Monday, March 21, 2011
I love strong female characters. Really - who wants wimpy women? Not me. That's why I was excited when Sean Sweeney offered to share an excerpt from his new thriller, Model Agent, with the readers here at Fiction for Dessert. New to Amazon Kindle, it already has 10 reviews with an average of five stars!
The human body consists of two-thirds water.
As concertgoers on a steamy day in Boston find out, water can kill as much as it gives life.
A terrorist attack at City Hall Plaza has the authorities perplexed. The government, in response, sends in a capable but young agent – an agent born from the ashes of terrorism itself – to handle it.
But as her partner dies and the terrorist strikes again, Jaclyn Johnson – code named Snapshot – finds herself in a situation she has trained a decade to face: She’s up against a man with enough money to finance a war against his competition. With a deadline in place to stop him – and with a car holding enough hidden tricks to evade capture – Snapshot infiltrates his hidden installation and finds out her target’s true end game, a secret that could have the world fighting over water.
"The tongue-in-cheek cover tagline says, “If Bond had boobs.” In four words this gives the high-level view of Jaclyn Johnson. She’s got Bond’s good looks, enough to model as a cover, hiding her true career. She has the technology of Bond with a plethora of gadgets, a few she invented herself and some that (over) compensate for a rare eye condition that leaves her almost blind without an assist. Topping it off is a car that anyone would envy plus the brains behind the beauty to get the job done. In Jaclyn Johnson, Sweeney has a great new character I hope to see in many sequels." - Big Al from Big Al's Books and Pals
And now for CHAPTER ONE of Model Agent:
City Hall Plaza, Boston, Mass.
Saturday, July 17, 2011 — 2:26 p.m.
With the speed, agility, and grace of a high school track star, Jenny Wilson bounded the stairs leading from Government Center’s Green Line platform to the outside world above. She checked her watch and saw she had a few minutes to spare. She vaulted the stairs two at a time, bouncing off the front half of her feet. She tried slowing her pace as she walked toward the subway station’s open doors, taking a deep breath. Her heart thumped madly.
She didn’t want to seem that excited to see him.
Jenny staggered as a harsh wave of hot air smacked her in the face once she stepped back into Boston’s blast furnace. She couldn’t help releasing the breath, which appeared like a flame emerging from an enraged dragon. For most of the past week, she had baked, roasted and suffered through blistering temperatures in the high 90s. Today, she saw, was no different than the last six.
She stopped just outside the subway station’s headhouse and hoped her sneakers wouldn’t melt. While other riders jostled past her, she shielded her eyes as she looked out across the breadth of City Hall Plaza. She saw shimmering haze as the ground reflected the sun’s unforgiving heat. She watched tourists walk past her, wiping sweat from their brows as they headed toward Faneuil Hall, off to Jenny’s right, or toward Cambridge Street on Jenny’s immediate left. The stately towers of the John F. Kennedy Federal Building stretched for the sky above her, while its base, a squat four-story section, reached for the heart of the old city; she could see the towering exhaust vents from Haymarket station adjacent to JFK. A line of trees on the upper level in front of JFK gave modest shade, and as a bead of sweat danced down her spine, she wanted nothing more than to rush toward them and sit underneath for hours. Boston’s City Hall, a concrete structure that looked more like an inverted pyramid than a city government building, stood opposite the federal.
A not-so-fertile crescent filled the gaps: Three-foot high concrete pylons dotted a wavy sea of red bricks stretching here, there and everywhere. Granite steps served as seats during these summertime concerts, and she noticed a small crowd had already gathered by the stage on the northern side of City Hall, waiting for the free oldies show. City Hall Plaza was, in essence, a wide open-air amphitheater in the heart of new Boston, long before land reclamation formed the modern peninsula.
Jenny checked her watch again. It read 2:28 p.m.
“Right on time,” she said.
She walked straight ahead to the vendor booths, where she saw Chuck Norton pulling cases of Nantucket Harbor bottled water from the back of a beat up green van. Chuck was the one guy she hoped she could get to know a little better, ever since she first laid her baby blues on him at Northeastern University. She watched his biceps bulge under the strain. Jenny’s eyebrows twitched, and her mouth curled into a soft grin as she observed the stud’s bodily nuances.
“Let me help you there, handsome,” she said, her eyes twinkling.
Chuck turned and smiled when he saw her.
“Hey, pretty lady. Could you help fill those buckets with ice? We need to get this water cold in a hurry; those people,” he said, jerking his head toward the crowd in the lower bowl, “won’t want to wait. They love their free samples, especially on a hot day like today.” He grabbed another case and threw it on top of the other two. He grunted his exertion as he brought them over to the booth.
“Anything to help,” she said, reaching into the truck to grab several bags of ice before she said to herself, “get you out of those clothes.”
