Simon Wood's Web Hideout » We All Fall Down
We All Fall DownMass paperback
Hayden Duke is a young man on the fast track. He’s just signed on with Marin Design Engineering to work on a very high-level project. But before Hayden started, one of MDE’s employee’s committed suicide. And he’s not the only one. Is it the pressure? Or is there some other connection? Has Hayden Duke just put himself on the fast track to an early death?
A clever, suspensful page-turner with twists and truns every step of the way. WE ALL FALL DOWN, will appeal to fans of Joseph Finder and Stephen Frey.
For the story behind the story, see Dead Men do Tell Tales.
The book is now available in paperback, CD, MP3, ebook and audio download.
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The BMW 530i’s engine screamed, but it was unclear whether it was in agony or ecstasy. Vee8 squashed the gas pedal deeper into the carpet and tipped the balance into the pain barrier. The car accelerated through the narrow car-lined street, occasionally clipping door mirrors as it sped by.
“Spank it, Vee8. Spank it,” Donkey shrieked hysterically and thumped the passenger side dash with his fist. In chorus, D.J. and Trey seconded Donkey’s request from the back seat.
Donkey might have been hung like one but he was sure as shit as dumb as one. Vee8 didn’t need Donkey telling him what to do. He’d been jacking cars since he was fourteen and in four years, he’d thrashed, crashed and cremated over three hundred of them without ever being caught. The cops had chased him across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area, but they’d never come close to netting him. Many had tried and all had failed. Several had woken up in the hospital to discover that sorry fact. Like that old school gangster, Dillinger, Vee8 would be an old man before they ever got their hands on him. He threw the powerful sedan through the left-handed kink.
He’d learned his trade amongst the sideshow kings of Oakland. He’d been taught by the best, until he was the best. Most of them were now in prison, but in their heyday, they’d shown Vee8 how to make a car dance.
Infineon Raceway was only a thirty-mile burn across the Bay and he could have been a legitimate race driver, but why? He didn’t have the money or the connections to race. Anyway, they were pussies. Where was the fun in driving on a road where the traffic went in one direction? Oncoming traffic, now that was a challenge.
Even though he was eighteen and old enough to possess a driver’s license, he hadn’t bothered. What did he need a license for? He didn’t own a car and why should he? There were too many people like him who would have a set of wheels out from under you before you’d locked the doors. No, if he wanted a car then he had Donkey snatch one. They were more frequent than buses, and nicer.
Donkey started up again. “Vee, get off these pissy little streets. If the po-po catches our scent, we’re fucked.”
Vee8 hated the way Donkey spoke. Donkey came from the Deep South somewhere. Alabama. Louisiana. One of those fuck-your-sister, marry-your-cousin states. His southern drawl intensified when he whined and it grated on Vee8.
“Who’s fuckin’ driving, Donk?”
“That’s right. Me. When you’re driving, you can make the decisions.”
Although Donkey whined, he was a necessary part of the operation. He was a magician with locks and alarm systems. Cars just opened themselves up to him. Within a matter of seconds and with the aid of a few tools that appeared from his pockets, his work was done. Despite Donkey’s talents, Vee8 was the star. Essentially, Donkey got them in and Vee8 got them out.
Donkey was right. Tearing strips off the residential streets was asking for trouble. They’d jacked the BMW from the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station around noon, before the suit returned home from a hard day of stroking his secretary’s thigh. Now that it was after eight, the car would be on the hot list and the cops would be looking for it. But like Cinderella’s coach at midnight, it would be a rotting husk by the time they found it.
Vee8 threaded his way through the Sausalito streets avoiding downtown. He didn’t fancy a run-in with the cops. He headed for Highway 1. The narrow, coastal road snaked and heaved, and it would put him and the BMW to the test. It contained more than enough thrills for a Wednesday night.
He got clear of the town. The full moon gave him a clear view of the road ahead well beyond his headlight beams. He brought his speed up to eighty-five. The turnoff to the two-lane highway was coming up on his left.
As he approached the four-way, Vee8 eased the BMW hard over to the curb to get a faster turn-in for the left turn. A Honda Civic sedan approached the intersection from Vee8’s right but it didn’t bother him. He was on the through road and had the right of way. The Civic would have to stop. Even if he didn’t have the right of way, so what? No one in their right mind was going to argue the point when a car was driving at breakneck speed.
