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When they asked the nation’s trial lawyers: ‘What’s your favorite legal thriller?’ there was a surprise.

In the September 2017 edition of Trial Magazine, they asked the nation’s trial lawyers “what’s your favorite legal thriller?”

To have Taming the Telomeres mentioned in a favorite legal thriller list with Greg Iles and Truman Capote, well, is pretty humbling and amazing.  Thank you Wayne Parsons of Hawaii!

Taming the Telomeres won the Gold Award in the Reader’s Favorite 2015 Literary Award Contest for suspense thriller, and later, during May 2016,  the novel held the #1 thriller position on Amazon for suspense thriller ebook.  The author is working on a follow along sequel to the novel, and re-posts a sneak preview of the Prologue chapter for the forthcoming novel, tentatively titled Targeting the Telomeres.

Sleeper

What kind of scum-sucking cockroaches kidnap a defenseless baby, Amanda Michaels thinks while trying to fall asleep. She will make them regret that decision.

Lying on the cramped, lower bunk of the sleeper car, she feels with her fingertips along the thin foam-rubber pad masquerading as a mattress. There it is. She tugs on the lower portion of her backpack hiding the loaded pistol with the customized silencer, nestling what constitutes all her belongings in the crook of her right arm. The sheath strapped under the left pant leg of her jeans secures a long KA-Bar serrated edge fixed blade knife. And in the right pocket of her hoodie are two identical burner cell phones. One is her only means of communication with her compatriot, who is also on the train, both of them full-in with their improbable mission. Imagining the linen scent of her favorite candle briefly tricks her olfactory glands into ignoring the foul odors. The elderly Chinese lady on the bunk overhead smells of mildewing clothes. On the lower bunk an arm’s length away, a twenty-something Chinese girl sleeps with her jacket over her head. The sleeper car’s other occupant, a tiny woman who barely stands five-foot tall and can’t weigh 100 pounds, presses her torso against the tiny sink, paper towels surrounding the collar of her shirt, while she works some type of soapy liquid through her dark brown shoulder-length hair. Amanda decides to pass on that shower.

She thinks, all I wanted was to get some of my memory back from before the crash. Not this.

If she’s captured, what could Chinese intelligence agents possibly “get” out of her anyhow? Sure, she survived the Hemispheres plane crash, but she doesn’t know how or why. Only that it might have had something to do with her dad’s research and her being his test subject. To study her telomeres, maybe that’s what they would want? Most likely to torture her to learn whatever she knows.

The bullet train hurtling northbound towards Beijing at 180 miles per hour suddenly lurches, causing a metallic screech that soon fades.

Amanda thinks for a moment about a family photo. Of her dad, her, and her mom, sitting on the front porch of the house they lived in before the crash. The one she hopes to recall, that her Uncle Andy showed her. She mentally photoshops her baby brother Justin in too. Nothing can stop fantasies no one else can see.

The sink-showering lady climbs back up to her top bunk, and talks in Chinese with the other older lady.

If my plan fails, I won’t have to worry anymore, Amanda decides. Because I’ll be dead.

(c) 2017 R.N. Shapiro All Rights Reserved.

 

Sneak Chapter Previews: Targeting the Telomeres

A former Navy SEAL, Ty Ryan, is kidnapped by the Chinese intelligence agents in Taming the Telomeres, my first Telomeres novel, and is released in a complicated swap of prisoners towards the conclusion of TTT.

In Targeting the Telomeres, the second in this series, and still a work in progress, Ryan has a much larger role in the story, and the working manuscript is over 75% complete at this point.

I have been busy writing in the last few months, but here are sneak previews of two chapters inside Targeting the Telomeres, involving Ty Ryan, and a new character, Liza, who both interact with Amanda Michaels in pivotal parts of Targeting the Telomeres.

Excerpt from Targeting the Telomeres, Challedon Publishing Co.

By: R.N. Shapiro ©2017 All Rights Reserved

Falling Man

The man stares at the large photographic reproductions mounted along the wall of the exhibition hall from his vantage point on the flat horizontal bench.  Several somber looking people slowly shuffle through the alcove ensconced deep inside the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in lower Manhattan.  They hardly notice Ty Ryan seated along the opposite wall from the iconic photos. He sits like Buddha, hands resting along his thighs, motionless,  gaze focused on the falling man. Tiny, dwarfed against the enormous black and white grainy image of the World Trade Center.  What absolute inferno from hell, what immense fireball, impelled this seemingly voluntary decision?  But it was not at its bottom a voluntary decision. Hardly.  Ryan knows this.  He understands hell.  Hell forced this man to free fall out of a high World Trade Center floor.  Death by inferno or free fall to death?  Was that a choice?  No.  This one image haunts him.  Each time he returns, he finds his way here, like a magnetic pull.  The free fall guy didn’t deserve to die.  Only the terrorists deserved to die, and wanted to.  This conundrum bothers Ryan.

