CIPHER

The estranged daughter of a C.I.A. traitor must infiltrate the halls of the U.S. government to crack the codes and clues her father left behind before a global terror organization unleashes nuclear war.

This is the opening chapter.


FIVE YEARS AGO

Hamilton Hayes couldn’t stop staring at the carpet. It was the same beige carpet it had always been. The same carpet that had covered the floors of this single-level ranch house since the day they’d moved in nearly two decades ago. The same carpet his daughter, Mia, had learned to crawl on. Learned to walk on. The same ratty mess his wife Grace had been begging him to change for 18 years – just another on the endless list of home improvement projects he’d never had the time to tackle. He knew the history of every stain scattered across that vast sea of shag.

And that was why he couldn’t stop staring. Because these new stains were spreading fast, obliterating the grape juice Mia had spilled from her sippy cup when she was four. Overtaking the cigarette burn she had tried so hard to hide in high school. Swallowing up a lifetime’s worth of memories with these oozing pools of crimson.

Blood. Everywhere.

It was splattered in sharp streaks racing for the fireplace, sprayed in a arterial mist across the well-worn patch where the dog they put to sleep five years ago had always slept, and spreading in a tidal swell toward the tips of Hamilton’s sensible black leather shoes.

His carpet, soaked through with the blood of strangers. Men he had shot with perfect precision, center mass, the tap-tap-tap of his weapon followed by body after body collapsing to the floor like marionettes, their strings severed. He was definitely going to have to replace that carpet after tonight. Now that he’d killed a dozen men on it.

He looked up then. At his wife, Grace, her face streaked with tears and pockmarked with drops of blood that wasn’t hers. Her eyes winced in fear from the pistol pressed to her temple. Her manicured fingers had gone white with effort as she tried in vain to pry The Man’s arm loose from around her neck.

Hamilton had never met him before, The Man in a smart suit and power tie. He looked like someone who should be trading on Wall Street or lobbying for oil companies in D.C., not standing in the middle of this massacre. The Man’s imported Italian wing tips scuffed against the shell casings scattered across Hamilton’s ruined beige carpet as Hamilton forced his gaze up, locking eyes with The Man.

This carpet’s about to get a lot worse, Hamilton thought as he took a slow, shuddering breath, steadying the hand that held his own pistol.

Because I still have one more to kill.