Vee8 stepped off the gas and jumped onto the brake. Everyone in the car was thrown forward against the seatbelts as the BMW dived on its suspension. He watched the speedometer dial sag as the speed was sloughed off and ignored the whoops of his boys.
Vee8’s smiled slipped. The Civic wasn’t slowing. It wasn’t traveling as fast as he was; no more than fifty, but it wasn’t going to stop.
“I don’t think he’s stopping,” Donkey said flatly, seeing what Vee8 had seen.
Donkey’s words silenced everyone.
Vee8 pressed down on the brake harder and thumped the horn twice with his fist.
The Civic showed no sign of stopping for the BMW. It leapt across the intersection and into Vee8’s path. Everyone in the BMW swore and braced themselves for the impact. Vee8 stamped on the brakes and the anti-lock system went into action. He didn’t bother to turn onto Highway 1 as he’d planned. It would have just made the collision worse. The best he could hope for was to tee-bone the bastard and do as much damage to him and as little to himself as he could.
For a moment, Vee8 thought he was going to get away with it. The Civic was passing out of his field of vision faster than expected, but not quite fast enough. The BMW clipped the Civic’s rear panel and wraparound light cluster. A deafening bang echoed through the car as sheet steel collided with sheet steel. The Civic wiggled after its glancing blow and carried on its merry way unhindered. The BMW was less fortunate. The car plowed on, veering right, and struck the curb hard. The front wheels jackhammered into the wheel arches and relayed their agony through the steering wheel. Vee8’s hands and arms tingled in sympathy. The car leapt the curb and came to a halt in the field beyond the pavement.
“Christ, my head,” Donkey whined. He put a hand to his nose, checking for blood. There wasn’t any. He touched the dashboard where he’d smashed his face.
Vee8 checked the rear-view mirror and found D.J. and Trey were bleeding from where they’d banged heads. Both were looking dumbly at each other and moaning about whose head hurt more. Christ, what a clusterfuck, Vee8 thought.
“Am I bleeding?” Donkey asked and jabbed his face in Vee8’s direction.
“No, you’re not, you dumb shit,” Vee8 said.
The BMW had stalled and Vee8 tried to start the car. He was greeted by an overlong electronic whine before the engine caught and fired. He jammed the selector into reverse and stamped on the gas. The wheels spun on the soft earth and the car went nowhere. The tires and the engine whined.
“Come on, you bastard,” Vee8 hissed.
As if by command, the tires bit into the earth, found traction and the car lurched back.
“Where are we going?” Donkey asked.
“We’re going to get that son of a bitch.”
The BMW bumped down off the curb, raced away from the scene of the collision and joined the coast road as planned. The engine sounded off key and the steering sucked. Only one headlight cut through the darkness, the passenger-side light was obviously lost. But none of this bothered Vee8. The coast road went on for miles with no intersections to any other major roads. He had no doubt that he would catch the Civic driver. It was just a matter of when.
Vee8’s passengers were still bleating about their injuries and the accident.
“Shut the fuck up.” Vee8 shouted. “Keep your eyes open. Yell when you see that bastard Civic.”
Vee8 scanned the fields to his right and the beach to his left. Deep thoughts of what he would do to the Civic driver when he got ahold of him clogged his mind. It wasn’t the first time he’d used a vehicle as a weapon and it wouldn’t be the last.
Vee8 caught sight of his quarry in a twisting section descending towards the ocean then lost him when he hit a series of switchbacks. He drove miles without seeing him again. He turned to faith that the Civic remained ahead and his faith was rewarded on the descent into the town of Stinson Beach.
“There it is. Down there.” Donkey pointed at the beach falling away from the roadside to their left.
The Civic, with its passenger side taillight snuffed out, sat untidily on the beach.
Vee8 swung the BMW left onto a private road the Civic had taken. He didn’t stop at the road’s edge. He followed the Civic driver’s lead and drove onto the beach. He bumped the BMW over the curb and the car slithered on the sand, the tires failing to grip the shifting surface. The car tore down the sloping beach before crashing into a sand dune where it leveled out.
Vee8 and his crew flung the doors open, leapt from the stricken BMW and charged down the beach. The Civic sat cocked at an angle to the rolling waves, with the driver’s door open and the engine running. Beyond the car, the headlights picked out its driver, an East Indian, standing at the water’s edge.
