TWILIGHT STARLIGHT WORLD ALIGHT

THE BAY AREA BLUES: BOOK 5

This book is a work of fiction.  All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names.  All incidents are pure invention.

EXCERPT FROM PROLOGUE

  Kirk Parker, a CPA and assistant manager in the accounting department of Google, was standing in front of his senior co-worker and good friend Nathan Murphy’s apartment unit. The company log said he should be on his vacation, but he’d failed to respond to Kirk’s numerous calls and texts for two days. In addition, his social media updates had stopped at the same time. It had all been so unlike him, and it had freaked Kirk out. Hence this visit.

  He had rung the doorbell and knocked several times. But no one seemed to be at home. Not even his girlfriend.

  A lump in his throat, he took out a spare key that Murphy had given to him in case of emergency.

  He opened the door cautiously.

  A strong odor hit his face at once.

  A distinctive stench of cleaning agent.

  His eyebrows drawing together, hand on the doorknob, he stood motionless.

  Murphy had been the manager of Google HQ’s Mail and Logistics Department, a.k.a. the Mailroom. Even though he was good at what he did at work, he was, in fact, a seasoned special agent of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Unit (IRS-CI) under the command of Kirk’s sister, Special Agent Grace Parker. He was exceptional in forensic accounting and cyber-networking. His most recent true job was being Google’s clandestine eyes and ears to discover any wrongdoing and corruption. Those cases often resulted in charges of tax fraud against individuals exploiting the company as their cover.

  Corporations like Google often looked for help from federal agencies’ special programs to keep their business clean, particularly from cases of money laundering, bribery, or extortion.

  Murphy usually created a small strike team to gather preliminary and significant evidence within the company when something suspicious occurred. If it was substantial, they could signal Grace to investigate it deeper.

  A couple of months ago, he’d found some discrepancies in the books in the computer and traced them back to Camila Russell, who was Kirk’s boss and the manager of the accounting department of Google. He’d formed a strike team and jumped into the investigation, suspecting possible money laundering and subsequent tax evasion. The news had stunned Kirk, but he needed to act naturally in front of his boss while Murphy went to work around her.

  Recently, Murphy had implied his mission had gone south. Although it was all on a need-to-know basis, Kirk had been informed that the operation had somehow been compromised, starting with Murphy’s computers being breached followed by a series of threatening messages. Murphy had confided that he’d even been followed and almost shot in a dark alley on the way home by an unknown person. Unknown, but obviously Camila or her accomplice.

  Like him, Kirk’s real job was an IRS-CI liaison messenger between the agency and Google, and he had discerned what Murphy would do next. He’d learned the golden rules of covert missions from the forty-some-year-old Murphy himself: First, secure physical evidence in any way possible. Second, let a firsthand witness go off the grid so that he or she could survive to testify.

  As he’d expected, Murphy had said he would take some time off right away. It meant he’d gone under the radar as a witness, and other members of the strike team would secure the evidence.

No matter what, though, Murphy shouldn’t have missed their routine communication. That was the only way that he’d know Murphy was alive and on the road. Had his supposedly secure phone also been hacked? Something wasn’t right. What if he’d confronted their enemy before he’d gone underground? Those white-collar criminals had no hesitation to kill. They were the same as gangs, like the mob that Eliot Ness had faced. Had they already…? Because this chemical smell was…?

  He shook his head to discard his worst-case scenario.

  “Murphy? I’m gonna let myself in,” he declared and entered the room.

  He proceeded to the living room while breathing in the bleachy smell.

  “Murphy?” he called out again. No answer. A terrible feeling was bubbling up in him.

  Before he had run, Murphy must’ve left the evidence somewhere, but Kirk hadn’t discovered it yet, and the rest of the strike team was observing radio silence. He was sure they were avoiding any contact to save the remnant of their wrecked operation.

  Breathing in the reek in the middle of Murphy’s apartment, Kirk couldn’t stop sensing a gruesome picture. The smell of bleach often implied someone had cleaned up a crime scene.

  He started looking around inside to find a sign of foul play.

  His unit was clean. Maybe too clean for Murphy.

  When he stepped into the bathroom, the acrid scent of chemical became so strong that it made him nauseous. Then he discovered a few tiny specks on the bathroom floor and in the tub.

  The hair on his nape stood up.

  He hurriedly took a set of Phenolphthalein swabs and anti-human serum out of his pocket and swiped the apparent bloodstains with them. The tip of each swab changed color to pink, telling him the stains were from blood, and a quick serum test had proven it to be human blood.

  His heart thumping, stomach churning, he made a call to his sister via his newly issued secure phone. Special Agent Parker was supposed to be awaiting his report, concerned about Murphy possibly going MIA. Even if he’d had to get lost under urgent circumstances, he would usually leave some trace or encrypted message for Grace so she could pick up where he’d left the investigation. But in this case, he hadn’t done so.

  “So what I do now? This is the first time something like this has happened to him,” he asked after he conveyed his initial finding to her. “I probably shouldn’t notify the local cops, should I?”

  “No, Kirk,” she calmly instructed. “Let me contact the FBI to take care of it quietly, ’cause it’s either a kidnap or homicide case. We definitely don’t want to make it big local news.”

  “Okay.” His voice came out jumpy.

  “Relax,” she said softly. “We’ll find him.”

  “Or his body,” he muttered. “If they have professional assassins, we may not find any part of him.”

  “I know.” She sighed. “Kirk, let’s concentrate on finding him and his missing evidence. He must’ve left something for us, right?”

  “Like where?”

  “Look, I’m sure he couldn’t leave anything someplace obvious to the hackers, like on computers or cloud storage or even send it electronically. I’ve got to work my ass off to find whatever he left,” she said.

  “Whoever is doing the money laundering is friggin’ damn more advanced in electronic systems than us and knows we’re at their heels. So, Grace, you can’t deal with it within Google at this point?”

  “No,” she answered.

  “How are you going to do it then?”

  “Simple. Working it outside Google. Somewhere secure, but we need to be physically close so we can actually investigate and interrogate people in person covertly when needed.”

  “So you’re gonna go undercover again?”

  “Correct.”

  “Staying at your friend’s?”

  “Yup.”

  He breathed out long.

  “Hey, I’m gonna be flying into SFO from DC on the next flight, so hold the fort,” she said.

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  Then she added before she hung up, “Kirk, watch your six seriously, okay?”

*****

- AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR -

ROMANTIC MYSTERY/SUSPENSE