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By:Jeff Abbott

“We don’t have a suspect.” Vochek glanced up from studying the list of recent calls on Ben’s phone. He held his gaze with her own piercing stare, then went back to studying his call log.

I’m the suspect, he realized.

Kidwell slid another picture to Ben—a snapshot of Ben’s business card. Blood smeared the edges. The listed business number wasn’t his cell number, but his home number had been jotted in pencil.

He tapped a finger on the picture; hope rose in his chest. “That’s not my business phone.”

“According to the cellular company, you opened a cell phone account with that number last week,” Vochek said.

Ben shook his head. “I sure as hell didn’t. What about this proposal you claim I wrote?”

“It outlined getting government contractors, including several of your clients, to finance Reynolds’s ideas for new software products.”

“I never wrote it.” Ben shoved the photo back at Kidwell. “Anyone could copy my logo off my Web site. Forge a proposal to make it appear it came from me, print a fake business card.”

“They could. But why?”

He had no answer, and as his shock morphed into anger, he decided to turn the questions back on them. “If this is an investigation, why aren’t the Austin police or the FBI here to talk to me?”

Ben saw a glance he couldn’t read pass between Vochek and Kidwell. “Due to the highly sensitive nature of this case and how it could impact on national security, we have jurisdiction over your questioning,” Kidwell said.

“How exactly does this impact national security? I think I better—” But Vochek cut him off.

“This week you were scheduled on Adam Reynolds’s Outlook calendar, three times. Explain.”

Ben shook his head. “I told you, I was in Marble Falls.”

“Just an hour away,” Kidwell said. “You could drive back and forth with ease.”

“Could have but I didn’t.”

“So Reynolds’s calendar is complete fiction?”

“As far as me being scheduled, yes.”

Silence for ten long seconds. “I’m going to give you a single chance to come clean, Mr. Forsberg. Do you know of any terrorist threat that Adam Reynolds uncovered?” Kidwell asked.

“No. None. I swear to God I don’t.”

“You see my problem.” Kidwell stood. “Adam Reynolds did significant work for our government, and he was murdered today by a man with known terrorist ties. Your name is the only name tied to the killer and the only name that’s all over Reynolds’s office and calendar. Now, by our simple but effective geometry, that means you have a suspected terrorist tie.”

Ben’s breath stopped, as if a noose had closed around his throat. “You’re wrong.”

“I’d like to search your house.”

Ben shook his head. “What Homeland office are you with—Strategic Initiatives?” He remembered the notation on their badges. “I never heard of your group, or any of these people you’re trying to connect me with. I want my lawyer here, and I want you to get a warrant.”

“Neither is necessary,” Kidwell said.

Vochek knelt close to Ben’s chair. “Cooperate with us, Ben, and I’ll do everything I can to help you.”

“The only help I want is from my lawyer.” He stood and reached for the phone. Kidwell wrenched it from his hands, drew a gun, aimed it at Ben’s forehead.

Ben stepped back, nearly stumbled over his chair. “Oh, God . . . are you crazy?” He raised his hands, palms high in surrender, suddenly afraid to move. This could not be happening to him.

“You’re not calling anyone.” Kidwell noticed the blinking answering machine and hit the play key. Six messages. The first three were from various friends, inviting Ben to dinner and to a UT baseball game and to go to the movies this weekend; then there was a message from a telemarketer about a survey about the automotive market; a reminder from the library that Ben had an overdue book; and then the sixth message, spoken by the slightly nasal, tense voice of a stranger.

“Hi, Ben, it’s Adam Reynolds. Just confirming our meeting at four this afternoon. I’ll see you in my office. Call me at 555-3998 if you need to reschedule.”

Silence in the room, just the beep and the computerized voice on the recorder saying end of messages.

“Ben.” Kidwell looked past his gun at Ben. “You’re a deal maker. I strongly urge you to make a deal with us.”

Panic hummed in Ben’s skin. “I swear I’m telling you the truth. I don’t know anything. I don’t.”

“Let’s get him to the office, Agent Vochek. And get a computer forensics team from Houston to search every square inch of this house. I want it all— papers, computer files, phone records, everything this asshole’s touched.”