investigating the intrigue. Are they potential partners or rivals? A detective offers his assistance, but Matt is unsure of his true motivation. He is equally unsure of the allegiance of those in the top administration of police services. Matt Tremain and his friends are forced to go on the run, evading the newly-formed security teams. They must expose the truth before they are discovered, arrested and perhaps exterminated themselves…
The reader is introduced to Matt Tremain when a test message warns him of impending arrest. The first part of the novel provides an understanding of how he learns about a conspiracy, and the person behind it. A television journalist is investigating the same treachery. Will they be able to join forces? The end of part one introduces a police detective. Will he be friend or foe?
Part two takes place at a private retreat. The antagonist, the scheme’s architect, unveils the complete details of his plan and gets the backing of his three co-conspirators. The location is the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. It takes place at Lion’s Head and gives the novel the working name.
In an action-packed run to the finish line, will Matt and his partners be able to face the challenges it will take to expose the lies and treachery behind Operation CleanSweep?
“This story just in to our Action 21 News desk . . . police have tentatively identified the person who apparently jumped to his death from the City View Condominium building last night. According to a detective on scene it was Matthew Tremain, popular investigative blogger. No further information is available, but a source did say that Tremain was undergoing treatment for depression.
The suicide count is now up to fifteen, according to reports. Ever since the rioting began and the new regulations have been implemented, it has been difficult to access official records.
In other news, there is still no word on the whereabouts of Action 21 Television’s own reporter Susan Payne and her cameraman. Prior to her disappearance Payne was working on a background story regarding Operation CleanSweep and its connections to the rioting.”
He tried to ignore the Looky-loos, gathering faster than fleas eyeballing a dog’s back. Holding his badge up and crouching to step under the crime scene tape, he heaved a sigh. “Detective Carling,” the tone reflected his displeasure. “This had to happen at the end of my shift. There’s a paperwork hurricane heading this way, for sure.”
“It shouldn’t be too bad, suicide for sure. It’s been like this ever since the riots,” the officer holding up the tape replied. “Just this morning—”
Carling stopped him, not wanting to hear the rest. He sniffed the unpleasant, acrid smell, still lingering as reminders of the numerous fires during the week of rioting.
Hearing someone say, “That guy’s straight out of an old black and white movie with that hat,” Carling turned to glare in the direction of the comment and removed his fedora to wipe sweat from his forehead with his shirt sleeve. Stopping to talk briefly with another uniformed officer, he was pointed toward a woman who was trembling, coffee spilling over the rim of the take-out cup in her hand.
He put a hand on her shoulder and gently moved her away as the growing crowd leaned forward as one, trying to hear what was being said. Carling took a deep breath to conceal his irritation.
“I understand you saw the…uh…incident.”
She nodded with a look that could have been a yes or a no.
“Yes, it was an appalling thing to see,” she told him with a shiver.
He opened his notebook, ready to document the interview.
“I didn’t know bodies bounced,” she said and started to cry.
After finishing the interview he noticed a man holding a martini glass, empty except for a green olive nestled in the bottom. He called to a uniformed officer who lifted the tape and ushered the man over to be questioned.
“It’s quite unusual to see a man wearing a smoking jacket to a crime scene,” Carling’s tone implied his curiosity, hiding behind sarcasm. “What did you see?”
“I was sipping a perfectly chilled martini, about to say something to my wife, when I saw something falling past the window. It was most odd. I thought it was a man.” The witness looked down at the empty glass in his hand, as if realizing for the first time it was unfilled. “Like I said, it was most odd. I tell you it unnerved me to the point that my martini glass began shaking.”
Never stirred, Carling couldn’t help thinking.
“It was a man falling past the window, I was certain,” the witness continued. “I had just seen a man flapping his arms almost as if he could fly. When I told my wife she asked me if I was sure. She was quite correct with her question. We do live on the thirty-first floor, after all,” he said and then paused as if reliving the moment. “I thought it had to be my imagination until I saw people running towards our building,” the witness in the smoking jacket gestured toward his condominium.
“I do hope those dreadful riots aren’t starting up again,” the witness murmured as Carling watched him re-join the crowd standing in the smoky air, wrinkling his brow at the police barricades being erected in front of his condominium building. “Something like this just doesn’t’ happen here,” he said to a man next to him.
His fifteen seconds of fame, Carling decided.
“Look at that guy,” the detective heard again. “He has to be a cop with that hat,” an observation repeated to the amusement of the onlookers.
Ever since the rioting my city has had its back broken, it’s gone to hell in a hand basket, and all he can be concerned about is my hat?
Two weeks prior Matt had no way of knowing about that newscast in his future. It was almost a normal day, so far.
Matt Tremain didn’t consider himself to be brave, certainly not one of those superheroes having steely resolve in the face of danger. Being short and walking with a limp, he once said he wore a bull’s-eye target on his back when he was in middle school. Picked on and pushed around nearly every day, he finally took a stand to face down two of the largest bullies. He didn’t decide to stand up to them; it was more like he recognized he had no real alternative. He went at them like a pit bull, tenacious and unrelenting. When the fight was over, and the pain gradually subsided, his reputation was reshaped. Even though he lost, people openly admired his tenacity. It didn’t hurt to have a big brain, either.