The way Jenny bent over to grab the ice caused another smirk to slip across her face. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Chuck had paused to check out the curves that molded her luscious backside. She felt his eyes roam across her form-fitting white shorts. She pulled the ice to her and felt the condensation from the bag seep through her green Celtics t-shirt. For the briefest of passing moments, she was glad she didn’t wear a white top; she didn’t want to give Chuck too much of a show.
At least not yet, she thought.
Jenny hefted the bags and brought them over to where Chuck indicated. She made sure she brushed her arm against his as she walked past him. She caught his eye every time, and her stomach quivered under his gaze.
They bustled about — and tried keeping the heavy-duty flirting to a minimum — while other vendors began setting up shop near them. Within a few minutes, she caught the sweet smell of sausages on the air. She gouged open bags of ice with her nails and dumped the frozen contents into plastic buckets. Another helper shoved small bottles of water into the icy prison as she moved to another bucket. Once they had them full, they waited a few minutes for the bottles to chill.
Jenny finally fanned herself as she felt the day’s heat get to her a bit. She grabbed a bottle of water that she bought at a Tedeschi’s before she hopped on the T nearly an hour ago. She leaned against the van and drank deeply, trying to stay hydrated in this oppressive heat. Trickles of water spilled from the corners of her mouth while she wiped the sheen of sweat that gathered on her face. She wiped her hand on her white shorts, smearing it to gray.
“Yuck,” she said, grimacing. “I hate the heat. I’m moving to Oregon when I graduate.”
She looked at Chuck as he walked up and leaned next to her. Heat radiated off him.
“You look like you could use a drink,” she said, offering her water to him. His shrug brought a pout to her pink lips until he relented.
To be the bottle, she thought as he drank.
She looked out toward the plaza and saw several people, all wearing light, summertime clothing, bursting forward with quick strides, making their way toward the vendors in search of freebies. There were vendors with small cups of ice cream to try, as well as free can koozies emblazoned with the concert logo and other things Jenny wished she had the time to check out.
She never expected such a cornucopia of thriftiness at a concert before.
“How long do we have to wait?” Jenny asked as she pulled the bottle back toward her. “We’re about to get slammed.”
“Only a few minutes more,” Chuck said as he inhaled. “I smell sausages.”
Jenny sniffed the air, too, but instead of sausages, the scent of Chuck’s sweaty body met her nose. The smell of perspiration overwhelmed her. She swooned slightly. She tried to hold her breath, but she couldn’t do so without offending Chuck. She knew he had labored hard over the past half an hour, and she figured she sweated a bit from her own exertions, too.
For a specimen like Chuck, she thought with a sly grin she camouflaged by lifting the bottle to her lips, I can put up with the smell for a bit. I wouldn’t mind also putting up with some heavy breathing, too.
She felt a tingle south of her tummy. She bit her lip for a brief moment as she looked into his green eyes. Her thighs wanted to slam shut, but she restrained them from doing so.
“I think you can wait a little while, can’t you? We could have one together after we serve these people.” Jenny’s eyes danced.
Chuck tried holding back a knowing smirk.
“Let’s serve the people, then.”
Together, they walked back to the booth and started pulling water from the buckets, standing them on the metal counter before Jenny and Chuck dove for more. Melted ice covered their hands as droplets raced down their forearms. Chuck tossed a towel to Jenny, but it rested, unused, on her shoulder for quite a while. They set a few more bottles on the counter. Within seconds, Jenny saw her “customers” scoop the bottles up two at a time.
She looked on with great interest as they unscrewed the caps away, snapping the plastic rings aside and doused their hair with one full bottle. They twisted the cap off the second and began chugging the cool, clear liquid. Several people came back for more samples, and Jenny thought this was the only way for them to feel adequately cool in these stifling conditions. She saw the other workers re-filling the other buckets with more bottles. Water splashed out and nearly sizzled on the brick. She looked to the bucket on the right hand side of the booth, where one bottle of water remained submerged.
Jenny noticed that she and Chuck had exhausted the bottle of water she brought earlier. She noticed her mouth needed replenishment. A trickle of sweat maneuvered down her neck, making a beeline for her chest. She reached for the lone bottle.
The coughing parade, though, made her forget about quenching her thirst. Jenny looked up and saw her customers’ eyes leak only a few feet away from the booth. They couldn’t stop themselves. Their coughs turned into violent hacks, and Jenny recalled the bronchitis episode she experienced last winter. Their coughs were too identical for her liking. She felt her chest tighten at the memory. She watched helplessly as their bodies shook in rapid convulsions. Some hit their knees, doubling over. People walking out of the subway station paused as they saw these people writhing on the hot bricks.
Jenny looked on in horror as they began vomiting blood, their upper bodies lurching forward as they spewed their insides out, using City Hall Plaza as a makeshift toilet. She saw several people lose their hair, even though they didn’t touch it. They started moaning and screaming. More than one plea of “Oh God, help me!” sprang from their panicked voices.
