by Jon Batson
The Rands Conspiracy takes the reader on a Bourne-style chase as Josh and his development team run for their lives after creating an “experimental” spyware program for the powerful government funded Rands Group.
Josh Borland was taking unemployment rather well. His sudden termination from the Rands Group was unexpected, but he was vacationing in the sun and the sand with others in the same virtual boat.
In the morning Josh finds himself hung over but alive. In fact, he is the only one still alive.
Josh does his best to gather his friends from Rands in order to unravel the mystery, but more importantly, to keep them alive.
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The Rands Conspiracy, a fact-based fiction novel, takes the reader on a Bourne-style chase as Josh and his development team run for their lives after creating an experimental spy-ware program for the powerful, government-funded Rands Group.
Tolu, Colombia – A Decade Ago
“Tiburón!” came the shout from the shore. It was Javier. He was waving at me. The tall, sleek Colombian in cut-offs danced on the khaki sand like a bad imitation of a rock star.
I swam in toward the thin line of sand that separated the blue Caribbean from the thick foliage of the jungle behind him. He wanted something. What could be so important? It was a glorious day, too hot to be out of the water.
“Tiburón!” he cried again, taking off his shirt and waving it over his head. I broke into an Australian crawl as best I could. Swimming was never my strong suit, but I enjoyed the water.
And this was water to enjoy! Beautiful, turquoise, warm but not too warm, refreshing and you could read a paper through it. Of course, Javier wasn’t letting me read a paper, he was shouting the news like a crazed anchorman.
“Venga! Mira! Tiburón! Joshua, venga!” I had never seen him so worked up. But then, I had only known Javier three days.
As I walked out of the surf, Javier put his shirt back on. My Spanish was worse than my Australian crawl.
“Que paso, amigo? Almuerzo? Cerveza? Niñas? Que?”
If it wasn’t beer, lunch or girls, what did I care? Why would he care? Javier was just like me, only his Spanish was better. His English was also better than mine was.
“Hell, man, never mind. What you don’t know won’t hurt you. You want a ‘Cuba-Libre’?”
“Of course I do! I always want a ‘Cuba-Libre’!”
Rum and coke with a twist of lime – a ‘Cuba-Libre’ – had become my new favorite drink.
Like me, Javier was in his last months of being ‘twenty-something’ and was entering that cloudy realm of ‘30-something’ wherein you are supposed to be an adult but want to stretch out being 29 just one more year. He was six feet exactly, a few pounds over his college sports weight, and liked to party – with all the ills entailed; bleary nights, hung over mornings and dubious diet – just like me.
We were computer geeks, think-tank jockeys. He worked in California, I worked in Washington D.C. – both our offices had been closed within 24 hours of each other. Javier and my friend Bernie had been chatting online when Javier told him they were shutting down his office. Bernie said the same with ours. So when Javier said he was going to go to a beach town, get drunk and meet girls, we said, “Wait for us!”
Back at the outdoor bar that had become our hangout, Parrepi was preparing to do his thing with his makeshift band. Parrepi was shorter than the rest of the band members, nut-brown and missing his front teeth. He sang while playing the conga drum and made sounds like a trumpet in the instrumental breaks. The rest of the band was what was left after most of the musicians had taken off to work off-season jobs.
The off-season Americans – that was us – usually sprung for the rum and coke. It was really Roncola, the local imitation. The rum was local too, not The Captain, but it was good.
The bar was barely more than a thatched roof with one solid wall. The other corners were held up by poles, allowing entry through three sides, from the road, the ocean and along the beach. The tables and chairs were cheap and mismatched with chipped paint and missing leg-braces. Every table had a matchbook or two under one of the legs to keep from wobbling.
Standing by one of the wobbling tables, Javier talked fast and excitedly, waving his arms. The locals laughed, then looked at me and laughed again.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said, emptying another Cuba Libra. “I’m a funny guy.”
The evening pretty much continued like that until I decided it was time to go home. I got as far as the beach outside the Cantina.
Dawn found me not far from the bar on the sand. I had slept there and had a kink in my neck. The sun was just coming up. Javier was standing over me, the same silly grin on his face.
“Man, you were striking out pretty good with the little local girl in the flowered dress. But later you redeemed yourself with a speech about what good friends we were – then you passed out.” Javier liked filling me in on the night before.
“I’m sure I was very eloquent.”
He helped me up and we began to walk down the beach to our rented bungalow. The surf stroked the sand providing the background sound for our lives, a show that ran twenty-four hours a day.
We walked in silence, the dawn breaking before us. The scene was too beautiful for words, like a magnificent postcard. Of course, words were not yet part of my skill set – my mouth was totally dry and my head felt like a tin bucket.
Half way to the bungalow, we spied a ten-foot shark that had washed up on the beach. It was dead. Large marks in the side told the tale, he’d lost the fight with a propeller. The mouth lay open showing rows of razor-sharp, inwardly slanted teeth. The unblinking eye, made for his full-time search for food, now focused on nothing.
“Mira!” said Javier, “Tiburón muerte!” Which was, “Look, a dead shark.”
I stopped. “Tiburón? Este es un Tiburón?”
“Si!” Javier was laughing now, “Tiburón!”
What he had been yelling at me the day before, when I was taking my time getting out of the water, was “Look, a shark!” Only I couldn’t understand what he was saying and Javier forgot about me not speaking Spanish. In the excitement he also forgot how to speak English. Now it was crystal clear that the shark did not attack me because he would not eat anything so stupid.
As I stood there, looking at the ghostly eye staring at nothing, wondering if this had been the very shark that found me not worth eating, Javier danced around me laughing and pointing. He had obviously had less drink and more sleep than I had.
I was not laughing. A chill went up my back and shook me. I was looking at what might have been my doom – a painful and frightening death. The shark took on the appearance of a centerpiece to a lavishly laid out table with sand, sea, tropical forests and the sun rising on the horizon. Through it danced Javier, cackling like a child, arms and legs akimbo.
I turned and walked around the shark, giving it enough room that I could still jump if it made a lunge at me, and continued down the beach to the bungalow. Behind me, Javier was running to catch up, still talking animatedly. I didn’t hear a word.