The broad-shouldered man stood some six inches taller than Vee8. He might have the strength advantage but Vee8 doubted the guy possessed the fighting skills. Not that Vee8 cared. His blood was up. The prick was going down.
“Hey, bitch,” Vee8 shouted. “We need to talk.”
The man didn’t react. He stared out across the darkened ocean with the moon reflected on its surface. Vee8 heard the man mumbling something but couldn’t make out what he was saying.
“What’s that? I can’t hear you,” he barked in a mocking tone.
The man took a step forward into the waves. That stopped Vee8 in his tracks.
Vee8 glanced back at his boys and found they’d already given up the chase. They’d picked up the strange vibe early. Vee8 had been too pissed off to see it.
He gestured to his crew for answers. Donkey shrugged at him with a what-the-fuck expression plastered across his face.
The man strode out further. The water lapped over his knees.
There was something very wrong here. It looked pretty obvious what it was. Vee8 wasn’t sure he wanted to be part of this but he already was. Slowly, he followed the man to the water’s edge, but no further. This guy might get lonely and want to take someone with him.
“Hey, Gandhi,” Vee8 said. “What are you doing?”
Vee8 had hoped the slur would provoke a reaction, but the Indian didn’t respond. He continued to wade out, chanting his incantation.
“Hey, guy. It don’t have to be this way,” Vee8 offered. He looked down at his feet. A wave licked at his Lugz’s, chilling his toes, and he edged back.
“I think we should get the hell out of here,” Donkey suggested.
Vee8 turned to face him.
“He’s right, Vee,” D.J. echoed.
“I don’t think we should get mixed up in this,” Trey added.
“But we can’t just let him kill himself,” Vee8 said.
“Can’t we? Just watch me,” Donkey said and started to back away. D.J. and Trey followed suit.
Vee8 swore under his breath and chased out into the waves after the guy. He caught his breath the moment the ice-cold water hit him. Its chill climbed up into his core, but it didn’t stop him from reaching the Indian. Vee8 reached out and placed a gentle hand on the man’s shoulder, which stopped him in his tracks. The strong surf thrust against them, urging them back to shore. Vee8 hoped the guy would take the hint. He took the man’s hesitation as a positive sign.
“You don’t have to do this,” Vee8 said. “Nothing can be that bad.”
The Indian turned to Vee8. “I have done a terrible thing and I can’t be forgiven. I must pay for it. This is the only way.”
Vee8 could have argued with man to get him to see sense, but he knew there was no point. He’d seen a lot of broken people. Fathers and mothers beaten down by mistakes. Friends lost to booze or drugs. No matter how far gone they were, they still clung to hope. While they hung on, they could be saved. But not the Indian. He’d let go. Vee8 had never witnessed total hopelessness before, but he saw it in the Indian’s eyes. He’d surrendered to whatever haunted him. There was nothing Vee8 could do for him.
“I have to do this,” the man said.
Vee8 nodded and removed his hand from the man’s shoulder.
The Indian smiled and resumed walking out to sea. Vee8 watched him go. The man’s final gesture was hypnotic in its incomprehensibility. But by the time the Indian was waist deep, Vee8 had managed to wrench his gaze away and was heading back to shore.
When he reached dry land, Vee8 glanced back at the suicidal man just in time to see a wave wash over his head.
It was obvious the Civic driver wasn’t turning back.
The Saturday morning traffic was behaving itself, so Haydn would make good time from Fairfield to San Rafael. He hoped this weekend would be the start of something big. Marin Design Engineering only wanted someone on short contract, but if he impressed them, the contract might go from short to long. It wasn’t an unusual occurrence for him. He’d built up a solid reputation as a design engineering contractor over the last three years. He’d been twenty-five when he started contracting, which was a pretty bold move. But his rep hadn’t gotten him the high-paying gig at Marin Design Engineering, his old college roommate had.
This gig would be a nice boost to his income. He’d been on contract at Macpherson Water since the beginning of the year and the plan was he’d work for Marin Design Engineering from home in the evening. It wasn’t the first time he’d reaped the rewards of working double duty.
Haydn reached the limit of the radio station broadcasting out of Sacramento and he switched to a San Francisco station. He caught the tail end of a song before the station went to the news. The discovery of Sundip Chaudhary’s body was the lead story.
