Introduction

Global Paper Enterprises CEO Harold Perkins lived off of posh Mulholland Drive in the Santa Monica hills, his mansion surrounded by the homes of the rich and famous. Harold had no desire to mix with the actors and actresses of Hollywood, but he enjoyed the snobbery of living amongst them, and the wide-eyed "Oohs" which occurred when he happened to mention at various social engagements, off the cuff, who his neighbors were. With his company doing well, its stocks increasing quarterly, their new product set to come out to accolades in a month, his children doing well at college, and his golf game improving, life was looking mighty fine for Harold Perkins, as he put his house key in the door. Of course that recent altercation with Culdero was bothersome; imagine asking him for so much money based on childish vows made 30 years ago in a drunken ritual. Ridiculous scroll in a ridiculous box. He'd throw it out tomorrow and be done with the whole thing. No doubt everything would settle down after that, in another week or two. It was thus surprising to him when he heard his name called and, turning around, found himself looking at two men in polyester three piece suits, holding up identification containing FBI badges in them.

"Mr. Harold Perkins?" one asked. "I'm Tom Bailey, from the FBI." Nodding to his partner, he added, "This is Claude Wallinski. May we speak to you for a moment?"

"What is this about, gentleman? I've had a long day and wish to relax in my pool before supper."

The agents cast a quick look between themselves—having to deal with the super-wealthy, and their leisurely swims before supper didn't hold much sway for working Feds who'd never earn enough to own one Rolls Royce, let alone a three car garage full of them.

"This won't take much time, Sir. It's about the recent bombings."

This piqued Harold's interest. Three upper management businessmen dead in the last month. It was a little nerve-wracking, especially in light of his own upsetting interaction with Culdero.

"Global Enterprises doesn't do business with the companies of the deceased men," Perkins explained.

"Still, Sir, if we could go inside, for some privacy, there is a line or two of questioning we'd appreciate you discussing with us."

Harold sighed. The pool would have to wait. He felt compelled to grant the interview; it was good to know the FBI was actively working on the case.

"Come in, gentlemen," he said, as he opened up the front door. He turned off the burglar alarm by pressing his four digit code into the box in the entrance hallway, and lead the agents further into the house. They had not walked more than ten feet when an explosion occurred, large and loud, spreading body parts throughout the immaculately manicured lawn while two damaged FBI guns landed on the remains of the roof.

Chapter One

"People, this is our fourth businessman blown up. The fourth explosion using detonation material stolen from Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, thus, once again, making it a federal case, and our responsibility." Les Carlisle, the supervisor of the Los Angeles FBI, paused, as he enjoyed doing, for emphasis. His over-bearing and dramatic nature made the morning Special Agents meeting one of the least favorite times of days for his working men and women. "And, let us not forget that we've lost four agents on this case, as well. Four men blown up: Dankins, Jones, Bailey and Wallinski. We haven't lost four agents total in the last ten years. The deputy supervisor wants this solved and solved now. With no more loss of civilian or FBI life. The newspapers are having a field day with this! We're looking like incompetents here!"

Agents squirmed in their seats as the point to Carlisle's talk came out so openly. His reputation was on the line; that was the most important thing to focus on. Not on the tragic deaths; not on the grieving families of the dead men; not on the abstruse nature of the case. But on Carlisle's own standing in the federal community.

"Now, who is going to take this case, bust it open and get it solved?" Carlisle asked, holding the file in his hand.

As had happened in the past, when Carlisle needed someone to investigate a deadly plague, only one hand rose up in answer to his question.

"I'll take it, Carlisle," Bill Maxwell said. "I love bombs, explosions, Fourth of July fireworks, you name it."

Carlisle tried to ignore Bill's hand, but when his "Anyone else?" came back with a roomful of agents looking anywhere but at him, he sighed deeply and realized that once again, a highly important case was going to Maxwell. The roomful of cowardly agents disgusted him. He would have taken the case if he was still a field agent. Now, it would be another case run in an unorthodox way, on Maxwell's own rules, to be successfully solved but written up in a way that Carlisle knew hid information, hid something…something Carlisle could never figure out. And then he'd hear Maxwell's name mentioned in the hallway by the younger agents, many who had started wearing that ridiculous double holster, and who, if they were equally warm-blooded, were undoing the first button of their shirts, and loosening their ties. It was his secret dread—that one day he'd wake up and come to work and see a whole building full of Maxwell impersonating agents, all begging to work alone, without a partner.

On the other hand, Maxwell was always successful; he did do a good job. And Carlisle's reputation was the stronger for it.

"Alright, Billy, here's the file. The rest of you chickens can go back to your farms. Billy, this is a priority A-One case. Put aside whatever else you're working on and focus on this."

Maxwell eagerly grabbed the folder and opened it right up. "Right, boss!" he said, his eyes dancing with pleasure.

