Home > The Speed of Sound (Speed of Sound Thrillers #1)(7)

The Speed of Sound (Speed of Sound Thrillers #1)(7)
Author: Eric Bernt

“Every night.”

“Keep doing it.” She put her hand on his shoulder and moved on, only to stop suddenly when she heard Eddie repeating their entire conversation. His imitation was monotone and his cadence mechanical, but his inflection was perfect.

“Won’t happen again. You’re goddamn right it won’t. I should fire your ass right now. You know I need this job. Then don’t be such a numbskull. I know you were only trying to be friendly, but just keep your mouth shut, okay? How’s Marla doing? Shitty. I don’t know what’s harder for her, the nausea or going bald. Nausea, women know how to deal with. It’s in our childbearing genes. But going bald is a whole other thing. You telling her she looks beautiful? Every night. Keep doing it.”

Never looking up, he focused on his meal ratings without expression. His scale was one to five. Ida moved to him, checking to see that the tissue was still stuck in his ears. “No way.”

Eddie still did not look up. “What are you saying ‘no way’ in reference to, Ida?”

“Even with cotton in your ears, you can still hear like that?”

“It’s not cotton. It’s tissue paper.”

She stifled her smile. “Eddie, just because you can hear something does not mean you should repeat it.”

Now he looked up. “What does it mean?”

She paused, trying to use just the right words. “I mean, when you hear something, you need to use your best judgment as to whether or not you should repeat it.”

“What is my best judgment?”

“It’s when you consider the feelings of other people before you just go and repeat what they say.”

“I am not good at understanding the feelings of other people. I have considerable trouble with my own feelings.”

“People don’t like it when you eavesdrop on them, Eddie. You can understand that, can’t you?”

“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. I just hear. Everything. I can’t help it.”

“You didn’t have to say anything, though, did you?” She searched his face, studying his reaction, as he finally shook his head no. “So next time, just keep your mouth shut, and no one will be the wiser.” She winked at him.

He attempted to wink back, then took a sip of his fruit punch and cringed. “Ick. Too watery.” He rated the beverage a three. The meat loaf had already been scored a five, which upped the item’s average for the year to 4.27, he calculated in his head. It also explained why he finished the entrée so quickly. But the chocolate-chip-cookie dessert was not up to par, and was only given a two. Eddie didn’t eat anything rated less than a three, so he spit out the bite of cookie, carried his tray to the “Dirty Dishes Here” sign, and placed it on a conveyer belt beneath it. He counted steps as he returned to his room. It was 113 steps, which was a prime number, and he liked that.


Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC, May 21, 9:32 p.m.

It had already been a fourteen-hour day. Most of Corbin Davis’s staff looked exhausted, even his workaholic chief of staff, but the camera-ready senator from Indiana looked like he had just stepped out of the shower. He had used his good looks to marry into money, which served to finance two unsuccessful congressional bids, before he finally succeeded by outspending his opponent four to one. It was clear to all who worked for him that Corbin wouldn’t slow down until he got the Big Job. And if he did get it, that would be very good for all of them, which was why his six key staffers worked so tirelessly day in and day out. Like tonight.

Empty sandwich wrappers and Styrofoam cups littered the coffee table in his office. The final item on the meeting’s agenda was the following day’s schedule, which always started with a breakfast when he was in DC.

The senator thought the name sounded familiar, but he couldn’t remember exactly why. “Tomorrow’s breakfast. Bob Stenson. American Heritage Foundation.”

“They gave us fifty grand last week. Unsolicited.”

“What did they ask for?”


“That’s it?”

“I’m sure you’ll find out more tomorrow.”

“What do we know about them?”

“Not much,” his chief of staff answered somewhat uncomfortably.

“Well, who are they?”

“We’re not sure, exactly.”

“Come on.” The senator was certain he was being kidded.

“I’m serious.” The chief of staff glanced to the youngest member of their team, a twentysomething genius whom they relied on for all their due diligence and data gathering.

The young staffer handed several spreadsheets to his bosses so that they could read the information along with him. “They’re easily the most secretive group I’ve ever looked into. Other than a post office box and a phone number that goes straight to voicemail, there’s no other information available about them.”

The senator didn’t believe it. “How is that possible?”

The twenty-five-year-old MIT grad shook his head. “I’m still trying to figure it out.”

“What about the guy I’m meeting with, Stenson?”

The young staffer read the little he had gleaned. “Graduated UVA with honors, 1976, then went straight into the CIA. Had a promising career as a field agent until he was hired by the American Heritage Foundation in 1988, where he’s worked ever since.”

“That’s it? You couldn’t find anything for the last twenty-nine years?”

“That’s it.”

Corbin shook his head. “I thought you could find anything about anyone.” He glanced to his chief of staff, who was going to hear about this later.

“I did, too, which is why I kept digging.” The young staffer turned to his immediate superior, clearly preferring his boss to reveal his findings to the big boss.

The senator grew impatient. “Well?”

His chief of staff spoke methodically, as if he, too, was struggling to wrap his head around what he was about to say. “As best as we’ve been able to determine, and I’ve confirmed this with every resource at our disposal, the American Heritage Foundation has backed thirty-seven candidates over the last twenty years.”

The senator interjected, “So?”

His chief of staff paused. “Every candidate they’ve ever supported has been elected.”

Corbin Davis chortled, then realized his number one was serious. “Every one?”

“Every one. They’re thirty-seven for thirty-seven.” The room went quiet as the chief of staff handed the senator the list. There were governors, senators, congressmen, and every president for the last twenty years except one.

“This can’t be right.”

“That’s what I thought,” answered his chief of staff. “That’s why our young friend hasn’t slept in three days.”

He motioned to the recent MIT grad, who yawned as he spoke. “I triple-checked every candidate. It shouldn’t be possible. I especially don’t know how they’ve kept such a low profile, but somehow they’re managing to excise any retrievable data about them.”

Senator Davis looked out the window at the lights of the nation’s capital. “Tomorrow’s starting to look like it’s going to be a rather interesting day, after all.”


Harmony House, Woodbury, New Jersey, May 22, 5:30 a.m.

Eddie began his Monday the way he began every morning. With the birds. A red-throated loon and a horned grebe. He then showered for exactly two minutes and twenty-four seconds after the water reached the proper temperature of eighty-eight degrees Fahrenheit, which he measured with a digital thermometer. Two minutes and twenty-four seconds was an ideal time for a personal task, in Eddie’s mind, because it was one hundred and forty-four seconds, which was twelve squared. It was also two to the fourth times three squared. This was all very reassuring, so two minutes and twenty-four seconds became the designated time for all his personal tasks. Shaving with his self-cleaning Braun electric razor was accomplished in this time. So was brushing his teeth with his Sonicare electric toothbrush, which had bristles that oscillated thirty thousand times per minute. Given that the average person manually brushed three hundred times per minute, Eddie figured the device saved him nearly three hours and fifty-seven minutes every day compared to doing it by hand. This was good, because brushing his teeth for nearly four hours twice a day wouldn’t leave much time for anything else, and that would be bad.

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