“The body of missing scientist, Sundip Chaudhary, was found late last night by a jogger on Muir Beach,” the newsreader said.
At least they found him, Haydn thought. He shuddered at the thought of the condition of the guy’s corpse.
The story had made a stir in the Bay Area. Chaudhary had walked into the ocean three days ago in an apparent suicide attempt. He hadn’t left a note, but his car had been found on Stinson Beach with the keys in the ignition and the engine running.
Family and friends cited no problems in his professional and personal life that would warrant a suicide attempt. If it weren’t for an anonymous eyewitness account of Chaudhary walking into the sea, foul play or an accident might have been suspected. Speculation centered on the possibility that the eyewitness had been involved in a fender bender with Chaudhary. Chaudhary’s car exhibited fresh damage, and debris from a second vehicle was found on the beach. Speculation ended when it came to what had led up to Chaudhary walking into the Pacific.
“The Marin County Sheriff’s Department urges the eyewitness to come forward,” newsreader said.
Yeah, right, Haydn thought. No one would come forward if they feared any backlash.
Haydn pictured Chaudhary’s body on the beach he knew well. Drowning. There were less painful ways of killing yourself. Haydn wondered if that had been Chaudhary’s aim. The eyewitness had stated in the 911 call that Chaudhary had insinuated he’d committed an act so severe that he couldn’t live with the guilt. The cops had yet to turn up anything to support the claim–or just weren’t saying.
The whole subject left Haydn feeling queasy and his cell phone bursting into song provided the perfect reason to forget about Chaudhary’s suicide.
“Where are you?” Shane Fallon asked.
“I just got on Highway 37, so I’m about half an hour out.”
“I’m so glad you’re coming aboard.”
“It’s going to be great catching up, man.” Although college roommates, they’d lost touch over recent years. Work took them in different directions. Now it was bringing them back together. “This is going to be a great weekend. See you in thirty.”
“In thirty,” Haydn said and hung up.
Haydn found the upscale gated community where Shane lived easily enough. He’d known his friend had done well for himself, but not this well. Shane lived in a modest house compared to the monster mansions at the higher end of the price scale, but even so, this was high living and it put Haydn’s 50’s built ranch-style home to shame. If Shane’s firm treated him this well, they could definitely afford to pay Haydn two hundred bucks an hour for grunt work. He pulled into Shane’s driveway.
Haydn was removing his overnight bag from the passenger seat when Shane came out to greet him. Haydn put out his hand and Shane gripped it before crushing him in a bear hug. Shane didn’t have much in the way of brawn but he was tall and possessed a lot of inherent strength.
“Damn, it’s good to see you. I can’t believe we’ve let three years pass without getting together.”
“Neither can I.”
Shane relieved Haydn of his bag and dropped it by the stairs in the hall. “We don’t have to be at the Giants game until midday, so we’ve got a couple of hours until we leave. Do you want coffee or something?”
“Yeah, coffee would be good.”
“C’mon through into the kitchen then.”
Haydn followed Shane into a custom kitchen clad in marble and stainless steel. It was all very upwardly mobile. Haydn took a seat at the kitchen table while Shane poured fresh grounds into the coffeemaker.
“You’ve done really well for yourself. I’m impressed,” Haydn said, surveying his surroundings.
“What can I tell you? Nice things happen to nice people.” Shane looked about him. “It’s a long way from the dorms at Cal-State and that AMC Gremlin, God rest its soul.”
“Amen,” Haydn said and wondered whatever had become of that car–it had probably long since been consigned to the crusher.
“Marin Design Engineering treats you well, then?” Haydn said.
“They do.” The coffeemaker stopped wheezing and Shane grabbed the coffees and joined Haydn at the table. “And they’ll treat you well too.”
Haydn thought of the premium rate they were going to pay him for this short term contract. “Any chance this’ll turn into something longer term?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised. MDE takes on specialist design-build projects. No one else can do what they do so the margins are always high. And because every project is different, they hire a lot of folks on contract. You do okay on this one and I’m sure you’ll get a recall.”
“So who do I have to impress for future work?”
“Me,” Shane answered. “I’m the project manager.”
Who said cronyism was such a bad thing? Haydn thought. He raised his coffee mug for a toast and they clinked mugs.