To Carlisle's dismay, his frequently calling Maxwell the disparaging, childish "Billy" never, ever phased the man. Never. Could he really be that good-natured? Carlisle shook his head back and forth. Didn't Bill realize how dangerous the case was, that he could very well be killed investigating it? Carlisle didn't wholly know if Maxwell really was as courageous as he seemed, or if he was just a little stupid, or, most probably, both. He was as mysterious a man as his case completion record was mysterious. An undeniably hard-working, committed Fed for 20 years, eager to listen to his more experienced partners and learn from them, he had always had a solid bust record. He had never shown any real interest in progressing up the management level, had never attempted to brown nose superiors to gain entrance into the administrative heights, had never bothered adjusting his dress or attitude to fit into the desk job mindset. He had been always content to stay in the field, loving the thrill and action.

He had been a slightly atypical agent all along in regards to his love for his country and his devotion to his duty, but he had been steady and conventional, a "by the book" type of agent. Dependable. Somewhere in the last three years, though, something had changed. Maxwell became less open about discussing his cases; he had the Deputy Supervisor okay him working alone; he solved incredibly difficult cases within days; and his reports contained explanations that seemed entirely credible, though at times a little fantastical-especially in regard as to how he ruined another government issue car-but, could not be proven as prevarications. His reports, hastily composed without thought of grammar or spelling, were ingenuously written to hide…something…which Carlisle could never uncover. Had he always been so cunning?

To top it off, in the last three years Bill had met and become best friends with a blond, curly topped ex-beach bum, twenty years younger than him, and of all things a Special Education instructor at a local high school. Maxwell, an apparently average intelligence, flag-waving, right-wing gun lover, now had left leaning liberal friends, saved wild horses, recovered children lost in forests, and cleared mistakenly arrested juvenile delinquents. He also used his brains to find Russian lovers, arrest heads of the mafia, preserve CIA agent world-wide locations, and prevent endless other serious perils to the USA. Maxwell had thus become in the last few years, a complete and utter mystery.

Carlisle hated mysteries. He liked the world to be clear and concise, with dotted i's and perfectly crossed t's. He liked things tidy and clean—he was a fastidious, meticulous man. Everything about Maxwell, though, especially in the last three or so years, had made his, (grudgingly admitted), "star agent" an enigma. Carlisle hated enigmas.

"Try not to get blown up, Bill," Carlisle said. "Even though that would save the government around $5000 a year in coffee expenses."

He waited for a rude wisecrack to come from Maxwell, but it didn't. It never did. Maxwell, formed and created in the Korean War and an FBI agent for 20 years, took what Carlisle gave him, and was on no account verbally subordinate. His background of listening to and obeying the rules of authority was a foundation of his, even if when outside the office, on a case, he proceeded in his own, unique fashion. Maxwell was ready with a joke or two, now and then, but never said anything inappropriate to Carlisle, respecting both Carlisle and their boss/underling relationship. Maxwell never said anything Carlisle could write up. Nothing Carlisle could use against Maxwell. That was also irritating.

Bill stood up. "Go on, the bitter sludge served around here? It can't cost the government more than $1000, including the little plastic spoons for mixing in the cream."

He was one of the few agents who was as tall as Carlisle, both standing in the 6'2" range. They possessed the same lean body type, but Maxwell had slightly broader shoulders and what appeared to be a notably muscular back and neck. Somehow Carlisle knew that even beyond the shoulders, Maxwell had a much more imposing presence, though he dressed like a slob, and never shaved off his slightly bushy sideburns, and was nearly ten years older, in his early 50s. Was it his experience, his kill record, his devotion to his country, his courage under fire…his what? Carlisle himself felt he was Maxwell's equal in all those categories. The bizarre reality was that Carlisle was sure if trouble developed and agents could chose to follow him or Maxwell, the majority would go with Maxwell. It was incomprehensible.

Everything in the last three years about Maxwell was incomprehensible.

Not wishing to continue chatting with his errant agent, Carlisle said, "Sit down, Maxwell," and, obediently, Bill did. Carlisle went on admonishing the other twenty agents in the room regarding the next important FBI topic. "Don't forget to work on this recent crime wave, people. We've had banks robbed seven times in the last month, from San Francisco to San Diego: three right here in L.A. I want that stopped and stopped soon. Our department is starting to look like we're a bunch of bunglers."

Heads nodded solemnly in agreement.

Carlisle grew exasperated. "Don't agree with me! Get those bank robbers!" He glanced at Maxwell happily ensconced in his file, like a little boy playing with his favorite truck. "And stop the bombings." Bill didn't hear him. He was so absorbed in his folder he wasn't paying any more attention to the meeting.

Carlisle sighed. "Dismissed." Everyone filed out. Bill noticed the movement around him and scooped his folders into a pile he grabbed under his arm as he stood up. Several agents went to Bill, patting him on his back for accepting such a dangerous assignment.

Carlisle cringed hearing Maxwell's predictable response, as he pulled out the bombings folder. "What, this little caper? You girls stick with the video copyright infringements and let us real agents do some good around here. I eat bombs for breakfast."

The agents smiled at the cocky answer. Maxwell was Maxwell. While it brought bemusement and camaraderie to his coworkers, to Carlisle it brought a relatively immediate need of an antacid.