He feels his phone vibrate in his pocket.  He looks at the screen, its from Liza.

I will text you when I am leaving the MOMA.

He replies.

K

 

Liza

The pulsating bass line of the loud techno music pulsates inside Liza Chang’s stomach. Ba-ba boom. Ba-ba boom. She sits two rows back from the catwalk at New York Fashion Week for her company’s most important stateside presentation of the year. People are packed in like sardines on folding chairs lining either side of the runway under the mammoth white tent in Bryant Park, Manhattan. It has earned the nickname “7th on 6th” because most New York design houses are on Seventh Avenue, but Fashion Week events are held off Sixth Avenue at the park. The Michael Morse line is slated for 7:00 p.m., after Tom Lord.

Marco, one of the designers for Morse leans over to Liza. “Oh my God, here we go! I can’t stand it anymore!” Thundering synthetic music plays and a choreographed light display begins.

Camera flashes burst from all directions as the first model in the Morse line makes her way down the catwalk, looking frighteningly thin and somewhat androgynous; short dirty blonde hair, exotic makeup in multiple shades, including pastels that would look ridiculous anywhere but here. Those lucky enough to be in the front row point and converse about every detail of the model’s look, from her shoes and the dress to the jewelry and makeup. In quick succession, a series of additional models appear in Morse outfits until they fill the narrow stage in a single line. At the far end, the first model turns and walks back, giving the audience a second chance to see all the ensembles.

Leaning again toward Liza, Marco excitedly says, “Here’s the dress that I managed! Don’t you love it?”

“Absolutely, Marco. It’s amazing.”

The announcer comments on various facets of the clothing as the models stream by. Between the music, the clapping and the chatter of the industry pros packing the venue, Liza can’t hear herself think. Fortunately, the hour goes by quickly. Then Liza, Marco and five other of the designers and national sales representatives rush behind the stage, hugging, giggling and high-fiving each other.

“The reception was amazing.” Marco lifts his plastic champagne glass high in the air. “The Nordstrom and Dolce reps congratulated me on the way here. Can’t wait to talk to the buyers at the after-party.”

Liza faintly hears the familiar tone from her phone emanating from her small purse. She glances at the message. Ty Ryan, her old friend and occasional fling is meeting her after the party at the Conrad. She texts back, confirming she’ll find him in the lobby bar.

The MOMA after-party is an immense success for the Morse line. Liza and her colleagues foresee job security, at least for one more fashion cycle. Liza has a unique role as an industry regional sales and quality control representative with the company for their accessories, mostly made in China. It’s a well-kept secret that the accessories—and even some of the upscale clothing—is made in China. The mandatory “Made in China” labels are sewn into the clothing in the most discrete locations possible, away from the splashy hang tag stating “Designed by Michael Morse, Seventh Avenue.”

* * *

An Asian-American woman, now 30 years old, Liza’s mother and father emigrated to the United States from Beijing. She grew up in Brooklyn before her parents relocated to Arlington, Virginia, where her dad was a professor at Mary Washington and her mom ran a successful upscale nail salon. As a child she learned Mandarin, Beijing’s main language, and Wu, commonly spoken in the Shanghai area, as well as Yue Cantonese. They traveled back to visit her extended family about once a year; her parents were hard-working and frugal, but reconnecting with family was a vital family ritual for them.

Valedictorian of her high school class in Arlington, she was offered an academic scholarship at Yale, where she graduated summa cum laude and was recruited by the CIA. Speaking multiple Chinese languages at a time when keeping tabs on China was of increasing interest made her valuable to the agency. Her affinity for languages also allowed her to master Arabic while at Yale.

One of her first covert operations for the CIA was to Iraq, embedded with SEAL Team 7, part of the so-called surge—when the U.S. thought it successfully marginalized the “insurgency.” History proved the victorious surge to be a hollow success—much like the entire Iraq war and ill-fated occupation thereafter. During her Iraq assignment, her world collided with Ty Ryan’s. Every night the SEALs, along with Liza and their Iraqi interpreter, would engage in missions to take out terrorists and so-called insurgents. Liza didn’t take out the bad guys, that was for the SEALs to do, including Ty. She handled mission organization and logistics. Ryan had observed her acumen with a pistol and a semi-automatic at the firing ranges between their almost nightly missions, and he became smitten with her exotic beauty. She was different than any woman he had been involved with in his life “BL,” or “before Liza.”

