5: The First Building

Begin with Chapter 1: The Beginning

“A child is running your country,” LJ said. 

“In more ways than one,” Mia agreed. “He has no intellectual grasp on most of the issues a president has to manage. Every time he opens his mouth it’s like it’s the first time he’s thought about the issue at hand. One would think that his intellectual childishness would be dangerous for the country, but I think the real danger is the emotional childishness you’re talking about.” 

LJ chuckled “I’m not so sure of that. If the guy in charge can’t figure out what’s going on, then how can you expect him to make wise decisions?” 

“That’s why presidents are surrounded by advisors. They can’t know everything about everything. But they need to have enough self-awareness to realize what they don’t know, and enough self-confidence to take someone else’s advice. This guy thinks he’s the smartest person in every room, but he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. I used to think that there’s nothing worse than a little bit of knowledge, but it turns out I was wrong. It’s even worse to have a little bit of knowledge, but think you have it all. And I suspect that’s a personality trait that exhibited itself early in his life.” 

“That’s part of what we’ve capitalized on all of these years.” 

“What happened after Bulgaria?”

“He almost broke free. His unwillingness to invest in Bulgaria after sustaining losses worried the Russians. And although he enjoyed meeting with various Soviet officials, every time someone tried to discuss anything of substance with him, he brushed them off and redirected the conversation to the trappings of power. He wanted to be close to power, but had no idea how to capitalize off of it. The officials most familiar with him reported that he seemed to have no basic understanding of deal making, and no vision beyond that which appeared right in front of his face.” 

LJ squirmed in his chair, and tried to lift his legs. The rope restrained them, and he grimaced as it burned against his thigh. “Can we get rid of these ropes? I’m not going anywhere.” 

“Presumptuous of you to believe that you deserve such an accommodation. You seem to be doing just fine with the ropes as they are.” 

LJ nodded his head as if he knew he had to accept the inevitable. 

“Keep talking,” Mia said. “You said he almost broke free. Why didn’t he?”

LJ sighed. “The initial returns from Bulgaria, and breaking away when the returns stopped coming gave him some confidence. He started to believe he had basic business sense. He bragged to his Soviet connections that the Soviets should be smart like him and get out of Bulgaria. With a little bit of business confidence, he decided to take on New York City. He’d made some money leaching off of his grandmother’s accomplishments. He used some of her money to buy some rental housing on Long Island. He implemented some racist housing practices, shortchanged on repairs, and began to develop the bombast that now composes the largest part of his personality. He learned from one of his attorneys at the time that if someone attacks you the last thing you should do is defend yourself. Instead, go on the attack. Make their claims seem ridiculous, make them seem dishonest and corrupt, and paint yourself as the victim.”

“He hasn’t strayed very far from that philosophy. Only the stakes have changed. The strategy is the same.” 

“That’s right,” LJ said. “He spent a couple of years as a racist, higher-end slumlord, which provided enough of a return that he felt ready to take on Manhattan. But the Manhattan real estate game was much different than what he found out on Long Island. Most of the established players laughed at him. They’d been in the game for years, and had developed sorts of standard practices and acceptable behavior. All of them looked down upon the type of real estate he practiced. They knew he was a shyster, and they wanted nothing to do with him. He was backed into a corner since no one would deal with him, which meant he had no choice but to find another way in. He needed to find a way to make a huge return on investment, which meant either finding a diamond in the rough, cutting corners during construction, or cheating. It’s not tough to figure out what he decided to do.” LJ paused, as if waiting for Mia to guess. 

“Well, I’m sure he tells the story as if he found a diamond in the rough, but I bet that’s not what happened. And he wouldn’t want to cut corners during construction because if anyone found out about that it’d be the end of him. Tenants don’t want to discover they’re living in a place built in a sub-par manner. So that leaves cheating, which seems like the most obvious choice for him and his personality anyway. He thinks rules don’t apply to him though, so he doesn’t even see it as cheating.”

“Of course not,” LJ said. “But that’s exactly what he did. He found a rundown property in Manhattan. Right in Midtown. Built in the 1920s, before the Crash. Beautiful building on the outside, and for decades the rich and famous of New York clamored to live in the upper floors, while the rest of the building held apartments suitable for the rich, but not famous. But things took a downturn at the end of the fifties, and twenty years later many of the upper floors were empty, and rents throughout the rest of the building hadn’t increased in a decade because the building hadn’t been maintained. A group of developers considered tearing it down and replacing it with a modern high rise, but funding fell through. He saw an opportunity. Tearing it down and rebuilding is more than he can finance himself, but if he can cut labor costs, then he can spend what needs to be spent on material to make the place nice, but also make a good profit. Even more important than that though, is that he could then tout his business acumen. Only he could come in and transform a property from a dilapidated has-been of a building, into a premier luxury property. He knew one rousing success in a place like Manhattan would put him on the map.”

“And since no one wanted to work with him, he had to go elsewhere for support?” Mia asked.

“Exactly. Around the same time, he’d heard a story from his wife – they were living in Manhattan, and had just had two kids – about a man trying to setup an emigration operation in Bulgaria. The economic conditions there had deteriorated quickly for the same reason they did in Poland. They got too far into debt, which slowed growth. It wasn’t long before basic consumer goods became scarce. So people wanted out. Especially young people. His wife’s brother came to America, and when he mentioned how many other young men wanted to come, especially skilled laborers, your president saw his opening. He leaned on some of his Soviet contacts, and arranged for hundreds of young Bulgarian men to make their way to New York. They emigrated to Canada, came into the U.S. with fake paperwork provided by Canadian contacts, and just never left. By the time he had arranged the financing to buy the apartment building, he had a work force of hundreds of illegal Bulgarians who wanted nothing more than to work and build a new life. He didn’t have to worry about paying union wages, or providing work place protections, or insurance or anything. He bribed a few city officials, found a few union workers who agreed to supplement his work force for supplemental wages on top of their union wages so no one asked too many questions, and ended up saving millions of dollars. The work came in on time and under budget, and people saw him as a sort of real estate savior who had managed to prevent a classic building from being destroyed, while making a healthy profit for him. What’s not to love?”

“Collusion with Soviets, perhaps?” Mia suggested. 

“Of course, but no one knew about that. Or at least no one was talking about that. There’s no way he could operate a project that large without a fair number of people realizing that the workers were illegal. But those who knew decided to keep their mouths shut. Either because they were paid off, or because they saw an opening that would allow them to have a piece of his success for themselves.”

“What happened after that?” Mia asked. “Is that what made him in New York?” 

