Behind the Book
Every writer has an epic in them, and on a number of levels this is mine.
The concept started as a complete abstract, which is unusual for me. One day I got to thinking about what makes a crime a crime. I mean, if you’re standing in Utah, you get arrested for gambling but if you step over the state line into Nevada, it’s strongly encouraged. Marijuana is forbidden but alcohol isn’t. Sex can be given away but is illegal to sell. All very interesting for a philosophical discussion over a few beers, but how do you turn it into a book?
I found the answer in the connection between international crime, politics, and terrorism. Someone once said that every villain is the hero of his own story and I tried to stay true to that philosophy as I wrote. The novel includes terrorists, drug lords, Mafia dons, and my beleaguered FBI agent Mark Beamon—all of whom think they’re doing the right thing.
Now comes the second part of the epic. While the book is certainly not about terrorism, the catalyst for the story was a terrorist act perpetrated by Al Qaeda—an organization that almost no one had heard of at the time. Unfortunately, I finished it five days before the 9/11 tragedy.
After that, everything changed. My editor sent the manuscript back to me with very little to say about what could be done with it. I felt as though it was the best thing I’d ever written, but I had to seriously consider scrapping it. Would people think I was trying to capitalize on the deaths of all those people? Would they understand that it was written before?
Sphere sat on my desk for a few months while I tried to decide what to do. Finally, an idea came to me as to how I could cut the sections that too closely resembled the destruction of the World Trade Center without gutting the book. Strangely, the revised story, set in a post 9/11 world, ended up much stronger. My audience is now much more informed on the subject of terrorism, which allowed me to focus the book on other more interesting areas.
Despite all the trial and tribulation, this may be the best book I’ve written. In my mind, it’s a toss-up between Sphere and Smoke Screen. The two are so different, though, it’s hard to compare.
Mark Beamon managed to twist his body at the last second and he hit the dirt shoulder first, face second, instead of the other way around. He struggled to his knees, a thick film of dust caked to his sweat-soaked body. Despite the late hour, it was still over ninety degrees.
A kick from behind surprised him and he went down again but this time he was unable to rise. A hard boot pressed down on the rope binding his hands behind his back, keeping him face down in the dirt. He craned his neck and watched as a similarly bound Chet Michaels was dragged from the car and thrown to the desert floor a few feet in front of him.
The man hovering over Chet reared a leg back to kick him in the head, but then seemed to change his mind. His face was illuminated in a combination of starlight and the distant glow of LA but it wasn’t enough to read his expression.
“What the hell are you doing?” Beamon finally managed to get out after spitting the dirt from his mouth. “Are you crazy?”
The boot planted against his bonds twisted skillfully and for a moment he though his wrists were going to break.
“Shut the fuck up!”
“Mikey,” Chet said. “He’s right. This is nuts. I can help you. I’m inside the FBI. All I want is a little taste of the action. You can’t blame me for that, can you?”
“Jesus, Chet, just shut your mouth,” the man hovering over him whined. “Why the hell did you have to be a Fed?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Chet said. “We can work together. I can do a lot for you guys. Shit, ask Nicolai all the stuff I did for him. And I’ve moved up in the Bureau since then.”
Mikey didn’t answer, instead turning around and walking about twenty feet into the desert. He stood there, staring out into the darkness for almost a minute. Then he took a deep breath audible even to Beamon, yanked out his gun and stalked back toward Chet.
Beamon looked into the young agent’s face, searching for the accusation and suspicion that he knew would be there, but didn’t find it. Having not heard the call from Laura, Chet would have no idea why Beamon had blown his cover and landed him out in the desert with an armed killer standing over him. Beamon searched harder and found something that cut him even deeper—a hint of trust. Chet believed in him. Believed that he had a plan. Believed that he would get them out of this.
“Mikey—stop!” Beamon said. The man already had his gun aimed at the back of Chet’s head. “Killing an FBI agent is never profitable. Never! Right now, they let that dumb-ass you work for parade around like a rock star but you kill one of theirs and the gloves are gonna come off. And when they show up at your door, Gasta isn’t going to be there telling them he’s the one who gave the order—he’s just going to point his finger at you. There’s no reason to do this.”
When Mikey turned the gun on him, Beamon felt an inexplicable sense of relief.
“I thought Tony told you to shut the fuck up!”
“Mikey, calm down,” Beamon said. “Get Carlo on the phone—I want to talk to him before this gets out of control.”
The man stared at him for what seemed like a long time and Beamon thought he might have gotten through. But then he aimed his pistol at the back of Chet’s head again. The young agent couldn’t see the gun but obviously sensed what was happening and squeezed his eyes shut.
“Fuck!” Mikey screamed suddenly, stepping back a few feet. “I can’t do it. This prick’s been like a little brother to me.” He looked up at Tony, who was busy keeping Beamon pinned to the ground. “You do it.”
“Fuck that. I like him as much as you do.”
Chet had opened his eyes and was staring directly at Beamon while the men argued. He didn’t seem to hear when Mikey moved forward again. Beamon squirmed violently enough that Tony had to drop a knee into the small of his back to keep him on the ground.
This time, Mikey found the resolve he needed. There was the crack of the gun, Chet’s face being jerked down into the dirt, the warm spatter of blood and bone that Beamon felt shower his face. And then the silence after.
Beamon started coughing uncontrollably, struggling to keep from vomiting. A small stream of Chet’s blood was cutting its way through the dust toward him and he tried to pull away from it, but Tony’s weight kept him immobile. Finally, he just closed his eyes, blocking out the piece of dead flesh that had, a moment before, been a thirty-four year old kid.
“This is your fault, you fuck!” Mikey screamed. Beamon opened his eyes and looked straight into the barrel of the man’s gun, willing him to pull the trigger, wanting to see that last flash and then nothing. Mikey was right. It was his fault.
“You fuck!” Mikey shouted again as he walked to the car and pulled a shovel from the truck. He came back alongside Beamon and raised it in the air. “Look what you made me do!”
The blow from the flat edge of the shovel wasn’t as bad as he imagined it would be—less painful than the boot to the ribs that immediately followed. Strangely, he could hear the two men battering him but after a few seconds he couldn’t really feel it. He remembered Chet’s wedding—Carrie had gotten pretty drunk that night, shirking her responsibility as designated driver and forcing them to take a cab home. He remembered meeting Chet’s parents. They were a lot older than he’d expected and they worried about their son getting himself involved in such a dangerous profession. Beamon had assured them that being an FBI agent was far less dangerous than working in a liquor store and they’d left feeling better.
The sound of the blows became less frequent as the two men began breathing harder and harder. Beamon hoped he wouldn’t lose consciousness. For some reason, he wanted to see death coming.