In their first months together she often shared her innermost feelings with Ty and confided that she did not think their Iraqi missions would ever win over the hearts and minds of the Sunnis and Shiites, who had a centuries-old blood feud that would not be settled by a weak government propped up by Americans, who most Iraqis distrusted. During her time in Iraq, two SEALs died, and every few days an IED would kill or maim a U.S. soldier, sending a chill through every member of the unit.

To the chagrin of her supervisors at Langley, and Ryan, she tendered her resignation at her six-year anniversary and surprised everyone by taking a position with Michael Morse, filling their need for an East Coast representative willing to travel to China and handle interaction with their overseas factories. Get as far away from intense stress was her paramount thought.  A clothing line rep for god’s sake.

She soon discovered she could earn significantly more taking private contracts than she did with the agency, though some of the shadowy figures were downright spooky strange. She often didn’t know who hired her, but for the right money, usually paid in full up front, she didn’t care. Hong Kong has long had a cottage industry of managing agents, who front for limited liability corporations, tasked with retaining confidentiality for businessmen hiding their profits offshore from their host nations.  Liza established a managing agent and a bank account to receive her off the books funds.  Her account there was in the name of her fictitious name on her fake U.S. passport.  The contract ops she had accepted frequently involved honeypotting a clueless businessman, which required the use of her femininity in seductive ways. With some assignments she assumed the sex was filmed, but her marks never once suspected she targeted them. She was careful to wear disguises and not take any repeat jobs in the same cities.

Another lucrative side business for her was a bit of smuggling from China to the U.S. Never expressly apprised of what was being smuggled, her involvement was oblique—she would simply advise her contact when various samples were being shipped from one of the Chinese factories back to the Morse warehouse in Brooklyn and her contact did the rest. She presumed they were paying intermediaries at the factory and the warehouse, to collect the illicit contraband at the warehouse. She got paid for each shipment she initiated, and the money had encouraged her to collect as many potential accessories or clothing samples as reasonably plausible.

Approaching the hotel bar to meet Ty, she wears a sheer white button-down blouse and above-the-knee black suede skirt from the Morse line, black nylons with seams running up the back of each leg, and black stilettos. Shoulder-length brunette hair infused with red highlights. Ryan stands and gives her a big hug beside the barstools. His muscular, almost six-foot-tall frame easily envelopes her petite, trim body.

“Good to see you.”

Liza looks him over carefully. His wavy brown hair does a few untidy flips and is slightly  longer than a military cut. He has chiseled facial features, high cheekbones and piercing blue eyes, and he wears a simple black t-shirt revealing his strong arms. She admires his faded jeans and black leather belt with silver diamond-shaped studs surrounding it.

“How was the big show?”

Ryan smells the wine or champagne on her breath, recognizing she had a few drinks before catching a cab to meet him.

“Unbelievably stressful. With it being the biggest show of the year, the whole next buying season rides on it. As far as I can tell, it went very well, at least all the company reps think so. At the MOMA, everyone raved about our line, and you know Marco, my friend, he was really excited because a bunch of his designs were popular.”

“Awesome. Can I buy you a drink you hot thing?”

“Of course, let’s celebrate. The show, all the glitz and glam. And why not celebrate us too?”

Deep down Liza hates the fact that Ty shows up to fall into bed with her only once in a blue moon, such a completely undependable relationship, though she voices not a word of her frustration. She was trained to maintain a fierce front. She finally focuses on the small menu of specialty drinks, then sets it down on the bar, where it sticks to several drops of over-splash from the previous occupant’s drink. “How about a Stoli martini, dry, with two olives.  Please.” Moments later, the bartender whips up the cocktail, and slides it in front of her.

They exchange small talk before she asks if he wants to go to the Loopy Doopy rooftop bar. They down their cocktails and head to the elevators. As soon as the doors close they engage, bodies pressed tight, tongues diving and caressing. When they arrive on the roof, they release each other and find their way to the railing, passing a bunch of couples on couches near a glowing fire pit. They gaze out over the Hudson towards New Jersey, observing the myriad lights of office buildings and high-rises.

Ryan breaks the silence. “Your job seems more copacetic for you than at the agency.”

“It is, but some of my private contracting work has been pretty damn stressful. The good part is I know I’m not locked into anything. I can just make good money, not ask a lot of questions, and move on.”