“To an extent,” LJ said. “He made sure that everyone knew that he made a huge profit, and saved the building. It was the first time he put his name on the front of the building, so he got some publicity from that. But the reviews for the building were horrendous. Architecture critics tore it to shreds, and the New York Times said that an overgrown empty lot would look better in the middle of Midtown than his new building. He was furious. He’d expected the entire city to celebrate the ribbon cutting. The governor and the mayor came. But instead of treating him like a hero for saving an important building, the rest of Manhattan mocked him because the building looked so gaudy that they couldn’t imagine its appeal. It looked like something out of a Hollywood embellishment of the City rather than something that really existed and intended to be viewed seriously.” 

“So he was still an outsider,” Mia said. 

“Yes. And that drove him crazy. With a narcissistic ego like his, the most important thing to him is to be thought of as the best. The most well-respected, the most well-liked, the richest, the most handsome, the most sexually virile. And although he didn’t experience that from much of the City after that first building, the Soviets picked up the slack. Two weeks after the ribbon cutting Brezhnev sent a representative to New York to invite him to Moscow to meet. Brezhnev had seen a story in the Times about the building. He was an architecture buff, and when he discovered that the KGB had a file on your future president, he wanted to talk with him. For whatever reason, he refused to go to Moscow. He said he’d meet Brezhnev, but the meeting had to take place somewhere in Europe. Brezhnev chuckled at the self-importance of the man. He didn’t even respect him enough to become angry. Brezhnev knew what your president didn’t know: his refusal to meet Brezhnev in Moscow didn’t help him assert power, and wasn’t any sort of disrespect. Brezhnev put it like this, ‘He’s the child, and I’m the parent, and he thinks he hurts me with his punches, while I hide my face so he doesn’t see me laughing at him.’” 

“Did they meet?” Mia asked. “What was the purpose of the meeting?”

“They met in Bern in 1981. Brezhnev wanted to meet him to discuss the architecture of the building. He’d transformed it from this sort of neo-classical limestone exterior to something that looked almost gold leaf. It’s the sort of over the top tackiness that only a dictator or a conman would embrace.” 

“Did he think Brezhnev had ulterior motives? Was he expecting more?”

“Oh, there was more,” LJ said. “With the Soviets and the Russians, there’s always more. Brezhnev was known for self-congratulation. He awarded more than 100 military medals to himself, and embellished his World War II service in his memoirs so that it appeared that the Soviet Union would have lost the war without him. Brezhnev talked about his accomplishments while meeting with him, and he could only respond with lies about how everyone loved his new building. Brezhnev knew he was lying. He’d read the reviews in the Times and other places. But he let the lies stand. Instead of challenging him on the lies, Brezhnev decided to use the lies against him. Brezhnev told him that he wished him continued success, and hoped that one day he could come to Poland or East Germany or another country and accomplish the same feat. Brezhnev watched as he perked up, stuck out his chest, and practically strutted around the room. Brezhnev fed his ego for two hours, listed project after project for which he said the future president would be perfect. Brezhnev suggested enough projects to keep him busy for a century. But then, knowing full well how much the public had mocked his building in New York, and the man who built it, Brezhnev brought the man back to earth. ‘We all know that you’re too busy to come work with us though.’ He couldn’t stand up and exclaim, ‘I’ve got nothing else going on,’ or berate Brezhnev for mocking him. Instead, he had no choice but to play along and ignore the fact that they both knew that despite his best efforts, he remained a marginal player in New York business.” 

The wound to his pride, and the embarrassment of the perceived mocking at the hands of Brezhnev, hasn’t left the man to this day 

Chapter 3: Montreal

Check back Monday, April 15 for the next chapter of Kompromised.

Brett Baker is the author of The Death Market, and the first two books in the Mia Mathis series, Must Come Down and For the Trees. You can purchase all three here. 

4: Montreal

Begin with Chapter 1: The Beginning

Mia knew that LJ’s assessment of the situation was correct. She had no choice but to trust him until she could evaluate whether he told the truth or not. If knowledge of the conspiracy to groom a U.S. citizen to become president of the United States remained within a small group as LJ claimed, then Mia knew that she wouldn’t be able to corroborate much of what he said. But after years of interrogating criminals in both formal and informal surroundings, Mia had developed a knack for deciphering truth from fiction. If she talked to LJ long enough, he’d reveal whether he told the truth or lied. The truth is easy to tell. A lie takes work. Even the best liars can only maintain the fiction for a period of time. And if Mia remained consistent in her threats to LJ she knew that he’d break down sooner or later and reveal the truth. 

“You’re younger than me,” Mia said. “How do you know this has been going on my entire life?”

“History doesn’t begin when we’re born, Mia. Don’t be ridiculous.” 

“Of course not. But I also know that if such an operation exists, they’d have no reason to reveal its history to some low-level computer geek. I can’t believe they’d think that you needed to know the entire history of a sensitive intelligence operation in order to create some targeted Facebook ads. If so few people know the history of this thing, why are you one of them?”

“Our most recent mission isn’t the only mission we’ve undertaken as part of this operation. It’s the one for which we’ve become best known, and it’s the biggest mission we’ve completed, but we’ve been working on this for years. I haven’t been here since the beginning, but I’ve worked with people who have been here since the beginning, and those people talk. And I don’t mean gossip. If the mission were just manipulating the American people, then you’re right, we could do that without knowing the past. But until this campaign for president began, we were manipulating this particular man, and we all needed to know the history to do our jobs effectively.” 

“Then tell me everything,” Mia said. “And act like your life depends on it, because it does.” 

“So does yours,” LJ said. “Your way of life, if not your actual life. Regardless of how bad you think it could get with this man in office, rest assured, it will be even worse. You’re only seeing the beginning. If all parties follow through with the plan, then what you’re experiencing today is nothing less than the beginning of the end.” 

“Enough with the frightening platitudes. I want specifics, starting at the beginning.”

“Montreal, 1976. That’s when it began. At the Summer Olympics. The Soviets were set to host the 1980 Olympics, and in preparation they sent a contingent of spies to Montreal. Hundreds of them. Some gleaned information about how the Games were planned, some attached themselves to athletes to monitor anti-Soviet sentiment, some monitored Soviet athletes to make sure none of them considered defecting. And one contingent cozied up to the hedonistic businessmen who appear at any large event. Olympics, World Cups, political conventions, even religious conferences. All events like that attract wealthy men interested in meeting women from around the world. Your president was one of those men at the 1976 Olympics. And one of the spies that worked for the Soviets came from Bulgaria, which, as you know, fell under Soviet influence in those days. She’d been sent to Montreal two years before to improve her English for the sole purpose of interacting with a wealthy American without needing a translator.” 

