The Mesa Conspiracy: A Department Thirty Novel

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9780743469999: The Mesa Conspiracy: A Department Thirty Novel
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David Kent unlocked the files of Department Thirty in his electrifying debut novel, "a thrill-a-minute ride" (Mystery Scene). Now he returns to the elusive government agency that erases criminal identities in exchange for lethal secrets -- in a heart-pounding new thriller.

Raised by his tough but loving distant cousin Colleen, Eric Anthony never cared or asked what became of the parents who abandoned him early in life. But now Colleen is dying, and Eric, single dad to his young deaf son, is left with a mind-boggling mystery revealed in Colleen's last breaths: a cryptic directive from the man who was his father. Piecing together his shadowed past begins in the dust of Oklahoma's rugged terrain -- and leads to Department Thirty, where U.S. Marshal Faith Kelly chases the mastermind behind a wave of domestic terror. The nexus where their solo quests meet will have explosive implications for them both -- and will place many more than just themselves in grave danger.

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About the Author:

David Kent is the author of four Department Thirty thrillers. His acclaimed debut novel, Department Thirty, was also one of the bestselling eBooks of 2003; other novels in the series include The Mesa Conspiracy, The Black Jack Conspiracy, which won the 2006 Oklahoma Book Award for Fiction and The Triangle Conspiracy. He grew up in Madill, Oklahoma, and is a former press secretary and media adviser to several congressional candidates. Under his real name of Kent Anderson, he worked as a broadcaster for twenty-seven years, and is now in marketing with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra. He has three sons, and lives in Oklahoma City.

Visit his website: www.davidkentauthor.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Present Day

Before he even answered the phone, Eric Anthony knew that Colleen must either be dead or very close to it.

He squinted at the caller ID readout and recognized Colleen's number. He knew she was too weak to reach the phone, and the hospice nurse would only call him in a real emergency.

He looked away from the computer in his home office, where he was parked eight to ten hours every weekday. He'd just been researching the voting record of Oklahoma's senior U.S. senator, as it related to transportation issues. Highway funding, mass transit, gasoline taxes...mind-numbing boredom punctuated by the occasional revelation. The advertising agency and political consulting firm that employed Eric had identified transportation as a key issue to Oklahoma voters, and its client, who was challenging the incumbent, was paying big bucks for the opposition research.

Of course, keeping his mind numb was part of the reason Eric Anthony did this job. He could work at home, only going into the agency's office twice a month or so for meetings. He didn't have to face the stares of the people in the halls, the mutterings, and the occasional bold one who would ask him a question outright. In a firm populated by political junkies, they all knew who he was.

Eric spoke quietly to the hospice nurse for a moment, then bookmarked the Web site he was using for reference, saved the report he was writing, and made a quick call to Laura's office. He couldn't get through to her, of course, but he told her secretary that Laura would need to pick up Patrick today. Laura would complain, because that's what Laura did, but this couldn't wait. Colleen was dying today, this afternoon, right now.

He walked away from the clutter of the office and into the bathroom. He splashed a little cold water on his face and let it drip down his chin. Looking at the face in the mirror, he understood the confusion of some of the others at the firm. They couldn't believe the eternally rumpled Eric Anthony could have done what he did. At nearly forty years old, he was thirty pounds overweight and wore glasses that always seemed to slip down his nose. In those infrequent staff meetings, he would gaze over them when he wanted to make a point, looking faintly ridiculous in the process. His eyes were a vague hazel that no one had ever called piercing, and he never seemed to know what to do with his hands, spending most of his time with them in his pockets, jingling keys and coins.

He stepped outside the house, his face still damp. An hour earlier it was sunny and eighty degrees. Now the temperature had dropped to the sixties and clouds were rolling across the prairie sky. Springtime in Oklahoma, Eric thought. Thunder cracked somewhere far to the west.

It was funny, and somehow just like one of the bad movies Colleen had been in when Eric was a kid, that she was dying on a day like this. She was always as unpredictable as the Oklahoma weather, and now she was slipping out of this life on a day where an unexpected thunderstorm was brewing. Even at the close of her life, she couldn't escape melodrama, like a badly written movie script.

Colleen, he thought. Poor, tragic Colleen. The closest thing to a mother he'd ever had.

The thunder rolled. Halfway to his car, Eric broke into a run.

It only took Eric seven minutes to reach the house in which he'd spent his teenage years, in Oklahoma City's Gatewood neighborhood. Northwest of downtown, the homes dated from the 1920s, old for this young city. Towering oaks and elms lined the streets, sometimes with branches touching from opposite sides of the street.

Colleen Cunningham's house was the one in various states of being painted, with torn storm windows and cracks between the bricks. It had looked the same for as long as Eric could remember. Colleen would say, "We need to paint the house," and would start on it, only to get distracted by something else and leave it partially done -- for years. That was essentially the story of Colleen's life, Eric thought, told in the peeling paint of the old house.

The rain started as he pulled into the driveway. In true Oklahoma springtime fashion, it didn't begin sprinkling and gradually build; instead, the skies opened into a major downpour in seconds.

