The U.S. Attorney’s Office had stacked so many charges against Maddix Cooper, the next time he set foot outside of prison would be to take the pine box dive into a six-foot pit. Mandatory sentences for espionage, conspiracy, first-degree murder, and obstruction of justice. The list of traitorous offenses had left FBI Special Agents J.J. McCall and Tony Donato in a major predicament: How to convince a man with zero motivation to divulge information contrary to his best interest – without the use of torture? This question plagued J.J. as she and Tony crossed through the barbed-wire fence into the detention facility. Within a few minutes, they’d be face-to-face with the lowest form of human in existence; the answer wasn’t coming fast enough.
The stench of confinement, an unsettling combination of despair and delinquency, permeated the cushy looking fortress on the outskirts of Northern Virginia and turned J.J.’s stomach. She’d spent more time in this hell hole over the past month than in her entire career, and she didn’t care if she never saw it again.
Her last visit was at the behest of her then jailed boss, Supervisory Special Agent Jack Sabinski. Framed for committing espionage by his Jezebel, the dead Lana Michaels, Jack summoned J.J. and pled for her help in proving his innocence, a feat she accomplished despite her longstanding contempt for his mistreatment of her.
Now, J.J. focused her mind on interrogating the newest offender—Maddix Cooper, who, to her delight, was on the verge of becoming some inmate’s bitch. He’d already ratted out Gary Mosin as the second member of Lana Michaels’ Russian sleeper agent network during their showdown on the Devil’s Rest. He also spilled that Mosin had disappeared off the grid and was fleeing to Moscow—but left out the details of Mosin’s travel route, facts they needed to know in order to intercept him.
Never had an interrogation been so pointless from J.J.’s vantage point. No way in hell would Maddix divulge the details of Mosin’s escape plans. The only reason he confessed their connection in the first place was to escape the bullet from J.J.’s gun. Now, tucked behind the bars of Virginia’s premier correctional facility for newly arrested spies, he awaited a conviction that would guarantee if he died twice and came back to life, he’d still have to serve forty years. As far as he knew, a plea bargain might do little more than eliminate only one of his many life sentences. He had no viable reason to reveal another word. Certainly not out of the goodness of the cavernous pit where his heart was supposed to be.
The Sheriffs walked J.J. and Tony through a series of security doors until they reached the interrogation room. They left their overcoats with their escorts and tugged their suit jackets straight before entering. The sight of Kendell Phillips’ murderer shrouded in orange and shackled at the hands and feet gave J.J. a burst of pleasure she hadn’t felt since her early morning romp with Tony. A reddish-blue bruise circled his eye and spread to the cap of his jaw. His gaze disintegrated under the weight of her glare and fell to his twiddling thumbs. She prepared to speak when an overwhelming scent jarred her senses—the smell of contemptible swine.
“Figured you two would show up sooner or later,” Maddix said, his arrogance soaking up the little-remaining tolerable air in the room. It was a small box with dirty white cinderblock walls and a two-way mirror on the back side. He scratched the five o’clock scruff seeping from his square jawline. Red cracks peppered Maddix’s penetrating steel gray eyes, and Lipton-sized bags bubbled from beneath them. His first few nights behind bars had left him sleepless and worn, an inconsequential justice for a scumbag who offed his fiancé to ensure the survival of his spy ring.
He locked his eyes on J.J. and all but ignored Tony. “Hope you enjoy the view because I’ve got nothing to say to you…or your little partner here.” He jutted his chin toward Tony.
“My, my, my,” J.J. said to Maddix. “What an ugly fall from grace. Too bad they don’t make an Armani perp suit. You used to wear him so well.”
Positioned across from Maddix, Tony scanned the rat’s face and looked at him with a pained expression. “Rough night, eh? Did they forget to put you in solitary? Looks like you’ve been mingling with the locals.”
“Nothing I can’t handle,” he said with a shrug. Then he leaned back, spread his knees wide, and placed his hands in his lap. “So, this is the reason you came all the way to Shangri-La? To gloat?”
J.J. savored his misery and then vexed him with a tight smile. “We’re here to discuss your comrade in arms, Hawk—Gary Mosin.”
The usual good cop/bad cop routine would have zero impact on Maddix, the former Secret Service agent. For him, the routine would be a day at the office. The puppet show held no mystery. The little information he’d dribbled to date wouldn’t help a dog find bone. Even with the odds stacked against her, taking down Mosin before he found comforting shelter in the eager, waiting hands of Russia’s FSB was an imperative, not an option. He’d hatched what appeared to be a fool-proof escape plan before defecting to Russia, but even the best-laid plans had vulnerabilities ripe for exploiting.
“Newsflash, doll.” Maddix forced out a grating laugh, overplaying his weak position just a smidge. “You get nothing from me, not without a deal. I want immunity.”
“Immunity?” J.J. blinked in rapid motion. After rolling her neck and eyes, she folded her arms over her stomach, lifted a single eyebrow, and prepared to kill any dream he’d concocted of shaking his bid. She’d arrived with the intent to take the path of least resistance, but his crassness suggested he sought the off-road experience. “First of all, my name is J.J. or Agent McCall, not doll. Secondly, if you ever deign to—,” she started. Tony rested his arm on hers to stop her rant and signal he’d take over. He understood better than anyone that the bees-to-honey approach went out the door with the word “doll.”
“Listen, you ain’t gotta make this difficult. We didn’t come here to pick a fight. Give us the information we need, and you can go back to counting the tiles on the ceiling . . . or whatever it is you do on the inside.” Tony contrived a calm demeanor as he reached into his pant pocket and pulled out a pack of Marlboro 100s and a book of matches. He slid them to the middle of the table until they stopped beside a plastic ashtray. “Our treat. Enjoy. But if you choose to stay on the difficult route, we can reverse course any time.”
Maddix cupped his hands and with no show of gratitude, pulled the offerings to the table’s edge, his shackles jangling with his every move. He folded back the foil on the corner of the pack and knocked the open end against his wrist until a cigarette emerged. Then his brow drew together, furrowed in confusion. “You don’t have a clue, do you?” His gaze ping-ponged between J.J. and Tony before he shook his head. “That’s why you’re here. You don’t know!” With a slight air of cockiness, the corners of his mouth edged upward in a sneer; he eased back against the chair. “At the rate you’re going, The Washington Post will get the scoop before you do.”
“The fuck you talkin’ about?” Tony’s gruff New York attitude released like the Kraken. His face reddened as the sound of his grinding teeth emitted a low hum. Maddix’s arrogance stoked his anger, affecting Tony as easily as J.J.’s. “What part of ‘you ain’t gotta make this difficult’ did you not understand? You’re already testin’ my patience. I promise you that’s not a smart move, not for someone in your position…which in...”—he glanced down at his watch—“about an hour will be bent over for some booty bandit.”
Maddix took a slow drag from his cigarette and allowed the smoke to swirl around his lips before resting the cancer stick in the ashtray. He again shifted his cocky gaze between the two. “The great and powerful J.J. McCall. Just as ignorant as he is, huh? Man, I should tell both of you to go screw yourselves. I don’t need you. You need me.”
J.J. caught a glance of Tony’s fist which had curled into a tense ball. She pressed her hand to his arm to dissuade him from any impulsive actions. Like an electric current coursing through her brain, the touch sparked an epiphany, brought to light the answer to the question she posed to herself earlier. The solution to her Maddix predicament was simple. How do you make a man divulge information against his best interest?
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