Mia interrupted LJ. “Why send someone who didn’t know English? The Soviets were well known for having spies with incredible language abilities. I doubt she cleaned up her English to the extent of other spies in just two years studying in Montreal, a place that speaks primarily French.” 

“You’re talking about spies who tried to pass as Americans. In order to pass as American they had to speak with no accent. That wasn’t the goal for the women sent to Montreal. Their accent would be part of the appeal to American businessmen. Their accents made them exotic. So they didn’t have to speak without an accent, but they did have to hold their own in a conversation, and obtain and relay a variety of information about the men they met.” 

“What kind of information?” Mia asked. “What was the point?”

“They had no specific plan at the time. The Soviet economy grew at a fast pace up until 1973, when stagnation began. In the early 1970s, Poland had advocated for loans from the United States in order to ramp up industrial production. Their economy grew for the first few years of the decade, and the Soviets hoped that attracting American investment would help them grow their industrial sector, also. But while most American businessmen could get away with investing in Poland, since Americans would view such a move as countering Soviet influence, any good American who dared to send money to the Soviet Union would immediately come under scrutiny, and be viewed as untrustworthy. The Soviets hoped that if they could find non-economic ways to appeal to these businessmen, they could secure the investment they wanted.” 

“They were pimps,” Mia said. “It’s that simple?”

“How so?”

“They wanted money, so they offered these women in the hopes they would separate the johns from their money.” 

“I think it was a bit more complicated than that,” LJ said. “They’d never get enough investment just by giving these men sex. The women just gave them a foot in the door. The Soviets knew they were at a disadvantage simply because of the Cold War propaganda battle between the two countries. They planned to use spies—in both sexual and non-sexual ways—to even the playing field.” 

“And this guy fell for it?”

“Hook, line, and sinker, as you say.” 

“How do we know this isn’t just revisionist history?” Mia asked. “Your country isn’t well known for telling the truth.” 

“Either is your president.” Mia chuckled and nodded, but said nothing. “I’ve seen the file from back then. His is just one of hundreds from that time. Nothing special, but mixed up in everything from day one.” 

“What does that mean? ‘Mixed up in everything.’” 

“He bought into it right away.” 

“He invested?”

“No, he didn’t literally buy into it right away. He just reveled in the attention. After eight days in Montreal with him, the spy reported back to Moscow that she could probably marry him by the end of the year. She wasn’t far off. They married the next year. By that time, he had invested real money. Not in the Soviet Union, but in Bulgaria. The Soviets would provide a healthy, false return in order to gain a larger investment. That return is how he got started in New York real estate. He bought a stake in an old hotel, remodeled it, and then sold it for a profit. So over a number of years he made good money from that first false return, but ended up investing more money, and then started losing, so he pulled out. That’s one thing that impressed us. He recognized that investing in Bulgaria didn’t make sense and he pulled his money out as soon as he started losing. Most investors just threw good money after bad.” 

“What happened when he pulled his money out? Did you lose him?” 

“No. The only thing guys like him respond to more than money is power. That’s really what they’re after. The money, the women, the attention. It’s all toward the same goal: power. Feeling important. They’re making up for some part of their soul that was damaged during childhood. He refused to invest additional funds, but his father-in-law served as chairman of the local party in Bulgaria. He started meeting the men who ran Bulgarian politics, most of whom had close ties to Moscow. By 1980 he’d already met with half-a-dozen officials from Moscow in various cities across Europe.” 

“Did he know he was being groomed?”

“I don’t think they knew he was being groomed at that point. I suppose they knew they’d use him for something, but his profile wasn’t large enough to think about the White House yet. They saw him as someone who could provide a backchannel to Washington. Although there are a series of memos in his file that express concern over his grasp on reality. Even back then he had so much trouble with the truth that our people didn’t know if he intentionally mislead us, or if he perpetually mislead himself. He seems to live in a reality entirely of his own making. He’s the only inhabitant, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about what’s going on. He can ignore everything else and convince himself that he’s the only one who sees the truth. Some of our most experienced agents had never seen anything like it.” 

“His personality was in place back then,” Mia observed. 

“Very much so,” LJ said. “Personality disorders of such magnitude don’t develop overnight, and they don’t manifest later in life. They’re implanted and exhibited during adolescence and young adulthood. Many people afflicted with such shortcomings are held back by them, and never progress from dominating the conversation at a local saloon, or impressing the other meatheads they work with. But this guy had a leg up. His grandmother was tough and smart, and built a business. Her son managed to avoid screwing it up completely, which left some resources for the third generation – your president – to combine his flawed personality and questionable ethics to transform the company. But don’t misunderstand me. No matter his level of success, he remains the same damaged, emotionally defective intellectual lightweight that his upbringing created.”

“Which is why he’s so dangerous,” Mia said.   

Chapter 3: The Suitcase

Chapter 5: The First Building

Check back Monday, April 8 for the next chapter of Kompromised.

Brett Baker is the author of The Death Market, and the first two books in the Mia Mathis series, Must Come Down and For the Trees. You can purchase all three here. 

3: The Suitcase

Begin with Chapter 1: “The Beginning”

The denseness of the tall trees of the Kurapaty forest ensures that the forest floor remains dark every evening. Neither surrounding light pollution from the growing development that encircles the forest, nor moonlight can illuminate the surface. 

Had he been conscious, LJ either would have cursed the darkness for what he couldn’t see, or praised it for preventing him from seeing anything. The physical darkness of the forest was eclipsed by the spiritual darkness resulting from the atrocities committed there. If LJ knew where he was, no amount of light would alleviate terror of being alone in such a place during the middle of the night. However, the goosebumps on his skin, and the waves of nervous electricity that ran the length of his spine would remind him that he wasn’t alone at all. 

LJ didn’t realize how lucky he was that he remained unconscious while Mia was gone. His head tilted forward, his chin reached for the ground, free from wild boar tooth marks. A number of bugs crawled on his cheeks and his forehead, but a fresh set of tracks ten feet away implied that he’d encountered wildlife other than bugs. 

Mia parked a quarter-mile down the road from where she immured LJ. If anyone saw her car parked on the side of the road, she wanted to make sure they had to walk some distance before finding her. After leaving the Roost she drove to the Monastyrski Hotel, three blocks north. She parked in the circle drive, and went into the lobby. Just inside the sliding glass doors, three carts full of luggage waited for someone to deliver them. She grabbed the largest suitcase on the cart, hustled outside, and put it in the trunk. Driving off without looking back, she turned right, then left, and pulled into an alley. Mia emptied the contents of the suitcase into a garbage bag she took from the Roost, drove back to the hotel, and left the bag in the circle drive. 

