The Killer Collective by Barry Eisler Read Online (FREE)
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Arrington smoked in the dark. Smoking meant so much, not just for its intrinsic pleasure, but because he knew what it did to him. Accepting the inherent risks involved, the price of the pleasure, elevated the activity from what might have been a mere indulgence to something more akin to a passion. After all, a man had to genuinely love—had to be committed to something—if he was willing to sacrifice himself for it.
Still, he didn’t do it all the time. He never wanted smoking to become rote or routine. It had to have impact. Mark the moment. Signify something special, even something extreme.
Tonight, it did all those things.
In some ways, what he had just learned defied reason, because how could something so awful also contain something so impossibly good? He had experienced a similar dynamic only once before: 9/11, when the news came at CIA about the Pentagon hit, and his first thought had been Kelly is there. Kelly, who only a month earlier had told him she wanted a divorce, and that she hoped they could do it amicably, with reasonable visitation rights so he could continue to be a father to their two small daughters, and with no more child support than what the law would require anyway.
And then she was gone. Extinguished. Suddenly, instead of a sad, impoverished divorcé, he was the widower of a martyred Defense Department employee, sanctified by her death, recipient of a six-figure life-insurance payout and a seven-figure September 11th Victim Compensation Fund settlement. Rich instead of poor. Celebrated instead of scorned.
That was the dirty little secret of 9/11, he thought. Not the conspiracy theories—the accusations about advance knowledge and controlled demolition and inside jobs. The real secret was that within the overall loss, there were also winners. After all, it was just a matter of statistics that half of marriages ended in divorce. And divorce was the chemotherapy of marriage, so expensive and toxic that only couples in extremis would attempt it as a cure. And if half of marriages were so cancerous that they justified treatment with the equivalent of chemotherapy, what did that say about the others? How many of the nondivorced had just learned to live with the illness because the cure seemed even worse than the disease?
And all those unhappy unions, the bad and the worse, ended that morning. With the widows and widowers consecrated by the nation and showered with cash.
He had sensed today’s similarity immediately, but the full ramifications were so vast that he needed this moment in his town house living room, the lights off, the tendrils of tobacco smoke curling up past his fingers and the nicotine sharpening his focus, to try to fully understand.
He’d initially thought it would be just another scandal for the Secret Service. He didn’t care about that, beyond the value he thought he might extract politically. And then he had a hunch. A long shot, he’d thought. But it turned out he’d been right. Spectacularly so.