Tess Gideon, a female Manhattan bike messenger with an appetite for the wild side, becomes embroiled in a rogue nation's Byzantine scheme to destabilize the U.S. financial system.
From the sweltering streets of Seoul to the sex-and-drug-driven underbelly of Greenwich Village, attempts at silencing a leak in an international counterfeiting operation leave a trail of butchery that leads inevitably to Wall Street, pitting a counter-culture heroine against a ruthless state-sponsored assassination team that will stop at nothing to achieve its lethal ends.
As the body count climbs, Tess is assisted by Detective Ron Stanford, a NYPD homicide specialist tracking a brutal serial killer whose ritualistic cycle of murder and mutilation targeting bike messengers is escalating to fever pitch.
Tess's battle to survive propels her into a deadly underworld where she must become judge and executioner, challenging her core beliefs about morality, justice, and love.
So many people are familiar with Russell Blake through his Jet series that it's exciting to have the opportunity to introduce some of his other work to readers who may not be familiar with it. Fatal Exchange combines a plot to destabilize the U.S. financial system with a female bike messenger and a brutal serial killer, and is a book you simply will not be able to put down. – Allan Leverone
"Blake's Fatal Exchange had me hooked from the first chapter. It is a fast paced, action packed thriller that you won't want to put down..." 5 Stars!– Kate Farrell, The Kindle Book Review
"This is a classic thriller from a writer who knows how to keep you sitting in suspense for hours on end. I enjoyed all the elements of this story—the characters, the settings and the detail of his plot elements. I especially enjoyed the character of Tess and believe she'll make a good serial character for future books. I'll make no secret that I'm a fan of Russell's writing; his blog is alternately uproariously funny and insightful and I particularly enjoyed his Gazillion parody. For any readers of either his blog or Gazillion, prepare yourselves for a different side to his writing. He's a serious thriller writer, someone we'll all be hearing more from in the future. He's got legs for those who love thrillers."– David Lender, Vaccine Nation, Bull Street, Trojan Horse and Gravy Train
A shriek ripped through the bunker, then slowly tapered off to a moan punctuated by congested gasps and feeble gurgling. At first it was hard to tell the gender of the screamer by the timbre of the emanation, but then the moan gave it away.
It was a man.
The noise was coming from a room at the end of a dimly lit hallway, concrete construction, everything painted a sickly olive-green and reeking of disrepair. Behind the chamber's steel door stood two men in brown uniforms of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. A third man wearing a short-sleeved pleated dress shirt sat at a metal table upon which rested an old wooden box with a hand crank, and what looked like a weathered carpentry kit, with all the usual tools present. There were other, more arcane instruments strewn over a small rolling stand, and a tray containing rubber gloves, an apron and a Dremel.
The floor sloped gradually to meet the drainage grid in the far corner, where an old faucet intermittently dripped water. Illumination was dim on the periphery but brighter in the middle of the space, where a large lamp hung from the ceiling, housing a bank of hundred-watt incandescent bulbs.
The air was putrid and ventilation was poor – they'd needed to improvise a facility on relatively short notice. The building had originally been a holding cell for prisoners offloaded from returning naval ships, and powerful climate-control and air-moving machinery had never been deemed necessary.
All three men had their attention focused on a naked Asian man in his late thirties, strapped to a metal chair directly below the lights. His head rested on his chest, where a thin thread of saliva and blood slowly trickled down his concave ribcage. The screaming had stopped, replaced by sobbing and whimpering, high pitched and eerily reminiscent of a cat in heat.
The smaller of the uniformed men approached the seated figure. He leaned in close and spoke softly in Burmese.
"Where is it?"
The man in the chair moaned. The uniformed man tried again, reasonably.
"Where is it? We know you took it."
The subject didn't register the words. Annoying. The officer had so many more pleasurable things he could be doing. Right now he was running late for a rendezvous with one of the young ladies he favored with his charms, as well as the odd food voucher or handful of coins.
He pressed onward. "We don't wish to make this last any longer than it has to. It would be a shame to have to bring your family into it, but you're leaving me no choice. How old are your two daughters? Eight and ten, I believe? Think of them. Answer the question. For them."
The man slowly raised his head and regarded the officer with his remaining eye. The other had been ruined earlier in the discussion. The pain had to be excruciating.
"I don't know what you're talking about. I swear." The words ran together in a hoarse mumble.
The officer shook his head and sighed. His tryst would have to be delayed; this was going nowhere. Shrugging his shoulders, he reached into his pocket and retrieved a pair of white foam earplugs, then turned to the man in the short shirtsleeves and nodded.
Without hesitation, the man cranked the handle on the old wooden box. The victim shrieked again, an otherworldly sound that bespoke unimaginable horrors. A pair of worn blackened wires ran from the old hand generator to the seated man's naked form. The smell of burning hair and flesh mingled with the other noxious odors.
"Where is it? What did you do with it?"
The taller officer removed his round wire-rimmed glasses, cleaned the lenses carefully with a handkerchief, and addressed the man in the shirtsleeves.
"Use the drill."
The shirtsleeved man nodded and removed from his bag a device resembling a dog muzzle, with straps on the back terminating in metal hooks. He clawed his hands into the man's head, forcing his face into the contraption. The front section had a hinged mechanism controlling two short metal rods now plunged inside the man's mouth. The rods were grooved, worn by the many previous sets of teeth which had ground them.