“Be careful. You haven’t been eliminating targets, have you?” He’s actually curious because they’ve never discussed it.

“No.” She turns and looks him in the eye. “Unlike with the agency, I don’t have to accept every proposed task, and I don’t want that kind of guilt on my head. Who needs it? I’m not planning to die young. You?”

“Nah. I do some shady side stuff for the P.I. group, but its child’s play compared to handling international assignments like you do.”

“Not all have been in China.”

“I thought—”

“Wrong. Sure, I won’t work against the agency here at home. But if the job is just honeypotting…”

Ryan soaks this in, peering out across the Hudson, noticing the shimmers of light reflecting off the surface of the river.

“I can’t block out some of the things I did, particularly in Iraq. Like blowing away teenage insurgents. But I deal with it.”  Ryan says.

“One job haunts me.” She admits cryptically.

“Mind sharing?”

“Honeypot stuff on the surface, but I have a feeling it was a lot more.”

“I’m sure that kind of work can take many different forms. I won’t push it if you don’t wanna tell.”

Ty takes a swig of his drink and stares out over the city. The same bartender returns. Ty places another order but Liza declines, she started way before he did.

“I agreed to it because I could visit my parents in Arlington before the job,” she explains. “It was in Northern Virginia. I was assigned to seduce a married guy. I honeypotted him at a bar he and his pals frequented. I needed to convince him to meet me at a hotel the next day, get him to call in sick, which I, um, accomplished.”

“Yeah, I don’t need the details about the seduction. But I gather that’s not all.”

“Right. The next day I boarded an Amtrak Acela train at Union Station and headed back to New York City. On the way, I saw the news on my laptop about the Hemispheres jet crash. Well, my target was the electrical inspector supervisor for the Hemispheres fleet at that airport.”

She looks out across the river. Ryan contemplates this bombshell for a moment.

“So, you’re saying you were the reason he called in sick that day, and maybe someone sabotaged the jet?”

“Yep.”

“That’s pretty heavy.”  The wheels start turning fast in Ryan’s mind. “Who hired you?”

“I can’t tell you that Ty. Even if I wanted to, I don’t know who it was. They use proxies.”

“Can I ask how they paid you?”

“I have an agent who manages an account in Hong Kong. That’s all I’ll say.”

Ryan mulls over mentioning he’s working for a lawyer who is trying to unravel a $200 million mystery about why the government paid hush money to Hemispheres, but he decides not to go there. Not yet. Maybe after they head to her room he’ll try to pry enough information from her to narrow the players involved.

_____    _______   ________

Thanks for reading!

For more on Taming the Telomeres or what the author is up to:

Author website:  www.RNShapiro.com

Twitter:  @tamingtelomeres

Facebook: taming the telomeres

Pinterest: Taming the Telomeres inspired scenes

Enjoy a playlist while you read Taming the Telomeres or just for enjoyment:

Amanda Michaels Youtube music playlist

Andy Michaels Youtube music playlist

 

 

 

 

Sneak Preview II: Targeting the Telomeres

I haven’t posted anything recently because I’ve been busily working on book 2 in the telomere series, tentatively entitled ” Targeting the Telomeres.”  For those of you who receive this blog post as an email, I hope you enjoyed my first thriller novel in this series, “Taming the  Telomeres.”

While obviously things can change in the editing process of book 2, here are sneak preview chapters from the beginning of “Targeting the Telomeres.” Feel free to email me if you have any questions, ideas or concerns.

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Targeting the Telomeres

©2017 R.N.Shapiro, Challedon Publishing

All Rights Reserved

 

Prologue

What kind of scum-sucking cockroaches kidnap a defenseless baby, Amanda Michaels thinks while trying to fall asleep.  She will make them regret that decision.

Lying on the cramped, lower bunk of the sleeper car, she feels with her fingertips along the thin foam-rubber pad masquerading as a mattress.  There it is.  She tugs on the lower portion of her backpack hiding the loaded pistol with the customized silencer, nestling what constitutes all her belongings in the crook of her right arm.  The sheath strapped under the left pant leg of her jeans secures a long KA-Bar serrated edge fixed blade knife.  And in the right pocket of her hoodie are two identical burner cell phones.  One is her only means of communication with her compatriot, who is also on the train, both of them all-in with their improbable mission.  Imagining the linen scent of her favorite candle briefly tricks her olfactory glands into ignoring the foul odors. The elderly Chinese lady on the bunk overhead smells of mildewing clothes.  On the lower bunk an arm’s length away, a twenty-something Chinese girl sleeps with her jacket over her head.  The sleeper car’s other occupant, a tiny woman who barely stands five-foot tall and can’t weigh 100 pounds, presses her torso against the tiny sink, paper towels surrounding the collar of her shirt, while she works some type of soapy liquid through her dark brown shoulder-length hair. Amanda decides to pass on that shower.

