About the Author:
Jordan Ekeroth is a young man with a clear voice, wisdom beyond his years, and always a story to tell. From a young age, you could find him either buried in books or bearing the adventure of his imagination into the great outdoors. He’s met some people and seen some things that have given him a radical desire to impact the world in a positive way. A person of deep faith, his dream in writing is to take people along on the adventure of a lifetime, while simultaneously creating a space for them to learn about themselves and the world around them.
You can visit Jordan Ekeroth’s website at www.jordanekeroth.com.
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About the Book:
International intrigue rooted in a secret history.
Mysterious and unlikely allies.
The memory of a lost love.
A race against time.
Josh Fulton is enjoying his 15 minutes of fame after catching a charismatic leader in an act of infidelity. But when he finds himself alone and hunted through the dark streets of a foreign city, he is forced to face the truth that he has found himself embroiled in a far deeper conspiracy than he'd ever imagined.
As his search for truth takes him across continents, he will be forced to confront inner demons that have been locked away for years.
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Long Beach, California
1:27 PM, Friday
Instead of cutting across the asphalt parking lot, Josh Fulton took the long way back from lunch at the greasy beachfront taco joint. How could he have known that doing so would change his life? All he knew was that it was the cheapest food in a mile, and the salty ocean air and infinite horizon were free, even if he was paying through the nose to live and work so near to it.
Friday afternoons were slow at his small auto shop, and Josh was in no hurry to get back. He hesitated at the door of the office, taking one last moment to savor the baking California sun, when a glossy black limo pulled into view, rousing his curiosity. It pulled conspicuously up to the small hotel across the street.
The man who stepped out was almost unrecognizable; totally unaccompanied by security, wearing khakis, a plaid button-up, and sunglasses. But Josh never forgot a face. How could he forget one like George Mzwenga’s? It was more than the face of a man - it was the face of “Africa’s Hope” and it had been plastered all over every newspaper and magazine for weeks during Mzwenga’s incredibly rapid rise to prominence last December.
Josh didn’t recognize the curvy blonde figure that emerged after him. Whoever it was, it was certainly not Mrs. Mzwenga. This mysterious “she” hurried inside, clad in a deep purple track suit, all velvet and faux luxury.
Josh immediately thought of the camera that was gathering dust in his office. He wasn’t a paparazzo by trade, but he wasn’t about to lose the chance to make a quick buck. Whatever scandalous activity these two were about to engage in, he imagined that there would be someone willing to pay a good deal of money to have photographic proof of it, or perhaps to keep such proof in the dark.
“Yo Dennis,” Josh hollered, walking into the shop. “What do you say we finish up? I’m about ready to call it a day.”
“Already?” came the stout reply.
“Yeah go for it. It’s damn hot out, and we’re not doing anything that can’t wait ‘til tomorrow.”
Josh popped open the door to the garage and walked in just as Dennis hauled himself out from beneath a pick-up he’d been working on. The two men regarded each other in silence for a moment.
Dennis was a tree-trunk of a man, with tattoos on his forearms and grease on his hands. He wiped most of the grease onto his black t-shirt, a memento of some recent metal concert, before wiping the rest through his short, brown, recently buzzed hair. He liked the feel of the stubble.
If they hadn’t been friends for so many years, Josh would have felt intimidated, cutting a much less impressive figure. He was average height, with the sort of face that was easily lost in a crowd. His sagging brown hair hung ragged, covering straight eyebrows that always hovered high above his cloudy blue eyes in an expression of bewilderment. His strong, mechanic’s forearms gave him an initial impression of physicality, but his pencil legs and growing love handles quickly belied the fact that he had really begun to let himself go.
There were plenty of excuses all right; plenty of reasons not to work out. There was the stress of running a failing business, the stress of paying off student loans for a useless degree in political science; and the stress of bearing all this weight with no one to talk to - especially not Dennis - because Josh was supposed to be the one holding it all together. His guilt was punctuated by an anxious interjection from Dennis.
“Lissen man, I know things have been slow lately, but I just wanted to say, you’re doing a’right by me.”
Josh stood nodding in silence, forcing himself to smile and look Dennis in the eye. He felt like a fraud, standing there acting like everything was alright. But he reminded himself that there was just a chance that if this bizarre opportunity paid off, then for once, things might actually work out.
Leaving Dennis to clean up and clear out, Josh walked into his office to make sure he had his facts straight. Mzwenga was a hero on global scale, the President of the East African nation of Tawezi, and the type of man who gets nominated for Nobel Peace Prizes. Josh needed to be absolutely sure that something scandalous was really going on before trying to blow the whistle. The office was a mess, littered with paperwork, magazines, old newspapers, and far too many overdue bills. He hesitated for a moment as he uncovered and gently cradled that old Polaroid of Angelica. It was the only picture he had left of her. He forced himself to tuck it away.