They spent the next couple of hours catching up and reminiscing before Shane drove them to AT&T Park. San Francisco traffic was thick and parking was impossible, but MDE had splashed out on a corporate box which came with reserved parking. They entered the stadium through a private entrance. Haydn could get used to this kind of treatment.
They met with Shane’s colleagues from MDE for a pre-game lunch in the hospitality suite. A gaunt-looking man wearing a blazer over dress slacks spotted Shane and Haydn approaching and got up from his seat.
“Shane, you made it,” he said. “Is this Haydn?”
“Yes, Trevor. Meet Haydn Duke. Haydn, this is Trevor Bellis, Marin Design Engineering’s CEO.”
Haydn shook hands with Bellis. His grip was surprisingly strong for someone who looked half-starved.
“A pleasure to meet you, Haydn. Please call me Trevor. I’ve heard a lot about you. You’re a welcome addition to our team. We’ll discuss business after the game. For now, enjoy yourself,” Bellis said.
Shane introduced Haydn to the assembled group. They were a mix of MDE employees and contract staff. Most possessed either engineering or scientific backgrounds. They welcomed Haydn in a genuine manner and he slipped easily into conversation with them. He could see himself working very well with these people.
Haydn noticed an unoccupied place at the table. “Who are we missing?” he asked Shane.
“Our guest of honor, James Lockhart. He’s a consultant employed by the client to oversee the project. He’s very well-regarded and has done a lot of work for the government and the private sector. If things need moving and shaking, he’s the guy to do it.”
“Who’s the client?”
“I can’t discuss that until you’ve signed up for the job.”
Lockhart arrived shortly before the meal ended. His arrival brought a subtle change in the mood at the table, but Haydn felt it as strongly as a weather change. Lockhart introduced an air of formality. He was obviously the big man on campus and Bellis looked distinctly nervous in the man’s presence. Haydn guessed MDE had a lot riding on this project.
Haydn understood the change at the table. Lockhart didn’t look as if he’d come out for a ball game. He’d chosen to power-dress in a tailored suit and tie instead of something more casual. He looked like he expected to be called upon to give a press conference at any moment. During the small talk over lunch, he weighed and measured each answer before giving it. It was very disconcerting.
Game time arrived and everyone went to their seats. Bellis kept Lockhart segregated from everyone else, which lightened the mood. While everyone got wrapped up in the game, Bellis and Lockhart talked. Haydn cast glances their way. Bellis remained tense around the man. Haydn guessed things weren’t as rosy at MDE as everyone liked to make out. Maybe it was a good thing he was working a short contract with these people. The last thing he needed was to sign on for something longer term if they were having problems on the business front. In situations like that, the first people to go were the contract staff. He’d think long and hard on any future offers.
After the game, everyone said their goodbyes. Bellis put a hand on Haydn’s shoulder. “Let’s get you on our team now.” Bellis’ smile had returned once Lockhart had left. “I’ve got some paperwork at our offices for you to sign.”
Haydn and Shane followed Bellis’ Audi A6 back to the MDE offices in Corte Madera. The building was set into the hills and was clearly visible from US-101, making it its own billboard. It was a squat, two-story structure with the second story being octagonal in shape. It smacked of 70’s architecture, but it was no less desirable as a working environment.
Bellis beat a light and by the time Shane and Haydn arrived, he had the building unlocked and stood waiting for them in the foyer.
“Welcome to MDE,” Bellis said.
Haydn failed to acknowledge the welcome. His focus was on an easel in the foyer, which held a poster-size headshot of an East Indian man in his thirties. At the base of the image was the caption, “Sundip Chaudhary, a friend lost, but not forgotten.”
“That’s the guy they found this morning.”
“Yes,” Bellis said. “Very sad.”
“Am I his replacement?” The thought of filling a dead man’s shoes took the excitement out of the position.
“No,” Shane said. “He worked here as an instrument engineer.”
“Let’s talk about this in the boardroom,” Bellis said.
Bellis took Haydn and Shane up to the second floor. At the end of the conference table sat a roll of drawings, a flash drive and a file folder. Shane and Bellis took seats next to each other and Haydn took one opposite.
“Sundip Chaudhary was a valued member of this company,” Bellis said. “Sadly, he let the stress of his work get to him and he took his own life. None of us saw the signs. If we had, then…” Bellis let the remainder of his sentence go unfinished.