After checking on LJ, she put the suitcase flat on the ground, opened it, and began digging. He didn’t move as she freed him from his earthen restraint. Other than a layer of dark clay that covered him from the neck down he appeared no worse for the wear. His slight size made it easy to fit him into the suitcase, although with his knees to his chest, and his back curved, he’d be sore when he got out. It wouldn’t matter that he fit in the suitcase if she couldn’t get it to zip though. She pulled the zipper as far as it would go, but ended up sitting on top of the suitcase so LJ’s shoulder folded into his body, which let her pull the zipper all the way around. After filling the hole, Mia dragged the suitcase back to the car, and put it in the backseat so she could hear LJ if he regained consciousness. 

She parked near the T-intersection, did her best to take the suitcase out of the backseat without appearing to exert herself too much, and rolled it behind her as she walked toward the apartment building. Just in front of the building, a man who smelled like vodka and had an unkempt beard, and an overcoat with a torn sleeve, smiled at her, and grabbed her hand. She couldn’t make out the Belarusian words that he slurred, but he let go of her hand, and grabbed the handle on top of the suitcase and motioned toward the apartment building. As Mia reached into her pocket and grabbed a 10 ruble note to give him, she told him that she didn’t need any help, and wished him a good night. He smiled again, but this time at the money instead of Mia. 

In the back alley, she hid the suitcase on the far side of the five-foot wall, opened the door, and pulled the suitcase into the Roost. For the first time in the history of The Summit, a non-agent entered a Roost. 

“LJ! Are you awake in there?” Mia asked. No response. “Don’t worry. You’re not dead. I know it’s dark inside there, and you may be so uncomfortable that you wish you were dead, but you’re not dead. Do you want me to let you out?” 

When Mia heard nothing from inside the suitcase, she fell to her knees and put her ear to the suitcase. LJ seemed to still be fast asleep. Or so Mia hoped. If he died in the suitcase, Mia knew she’d feel overwhelmed with disappointment at not discovering LJ’s secrets. 

She unzipped the suitcase as fast as she could, in the hope that she’d get it open and see LJ before he understood where he was, if he didn’t already. He’d been so cramped in the suitcase that she didn’t think he’d be in any condition to fight, and he didn’t seem very fearsome to begin with, but she didn’t want to take any chances. With the suitcase all the way open, she could see his eyes were still closed, but his chest moved up and down with slight breaths. She reached toward his shoulder to shake him, but before she could touch him, he shot up from the suitcase, while swinging his left hand toward her face. His silent stillness had deceived Mia, so she’d let her guard down just enough so that the punch—more like a slap, really—landed next to her left eye, and knocked her to the side for just a second before she could get her hands on the ground to break her fall.

She leapt at LJ, whose numb legs left him unable to avoid Mia. Instead he collapsed to the ground, his right foot caught in the strap on the inside of the suitcase. 

“That’s not how this is going to go,” Mia said as she grabbed LJ by the shoulders and flipped him on to his stomach. She grabbed his wrists with her hands and pulled them behind him, exerting intense pressure on his shoulders, forcing him to cry out in pain. “Shut your mouth. Gollyfuck you need to be quiet or you’ll leave me no choice but to silence you forever.” She eased the pressure with which she forced his arms back. “I admire your moxie, but now’s not the time. I’m going to pick you up, and you’re going to sit in this chair and not try anything else.” 

Mia didn’t wait for an answer, and instead pulled back and up on LJ’s arms so that he had no choice but to get to his feet. He stumbled backward, his legs still asleep, Mia pulling him before he could gain his balance. She guided him to the wooden chair she’d setup in the middle of the kitchen before she left the Roost, and slid his hands into the rope restraints she’d prepared. A quick pull of each rope tightened the knot around his wrists. She slipped the other set of ropes over his feet, and pulled them snug against his ankles. She then looped one rope on of his thighs, and then the other, before connecting one end of the rope to the heavy couch ten feet away in the living room, and the other end to the refrigerator door. Even if LJ got free of the wrist and ankle restraints, the rope connected to his thighs would prevent him from running off. 

“You know, LJ, as I was driving here, I hoped that you’d have a moment of clarity and decide to cooperate with me. I mean, I am sparing your life because you told me that you knew some important information. And since I’m sparing your life I thought you might want to tell me everything you know, and you could work with me instead of against me. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. I wish I understood why people like you always have to do things the difficult way rather than just cooperating. I’ve proven that I’m superior to you, so maybe it’s time to just accept that, and make things easy on both of us.” 

Mia opened a drawer in the kitchen, grabbed a spoon, walked over to LJ, and stood without saying anything. She smiled at him, and then pressed the tip of the spoon against his eyelid, pushing just hard enough to feel it press between the firm gelatin of his eyeball, and the hard bone of his eye socket. 

“One last chance, LJ. If you admit right now that you have nothing to tell me, then I’ll let you go. I’ll drive you to the outskirts of Minsk, and you can get out and be on your way. But if you maintain that you have the information you claim, and you don’t provide it, I’m going to use this spoon to carve your eyes out of your head. It’s not an easy task, but I once watched an organized crime boss in Barcelona do it to one of his underlings who’d been disloyal. You’ve never heard a human cry out in pain until you’ve heard him lose an eye. I’ve got to be careful though. I think there’s a major artery back there. It’d be a shame if I took out your eyes and then let you bleed to death. It’s not like you’d know where to go for help, right?” Mia traced the perimeter of LJ’s eye with the spoon, and then said, “So what’s it going to be?” 

“You tell me,” LJ said. “Killing me might make you feel better, but you’d be letting your country down.” 

“Why should I believe you?” Mia asked. “You said you wanted to tell me all about the president, but then you tried to attack me. That doesn’t make sense. How do I know that you’re not just trying to save yourself?”

“How do I know that you’re not just going to kill me after you’re done with me? You don’t want me to know where we are. I’m here now, but it seems like there’s a good chance this is the end of the line for me. If I’m going to die either way, then why not make things difficult for you? Why tell you anything that’s true?”

“You’re not helping your case here, LJ. Are you trying to convince me to kill you, because that’s what I feel like doing right now.” 

“Of course not, Mia. It’s about trust. If you want to know the truth, you have to trust me. If I want to live another day, I have to trust you. So let’s agree to trust, and see where it gets us.” 