The sight was accompanied by the sound of two small televisions - both tuned to international news stations - that blared away in the corner. Giving them his attention for a moment, Josh checked to be sure he hadn’t missed any major developments. The US dollar was still strong against the British pound, an unusually short rainy season in Central America would be negatively impacting that region’s economy, and oh, Japan’s Prime Minister seemed to be recovering well from his recent stroke. None of this was news to Josh. He was always in the know.
Josh quickly dug through the mess of papers on his desk until he found it- the glossy old issue of Time which featured Mzwenga on the cover alongside a headline “Africa’s Hope.”
There was no mistaking it, it was him. There was the smooth, bald ebony head, the strong jaw, and that taut mouth, which always seemed to hint that Mzwenga had more to say, and the wisdom not to say it. Josh could only assume that behind the sunglasses that he saw lay those same brown eyes, dark and strong; always so hopeful, always so honest.
Josh paused to wonder if Mzwenga’s wife, Evelyn, knew. Because if she didn’t already, she would soon.
Certain that it was Mzwenga he’d seen, Josh went into full stakeout mode. Opening a dusty locker and looking over his collection of lenses, filters, and other photography paraphernalia, he was struck with a wave of nostalgia for those old high-school photojournalism days. He’d ditched it eventually; no money in that racket. Maybe there would be some in it now.
To this day, Josh loved his gadgets; though he kept reminding himself to unsubscribe from that stupid Skymall catalog that he’d signed up for on a whim. Just hadn’t quite gotten around to it yet. He loved figuring out how things worked, but his administrative abilities were severely lacking. And that’s why this shop isn’t going to last much longer, he reminded himself.
The auto shop was already set up with a CCTV security system that normally just recorded to a hard-drive, but could be plugged in directly to his small televisions. One of these cameras was on the roof. Normally it was directed at the small parking lot, but it was a simple matter of repositioning the camera to face the hotel entrance, in case Mzwenga decided to take his fancy lady love out on the town. Next, digging out his old telescope, Josh equipped it with a motion detector which would in turn trigger a notification on his smartphone whenever it detected movement. This was his surveillance piece de resistance - it would be ideal as a sort of long-distance alarm – perfect to alert him whenever Mzwenga slipped up and did something dumb, like open his blinds. Finally, Josh owned a good old-fashioned film camera. He had purchased it before the days of digital, but it was reliable, and the massive zoom lens that Josh picked up during his days of shooting high school football games would guarantee some great “action shots.”Putting on a fresh pot of coffee, Josh settled in for the long haul. His mini-fridge held enough hot pockets and energy drinks to last several days. He was prepared for anything. Except one thing.
He realized his mistake and simultaneously burned his mouth on the first bite of scalding ham and cheese. The problem was that he would only be able to monitor a single room at a time. And he had no way of knowing which room he needed to watch. A cursory scan didn’t reveal George in any of them.Josh cursed himself up and down for this oversight. Left with no other choice, he prepared to go behind enemy lines.
Popping a handful of Tic Tacs in his mouth and checking himself out in the mirror, Josh pushed his swoop of boring brown hair over to its proper place. He needed to look presentable for this next part.
The hotel lay directly across the street from Josh’s shop. The place was old. A long, flat white building with faded brown trim, it had once been considered luxurious. Apparently some movie stars had stayed there back in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Whatever it once was, it now had a quaint bed and breakfast feel to it. It had two stories and every room had a window facing the ocean.
Josh casually sauntered across the street to the hotel. Stepping into the comfortable, cool lobby, he was greeted by the scent of coconut air freshener and the muted rhythms of a vaguely tropical soundtrack, full of steel drums and ukuleles. An aging receptionist sat at the desk. She hadn’t greeted him, obviously distracted by the latest celebrity gossip jumping out of the cheap magazine she clutched in her leathery hands. And those hands. They had clearly spent far too many hours over the years applying suntan oil to her unnaturally darkened skin. She finally glanced up as Josh neared the desk and coughed politely, shooting him an exasperated look with her glazed blue eyes. Josh thought that each one looked like a Fruit Loop, floating in a bowl of milk. Not wanting to come across as too eager, Josh contented himself with silently thumbing through a series of brochures, grimacing at the sound of the receptionist absently clacking her teeth together.
Finally, she grated out two words.
Casually glancing at her nametag (it read “Shirley”), Josh asked absentmindedly if he could find out which room his “large dark friend was in.”
“Does ya friend have a name?” came the expected reply in an unidentifiable drawl. Half Brooklyn, half southern; Josh wondered if she was faking the accent.
“Well, Shirley, I’m willing to bet you know who I’m talking about.” Josh replied with a wink. “And anyway, I want to surprise him, take him out to dinner. He’s only in town for the weekend isn’t he?” Change the question, catch her off-guard.
“Ya know what hun, let me check on that.” She started pounding on the keyboard, which was far louder than a keyboard should be.