All I wanted was to get some of my memory back from before the crash, she thinks.  Not this.

If she’s captured, what could they possibly “get” out of her anyhow?  Sure, she survived the Hemispheres plane crash, but she doesn’t know how or why. Only that it might have had something to do with her dad’s research and her being his test subject. To study her telomeres, maybe that’s what they would want? Most likely to torture her to learn whatever she knows.

The bullet train hurtling northbound towards Beijing at 180 miles per hour suddenly lurches, causing a metallic screech that soon fades.

Amanda thinks for a moment about a family photo.  Of her dad, her, and her mom, sitting on the front porch of the house they used to live in.  The one she hopes to recall, that her Uncle Andy showed her.  She mentally photoshops her baby brother Justin in too.  Nothing can stop fantasies no one else can see.

The sink-showering lady climbs back up to her top bunk, and talks in Chinese with the other older lady.

If my plan fails, I won’t have to worry anymore, Amanda decides.  Because I’ll be dead.

Gag Reflex

 

Washington, D.C.

Monday morning

The TV in the background startles FBI counter-intelligence agent Steven Solarez during his early morning ritual of checking the weather on his tablet, sending a swig of burning hot French roast coffee everywhere.

Holy crap, he thinks, listening to the reporter on CNT.

“According to the Washington Observer, over 200 million dollars were transferred from the U.S. Government to a Hemispheres Airlines bank account, effectively funding most of the death claims for the victims of Flight 310, which left D.C. for New York City and crashed in Quarryville, Pennsylvania about two years ago. Official sources with the Department of Justice are strenuously denying this claim.”

Solarez feels his cell phone vibrating on his waist, slides it off its holster, and reads the incoming text message.

Emergency meeting @ 8:30 AM with Director. Confirm.

His mind whirls. Once the proverbial cat is out of the bag, can you ever shove it back in? This is bad, for sure. But he didn’t hear any details of why the money was paid to the airline, so maybe whoever leaked it doesn’t have the whole story. Maybe.

He texts his confirmation to his assistant, Dean, then decides to add more.

Find Amanda Michaels now. Tell her not to talk to the reporters. Put an agent on her 24/7.

He smiles knowing she stands far from helpless now.  It was a prophetic move on his part to give her training at Quantico once school let out, virtually the same as a field agent undergoes. Weapons, hand-to-hand combat and evasive driving techniques.  He had to pull a lot of strings for approval, but given the secret research role her father was undertaking, it made sense.

Next, he calls Andy Michaels and braces himself for an onslaught from the high profile trial attorney.

“I just heard the report on the radio.  Do you know what this’ll do to my law practice? My reputation? Do you?” Andy says with a panicky voice as soon as he answers, mentally cataloguing every material possession in his Georgetown home and imagining his lucrative Georgetown practice going right down the rathole.

“Careful, this isn’t a secure line. Yeah, I get how serious this is.”

“How about my clients who settled their cases? What if someone decides I knew everything…”

Solarez interrupts him. “Stop! We need to talk in person. You did nothing wrong, so don’t start panicking. We’re putting protection on Amanda immediately. No one talks to any reporters until we have a solid response plan, hopefully around noon.”

“What am I supposed to tell my partners and my staff?”

“Tell them you can’t comment now, but you’ll issue a statement soon.”

“Are you kidding? I can’t say that.”

“You can’t tell them anything until you look into the allegations. Better?”

Andy contemplates this a few seconds. “No.  Completely unconvincing.” He tries to come up with a logical explanation, but the more he thinks about it, the more furious and anxious he gets.  He was never comfortable with the confidential information the DOJ lawyer had shared with him, that the U.S. did indeed pay the $200 million. His clients trusted him when he recommended they settle their wrongful death claims.  Sure, they all were awarded major settlements, but that was before he learned of the secret government payout to the airline.  He realized then if anything about sabotage leaked later on, there would be hell to pay.

“What about the press when they start calling?”

“Same thing.”

“Can you call Stein at the Department of Justice to confirm everything is still okay. He assured me all my settlements were legal.”

“I’ll talk to him.”

“My head is ready to explode.”

“Tell you what, I have a meeting with the FBI director this morning, but when I’m done I’ll call you.”

