Hi, I’m Nathan and I write technothriller novels with action, conspiracy and cool ladies.
Damien wasn’t meant to be here.
‘Thirty-five minutes and you haven’t asked why you’re in this room,’ the border control officer said.
Damien was sitting in what they politely referred to as an interview room, with duct tape binding his wrists to the chair’s plastic armrests. The officer had fastened cable ties over the tape just to be sure.
This wasn’t quite how Damien had planned things.
Both his sneakers were missing their shoelaces. There was no partition glass. One camera in the corner. Vents blowing cool air. A single sprinkler head above the officer. The officer sat behind a table and on the table there was a single sheet of paper, face down. The linoleum floor smelled of ammonia, searing Damien’s nostrils. The room temperature was intentionally cold.
The officer prodded a tablet with an impatient finger. He was American, but his portly midsection pressed against his local Guatemalan uniform.
‘Would you like to know why you’re here?’ he asked.
‘You find my aura unusually calming?’ Damien said.
‘I find your criminal record unusually alarming.’
He held up the paper for Damien to see. It was blank.
But Damien was more interested in the officer’s arm. There was a thin band of white fabric above his right elbow. He’d seen it before, yet couldn’t quite place it.
‘I filled out the immigration form wrong, didn’t I?’ Damien said. ‘I should’ve put Casual Relief Teacher.’
‘I hope you enjoyed your time in Guatemala.’ The officer’s attention was back on his tablet.
‘Thank you…’ Damien said, reading the surname on his uniform, ‘…Officer White. As far as being pulled off a bus at gunpoint and cavity searched goes, it’s been a real blast. Some people pay for that experience.’
‘And I expect you’ll pay for this,’ White said.
‘I’d prefer Shibari rope play, but we can work with that,’ Damien said.
White’s left eye twitched, barely. ‘You don’t choose.’
Damien focused with his enhanced hearing. There was light traffic in the corridor outside and someone was talking about his possessions in the opposite room. White’s breathing was a bit faster than it should’ve been.
‘Level 181. It’s not a place you want to be stuck on,’ White said.
Damien blinked. ‘Is that where I am?’
White looked up from his tablet. ‘I mean on Candy Crush. Level 181 is literally impossible.’
‘Why did you take me off the bus?’ Damien asked.
White barely raised an eyebrow. ‘That doesn’t matter anymore.’
‘When the other officers saw my passport, they seemed pretty keen to put me on that bus.’
‘Believe me when I tell you I was doing you a favor.’ White put his tablet down. ‘What matters is where you will go. There are certain gentlemen from a department of the United States government who look forward to meeting you. They should be here soon.’
‘And which department is that?’ Damien asked.
‘Do I look like I should know or even care?’ White glared at him. ‘Do you know who I am?’
‘I’m crossing off “romantic love interest”,’ Damien said. ‘Or am I not giving us the chance we deserve?’
‘What we deserve?’ He gave Damien a self-assured nod. ‘We deserve to be purged.’
‘I was thinking of doing a detox myself.’
‘Are you scared, Damien?’
He knew the answer. He could die here. Or worse, the government could take him. ‘I’m a little concerned.’
‘Some things have no right to exist,’ White said, his hand on his holster. ‘Some things should never be born.’
Damien felt his skin crawl. Maybe it was the cold air, maybe it was White. ‘What things?’ he asked.
White lifted his hand from the holster and inspected his fingertips. ‘It’s not just what they are, but what they do.’ He looked at Damien, unwavering. ‘What did you do, exactly?’
Damien felt his pulse race, a dull throb in his ear. He breathed slowly and focused on the officer. There was still a way out. ‘You’re not interested in what I did. You’re interested in who they are. And how they can pull strings so far above your head.’
White shifted in his seat. His chair squeaked. ‘Just another agency.’
‘It doesn’t matter what agency they say they’re from,’ Damien said. ‘They’re not.’
White stood and began to circle the table. He paused in front of Damien and folded his arms. ‘Tell me, do you think I’d believe anything you say?’
Damien resisted the urge to blink. ‘That depends on what I say.’
‘Do you think you’ll survive this?’
‘If you didn’t take me off that bus, would I have survived?’
White frowned. ‘That’s a strange question.’
‘With a strange answer,’ Damien said.
‘It depends on what you mean by survival.’ White’s tablet buzzed. He walked over to check it, then double-check it. His lips shivered into a smile. ‘I have some good news.’
The door opened and a female and male uniformed officer entered. Like White, they didn’t appear to be local. And like White, they both wore white arm bands. One officer closed the door.
Their name tags read Price and Gray. Price had an oddly large head and thick eyebrows that twitched when he drew a fixed-blade knife. It didn’t look government issue, and it didn’t glint under the light because it was coated black.
Gray didn’t reach for her knife. She kept a hand close to her holstered stun gun. Her glass-green eyes focused on Damien’s body instead of his face. They approached him from opposing sides. He pulled on his restraints.
‘Change of plans?’ Damien asked.
‘No,’ White said. ‘Change of strings.’
Nathan M. Farrugia is the author of the episodic Helix technothriller series and the bestselling series, The Fifth Column, published by Pan Macmillan. Nathan is known for placing himself in dangerous situations, including climbing rooftops in Russia and being hunted by special forces trackers in the United States. He studies Systema, a little-known martial art and former secret of Russian special forces.
Nathan is a former Australian reconnaissance soldier who has trained under USMC, SEAL team, Spetsnaz and Defence Intelligence instructors, and the wilderness and tracking skills of the Chiricahua Apache scouts and Australian Aboriginals.