“You said it hun,” she droned. “He paid fer his room ‘til Sunday.”
She lowered her voice conspiratorially and gave Josh a knowing nod. “He paid in cash. Hundred dollar bills.”
Josh had to keep her talking, had to keep her distracted from the fact that she wasn’t supposed to be telling him any of this information.
“Say, do you know if he’s in right now? Maybe I’ll just run up and say hi.”
“Well, I haven’t seen him leave this way, though I suppose he could have gone out the back. But listen here hun. Do you know that lady that was with him? I think she mighta been a real movie star, but I mean it’s always real tough to tell behind those big ol’ glasses.” She was a chatty one - wrinkly old Shirley.
“Well I’ll just run up and check right now. And I’ll tell you what -“ Josh was ready to seal the deal. “If he’s with some real-life movie star, I will come right back and let you know who it is.”
The lady let out a ghastly, gasping squeal of delight. Josh turned and strode purposefully around the corner towards the rooms before poking his head back out sheepishly a moment later.
“Sorry, can you remind me of his room number?” he said, nonchalantly.
She had bought the whole con: hook, line and sinker. “Didn’t I tell ya already? He’s up there in 217.”
Josh walked down the hallway feeling like an international man of mystery; fantasizing about robbing banks and toppling government agencies. He was whistling to himself as he reached the back exit of the hotel and swaggered out into the baking heat and the coastal breeze. He took a deep breath of that salt-sprayed air, then strode confidently back to the shop.
He lasted a few hours before the stakeout excitement faded and the second guessing began.
Have I even got the right room? Curtains are shut, lights are off. This is a waste of time. No one’s in there. The doubts came one at a time, each more convincing than the last.
But Josh waited, and waited, and waited.
The sun started setting in a particularly dramatic fashion and as it did someone flung open the drapery and stood prominently in the window, absorbing the colors of the sky. Josh knew immediately, before even looking through the camera viewfinder, that it was him, George Mzwenga. Who else could it have been?
But he was alone. A single light was turned on next to the bed and all it revealed was that the room behind him seemed to be empty. Not that Josh could see it all from the angle of his current hideout, but no one else appeared to be in sight. Josh lowered his camera. This wouldn’t do. Mzwenga by himself meant nothing.
Then a sliver of light shone quickly through the room, seeping from the slightly-opened bathroom door where a woman’s silhouette stood, not wearing much of anything. Josh dragged the camera up in a heartbeat, twisting the room into focus and simultaneously snapping a series of photos.
As the figurative dust settled and Josh calmed his rapid breathing, he found himself gripping the body of his camera and staring at a wall of curtains, still swishing from the force with which Mzwenga had whipped them shut.
Had Josh gotten anything? He couldn’t be sure. He would have to develop the photos first. But he didn’t have any equipment here in his shop and he couldn’t afford to take any chances. Josh decided to stay and wait for another opportunity.
The sky darkened, no longer illuminated by the sun, but by the bright lights and sounds of the nearby city center. Josh waited.
The midnight hours dragged into a grey dawn. The rising sun was a silver dollar and the early morning fog was a magician’s handkerchief; covering it, hiding, preparing for the grand reveal. Josh waited.
The sun’s grand reveal came mid-morning when it finally burned through the clouds and cast dangerous shadows from everything it touched. Josh waited.
Saturday passed, minute by aching minute, and still Josh waited. Sometimes he felt delirious; other times he caught himself just waking up. It was torture, but it would be worth it. These photos could be worth a small fortune, meaning he would finally be able to pay off those old debts. He would finally be able to make it through an entire day without having a panic attack about the future of the shop. This was his chance to make it; to maybe be normal again. He might even become rich.
It was the million-dollar question. If he became rich overnight, what would change in his life? Would he travel? Would he move? Would he just start buying nicer things? Would he become a more interesting person? It always frustrated him that he couldn’t think of a good answer.
“Snap out of it,” he said to himself. “You spend too much time daydreaming, not enough time doing things. That’s why you’ll never be rich.”
Saturday passed uneventfully.
He hadn’t noticed that he was falling asleep in his shop chair, but he did notice the rays of sunlight glaring in at him as his beeping phone woke him with a start on Sunday morning.
A glance at the security feed on his TV showed two cars pulling up to the hotel and a glance out the window showed two people walking to meet them. Josh clumsily grabbed at his camera, which was lying on a nearby counter, nearly knocking it to the floor in the process.
It was George Mzwenga and his mysterious lover, and Josh snapped an entire roll of them walking to the car with interlaced fingers, embracing and kissing passionately. Mzwenga and his companion each entered a vehicle and each vehicle drove its separate way. Josh couldn’t believe his luck.
He smiled as he lowered the camera. He had photographic evidence that one of the most famous men in the world was having an affair. He knew someone who would pay a pretty penny for these.
Josh Fulton’s life had just taken a turn for the better.
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