“I intended to trust you when I opened that suitcase and you punched me in the head.” 

“But you didn’t kill me in that instant,” LJ said. “That tells me that you’re disciplined, restrained, cautious. And you know that I might have something you want.” 

Mia walked away from LJ and paced around the living room three times without saying anything. Her mind raced with the possibilities of how her interrogation of LJ and its aftermath might unfold, but despite her best analysis, she knew that the only way to know what might happen is to wait and see. 

She walked back over to LJ, stood in front of him, and said, “Convince me you know anything.”

“Your president was elected with help from Russia.” 

“That’s common knowledge,” Mia said. “You’re going to have to do better than that.” 

“To say that Russia helped him is a bit general. To be specific, a small group of us interfered with the election because that’s what Putin told us to do. Thirteen of us caused the havoc that has consumed your country for the past few years. We stole e-mails and we funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to Trump’s campaign. But most importantly, we created an alternate reality.” LJ took a deep breath and looked to the ceiling, as if contemplating his next sentence. “No, the reality already existed. People in your country have been creating the reality for twenty-five years. We just expanded it, and directed it toward those people most likely to accept it.” 

“What reality?”

“Do you know the biggest lie in America?” Mia shook her head. “The word united. The United States of America. You people aren’t united. Everyone in the world can see that except for you. You’d think that the one thing everyone could agree on is something that has actually happened. But at some point, your country began believing things that didn’t happen, and stopped believing things that did happen. Once we recognized that, it was easy to create a reality that appealed to millions of people in your country, and make that benefit Russia.”

“How does that reality benefit Russia?”

“As you know, for decades America’s president has been confrontational with Russia, and before that, the Soviets. Republican or Democrat, they were all the same. It wouldn’t matter what kind of reality we created if we didn’t find a way to solve the problem of a confrontational president. We waited to capitalize on the reality until we found our guy. This is our guy. It all came together better than we expected.” 

“How’d he become your guy?” 

“The turning point happened not too long ago, but the project began before that.” 

“How long before that?” Mia asked. 

“Mia, you’re an attractive woman. You’ve been blessed with the gift of youthfulness. You look young, but I suspect you’re older than you appear. You’re how old? Mid-30s?”

Mia never responded to any personal inquiry during her work with The Summit. She maintained the same policy in response to LJ’s question. 

“Yes, I’m right, am I not?” LJ nodded as if to confirm his own observation. “Then Russia has been grooming him your entire life.”  

Chapter 2: The Roost

Chapter 4: Montreal

Check back Monday, April 1 for the next chapter of Kompromised.

Brett Baker is the author of The Death Market, and the first two books in the Mia Mathis series, Must Come Down and For the Trees. You can purchase all three here.

2: The Roost

Begin with Chapter 1: “The Beginning”

The Summit operates in secrecy around the world. It has no ties to any government or other organization, and every member, whether an agent or an intelligence officer, denies all knowledge of the organization. That denial is false, but the lack of knowledge about other members of The Summit is true. With few exceptions, agents like Mia Mathis work alone. The prolonged close proximity required for agents to work together is risky and almost always avoided.

However, even though agents avoid working with each other in the field, every agent relies on Polestar, the intelligence arm of The Summit. Polestar maintains files on countless people around the world. Criminals, victims, politicians, soldiers, citizens who live mostly anonymous lives. Polestar gathers copious amounts of information from agents in the field, and then the most talented intelligence operatives in the world assemble that information for distribution back to the agents. The seamless flow of information between the two entities is one of the reasons The Summit operates so effectively, and so secretly. 

One of the main weapons that ensures such vital secrecy is the network of safehouses around the world. Referred to as Roosts, these spaces exist everywhere. Whether Mia’s hustling through the streets of a large city, pursuing a suspect through almost-deserted countryside, or blending in with innocent people living normal lives in suburbia, Mia knows a Roost is never far away.

Roosts have two purposes. One is to provide a sanctuary for agents. Their missions are among the most intense, demanding work any human performs, so having a place that’s closed off from the rest of the world, and safe from detection, is invaluable. Perhaps the only thing more valuable is the communication system found inside every Roost. The information passed between agents and intelligence in The Summit is too sensitive to risk transmitting in the outside world. The Summit’s technical team developed a telephone that provides the most secure communication available on earth, using technology unknown to anyone outside The Summit.

Although the technology is advanced, the delivery system is rudimentary. It requires a specially modified landline phone. The Summit has outfitted every Roost with the required technology, which means that any time an agent wants to talk to The Summit she has to go to a Roost.

As soon as LJ posed the question about the president to Mia, she knew she had to get to a Roost. Because Polestar technology could detect bugs in the apartment through the landline phone, each agent always knew that not only was the phone connection secure, but so was their physical location. Mia knew she’d find no other location in Belarus as secure as a Roost. If she wanted to interrogate LJ, she had no choice but to do it in a Roost. She had to find out what he knew. If he knew things that he claimed to know, then taking him to a Roost was worth the risk. And if he didn’t know anything, she could kill him without worrying about witnesses.

But Roosts were sacred. Mia had never heard of anyone but an agent getting into a Roost anywhere in the world. No one within The Summit had ever dared to question the sanctity of a Roost, and bringing someone from outside The Summit into one is a violation of such a basic tenet that Mia could barely believe she even considered it. But she also knew that no other agent had ever been confronted by anything as grave as LJ’s claim. Even though The Summit encouraged its agents to act independently and exercise their own judgment, Mia knew she had to seek advice from Polestar before doing so.

Since she couldn’t bring LJ to a Roost, and she couldn’t just let him go, she had to find a way to subdue him. The dense darkness of the Kurapaty forest gave her an instant idea, and its sordid, inhumane history made it seem apropos. As so often required on missions for The Summit, Mia devised a plan, considered the risks, evaluated the benefits, and began to put it into action in just a few seconds.

“I’m going to give you one more chance here, LJ. I understood your last sentence, but I also need you to understand what will happen to you if that sentence proves untrue. It will be the end for you, LJ. And it won’t be quick like this. I’ll make it hurt, and I’ll make it last. I’m working on something important here, and if I take my eye off of it to chase down whatever you’re saying, it’s going to fall apart. So if you make me lose this without providing what you say you can offer, it’s going to be bad news for you.”

“I don’t speak lightly,” LJ said. “I understand what I’ve claimed, but I know what I know. If you’d like to know what I know, then you need to stop this nonsense. Dead men don’t talk.”