He secured the metal hooks to the chair back and tightened the straps so the man couldn't move his head. Then, with a practiced twist, he turned the lever on the side of the mechanism, forcing the man's mouth open, allowing access to his dental plate.
Pausing for a moment, the shirtsleeved man considered his shoes, now soiled with the accumulated expulsions. Aggravating, but there was nothing to be done about it. He hoped they'd wash clean.
Turning, he donned a plastic apron with an incongruous faded image of a dancing crab, and selected the Dremel, a tiny high-speed jeweler's drill used for polishing and grinding work. He inserted the bit—a small tapered cone with serrated edges running from the tip to the base, useful for boring holes in stone or metal—and tightened the shaft.
The victim's eye went wide as the screech of the high-pitched motor filled the space.
"So, my friend, is there anything you want to tell me before we start?"
~ ~ ~
Overhead loudspeakers blared flight arrival and departure information in Korean as well as in Japanese, Chinese, and English. The terminal was congested, even though its ultra-modern interior was designed specifically to accommodate heavy traffic, and the din of conversations battling with the ceaseless announcements created a kind of low-grade pandemonium. Seoul was a major hub for travel into China and the Far East, and on any business day there were a lot of busy people with important places to go, most of whom apparently had to do so while having animated discussions on their cell phones.
Seung waited restlessly in the ticketing area, half an hour early for his meeting. Thin, fashionably mod haircut, and a studied air of disinterest affecting every mannerism, he was dressed in jeans and leather jacket, in defiance of the brooding heat outside the airport's doors.
He hated crowds. Airports were the worst. The noise and bustle were grating on his already raw nerves.
Fidgeting with his black briefcase, he scouted his surroundings and spotted a men's restroom icon. He studied the crowd, quickly glanced at his watch, then moved towards the facilities. Of course there was a line. Forced to wait a few minutes for a toilet to free up, he passed the time imagining he was boarding one of the big 747s on the tarmac and flying to Fiji or Bora Bora. Maybe one day. One day soon.
The end stall vacated and he entered and locked the little compartment door, exhaling a sigh of relief to be out of the throng. After confirming the latch was secure and there was no visibility through the door joints, he pulled a small zippered wallet from the inside pocket of his jacket and carefully opened it, using his briefcase as an ad hoc table.
He painstakingly emptied half the contents of a tiny plastic bag into an old metal spoon and then extracted a small bottle of water and added a few drops, and then with a trembling hand clutching his cigarette lighter he melted the powder in the spoon bowl. Very slowly, he returned the lighter to his jacket pocket and removed a disposable syringe from the wallet. Gripping the orange plastic cap with his teeth, he freed the little needle and sucked the liquid into the syringe.
The tricky part concluded, he replaced the cap and held the syringe in his mouth while he repacked the kit, taking care to reseal the bag's tiny zip-lock top.
Seung rolled up his left jean leg, exposing a network of bruised discolorations. He removed a length of surgical tubing, tied off just below his calf and slapped at the vein. That one looked good for another week, then it would collapse like the ones in his right leg.
Oh well. He'd have to still be alive next week to care. There were no guarantees.
He popped the cap off the needle again and slid the metal into his ruined vessel, drawing blood into the syringe and mixing the amber fluid with the viscous crimson from his vein. Satisfied, he depressed the plunger, emptying the contents into his bloodstream. This was only half a hit, really just a maintenance dose—he didn't want to nod off on the job. He released the tubing and felt a warm rush through his entire system, running up his leg to his heart, then into his throat and up to his head.
It was heaven.
Even half a hit made life bearable, at least for now, and he could focus better if he wasn't jittery and jonesing. His eyes began to close and it was only with tremendous effort he kept them open. He drifted, his lids getting heavier, heavier.
The neighboring stall door slammed and abruptly jolted him back to full consciousness.
Think. Put your kit away, stand up, and get busy.
He looked at his oversized steel watch; his meeting was in five minutes. Shit. He fumbled, stuffing the kit and syringe into his breast pocket, then blotted the blood on his ankle with some toilet paper and slapped himself in the face several times.
He flushed the toilet, grabbed his briefcase and exited the stall, flipping on a pair of sunglasses to lessen the impact of the lights on his dilated pupils as he approached the ticketing area.
Ah. There was his target, a fifty-something man with a suit bag draped over his shoulder, carrying an identical briefcase.
Seung caught his eye, set the briefcase down on the floor next to his right foot, and pretended to play with his cell phone. The older man walked over and asked if he had the correct time, which Seung made a display of providing. He admired the younger man's phone, and put his bag and briefcase down next to the other briefcase, asking to see it. Seung showed him the most compelling features—it really was unbelievable what they could do these days with technology.
Smiling, the older man retrieved his suit bag and the younger man's briefcase, and thanked him for the demonstration.
Seung sauntered to the terminal exit while the older man quickly made his way through customs, his diplomatic passport ensuring he was waved through security.
He was right on time for his flight: Korean Air to San Francisco. Settling himself comfortably in the first class seat, he placed the briefcase in the small dais at the base of his pod, which reclined into a bed for the long trip over the Pacific.
As was his custom, he got some water from the stewardess before take-off and took a small white pill—Xanax, to ease his nerves during the flight—and closed his eyes. The hard part, getting his hands on the briefcase, was over. Now he just had to keep his meeting and he'd be golden, three hundred thousand dollars richer. Not a bad day's work.
The stewardess made her final passage through the cabin, checking to ensure everything was secure, and within minutes they were hurtling down the worn tarmac and up into the cold gray sky.