Now, he would need both of those attributes again when his phone chirped.
Looking down at the text message, Matt felt like he had been hit with a sucker punch to his gut. Before his phone started to vibrate, it had been just a regular day. He later wondered how many people had a record of the exact time and date of such a turning point in their lives.
It was a Thursday morning, his least favorite day of the week, when he walked into Le Rôti Français, a trendy coffee house with a caffeinated menu filling an entire wall.
He tried to ignore the TV mounted high on the wall behind the service counter. Ever since the rioting, there was little news other than continual coverage of the destruction. Action 21 News was the only station back on the air, and they had been airing commercial-free, non-stop updates about the rioting. Many, like Matt, were beginning to feel anaesthetized by the repetitive stories and images.
Walking through the door, Matthew Tremain noticed a woman watching him walk with a slight limp. The limp was evident, but not pronounced. A speed bump in his DNA double helix caused one leg to be a bit shorter than the other. It was that way when he was born, and it was still that way 32 years later. He tried to pretend it didn’t bother him as he glanced over at the woman who wore a sympathetic look on her face. He knew he should be used to pity like that, but it still bothered him, a lot. He pushed his anger aside and walked to the counter.
Running late, and this morning, of all mornings! Fidgeting, he asked himself, why did I have to end up standing behind these two?
CleanSweep! The word came, uninvited, into his mind. When did I first learn about CleanSweep? Tanner’s email! Was it only a few weeks ago now?
He brushed the word, and his growing anxiety, to the side of his thoughts, overhearing the discussion in front of him.
“I’m going to have a latte,” the first young woman said, sounding hesitant.
“Are you sure?” her friend countered. “You were going to try a cappuccino,” she said. “If you aren’t going to have that, why not just get an ex-presso?”
It was all Matt could do not to shout, to tell them there was no ‘x’ in espresso.
CleanSweep! The word clawed at his memory again. He couldn’t get CleanSweep out of his head.
“I want to try something different,” the first woman insisted. “I just can’t make up my mind,” she said, sounding pouty. Finally, after what seemed an interminable wait, she said she was ready and pointed in a vague way, “What does a masha…mashia…”
“Machiatto,” the clerk –
Matt had been enjoying the clerk’s annoyance when his phone started to vibrate, his ringtone for an incoming text message followed. Struggling to get it out of his jean’s pocket, he flipped it open to look at the screen, his life-defining moment, time stamped at 9:56 a.m.
It was the warning he’d been hoping he would never get it. Now, as he was reading it, an emotional trap door opened under his feet.
His shock immobilized him as he gripped the phone, his breath and heart rate fast-tracking. Anyone looking would have noticed his eyes widen a bit, a silent primal scream starting from somewhere deep inside as he stared at the screen, not wanting to believe.
ST2MORO@7. GY6. 7FF. 14AA41.
He translated the text-speak in his mind:
ST2MORO@7: same time tomorrow, at seven.
GY6: I’ve got your six.
7FF: seven friends forever.
14AA41: one for all and all for one.
The real message, however, was a hidden numerical code within the code. Three critical numbers were those following the number two. He scanned the message. The first critical number was 7, the next a 6, and the third another 7, SOS on a standard telephone keypad. It meant he was in grave danger; he was being warned.
How long do I have?
The simple code was never intended to be unbreakable, simply enough to frustrate anyone trying to poke around and sniff through e-mail, texts, and chats.
Will it be enough now? Does this give me time to escape?
A voice in his head urged him to run, although running was the worst thing he could do right now. Instead, he walked to the door of the coffee shop without ordering, his thumb clicking two letters in response, CX for “cancelled and going offline.” He pressed the enter key, letting his team know he understood the significance of the danger he was in. They knew he would contact them when it was safe.
Will I ever be safe again? He couldn’t help wondering.
His CX message also triggered a program on his primary computer, and he knew it was already at work eliminating all history of any documents, contacts and communications, along with all traces of his back-up system. His hand went up to his chest, an instinct to make sure he could feel the four media cards hanging on a lanyard under his shirt. Everything was on those media cards.
On the sidewalk he looked around to make sure no one was watching as he pried open the back of the phone, removing the battery and tossing it into a trash receptacle. He used a finger to pry out the SIM card, kneeling to drop it through the slots of a drainage grill. Cyberia warned him his movements could be tracked by the SIM card, even if the phone wasn’t being used.
Is someone watching now? How would I know? He should have been thinking about that before now. He had to be more careful. Looking around again to see if anyone was looking, he let the phone drop, stepping on it hard until the plastic case shattered. Then he kicked the shards off the curb and into the street. He winced at a ticklish sensation—sweat droplets forming on his cheeks, tracing their slow path to his chin. As he walked to the subway entrance, it took all of his self-control not to run. Cyberia had warned him there would be teams of watchers, looking for exactly that type of panic. “Don’t let them see you sweat,” he had said. What Matt knew about the tradecraft of spies and undercover techniques was limited to what he read in books and watched in movies. This wasn’t make-believe though, not a game to be played at.