Mia adjusted her arms around LJ’s neck so that her grip went from one of imminent death to one of suspended consciousness. The change was subtle. LJ might not have even noticed it. But Mia knew that the slight shift of her arm position would save LJ’s life, but also buy her some time. “I’m not killing you. I just need you to go to sleep for a little while. If you wake up, don’t panic. I’ll be back. And if I’m not back someone will rescue you in the morning. But don’t try to get out. It won’t work. All it’ll do is piss me off.”

LJ didn’t believe Mia and took a couple of half-hearted swings to her face. Mia tilted her head to one side and then the other, and the punches had no chance of landing.

Mia felt LJ’s body fall limp as he passed out. She threw him over her shoulder, and carried him twenty meters into the woods, and then twenty meters off the path, into a dense stand of fir trees that Mia knew stood long before Stalin and would outlast her by many years. She rested LJ on the ground, and then found a broad limb and began digging. Mia finished the hard work of digging through the clay loam faster than she expected, especially with an improvised shovel. With the hole deep enough and wide enough, she put LJ in, and backfilled. He ended up buried to his neck, his chin resting three inches off the ground. As long as a wild boar refrained from making an evening snack of his face, Mia expected LJ to remain undisturbed and waiting for her when she returned. She’d learned the art of immurement—enclosing a person in a confined space—during her training for The Summit after high school. She didn’t get to use her skills very often, but appreciated the reliability of the technique every time she’d used it.

She returned to the road, got in the car with which LJ had tried to run her off the road, and sped away. With her car and the three victims down the steep embankment, Mia knew they wouldn’t be found until morning. As long as she didn’t run into any difficulties getting to the Roost and back she’d make it well before sunrise.

In a city as large as Minsk, The Summit made sure to have more than one Roost. Mia had never been to a Roost in the city before, but by calling a designated phone number at Polestar, providing her location, and her particular nonsense passcode – unicorn sovereignty – without saying another word, the voice on the other end of the line gave her the address.

Near the center of the city, just a block away from Amerikanka, the KGB prison, an apartment building that pre-dated the Soviet Union stood sentry at a T-shaped intersection. Yellow paint capped the top three floors of the building, whose first ten floors were painted in bright white paint that chipped to show Soviet red beneath. A two-story archway in the middle of the symmetrical building provided access to a lobby on either side. Mia had been to enough Roosts to know that she wouldn’t find an entry point in either of the lobbies. She walked past the lobby entrances, to the back of the building, and the alley that passed behind it. To the right she saw a brick wall that extended five feet perpendicularly from the back of the building. The Roost. She walked to the other side of the wall and found the familiar steel door. After looking around to make sure no one watched her, she fell to one knee, reached under the gap in the door, curled her fingers upward, and lifted the steel bar that acted as both a key and a handle from the two pegs on which it rested. She inserted the bar into the hole in the steel door, rotated it, and pulled the door open. Inside, she closed the door behind her. It locked by itself, and she returned the bar to the pegs.

Inside, the Roost looked like every other Roost she’d ever seen, right down to the fresh flowers that somehow always appeared. She picked up the phone, dialed Polestar and heard a voice on the other end before she even heard the phone ring.

“Name and mission,” the voice on the other end said.

For an organization as tightly run as The Summit, Mia marveled at the array of experiences she had talking to Polestar. Sometimes they knew her name when she called. Sometimes only her location. Other times it seemed like they had to be reminded that she was an agent. She’d stopped trying to find a pattern in the way Polestar agents communicated long ago.

“Mia Mathis. I’m in Minsk, Belarus. My mission is to disrupt the Tallinn trafficking ring, but I’m calling about something else.”

“Go ahead,” said the voice on the other end of the line after Mia paused and waited for a response.

“While in pursuit of suspects related to the mission, my car was forced off the road by their accomplices. I crashed the car, and ended up eliminating three of the men in the car that ran me off the road. As I prepared to eliminate the fourth man, he told me he could provide very valuable information regarding the President of the United States.”

“What kind of information?” the Polestar agent asked.

“That’s unclear. I haven’t interrogated him yet. But he said he could answer the question of how a traitor came to be president.”

“He told you this?”


“When you were about to eliminate him?”


“And you believe him? Why? If I knew someone was about to kill me, I’d make some crazy claims, too. How did this person come across this information?”

“I don’t know. I believe him though. He had an urgency in his voice. Not the sort of urgency of someone pleading for his life, but rather the urgency of someone who has something to say and is worried he’ll never get to say it. I gave him an opportunity to rescind his claim, but he refused. I’ve made clear to him that if his story doesn’t checkout that I’ll have no choice but to eliminate him.”

“I’ll leave the question of this guy’s veracity to you. That’s part of your training, so we’ll assume you know what you’re doing, and we’ll trust your judgment. Why are you calling?”

“This is obviously a sensitive situation. I think it best if I interrogate him here.”

“Where? Minsk? That makes sense. Taking him elsewhere is too problematic.”

“No, not just in Minsk,” Mia said. “A Roost.”

“You want to interrogate a suspect in a Roost? Perhaps I should reconsider whether to trust your judgment. Why would you bring a suspect to a Roost? Doesn’t your training tell you that only agents of The Summit can enter a Roost?”

“That’s right,” Mia said. “That’s what I’ve known since I started. Which tells you how important I think this is. This interrogation could turn out to be the most important interrogation I’ve ever done. Maybe the most important interrogation that anyone with The Summit has ever done. I don’t have to tell you that Belarus is a police state. They know everything that happens here, and they report to Moscow on most of it. We need anonymity, secrecy. We all know that there is no more secure place in Minsk than a Roost.”

“Take him to the middle of a field. Belarus is a rural country in parts. Find the middle of nowhere and talk to him there.”

“That’s not good enough,” Mia said. “I need to communicate with Polestar. He may give me information that I need you to have right away.”

“Where is he now?”

“Immured in the ground in the Kurapaty forest. Unconscious as far as I know. If he’s awake I can’t imagine the sort of spooky spiritual hell he’s enduring right now.”

“You can get him to the Roost without him knowing its location?”


“And when you’re done with him?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we eliminate him. Maybe we just make it clear that he’s never going to talk.”

“Elimination is the better idea.”

“I don’t know,” Mia said. “Dead men tell no tales.”

“At least they don’t lie,” the Polestar agent said. “I suspect that’s more than we can say about your guy.”

“There’s only one way to find out,” Mia pleaded.

She heard nothing on the other end of the line for half a minute.

“Go ahead.”


 Check back Monday, March 25 for the next chapter of Kompromised.