Andy isn’t listening.  He’s still thinking about the news story. Whoever leaked it must have an agenda.  Why would the Chinese leak it, and risk exposing sabotage of the aircraft? Makes no sense. Maybe a disgruntled FBI or CIA employee? It’s possible, but who, and what was their motive?

“Andy?”

“We’ll work this out,” Solarez promises, but Andy has major doubts. What is it they say about hiding the truth, he thinks? It usually floats back up to the surface no matter how hard you try to weight it down.

Separate Teams

 

Langley-CIA HQ

Monday afternoon

“Chuck, good to see you.” Walter Zukoff firmly shakes CIA Director Charles Isaacson’s hand. Built on a medium, stocky frame, Zukoff carries at least 15-20 extra pounds that he long since stopped worrying about.  Too much work, much less exercise, meaning his belt buckle angles more downwards under the extension of his belly.

“Always a pleasure, Z,” Isaacson replies, using Zukoff’s nickname reserved for friends. They both sit down at a small round table deep inside CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.  Contrasted with Zukoff, Chuck Isaacson exercises religiously in his fully-equipped home gym to retain his trim frame.

“The President signed off on the directive.” Isaacson continues, tapping a document on the table, then offering it to Zukoff to verify for himself.  Sliding his glasses out of his sports jacket pocket, he reads it over and looks up.

“You weren’t expecting otherwise were you?”

“Not at all. In an off-the-books meeting I had with him and his national security team, he literally mentioned the  ‘Manhattan Project’ in discussing our work. He said something like ‘this does not have the urgency of that project, but in terms of long-term implications, this work could be more important because it would affect not tens of thousands, but potentially millions.’ Not sure I agree with him, but it certainly added some gravity to the assignments.”

Zukoff directs the biological research division of the CIA, a classified facility in a rural area of Maryland, affectionately called Sherwood Forest by those who know it exists.  Locals realize it’s some kind of government base, but they have no idea that it’s the headquarters for the development of biological weapons. Anthrax, chemical weapons, ricin, radioactive compounds for weaponry, basically anything outside of regular firearms or classic ammunitions.

In 1989, the U.S. Government enacted the Bioweapons Anti-Terrorism Act, which adopted the earlier Bioweapons Convention Treaty, called the BWC for short.  The act prohibited the research of “lethal” biological weapons. However, like much of the English language, the term “lethal” is open to differing interpretations. In this case the CIA chooses to interpret the word “lethal” as killing someone immediately, making a biological weapon that slowly kills its target over a week or two “non-lethal,” and therefore legal to develop under the BWC.

Isaacson begins again. “So, here are the details.  I’m managing the commercialization aspect of the telomere project and covering any economic benefits to be derived from commercial licensing, like medications, rapid wound healing and life-extending modalities.  You’ll be handling the non-lethal biological weaponry. But there’s a bit of a twist.”  Isaacson pauses for dramatic impact, and Zukoff looks quizzically at him. “The commercial research part will be run by Ron Michaels.”

Zukoff chuckles. “Ha! Putting a dead man in charge. That’s quite a cover story. What brainiac thought that up?”

“Walt, Michaels isn’t dead.”

“What?  He died in the Hemispheres crash and was buried with his wife. It was all over the news.”

Isaacson decides not to fill him in on the entire story, even though they’re friends. “Not exactly.  Due to cooperation between the agency and FBI counter-intelligence, he wasn’t on the jet.  He assisted us in an operation before the plane crash, and we kept him in a safe house for months after we extracted him.”

“I’ll be damned. We can keep a secret. What was he assisting with, besides his own project? And where is he now?”

“I still can’t share that information.  But believe me, he’s 100% alive and well and he’s been continuing his research, at Sherwood.”

“Do you mean to tell me he’s been right under my nose all this time and I didn’t even know it?”

“That, my friend, is why I’m the director of the CIA and you head up research.” Isaacson jokingly replies.  The truth is that he knows how to work a room of spooks as easily as a room of politicians, and he keeps the intricate complexities of the CIA humming.  Z is the consummate introvert, much more comfortable supervising lab results and orchestrating biological breakthroughs.  His idea of professional satisfaction does not involve testimony on Capitol Hill before an Intelligence Subcommittee.

