Bribes. Lots of them.
For weeks, Jared had suspected something wasn’t right, but he hadn’t expected this. The president of Pharmatech himself had authorized multiple payments that ultimately benefited a high-ranking officer in the Food and Drug Administration. Sure, the money had been funneled through real estate transactions and third-party companies, but Jared had spent enough time studying forensic accounting to follow a money trail. And this trail left no doubt. His company was paying someone off to push drugs onto the market years ahead of schedule and ultimately bypassing the clinical testing and safeguards designed to protect the public.
What should he do with this newfound information? How did one go about telling the world that the company claiming to be at the forefront of a cure for the coronavirus was only interested in profit?
Palms sweating, Jared pulled up his internet browser and opened the FBI’s website. A quick scan gave him the contact information he needed. He typed a brief email and attached the documentation he had compiled. He inhaled sharply and clicked send. His breath shuddered out. There was no turning back now.
The thought had barely formed when his office door opened. Two security officers, a man and a woman, rushed in. Jared’s heart bounced into his throat. Why was security here? Did they already know what he had done?
Before Jared could close the financial files, the woman stepped forward, grabbed the back of his office chair, and rolled him away from his desk. Her gaze landed on his computer screen. “It appears we have a problem.”
The man’s lips curved. “Good thing we know how to deal with problems.”
A brilliant mind. That was what Lacey’s biology professor labeled her shortly before she graduated college at the tender age of nineteen. Four years of medical school, four years of residency, two years as an infectious disease doctor. None of her previous experiences had prepared her for the evil now facing her.
Lacey might have overlooked the increasing number of death certificates with COVID-19 on them, deaths not caused by the novel virus, but she couldn’t stand by while doctors used her patients as guinea pigs to test new drugs, drugs that under normal circumstances would never be cleared for human testing.
A man cried out from room 316. Hallucinations again. Lacey’s chest tightened. So did her fists. She had already seen three other patients go down this road. The new drug helped the patients breathe easier, but within hours the side effects set in. She could treat the water retention with a diuretic, but nothing she did could give her patients relief from the delusions or the strain on their hearts. Lacey had to do something. She had to let the public know the truth. Her patients were dying, but it wasn’t the coronavirus killing them.
Ace was a dead man, and he had the death certificate to prove it. As a member of a secret government organization designed to support and protect intelligence officers around the world, Ace had spent more than twenty years living in the shadows.
With travel currently limited, his workload had reduced to a crawl because of the worldwide pandemic. At least it had until this week when he intercepted a tip through the FBI website. Unfortunately, his informant hadn’t been heard from since.
His wife Kristi walked into their kitchen where Ace sat with his laptop. “Any luck finding Jared Bernard?”
“Nothing.” Ace’s gut twisted, and he faced the hard truth. “I’m afraid we may be too late to help him. No one has seen him since he sent that email.”
“You think they killed him.” It wasn’t a question.
He nodded, grateful that his wife’s work as the guardian’s chief financial analyst allowed them to speak freely about classified information. “Did you find anything new in Pharmatech’s financials?”
“Yes, but unfortunately the files our whistleblower sent aren’t anywhere to be found. It looks like someone scrubbed their records.”
“Which means we need someone else to corroborate Jared’s story,” Ace said.
“I’m afraid so.”
An alert popped up on Ace’s screen. He opened the message, and new hope rose within him along with a sense of urgency. “We have another tip. This one is from a doctor in Chicago.”
Kristi stepped behind him, so she could read his screen. “Does she work for Pharmatech?”
“No, but she claims to have proof that the Pharmatech drugs being tested at her hospital are killing patients.”
“If Pharmatech finds out she filed that report…”
“…she’s a dead woman,” Ace finished for her. “Looks like I’m going to Chicago.”
Life or death. Lacey had faced both for sixteen hours a day for months now, but today it wasn’t her patients’ well-being in question. It was hers.
Since the moment she sent her findings to the FBI, paranoia had become her constant companion. Everywhere she looked, she imagined someone staring at her or monitoring her emails and text messages. Not that those would be of any interest. The only people who communicated with her were other medical professionals and her roommate, Bridgette.
Lacey added her last notes to a patient’s chart and collected her purse. Time to go home.
Down the hall, a shadow crossed into view and quickly vanished. Lacey’s chest tightened, and her heartbeat quickened.
It was nothing, she assured herself. Probably just a nurse checking on a patient. She swiped her access card on the electronic keypad to open the stairwell door.
Once inside, she jogged down the first flight of stairs. She was a few steps past the second floor when a door opened overhead. A ripple of unease tremored through her.
Lacey increased her pace, not slowing until she burst outside. She took a quick glance around, barely registering the blur of movement flying at her.
She gasped as a man tackled her to the ground, and a gunshot punctuated the air. Bits of concrete rained down.
Lacey’s attacker scrambled to his feet and pulled her behind a pillar. “Stay down. I’m here to help.”
The calm, confident voice contradicted the man’s actions of only moments ago.
Had someone really shot at her? Had this man just saved her life? She peered around the concrete column, only to be jerked back as another gunshot sounded.
“Are you trying to get killed?”
Lacey’s body trembled, and she couldn’t manage a response.
“If you want to live, you need to do exactly what I say.”
“Who are you?” Lacey asked.
“I’m Ghost. Like I said, I’m here to help.”
“First, I’m going to get you out of here. After that, you have a choice to make.” Ghost’s green eyes locked with hers. “Sometimes if you want to live, first you have to die.”