Jenny didn’t realize that only a few moments passed between the plaza going from calm and peaceful, to chaotic.
She thought fast.
“Chuck,” she said, “call 9-1-1. These people are sick.”
Chuck didn’t answer. Instead, Jenny turned and saw him chugging a dripping bottle of water, one fresh from the ice bucket — the one she was about to grab.
She repeated herself.
He didn’t hear her. Chuck hit the ground and writhed, too, dropping the bottle. His moans came quick as he grabbed his gut.
Jenny looked at the bottle and then out toward the sea of sickness that unfolded before her. She saw empty bottles next to the ill. She added things up in her nimble brain. Her eyes widened as she realized what had happened, and how quick things had turned.
“Don’t drink the water!” she screamed, her feet carrying her away from Chuck and toward the booth. She swiped the counter clear of bottles, startling several people as her arms slashed across the drenched metal. She even grabbed one from the grasp of a 10-year-old boy before she turned to one of Chuck’s friends. “Don’t give out any more samples, do you hear me? Don’t give out any more.”
“But our boss said —”
“I don’t give a damn what your boss said,” she said tightly. “These people aren’t feeling well, and it’s because of the water. Hell, they may be dying.” She watched the realization — the utter fear — unfold on the young man’s face. “Stop handing the samples out. You,” she barked, “call 9-1-1 right now. You, get the water into the van and shut it.” They hesitated, but they soon realized she had taken control. They did as she asked.
Jenny turned back to the crowd and saw several of the concert goers clutch their stomachs. They heaved once, twice, and then a third time. Half a heartbeat later, they began projectile vomiting mucous and blood. Jenny recoiled; her face contorted between disbelief and anguish, between pity and disgust. She prayed silently to a God she stopped believing in some five years ago.
Her feelings twisted by the sight in front of her, she remembered Chuck had fallen ill, too. Realization sharply passed through her as she turned her head to where her friend lay in the fetal position.
Her eyes widened at the sight.
Jenny hurried over to him, her sneakers pounding away. She pulled him over and saw blood pouring out of his mouth, dripping from the corners while the remnants of his breakfast, too, splattered on the bricks. She saw him look up into her eyes, his eyes desperately pleading with her for things she would never know. His breath was shallow for several seconds before it ceased entirely.
The light, Jenny saw, had left him moments later.
“Chuck,” she said, even though she knew he couldn’t hear her. Jenny ran her fingers through his coarse brown hair. She closed her eyes and fell backward on her butt. She covered her eyes and tried to grieve, but nothing came out. She sat there for a few minutes, trying to force the tears out.
She glanced to her right and saw the bottle Chuck had drank from laying next to her. The bottle she had wanted to drink from before everything escalated into this nightmarish situation. She looked at bottle again before she looked back at the bucket. She felt her eyebrows arch, comprehension coming to her. The coughing had prevented her — had saved her — from grabbing that bottle from the bucket.
She didn’t want to face that, at least not now. She flicked the bottle aside. She didn’t see it skip across the bricks. She wanted to go pick it up and heave it toward Cambridge Street.
Maybe a car would squish it as it hurried past, she thought. She didn’t grin. Water lined to the bottoms of her eyes.
Jenny then realized the moans had stopped, only replaced by confusion and panicked screams from passersby headed to and from the subway. Hurried footsteps approached her from her right-hand side.
“Jenny, they said they’re sending ambulances. They’ll be here soon.”
“Call them back,” she said, tears finally rolling down her cheeks, the awareness of what happened in between her wanting a drink and now finally reaching her eyes. “Tell them to ready the morgues. I think they’re going to be quite busy.”
Their friend staggered as he saw Chuck’s prone form. “Oh my God,” he said.
Born in the city of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, in 1977, Sweeney's passion for writing began in 1993, as a sophomore in high school, when he began to write sports for his local newspaper, the Sentinel & Enterprise. Since then, he has written for several Massachusetts newspapers, including the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester and the Southbridge Evening News in Southbridge. He has since returned to where it all started, as he came back to the Sentinel in April 2008. He also strings for the Springfield Republican and Turley Publications.
Among his literary influences include the king of fantasy, Tolkien, as well as R.A. Salvatore. In addition, Fitch enjoys Steven Savile, Vince Flynn, J.K. Rowling, Jim C. Hines, David Forbes, John Grisham, and Brad Meltzer novels, as well as classic storytellers C.S. Lewis, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and William Shakespeare. Star Wars novels fill an entire bookcase in his office. When he is not writing, Sweeney enjoys playing golf, reading, watching movies, the Red Sox, Arsenal F.C., and playing with his kitten, Caramel the Wonder Cat.