Brett Baker is the author of The Death Market, and the first two books in the Mia Mathis series, Must Come Down and For the Trees. You can purchase all three here.

1: The beginning

Northeast of Minsk, a restaurant called Let’s Go and Eat serves as a culinary way station for travelers who choose to avoid the urban congestion found along the Minsk Beltway. Highway 9031 connects two main arteries—one, a ray to the northwest, the other to the northeast—that jut out of central Minsk, into the Belarusian countryside. The highway begins at an intersection with the northeast artery, gradually veers to the southwest, until it reaches the outskirts of Kurapaty forest, passes Let’s Go and Eat, and then darts to the northwest, joining another artery 40 kilometers outside the city.

Mia Mathis had become familiar with Belarusian geography during her travels to, from, and through the former Soviet Republic during the previous three weeks. Her work for The Summit sent her to every corner of the globe, and she’d been in Belarus three times before, but never for more than a day or two while tracking down some criminal hoodlum who had the unfortunate luck of gaining her attention. It never ended well for the objects of her enmity. Mia had brought forth demise more than once on Belarusian soil.

She had nothing but trouble in mind for the four men in the sedan in front of her. She’d followed them since they left a safehouse in the center of Kalodziscy, a small town northeast of Minsk. Two men sat in the front seat, including Anatoly, the beefy Russian she’d watched guard the house by sitting in a folding chair outside, while also eating two large pizzas all by himself. He had a 1974-issue Kalashnikov rifle sitting on his lap, the same as he did throughout the day, only this time no pizza box rested on top. He also had a gun on his waist, which Mia thought he was too fat to access, and one on his ankle which didn’t worry her for the same reason. Another fat man drove the car. Back at the house Mia sat in her car and chuckled as she watched the driver try to execute a k-turn as they left, the man’s girth barely leaving enough room for his arms to reach the steering wheel, let alone maneuver the wheel back and forth.

The occupants of the back seat were of greatest concern to Mia. Two men, both smaller than the behemoths in the front seat, but still of decent size, sat in the back. Between them sat the most important person in the car, a young woman. She wore an oversized sweatshirt and baggy sweatpants as she walked to the car with one of the back seat men in front of her, and the other behind her. She wore her light blonde hair in a bun, and walked with a defeated sort of posture that reminded Mia of a middle-aged person beaten up in a life they hadn’t wanted or imagined. Someone who didn’t live, but to whom life happened. Mia had followed the woman for five days, beginning in Tallinn, a coastal city in Estonia, where Mia had watched Taras, a dapper Ukrainian who used his good looks to lure women, talk to her at a bus station. Taras could pinpoint a young woman in trouble with ease, and targeted them. Mia had seen enough traffickers to know how it worked. Taras complimented her, expressed concern for her situation, offered a sympathetic ear, and then a helping hand. Before she knew what was happening, the young woman agreed to go with him. At that point Mia decided not to follow Taras, but the young woman instead. She’d followed them across Estonia, into Latvia, and eventually through Belarus. From the safehouse in Kalodziscy she expected the journey to go one of two ways. If the traffickers planned to send the young woman to the Middle East, they’d take her to the airport in Minsk. If she was going to Europe they’d drive her into Lithuania to continue her journey to Germany, Poland, or the rest of Western Europe. Although The Summit had defined Mia’s mission as interrupting the trafficking network rooted in Tallinn, Mia knew that every mission had desirable secondary goals, and rescuing the young woman in the back seat of the car in front of her had become Mia’s immediate goal.

In the thirty minutes she’d followed the car, she’d devised a plan. She often had to evaluate the circumstances and come up with a plan in seconds, so half an hour to think about her next move seemed like an eternity. Three kilometers past Let’s Go and Eat, which was just past the Kurapaty, was an ill-conceived stop sign at an intersection with another artery from Minsk. Cross-traffic didn’t stop, so the traffic on 9031 backed up at the stop sign no matter the time of day. Mia planned to pounce as the cars waited. She’d approach Anatoly first, using her Russian language training to ask him for assistance, while relying on her physical desirability to put him at ease. Knowing that almost everyone around the world looks off into the distance when providing directions, Mia planned to wait until Anatoly’s gaze was fixed on the horizon, before punching him a single time in the base of the skull, knocking him out, and with a just a bit of luck and sound technique, damaging his medulla so that he stopped breathing. She’d have to grab the Kalashnikov in the next instant so the beefcake in the driver seat couldn’t grab it and end her days. As usual, she wouldn’t turn the gun on the men in the car. Despite working for The Summit, and risking her life on a daily basis, Mia never carried a gun—Those things are dangerous!—so she’d find other ways to dispose of the three men in the car. Much of the plan depended on how they reacted, and whether they were armed, but she knew that she had three advantages: her attack would catch them off guard, they would be stuck in a car, while she could move around, and no matter how tough they were, she was tougher.

Despite the large shopping mall on one side, and high-rise condos on the other, signifying the never-ending encroachment of the countryside, Mia knew that she was approaching the darkness of Kurapaty forest, where tens of thousands of people were executed for opposing Stalin. Let’s Go and Eat sat just on the opposite end of the forest. Almost time to carry out her plan.

But just as she began looking for the bright lights of the restaurant, she felt the first impact on the rear of her car. It felt like a slight bump and did little to disrupt her. Mia recognized what happened right away and stepped on the gas, but so did the driver of the car that hit her. Mia drove a small two-seater whose acceleration was no match for the heavier car behind her. When the other driver stepped on the gas and hit the rear left corner of her vehicle, Mia felt the car begin to spin to the left. She tried to gain control, but she couldn’t overcome the force of the larger car. Her car spun as it crossed the oncoming lane. With no traffic Mia didn’t have to worry about being hit, but the momentum of the bump carried her across the lane, and nothing stopped the car from exiting the road, sliding down the small embankment, and flipping over once before coming to rest in the Kurapaty forest. Mia took a deep breath, and lifted her arms to make sure she could still move. She looked in all directions, but with the angle of the car on the embankment, and the density of the forest, she could only see out her shattered window. Just as she looked back to her window she saw a man put one hand on the ground as he fell to his knees next to her car. She didn’t have to use much imagination to know what he held in the other hand, so rather than waiting to see his face, she reached for the door handle, and pulled it, without knowing whether the door would open. She continued a fluid motion and swung the door open, knocking the man to the ground. As she saw the man fall, she unbuckled her seatbelt with the other hand, freeing herself from the car. She somersaulted out of the car, kicking the door again with her feet after it had ricocheted off of the man’s forehead. The man had rolled away, but before he could get to his feet Mia pounced on him, her right knee connecting with his nose and snapping his head back, blood spurting in all directions. Mia got behind the man, lifted his torso off the ground, planted her knee between his shoulder blades, and snapped his neck.