“All kidding aside, there was no good way to start without him, and we can’t use a contractor like Biological Blood Services anymore, too many other nations want to get their hands on these breakthroughs.”  Isaacson adds.   “Each researcher working with Michaels at Sherwood was briefed on the classified status of this information, and for the foreseeable future we won’t allow him to leave. He is ensconced with his own team at Sherwood. He’s been given a new identity on paper, and maybe we’ll get him some plastic surgery down the road, or set him up on a remote farm in New Zealand. He can be put out to pasture later, but not until we use his telomere breakthroughs for medical and weaponry purposes. This isn’t the first time secrets possessed by one branch or division aren’t being fully shared with another.”

“True.” Zukoff manages, doodling in the margin of his note pad.  Nice five-point stars, which he shades in as he briefly wonders whether the Hemispheres crash was connected to Ron Michaels’ research. But he doesn’t ask Isaacson, who continues explaining the master plan.

“The bio-medical part of the research, which preliminarily demonstrated the extension of cell life, will continue under Michaels. Before the crash, he officially confirmed it on animals. Unofficially, on a few human test subjects, which we found out about later. So no scientifically sound human trials exist, only animal trials. Still, the animal testing was nothing short of amazing. He extended the life span of fruit flies and mice over 50%, which could translate to a 15 to 25% extension of cell life in humans, but the issue of side effects is still unknown.”

“On the bio-medical commercialization side, the president’s directive calls for licensing the technology within 18 months to American companies, well, majority-owned American companies. Because of other intelligence information, he also wants monthly progress reports on the telomere weaponization and a viable ‘non-lethal’ weapon within 18 months.  Desired features include easy delivery through food or drink, non-detectability, and irreversible decline, causing death within less than 7 days. He says it could be a game changer with some of our high-value terrorist targets.”

“Wait a second, this is ludicrous. No clear path exists for this type of thing. Three years would be the soonest for any bioweapon according to my timeline.  Please tell me you didn’t say we could meet an 18-month window.”

“I didn’t say we couldn’t.”

“I don’t want unnecessary pressure on myself or my team because of an unrealistic deadline.”

“Look, the president and his advisors were adamant. Our current drone program saves troop lives, but it’s a public relations disaster. Sure, we kill our targets, but there’s collateral damage — family members, neighbors. Our field agents are saying with every drone strike that destroys a building we create hundreds of new terrorists, because the videos the extremists post all over the internet tie us to the damage.  There are high value targets that call for drones,  but we also need a weapon, easily secreted in food or drink, that eliminates the high-value targets without creating new terrorist propaganda videos in the process. Undetectable.  Understand?”

“Yes, I do. Out of curiosity, how do you envision this bioweapon working?  By making cells die faster instead of making them last longer?”

“That’s a possibility, but consider this.  Michaels’ original focus was on cancer, to slow the growth or spread of tumor cells. Then he showed that rapamycin and mTOR hugely impact cell life. The telomerase enzyme signals the telomere somehow and increases the total number of divisions before it dies, extending cell life and presumably human life.”

“Keep going.”

“So, if telomerase can stimulate healthy cells to divide more than normal and live longer…”

Zukoff interrupts. “Then the same could possibly be done with abnormal cells, like cancerous cells, causing a victim to die far quicker than with many forms of cancers.” He stares at the crease where the conference room wall meets the ceiling, thinking. “Unfortunately, I don’t see our enemies lining up for blood transfusions so we can infect them with mutant cells.”

“Of course not.  Michaels knows that blood transfusions are far too invasive and not realistic for the commercial applications either, so he’s already working on a different delivery system. You’ll have immediate access to his findings, but your team should be brainstorming too.”

Zukoff is now holding the pen vertically on top of the note pad, eyeing Isaacson.  “This reminds me of how they lambasted President Reagan when he said he wanted to develop a space laser to zap nuclear missiles, and the press called it ‘Star Wars.’ It sounds great, but can it be done?  What about costs?”

“No budget constraints, just requisition in the usual fashion.”

“I’ve already decided who my research director will be. He’s been with us for less than a year.”

“Who?”

“The name won’t mean anything to you since you aren’t acquainted with any of my key people. Chuck, you do realize human testing will be required.”

“That will never fly here at home.  You do what you need to do, but it better somewhere else in the world. And be damn sure no dots connect it back to the agency.”

“Got it.” Zukoff’s mind wanders to the infamous LSD studies the government secretly conducted stateside that were eventually declassified. There’s no way any human trials he commissions will surface in declassified reports. Figuring out how to cleanly deliver a non-lethal bio-weapon comes before worrying about testing, he decides.

“Michaels’ group can’t know about your project.” Isaacson insists. “Your group will be apprised of their progress, but not vice-versa.”

“Impossible. They’re both working at Sherwood.”