“That’s not what I heard on the news,” Haydn said.
“Out of privacy and respect for Sundip’s family, we kept the truth from the press,” Bellis said.
There’d been no mention of who Chaudhary had worked for in any of the news reports. Haydn wondered who’d pulled those strings–Bellis or Lockhart?
“Is Sundip’s death a problem for you?” Bellis asked.
“No,” Haydn replied. “It was a just surprise. No one mentioned him at the ballpark today.”
“The project that Sundip was a part of is highly confidential,” Shane said. “Our client is on the verge of a major technological breakthrough. So much so, they haven’t even filled us in on the full purpose of the design.”
“Hence the need for privacy,” Bellis said.
“And James Lockhart?” Haydn said.
“The client has invested a lot of capital and James Lockhart is here to ensure they get what they want,” Bellis said.
No wonder Bellis was so jumpy around Lockhart. There was probably a lot of ass-covering going on. Chaudhary’s death may have prompted the client to consider switching firms. Bellis wouldn’t want to lose such a high profile job.
“Obviously, none of what I’ve told you leaves this room,” Bellis said.
It sounded like overkill to Haydn, but it wasn’t his problem. “Of course,” he said.
“We’d better deal with the red tape,” Shane said.
Bellis opened the file folder and removed a sheaf of papers and put them before Haydn. “This is a non-disclosure agreement. Should you divulge any project details to anyone outside of Marin Design Engineering, the firm will take severe legal action against you. The financial penalties we would seek are significant. In addition, our client would be entitled to take separate action.”
Bellis’ tone sounded like a threat, albeit dressed up in legalese. Haydn didn’t like being pushed around, regardless of how politely it was done.
“We’ve all had to sign it,” Shane said. “It’s standard practice in this kind of situation.”
“I would recommend you read the document before signing it,” Bellis said. “You’re welcome to run it by your attorney, but we are short on time.”
Haydn had the urge to walk away. He liked to keep business informal and friendly. This was beginning to get a little too serious for his liking. But it was easy work for excellent money. In a couple of weeks, it wouldn’t matter. Haydn scanned the twelve-page document. It was pretty much as Bellis had described. If he disclosed any part of his work, MDE would sue–and sue big. The document claimed MDE would seek ten million in damages. Haydn wasn’t sure how much was legal bluffing, but it was enough to ensure he kept his mouth shut. He finished reading the document and decided the job was still worth doing despite the over-litigious contract. Bellis held out a pen and Haydn signed.
With that out of the way, Bellis and Shane spent a half hour going through the marked-up plans with him before handing them to him along with the flash drive containing the drawings he was to correct. It was all straightforward enough and the meeting broke up. Everyone shook hands and smiled, but the hard sell with the non-disclosure agreement had soured Haydn’s mood. The enthusiasm he’d brought with him this morning wouldn’t be making the return drive.
Bellis made small talk as he saw Shane and Haydn out. Lockhart’s presence in the foyer ended the small talk. He stood before Chaudhary’s image on the easel in deep contemplation. He seemingly failed to register anyone’s presence in the room with him for a moment.
“A great shame. Sundip was a very talented young man. We should have done more for him,” he reflected. “What’s going on here?”
“James, this is Haydn Duke. He’s joining the team,” Bellis said.
Lockhart shook Haydn’s hand. “Good to have you aboard. I look forward to working with you. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.”
Lockhart couldn’t have made his point any clearer. It was time for them to leave.
“Thanks for making the trip, Haydn. We’ll talk next week,” Bellis said, before ushering Shane and him out the door.
“Lock the door, Trevor,” Lockhart said. “I don’t want to be disturbed.”
Bellis did as he was told and Lockhart led the way to Bellis’ office. He let Bellis sit while he perched himself on the window ledge. He took in the panoramic view and watched Shane reverse out from his parking spot and drive away.
“Do you know anything about this Haydn Duke?” Lockhart asked.
“Not much. He’s a friend of Shane’s. Why?”
“I noticed him eyeballing us at the game.”
“What do you want?” Bellis asked.
“Watch your tone, Trevor. Just remember who you’re speaking to.”
Bellis said nothing. Instead he fidgeted in his seat.
“I came here to make sure we’re all on the same page about Chaudhary.”
“I got the message.”
“Did you? I wasn’t sure.”
“I got it.”