As she let the man’s body fall, she saw another man approach from straight ahead. She rose to her feet to meet him, but before she could take a step, a third man jumped on her from behind. As Mia flipped him over her shoulder onto the ground she cursed herself for not keeping an eye on the area shielded by her overturned car. She prided herself on having a constant awareness of her surroundings because she knew even a momentary lapse might cost her everything. She kicked the man on the ground four times on the side of his face, and felt his cheekbone collapse on the last kick. The man writhed in pain and rolled away from her, which enabled her to turn her attention to the man in front of her just as he reached her.

“You good fighter,” the man said in English with a Russian accent. “Or they bad fighters.” As usual, Mia ignored the macho pre-fight utterances from the man about to attack her, and decided to concentrate on finding a way to subdue him. She didn’t have to put much thought into it.

The man ran right to her, his arms outstretched, as if a professional wrestler playing the role of a bad guy and opening himself up to be defeated by the hero. Mia side-stepped the man, kneed him in the stomach, and as he hunched over she grabbed him by the ears, took two steps to her left, and held his head against the car door jamb with one hand, and slammed the door four times against the side of his head with the other hand. She felt the man crumple, and closed the door one last time, scraping the door across his face as he fell to the ground.

Mia sat on the ground, her heart racing, her breath shallow and steady. None of the three men showed any signs of life. She looked up toward the road hoping that no passersby had stopped. No other cars appeared, but she saw another man at the top of the embankment. As soon as Mia saw him he turned and walked away.

“Hey stop!” she said, jumping to her feet. “Get back here.”

Mia ran up the embankment just in time to see the man get in the driver’s seat. She heard the engine rev as the man pressed on the accelerator to speed away, but he put the car in neutral rather than drive and went nowhere. The delay gave Mia the window of opportunity she needed. She broke the window with her elbow. The man cowered toward the passenger seat to protect himself from the breaking glass, so Mia reached into the car, and turned the key in the ignition. The car fell silent. The man yelled, and flailed her arms at Mia in half-hearted punches. Mia punched him in the face, which stunned him into inaction.

“Get out of the fucking car,” Mia said, as she opened the door. The man howled in pain and fear, and collapsed to the ground as soon as he left the car. “Get off the ground. You’re going to get run over.” Mia picked him up by his shirt and pushed him across the road toward the other side, where her car had left the road. She got in the car, moved it up fifteen feet, and farther onto the shoulder to avoid getting hit by a passing car and attracting attention she didn’t want. She turned off the car, put the keys in her pocket, and raced across the road. She found the fourth man standing next to her car, holding a thick, meter-long piece of wood in his hand.

“What are you going to do with that?” Mia asked.

“I’m going to kill you if I have to,” the man said.

“Why would you have to do that?”

The man looked at the three men on the ground, then back at Mia, and said, “To protect myself.”

“I kill people for two reasons: either they try to kill me, or they’ve got it coming. If you don’t try to kill me, then you only have to convince me that you don’t have it coming.”

“I’ve got nothing to do with this,” he said.

“Then why are you here? Just out for a midnight stroll and then all hell broke loose?”

“They tell me to drive them, so I drive them.”

“Did they tell you to run me off the road?” Mia asked. The man didn’t say anything. He had been holding the piece of wood with one hand, like a sword, but added his second hand and held it like a baseball bat. “Maybe I should kill you. You tried to kill me five minutes ago by running my car off the road. I doubt you’ve done anything to redeem yourself since then.”

Mia took three steps toward the man. If he knew how little he and the large piece of tree intimidated her, he would have turned and run into the forest. That would have given him a much greater chance of survival than attacking Mia.

“I feel justified in killing you,” Mia said. “You tried to take me out. It’s only fair that I return the favor, right? Unfortunate that we have to do it here in Kurapaty. Lord knows this place has seen more than its share of human suffering. But you and your friends left me no choice.” Mia took two more steps toward the man, who took three steps backward, stumbled over one of his dead friends, and fell to the ground. He hit himself in the forehead with the large piece of wood. “Easy there, lumberjack.”

“I’m not a lumberjack,” the man said. “And they’re not my friends. I’m working for them. But now they can’t pay me, so I’m not working for them.”

“So I should let you live because they’re dead? That’s some shaky reasoning, LJ.”

“My name’s not LJ!” the man yelled.

“Your name doesn’t matter. You want to carry around a piece of wood like a lumberjack, I’m going to call you LJ.” Mia walked toward the man as he got back up on his feet. “You haven’t given me a reason not to kill you, so I guess this is where it ends, LJ.”

Mia ran toward the man, and he swung the piece of wood at her head, just as she expected. She ducked, grabbed the wood, twisted it from his hands, and threw it over her car. The man turned to run, but Mia grabbed him by his shirt, pulled him toward her body, and wrapped her arms around his throat. “Running isn’t wise. You better give me something good, or this is the end. Who are these men? How did they know I was following the others? Do they know my name?”

The man fell to his knees, but Mia couldn’t tell if it was a lame attempt to break free, or an expression of his all-encompassing fear. She pulled him back to his feet by his neck, and squeezed her arms tighter.

“Where are they taking the girl? Show me how to get there and I’ll let you live.”

“I don’t know anything,” the man said. “I’m an IT guy. They hire me because I can get them into any computer. I was doing work for them and they needed a driver and I was the only guy around, so they had me drive. They knew they might have to get out of the car to take care of you, so they wanted me to serve as a getaway driver. I’ve known them two days. I have no idea where they’re going.”

“You’re not helping yourself, LJ.” Mia squeezed tighter. “If I keep this up for another minute or two it’s curtains for you. I’ve already got three dead guys here. Gollyfuck, I don’t mind a fourth.”

“Killing me would be a horrible mistake,” LJ said. “You don’t want to do that.”

“Why not? You just said you can’t help me, and you tried to kill me. I see no reason not to end your life.”

“I can piece it all together,” LJ said. “For you and everyone else.”

“I thought you didn’t know anything. How are you going to help me? What are you piecing together?”

“I can answer the question everyone wants to know.”

“What are you talking about? What question?”

“How did a traitor become President of the United States?”

Continue to Chapter 2: “The Roost”

Check back Monday, March 18 for the next chapter of Kompromised.

Brett Baker is the author of The Death Market, and the first two books in the Mia Mathis series, Must Come Down and For the Trees. You can purchase all three here.