Heart Strike

A Linda Darby and Ryan Testler Novel

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Official Release Date: 3 November 2018

Heart-Strike - A Linda Darby and Ryan Testler Novel

America has a new president, Robert Wellington. Like several presidents before him, President Wellington inherits an old problem—the Middle East, but he has a new solution: The Wellington Doctrine. He selects a man outside diplomatic channels, Ryan Testler, to quietly carry the draft of that doctrine to the leaders of Europe and the Middle East. Accompanied by Linda Darby, Ryan travels as a tourist seeing the sights and powerful leaders of foreign governments. As word of his mission leaks, he and Linda are followed, accosted, and threatened. The fate of The Wellington Doctrine and, perhaps, the resolution of America’s entanglement in the Middle East hangs on Ryan and Linda surviving and succeeding.

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Chapter 1

Ryan Testler’s cell phone rang. “Hello?”
The caller provided no identification or pleasantry. “Chocolate ice cream tastes best on?”
“Cherry pie,” Ryan said without hesitation. The question suggested instructions would follow so he remained silent.
“Tomorrow morning at ten, come in through the entrance for deliveries. Do not provide your name or identification. To the Secret Service officer on duty, say only, “Odd numbers are really odd, but not to a mathematician. The officer will escort you.”
The call ended.

~ . ~

Ryan went out the door into the backyard of Linda Darby’s home in Caruthers, Kansas.
She looked up from a chaise lounge near the pool. She was sunbathing in a bikini, the sun bright overhead. A blue and white tree swallow sat on a branch about ten feet away. The entire scene was a contrast to what Ryan came out to tell Linda.
He went to her. “I thought you were inside watching the news.”
“I couldn’t watch anymore. The terrorist attack on the subway in London was horrible. So much destruction, so many injured people—useless violence. It’s all so damn crazy.”
“It’s the world we live in, darlin’.”
Linda scooted her legs to the side. Ryan sat beside her. “I hope it all ends soon. … Let’s change the subject.”
“I take it Steffi got off to school okay?”
“Sure.”
“How does she like the school here in Caruthers?”
“Fine, I think. She talks about how different Kansas is from Portland, Oregon. She likes it here, but I think she misses the boarding school, having breakfast with the other girls. She did her entire elementary school that way. It’s really all she’s known. Now she’s in the seventh grade at a public school, going back and forth from home. It’s a big change for her.”
“The school year just started. So much of life is routines and familiarities. She’ll get new friends and adjust.”
“I expect so. … She loves her honorary Aunt Vera and Uncle Dix, and, with encouragement from Mayor Caruthers, Steffi sometimes calls her grandma. It’s just different for her. But, yes, we need to be patient. Give her time.”
“Seems right.”
“So, how’s your morning going?”
“Not great. I need to leave pretty soon.”
“Oh? What’s up?”
“It’s … you know.”
Linda squirmed and wiggled until she was more upright. One of the untied straps of her bathing suit top trailed down her arm; the other across the left cup of her suit top. “What can you tell me?”
“Nothing really, other than I’ve got to go.”
“I thought you were going to try and avoid these occurrences whenever you could.”
Ryan watched as Linda grabbed the strap striping her left breast and tossed it to the side. “Key words: whenever I can. This one I can’t.”
“What makes this one so special?”
“The need for that better world you spoke of. It won’t get here from wishing.”
“There has to be more to it than that simple explanation.”
“There is, but that’s part of the ‘I can’t’. I’m sorry.”
“How long?”
“I’d only be guessing.”
“Is it something you might not come back from? … I know. I know. You can’t say and you wouldn’t know anyway.”
“Well, actually on this point, I can say a little more.”
Linda sipped from her iced tea and offered the glass to Ryan. “Well?”
He took a drink. “I don’t know because I don’t know what it is.”
Linda placed her hands in her lap. The move plumped up her breasts. “You call that more?”
“Hey. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be. We talked this through before we tried cohabitation here in Kansas. In my line of work, this kinda shit happens.”
“That’s the crux of it all, isn’t it? Your line of work. Were you ever normal?”
“I don’t know the answer, or what normal is.”
“As certain as the sun will rise in the morning, your line of work is far from normal.”
He gave her back her glass of tea. “Don’t be naïve. Admittedly, what I do is far from an ordinary day in the town of Mayberry. Nonetheless, in the world as it is, what I do is integral to America’s needs.”
“But you could die?”
“Not important.”
“Damn it. It is to me.”
“Can you forgive me?”
“Yes, I can. I just don’t want to. At least not right now. Not yet.”
“When?”
“I don’t know. Right now, I’m thinking never. Oh, I don’t mean that. It’s just … just—”
“Just what? Say whatever you want.”
“Before I met you. I thought people needing someone like you hunted in bars and brothels for men with mean faces, who broadcasted immorality … I don’t know. You’re a good man, but your goodness is wrapped in so much ugly. … I also know … Oh, I don’t know.”
Ryan reached across and put his open hand on Linda’s cheek. She looked over. He smiled. “Got to be done.”
“Same old, same old. I get it. Whatever it takes defines you. The end justifies the means. Is that it?”
“How I do what I do is what kept you alive when we first met.”
“Which means what?”
“It means we’re here. It means Steffi isn’t growing up without her mother. So, yeah, the short answer is the end justifies the means.”
“And you’re okay with that?”
“I am as long as I’m on the side of what is best for our country and for those I love.”
Linda moved her towel to shield her legs from the sun. “What about the work you did for Webster?”
“I drifted. I admit it. But I got that straightened away. … But, yeah, the end’s my game. I’ll leave others to wring their hands about the means. My experience is that their righteousness melts away when them and theirs is in someone’s crosshairs.”
“Okay, so much for Ryan Testler, modern philosopher. Let’s get back to you and me in the here and now. You leaving without explanation is unavoidable?”
“Yes.”
“You can’t refuse even though you don’t know what it’s about?”
“I know enough to know refusing isn’t an option.”
“I love you, Ryan Testler, although sometimes I wish I didn’t. I really do. … Will you tell me more when you know more?”
Ryan leaned in and kissed her on the forehead. “When I can. If I can.” He pulled down on both her bathing suit straps, lowering her top fully. “I got maybe an hour before I have to leave for the airport, if you’d like ta come in outta the sun.”

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