Sneak Preview of A Glitch in the System:

1

INSTITUTIONAL OVERSIGHT

 

Tears trembled at the corners of Angela Gianni’s aching, bloodshot eyes, but she refused to let them fall. This isn’t over yet, she thought, glaring at the tiny mounds and divots in the white cinderblock wall opposite her. The air was thick and stale here, but she kept inhaling it deeply. Her labored breathing was all she could hear in the isolation of her new quarters, where she’d been taken while the investigation intensified.

Strobing images of the lifeless body in her back room and tactile hallucinations of blood on her palms trammeled her thoughts.

There was so much blood . . .

She scrutinized her hands for residual traces.

They’d seemed easy enough to clean at first, but after she left the house she’d more than once noticed dried flecks under her fingernails. Now, at least, her hands looked completely unsoiled. She dropped them to her lap and returned her gaze to the wall.

What the hell happened with Oliver? Someone else had to have been there. That’s the only way it could’ve happened.

She felt the side of her neck for scabs. Nothing there.

Maybe not. But then how . . . ?

She drew her knees to her chest, encircling them in her arms. The rough, gray wool of the blanket scratched her yoga pants as she shifted on the cot.

Samara and Mark were still out there somewhere. Maybe alive. Maybe even together. But nobody was looking for them now. There was no apparent connection between them and Oliver, and Oliver was the sole focus of the investigation, despite the incidents leading up to his visit. None of it made sense.

Angela rested her forehead on her knees and rocked gently back and forth.

Though she’d been moved several times in the last few hours, she knew she’d be allowed to rest here for the night—if she could manage to fall asleep. But with her mind endlessly looping obtrusive memories, straining to extract figments of constructive truth, she knew that was unlikely.

Then there was the question of what would happen tomorrow. And the day after. She couldn’t go back home, not for a while. She knew that as soon as she was escorted away. But what would come next? It was the first time she felt unable to form even a premonition about the future.

She couldn’t talk to anyone again until morning. That much was self-evident. And while she initially welcomed the silence of her newfound solitude, and with it the chance to process all that had happened, the unnatural stillness of the room had a certain maddening effect that she was just starting to appreciate.

Still rocking, she squeezed her legs tighter and lifted her head, exhaling forcefully through pursed lips.

You can do this, she told herself. It’s just a matter of time until the truth comes out . . .

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2

KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE . . .

 

Angela gazed into Mark Newsome’s glinting, gray eyes as the waitstaff cleared the table. He had taken her to Tête-à-Tête, the most exclusive French restaurant in town, where dining was both an experience and a statement. The restaurant’s décor was royally extravagant; the food was elegant and nuanced, unquestionably the best fare that Angela had ever tasted; and only society’s most elite seemed capable of getting a reservation. She couldn’t fathom how expensive the meal must have been.

She reached her hand across the table and he took it, squeezing gently. That’s what a man’s hand should feel like, she thought. Mark was urbane, fit, and oozed vitality, despite being mere months from his fiftieth birthday. Having experienced his magnetic charisma multiple times now, and having seen the gliding ease with which he bent the world to his will, Angela felt certain that Mark’s ascension to Chief Marketing Officer at Paulson Omnigroup had been inevitable.

When the check arrived with two complimentary boxes of Tête-à-Tête truffles, Angela felt like she was being unwillingly roused from a dream. Though full, she could have eaten another few courses. And while she didn’t interact with the aristocratic diners surrounding them, she was not yet ready to relinquish their company. Nonetheless, she and Mark rose from the table and walked casually out the front door past the maître d, who wished them a pleasant evening.

As the valet retrieved Mark’s car, Angela could feel the envious, searching stares of the proles passing by. It was fun to watch their not-so-furtive attempts to guess who Mark and Angela were among the Tête-à-Tête gentry. To amuse herself, she stood poised on the curb as though she were being photographed on a red carpet entryway, and she got into Mark’s Mercedes slowly, as if to show the world that time itself moved at her discretion.

Mark and Angela pulled away from the restaurant and drove back to Angela’s house in blissful silence, leaving Angela to ponder how best to consummate the date. She wanted to encourage more evenings like this, but she didn’t want to break character and let Mark take the lead tonight. That would be too much of a concession. Maybe she would pour him a drink, sit him on the couch, and dance for him as she slowly undressed. She would let him soak in every inch of her, and she would adapt her movements to his reactions, to those little unspoken signs that his desire was piquing when she moved a certain way or revealed those swaths of skin that unexpectedly and disproportionately raised his pulse. A guided tour of her meticulously crafted physique could be a nice departure from her dominance, and it would be a subtle way to show her gratitude without undermining their dynamic. Then she could conclude in more typical fashion.

They turned right onto her street and cruised up the hill toward her house. She looked over at Mark, who was peering at her thighs with saccadic glances when the streetlights temporarily lit them. She uncrossed her legs, put both feet on the dash between the driver’s and passenger’s seats, and slid the bottom of her cocktail dress toward her hips.

“You should be able to see them better this way,” she said.

Mark smiled.

“Don’t crash, but don’t stop looking either. I like the feel of your eyes on my skin.”

Mark stared longer and more deliberately, taking only quick glances at the empty road in front of them as a primordial part of his brain began to take over. He almost didn’t notice how near they were to her house until she retracted her legs, one at a time, and slid her dress back into place.

“We’re here. Why don’t you focus on pulling into my driveway without destroying my mailbox, and maybe I’ll let you see more when we get inside.”

Redirecting his attention, Mark turned into the driveway, sweeping his headlights across the yard and front steps in the process.

“What the . . . ?” Mark said, realizing what he just saw.

Angela, who had been soaking up Mark’s attention and getting herself into character for the performance she was about to give, didn’t notice anything until she saw Mark’s reaction. But looking toward the house, she saw a sobbing woman sitting on her front steps surrounded by luggage. The woman, hysterical, raised her head between a pair of heaving shoulders and stared straight at the car with two swollen, irritated eyes pouring tears over her prominent cheeks.

“Samara?” Angela said.

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