Lockhart glanced out the window. Beckerman was out there somewhere watching his back, visible yet invisible. He’d chosen to keep Beckerman out of sight today. He had a habit of agitating situations. Lockhart didn’t want things agitated. Today, he wanted calm. More specifically, he wanted Bellis calm.
“You say that, Trevor, but I feel you have questions. If you have them, ask them.”
“He’d expressed doubts about the project.”
“Did he mention his doubts to you?”
“Only that we’d been lied to. He said the products we’re designing weren’t being designed for the purpose we were told. He wanted to speak to you and now he’s dead. Did he speak to you?”
Lockhart came away from the window and settled into a chair opposite Bellis. Bellis stiffened and looked cornered. “I met with him. I thought I had set his mind at rest.”
“Obviously you hadn’t.”
Lockhart sighed. “I believe Sundip was overwrought and he cracked. He was deluded. When I think about it now, my answers didn’t help him. I thought the truth would bring him around. Instead, it looks to have pushed him over the edge.”
“So you believe it was a suicide?”
“Opposed to what, Trevor?” Lockhart could feel Bellis psyching himself up to ask the big question. He wanted the question out in the open so he could put the subject to rest. Ask me, Trevor. You know you want to. As if he’d made a psychic link, Bellis asked the question.
“James, did you have anything to do with Sundip’s death?”
“How can you ask such a question?”
He fixed Bellis with his gaze. He left him no room for escape. Bellis would need courage if he were to follow this line of questioning.
Bellis sat up in his seat. “I don’t think Chaudhary was deluded. I know he had doubts about the project and was becoming a little difficult to control but I don’t think he was suicidal.”
“A little difficult?” Lockhart said. “He was becoming a grade-A pain in the ass. He suddenly got it into his head that what we were doing was wrong.”
“I think that’s a little harsh.”
“More harsh than you accusing me of murder, Trevor?”
Bellis wiped a hand across his face. Finally, the man saw the ridiculousness of what he was saying. Lockhart saw Bellis’ courage leave him in that moment and return to the fold. Bellis might have suspicions and doubts but he wouldn’t take them any further. The project remained intact and his clients didn’t need to hear of this setback.
“I’m sorry, James.”
“That’s okay. The last few days have taken their toll on everyone. We’ve lost someone close and it’s shaken us all. Suicide is hard to accept. It’s a betrayal to everyone left behind. We’d prefer to have someone else to blame, but in this case, we don’t have that luxury. Chaudhary killed himself. There’s even a witness who saw him do it.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry.”
Lockhart stood up from his seat and rounded the desk. Bellis stood to meet him and they shook hands. Bellis’ hand was slick with sweat. It had taken a lot for the man to confront him. Lockhart placed a comforting hand on Bellis’ shoulder. “Look, Trevor. Next week, come over to San Francisco and we’ll have dinner. I’ll explain the facts of life regarding this project. It’s time I let you in on a few details. How does that sound?”
“Sounds good,” Bellis said, squeezing out a strained smile.
Lockhart saw himself out and drove away. He didn’t pick up his phone until he was back on the freeway. He dialed Beckerman’s number.
“How’d it go?” Beckerman asked.
“It could have gone better. There are doubts, but the situation is contained for now. Did you find anything at Chaudhary’s?”
“Negative. Anything he claimed to have known, he kept to himself.”
“Okay. I want you to keep a close eye on MDE. Any more problems, I want to know about them.”
“Action packed and intelligent, We All Fall Down, is Simon Wood's best book yet. This is what they mean when they say a book is a thriller.”
— Crimespree Magazine
"Simon Wood has talent to spare, and in We All Fall Down he's crafted an entertaining and suspenseful novel that once opened simply won't close until the last nail-biting page. A terrific premise executed to perfection by a supremely gifted writer.”
— Jason Pinter, author of The Mark
“Simon Wood never disappoints. From the shocking introduction to the rewarding completion, Wood’s storytelling is tremendous.”
— Fresh Fiction
“Simon Wood provides a dynamite suspense story.”
— The Midwest Book Review
"We All Fall Down continues Wood’s sharp eye for a thrilling ride that doesn’t rely on cheap outs, but creative storytelling.”
"I would love this book to be made into a movie.”
"The action becomes fast and furious and one just has to hang on for the ride.”
— Spinetingler Magazine