Will my clumsy effort at tradecraft be enough? Will it keep me alive? Oh, man. I’ve been looking over my shoulder like this ever since CleanSweep put a price on my head.
He did his best to imitate an oyster closing its shell for protection. He wanted to conceal his fear as shoppers and commuters rushed past him like the current in a river flowing around a rock.
Matt’s head snapped up.
“Filthy weather, isn’t it?” A man in a soiled army surplus jacket was standing next to a newspaper kiosk, clapping his gloved hands, his breath steaming. “Especially with all this smoke,” he said as he started coughing, a cough that soon turned to spasms, causing him to pull out a stained handkerchief to press to his lips.
“Morning…,” Matt managed to mutter, forcing himself ignore the man’s dirty rag and turned instead to examine several of the newspapers on display. He started to complain to the news vender, to ask him why he allowed a homeless man to hang around like that. He choked off the words, chiding himself for his lack of compassion. It has to be all this…the stress.
Instead, he tried to look like a man unable to decide on which newspaper to buy.
More importantly, he used the opportunity to look past the display racks, on the alert for anything out of the ordinary—a head turning away too quickly, or someone abruptly stepping back into shadows to avoid detection.
He was sure he read about doing something like that in a spy novel—how to spot if you were being tailed.
He reached for a newspaper, choosing one at random. Starting to sort through coins, he noticed a man across the street. Is he looking directly at me? Yes, straight at me. Matt froze, seeing the man holding his right sleeve up to his mouth.
Oh no, he’s whispering into a microphone!
Matt watched the man cough into the elbow of his coat sleeve, then turn and wave to a passing taxi. Matt let out a long, slow breath. It was nothing. As he exhaled, he did his best to maintain a puzzled look, to appear like he was curious—like a man with no purpose in mind—as he turned around to use a store display window as a mirror. He didn’t see anything suspicious and started walking again.
If I can only get to the subway, blend in at rush hour.
He saw the sign for the subway entrance and pulled his collar up against the falling temperatures. He shivered, knowing it was as much fear as weather, as he felt the first droplets of cold rain splattering against his face.
That’s when he saw them. A sharp pang of fear gripped him, like a lion raking claws across his chest. Two large men were walking towards him. This time, he knew the danger was real. They wore their suits like detectives, each man with dark circles under his eyes, badges of sleeplessness and too much coffee. They were poster boys for the guys he knew were coming for him. It took every ounce of his self-control to look calm. He wanted to run.
It’s hopeless. He was cornered. Oddly, he felt relieved, watching as they drew near. The taller one, the one on the left, pulled his hand out of his coat pocket. He was holding something in his hand, and he began swinging his arm up in a menacing arc. They flashed counterfeit smiles, recognition in their eyes. He flinched; they almost knocked him to the ground as they shouldered by, then he turned to see them shake hands with someone walking to meet them.
“We have a reservation,” he heard one of them say in a voice that hinted at annoyance, “I was just going to call you on my cell.”
Matt left the rest of their words trailing behind, a sensation of intense relief spread over his face as a short, wizened woman carrying a shopping bag gave him a puzzled look.
He pulled his jacket tight as icy pellets started to prick at his face.
Am I shaking from the cold or that near miss? He wanted to laugh at himself. Panic and paranoia were taking over and making him feel and look irrational.
Shaking off his emotions, he began to move. Daggers of ice pellets assaulted him as he fast-walked to the subway entrance. He fished a token from his jeans and pushed through the turnstile. Directional arrows pointed the way to the train platforms where he was greeted by an eclectic perfume of steamy clothes, garlic, and closely packed commuters. Standing on the platform, he felt a gush of wind signal the approaching train, pushing compressed air into the station. The grinding sound of its wheels sang a harsh song of metal on metal, like the gnashing of a giant’s teeth. He waited for it to come to a stop, standing to one side to let passengers disembark. A young woman with a backpack was the last exiting passenger. He darted through the open door and lunged for an empty seat. He waited for the doors to whoosh shut, and silently urged the train to move. When it did, he welcomed the familiar rocking motion, even the scream of the wheels making their ear-piercing racket as the train lurched around another curve.
He started to relax. I’m going to make it.
He looked up at the electronic advertising panels, flat-screen images scrolling around the car. It was a continuous looping picture along with a warning to call 711, the new hotline established for Operation CleanSweep. It was a video showing his own face, staring back at him from the electronic panels ringing the subway car, flashing hi-definition video displays of a wanted man.
Why didn’t Cyberia disable –?
Suddenly, the video images scrambled to snowy static, visual white noise, and went blank. Holding the back of a seat, he pulled himself up as the subway train braked to a stop and the doors began to open.