Excerpt from Book Three (yet to be released!)

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Here’s an excerpt from book three, The Money Masquerade. This is from chapter twenty, at the climax of the plot:

I glanced around the lavish subterranean mansion; At least twenty feet below ground. I was in a 9,000 square-foot bunker with thirty-seven rooms. Today I’d enjoyed a dip in the pool, watched part of a movie in the cinema, and attempted to knock down a few pins at the bowling alley with my one good arm. I’d even considered practicing at the shooting range—until I noticed they set the lanes up, but not the target retrievers.

“Sean, answer me. Where in Napa are you?” Julie’s frantic tone removed me from my reverie.

“I’m… in one of those underground pandemic palaces where those that can afford it wait out every crisis they caused.”

“While the rest of humanity flounders in the wind fighting over toilet paper and food,” Julie countered.

“Hey, I’d rather be with you than hiding in this Armageddon-style shelter buried deep in the dirt,” I said.

Although I had to admit, sitting in this swanky lounge sipping Napa’s finest wines isn’t a bad antidote to the chaos I suffered. I was happy to be alive, even if this place looks a bit end-of-world-like.

“You still haven’t told me who you’re with,” Julie said, her voice breaking up over the burner phone I was using.

“Stoddard, my personal financier at The National Bank of Silicon Valley—you’ve met him.”

“Yes, sweet man. Can you trust him?” Julie asked. I didn’t elaborate on how the private sector has a hold over President Crown; or the documents in my briefcase that would expose my predators and stop them in their tracks.

“Yeah.” I caught my reflection in the long mirror above the bar. I looked lousy. I’d lost twenty pounds, was pale as a ghost, and my left arm hung limply in a sling. I made light of it and imagined I’m a brave cowboy who just won a gunfight. Only, my hero self-narrative was an elaborate mask.

My shaking hand instinctively went to the.40 caliber semi-automatic pistol in my pocket. Stoddard had handed it to me when we arrived at the bunker, “Hopefully you won’t need this, Coleman, but I can’t guarantee who might crack this castle.”

Julie’s caring tone drifted over the line. “How many other people are there? Are you social distancing and staying healthy?” Her questions warmed my heart.

“The people here seem to be Hollywood or finance types. There are some Oscar winners that hole up in this place. I don’t recognize anyone. There are maybe ten-fifteen people, all maintaining a distance. They locked this bunker down, Jules. Only members can get in. Otherwise, I’d have you here with me.” I left out the part about the secret tunnels and escape hatches that could become compromised.

I glanced around at the few people sitting at the bar—with their guns, gold, and gas masks riding out into the apocalypse. The wild, wild, wealthy west. The lounge was so big, nobody was within earshot.

Julie wouldn’t let go. “Why didn’t you go home—there must be police security that could watch out for you!”

“It’s called survival, Jules! I’m supposed to shelter-in-place like everyone else. How can I go home to Los Altos Hills where three men on the loose tried to kill me? And the cops seemed to have dropped my case as if I don’t exist. Humanity is sleepwalking into oblivion.”

That’s what happens when President Crown the puppet master is behind Saudi arms deals and other money matters linked to me being shot, I wanted to say but held my tongue. My woman is worried enough.

I heard Julie’s sigh and feared she was crying. “I just don’t like you in a massive bat-cave. Who knows what dangerous disease lurks underground!”

“This is no corrugated iron bunker, babe. It’s not a simple pipe shelter. These bunkers can withstand a nuclear blast. No radiation can seep in, never mind pathogens.”

“Still—”

Shh… After getting nearly killed and spending over a month in the ICU, I think I’ve earned a little man-cave time, Jules. Where else can I go now?”

“Is it kind of creepy?”

“No. In fact, it’s quite nice. Don’t forget about all the charming subterranean wineries throughout wine country Jules—whole cellar spaces with unique tunnels and underground waterfalls.” I had to admit it was an interesting experience as much as I’d rather be home.

Her voice softened as if she recognized the ironic twist of a man who owned multiple properties—including a six-million-dollar home in the South Bay— rendered as good as homeless. Aimless. Scared for his life.

“Are you comfortable there?” she asked.

“Comfortable? This little hidey-hole is nicer than my home, with all the amenities of a five-star hotel. I even watched a movie today which numbed my brain and helped me escape from reality.”

She laughed. “What did you watch? Let me guess, Outbreak or Contagion.”

“No, I opted for something as techno-futuristic and utopian as this flashy bunker. Tomorrowland.”

“Utopian? Those billionaire bunkers seem more like they cater to the apocalyptic fears of the lunatic fringe 1% claiming it’s the end of the world,” Julie insisted.

“I couldn’t agree more.”

“Then why are you not at my place—?”

“To protect you! Your place would be their first port-of-call. We’d both be dead.”

“So, I’m in danger?”

My shaky hands flew through my dirty hair. “No, they only want me. You’d be in harm’s way if you were with me.”

“Sorry. I’m just not convinced Chris Helm and his business buddies won’t also track you to that place.” Julie had a good point. Which is why I have a gun in my pocket.

“Don’t worry, babe. I feel better than I have in a while,” I tried to convince myself while sipping wine. “When this is all over, we’ll have the most amazing date night.” The thought made me smile, and I realized how much I missed her touch.

After we hung up, I sipped a third glass of wine, enjoying the numbing effects. I had expected it to be dark, dank, and moist down here but found the air fresh and the ambiance casting a mysterious coziness. They covered the walls in earth tones and amazing artwork, including ancient treasures from Rome, museum-quality paintings. I recognized a few works by Picasso. It smelled like incense burned in otherworldly nooks and crannies. Computer screens gave the illusion of looking outside to the vineyards and rolling hills.

All sense of harmony disappeared as I witnessed one of the most chilling sights I’d ever seen. Gliding smoothly out of the dimmed perimeter of the room, three menacing figures emerged, coasting silently into the bar, wearing fancy designer suits and expensive Italian shoes. Although concealed, I knew they carried guns. The same guns that blew me into a coma…

 

 

1 Comment

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