“Walt, I am damn serious. You didn’t know Michaels was even there.  During orientation, advise your team everything they learn and create is top secret, no exchange of information, even within the compound.”

“Okay, but why, can’t we trust our own people with classified information?”

“It’s not that, it’s Michaels. Every brilliant researcher is eccentric, and he is by no means an exception. I worry about his reaction if he found out his telomere breakthroughs might be used as a bio-weapon.”

“Don’t you trust him?  You just disclosed he was assisting the agency before the Hemispheres crash.”

“Let’s say this. He’s instrumental to these breakthroughs. I trust him implicitly as to the research. However, some circumstances, shall I say, raise some questions.  One more thing.  He fathered a son while in protective custody and we have supplied him a full-time nanny at Sherwood.”

“Wait, what?”

“His wife died when the plane went down, but they had frozen her eggs years ago.  He used an agency-cleared surrogate to have another child.  So, yes, Justin, his son, is with him and someone who has worked at Sherwood for years is his live-in nanny.  The kid’s less than a year old, and Michaels can’t really leave the compound – the outside world believes he’s six feet under.”

“We’re talking about a top secret situation with tremendous implications. Are you sure you trust someone who has a young toddler to think about?”

“I trust him.” As he says this, Isaacson’s mind wanders to Michaels’ refusal to continue his research until the CIA and FBI agreed to let him see his daughter and brother.  Not the time for self-doubt, he resolves, momentarily forgetting the active conversation with Z.

Zukoff interrupts his thoughts. “I’m going to need all of Michaels’ data as soon as possible. Then, as we move forward, how will I receive updates?”

“I’ll give them to you directly as they supply them to me. We’ll also have active surveillance all over the lab.”

Zukoff nods.

“Then let’s get to work. Are you ready to change the world?” Isaacson asks as they walk towards the conference room door.

“Of course. That’s why we came to work here, isn’t it?”

* * *

Isaacson walks down the quiet hallway to his expansive corner office. Before he reaches the doorway he asks his assistant, Barbara, to come into his office. When they first started working together, she would appear with a notepad and pen, now she walks in with her tablet.

“I want you to call a couple of our research organizations and set up two different symposia. One needs to appeal to the top minds in the scientific community, so title it something like ‘Ethical & Economic Implications of Extending Human Life 25 Percent.’”

“Isn’t that a little vague? Shouldn’t you say ‘to 110 or 125 years of age?’”

“Whatever, you can create the exact title. It’ll cover the potential healthcare system costs of such an extension — increased costs of Social Security, contributions to the workforce with senior workers, all of those issues.”

“What’s the second one?”

“How about ‘Fast-Tracking Drug and Medication Approvals:  Current Cutting-Edge Methods to Expedite Human Trials and Obtain Approval.’ Set them both up within 45 days if possible.”

“Got it.”  she says, rising to walk out of his office.  Isaacson can’t help but appreciate the shape of her long legs as she leaves, but the dominant thought pervading his mind is the enormity of the challenge facing both Zukoff and himself.

[End of Excerpt]

Check out the author’s first #1 Amazon suspense thriller e-book, Taming the Telomeres

True or False Fun Fact: A telomere [tel-uh-meer] is a rare monkey found only in Madagascar?

 

This answer is not found within a species or genus of monkey. Nor on Madagascar.   A telomere is the protective tip at the end of cell chromosomes, involved in controlling cell life. And death.  A nobel prize was awarded in 2009 for scientific strides in telomere biology: how the chromosomes can be copied in a complete way during cell divisions and how they are protected against degradation. The Nobel Laureates showed that the solution is to be found in the ends of the chromosomes – the telomeres – and in an enzyme that forms them – telomerase.  Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak discovered that a unique DNA sequence in the telomeres protects the chromosomes from degradation.

Taming the Telomeres (TTT) is a fiction thriller that examines the vast commercial potential of telomere research to the world’s super powers.  The value of extending human life even 15% is mind boggling, and biological spying on these advances is hardly surprising.

While not about taming monkeys on Madagascar, TTT won the 2015 Gold Award for top fiction thriller in the Readers Favorite Int’l. Book contest, and was the lone medalist in the New Apple Literary Awards for ebook fiction thriller also.

Some call TTT a biological thriller, or a medical thriller.  Amanda Michaels is the lone survivor of a jet crash that killed all aboard.  Except her.  She comes to learn that she possesses biological secrets that covert agents will kill over.

Taming the Telomeres is now available on audible.com narrated by Mikael Naramore, and the ebook and paperback  versions of Taming the Telomeres are also on Amazon.

 

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