Eric left his Honda Civic behind Colleen's burgundy '68 Cadillac and let himself in with his key. The inside of the house was the same as outside: cracks in the plaster walls, dust on the mantel, books and newspapers in every corner, dirty plates and glasses on top of the ancient television set.

Eric paused, as he always did, his eyes inevitably drawn to the framed poster over the mantel. Colleen's best film role had been in a 1972 thriller called Angels Cry. She'd played the socialite wife of a wealthy banker who turned out to be a serial killer. It could have been so much B-movie fodder, but Colleen's performance had an understated intensity, especially in the film's final scene, when she confronted and ultimately killed her husband. Eric had been seven the year Angels Cry came out, and Colleen, with no thought as to what was appropriate for a seven-year-old and what wasn't, had taken him to the premiere. He'd had nightmares for nearly a month after seeing his guardian on a huge screen blowing a hole in a man's chest. When he wrote Colleen's obituary, sometime in the next few days, it would mention Angels Cry, even though she had left Hollywood and hadn't acted in more than twenty years.

Eric had always hated the poster with a passion, and he especially disliked the prominent place it had in their home. It was dark and foreboding, with a shattered-glass effect slashing across the images of Colleen and her screen husband. Every time he saw the poster, it reminded him of the nightmares he'd suffered as a child. As a teenager, he'd asked Colleen dozens of times to take it down, or at least put it in her own room, but she'd always shaken him off, insisting it was her best work and deserved to be where anyone could see it. As an adult, after he'd moved out, he'd stopped pestering her about it, but it still bothered him, a grim reminder of his strange boyhood.

Eric thought about his own career, of what he had done in self-defense five years ago, of the whispers in hallways. Funny how things come around, isn't it?

The hospice nurse came in from the kitchen. "Eric, you're here. I thought I heard the door."

Eric looked away from Angels Cry. "How is she?" He waited a second. "That's a stupid thing to say, isn't it? She's dying. That's how she is."

The nurse nodded with an I've-heard-this-all-before sort of wisdom. "She'll be glad you're here. Why don't you go on back?"

Eric nodded back to her, making his way through the messy dining room and the narrow hallway to Colleen's bedroom at the rear of the house.

Over the course of the cancer's advance through her body, he had ceased to be amazed at her appearance. But Colleen Cunningham, once known to moviegoers as Colleen Fox, was only sixty-three years old, and now looked twenty years older. The chemo had taken her once luxurious dark hair. A gray frizz covered her head. Her skin was so loose that it looked as if it needed to be reeled in to take up the slack. She was propped up in bed in her old pink nightgown, looking angry.

"Sit your butt down. Don't just stand there," she said, and her voice had only a fraction of its old power. When he was a kid, her voice could make him cower in a corner of his room. Now it was a papery rustle.

Eric eased into the wooden chair beside her. "How do you feel?"

"Don't. Don't even try that. I'm going to be gone pretty damned soon, a few hours, a day, whatever. I feel like shit, and I'm ready to get this over with."

Despite himself, Eric felt his eyes begin to fill.

Colleen clamped a hand on his wrist. Her fingers felt to him like an assortment of twigs wrapped loosely in plastic. "Don't start that. Time for that's over." She went into a coughing fit and spat a wad of blood-streaked phlegm into the wastebasket by the bed. "Come on, we've got business to talk about."

Eric blinked. "We've already made the funeral arrangements. Everything's set, Colleen."

She shook her head, and he watched her eyes. Throughout the illness he'd always counted on her eyes still being bright, a fierce, smoldering brown. Now they looked dull, as if someone had pulled a filmy sheet over them.

"Not talking about the damn funeral." She let go of his wrist and patted it in an almost motherly way. "I don't know how the hell you turned out as good as you did. God knows I didn't do a very good job with you. I had too many other things to think about. Movies, men, booze, dope, then more booze and dope."

Eric shrugged and looked at the walls. "I don't know how well I turned out, but thanks for trying."

Colleen made a noise in the back of her throat. When she spoke again, her voice was even raspier. "Don't pull that self-deprecating bullshit on me. It might fool those people you work for now, but not old Colleen. You're smart, you're honest, and you give a damn. Not too many like that. Where's the boy?"

"I had Laura pick him up."

"Good. Don't want him to see this. He's a damn good kid, and you're a damn sight better with him than I was with you." She tapped his leg. "You and Laura ought to try again."

"We've had this conversation before. She didn't want to be married anymore, and she didn't want Patrick, either. She's married to her career and that's the way she likes it."

Colleen pursed her lips. "I suppose. Now listen: one piece of advice and then I've got to tell you something important. The advice is: Forget about everything that happened before. It's gone, and it doesn't matter. Not a damn bit of it. Forget your old job -- forget it! You beating yourself up every day over something that you couldn't control won't help you or Patrick or anyone else."

Eric was silent a moment. "It's not like that," he finally said.

"Yes, it is like that, you idiot. Forget it and i...

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