Digital Series. Episode 10: Once a year, the president holds a banquet for members of the military, police forces, and the Secret Service who have rendered outstanding service to the nation. This year, Special Agents Jeremiah Cotton and Philippa Decker have been invited for the first time. Cotton feels out of place at the party among all the "big shots." But then a slightly older but still quite attractive woman approaches him. Joan Fallon is being blackmailed by a stranger. Not for money, but for the state secrets guarded by her husband - the White House Chief of Staff. Joan has a dark past that not even her husband knows: In her youth, she acted in adult films. And it seems that the videotapes weren't all destroyed. Cotton discusses the problem with Mr. High, the head of the G-Team. A White House scandal and national security are at stake. So Cotton and his attractive partner Philippa start an undercover investigation into New York's porn scene ... A new legend is born! COTTON FBI is a remake of a world famous cult series with more than one billion copies sold and appears bi-weekly with a self-contained story in each e-book episode.
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What is COTTON FBI?
Next on Cotton FBI
Your name is Jeremiah Cotton. You are a small-time cop in the NYPD, a rookie that no one takes seriously. But you want more. You have a score to settle with the world. And anyone who calls you “Jerry” will be sorry.
A new time. A new hero. A new mission. Experience the birth of a digital cult-series: Cotton FBI is the remake of JERRY COTTON, the most successful series of German novels with more than one billion copies sold, and it tells an entirely new story in e-book form.
Cotton FBI is published twice a month, with each episode a self-contained story.
Peter Mennigen was born in Meckenheim near Bonn. He studied art and design in Cologne before he turned to writing fiction. His novels have been published by Bastei Lübbe, Rowohlt, Ravensburger and other publishing houses. He also writes scripts for graphic novels and audio dramatizations as well as screenplays for TV shows and series.
Translated by Frank Keith
Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG
Copyright for the German edition © 2013 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Cologne, Germany
Copyright for the English edition © 2014 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Cologne, Germany
Written by Peter Menningen
Translated by Frank Keith
Cover design: Sandra Taufer, Munich
Cover illustration: © Dmitry Prudnichenko / shutterstock; Irina Solatges / shutterstock; Pavel K / shutterstock; Birsen Cebeci / shutterstock
E-book-production: Urban SatzKonzept, Düsseldorf
The sky at dusk over Washington was blood red. The floodlights along the façade of the White House gave the night no chance to throw its dark cloak over the structure. Stoically, four Secret Service officers, the president’s bodyguards, stood by the southern main entrance in their dark suits. Unmoving and steadfast, they were constantly on guard, ready to draw their deadly weapons from underneath their suit coats at the first sign of danger. They seemed to be staring straight ahead, looking at nothing in particular. In reality, their eyes moved ceaselessly, searching for anything and everything.
They eyed the approaching young man dressed in an elegant tuxedo with suspicion. He stopped a few strides away from the steps leading up to the oversized doors. According to the FBI ID card that he held out to them, his name was Jeremiah Cotton.
The special agent had arrived by plane from New York City earlier that day. The majority of the afternoon he had spent working on his laptop in his hotel room. Then, at 1900 hours, he took a taxi to the White House.
There he stood now, leaning against one of the enormous pillars supporting the domed roof over the entryway. He was engaged in an internal battle, trying to suppress a growing nervous tension. He was even contemplating a strategic retreat. He felt as though he were a piece in the wrong puzzle. He didn’t belong in this world.
Once a year, the president gives a special banquet in the White House. Invitations go out to all those individuals who have achieved significant accomplishments in protecting the nation’s security. The guest list usually includes high-ranking people in politics, the military, the FBI, and various other federal agencies. This year, bucking tradition, the list contained two names of low-ranking officers who had been selected to join the illustrious circle. Two special agents named Philippa Decker and Jeremiah Cotton.
Just a few steps away, a line of large luxury cars rolled past Cotton. One after another, they slowly approached the entrance, stopping by the large staircase. Servants opened the rear doors of the cars to allow the elegantly dressed occupants and their escorts to exit. This procedure went on for some time.
Cotton had been mulling over his situation for half an hour: Should he stay or should he go? As a song flitted through his head, he thought that not a single soul at the banquet would miss him if he were to take off to find a bar on U Street where he could hear some live music and have a good single-malt whiskey. Another option: The next flight to New York would take off in about an hour. If he hurried, he could catch that flight right out of here. On the other hand, he had invested quite a bit of time and effort in looking as presentable as possible for this occasion.
Inexplicably, he suddenly felt that he was being watched. He turned around to find his partner, Philippa “Phil” Decker. She was standing by the large double doors, next to the steady stream of guests flowing into the White House. The special agent looked mighty fine tonight, he thought. He almost didn’t recognize her in the skimpy cocktail dress, which showed a lot of skin; only once before had he seen her dressed in a similar fashion. That particular evening had ended with him knocking her out! He couldn’t help but stare at her cleavage, especially since the conservative suits she usually wore while on duty allowed no such view.
Once they had made brief eye contact, he was practically forced to accept the inevitable. Resigning himself to his fate, he shrugged his shoulders, stuck his hands deeply into his pockets, and ambled towards the entryway.
“I’m not sure what’s going through your head,” she said when he was within earshot, “but I think you’d better keep it to yourself.”
“Don’t tell me that a longing to see me brought you out here.”
“Sorry to burst your bubble,” she answered casually, “but it wasn’t any longing for your company that brought me here; it was Mr. High. The boss was afraid that you might try to disappear.”
“He always knows more than he should,” Cotton murmured.
“I’m not sure,” he told her truthfully as they went through the security check and entered the impressive vestibule. “Why exactly are we here?”
“Because we saved the world,” she reminded him, “more than once.”
“Really? Then I guess it’s high time that the president bought us a drink. By the way, you look fabulous in that dress.”
“I should, after what it cost. My clothes usually have three times as much fabric at one-third the price.”
“I could get used to it. I might even suggest it as your service uniform.”
Before Decker could think up an appropriate response, they had reached the East Room — the largest room in the White House, used for concerts, banquets, and press conferences. Near the wide-open double doors, they were greeted with handshakes by the president and the First Lady, a ritual repeated for each guest.
Cotton followed Decker into the extravagantly decorated hall. The walls were painted in light beige and lime green. Antique furniture, carpets, and paintings adorned the historical room.
Cotton found himself next to his boss, John D. High, who was deep in conversation with a senator. To avoid interrupting him, the two agents pretended not to see him. Cotton thought he heard the senator ask Mr. High for a favor in the name of their friendship. Everyone on the G-Team knew that High couldn’t stand this politician.
Attentively, Decker and Cotton moved onward through the ever-thickening crowd of people. They walked past stylishly dressed ladies and men clad more conservatively in tuxedos. The guests had clumped into groups, some small, some large, and were talking enthusiastically with one another. Laughter and the clinking of glasses filled the room.
“I’m too young for this sort of thing,” Cotton complained, looking at the silver-haired men around him.
“How about a drink?” Decker asked him.
“A true gentleman would keep a lady supplied with alcoholic drinks to maintain her good mood.”
“Then I’ll get to it straightaway.” Cotton looked around for a source of drinks. At the other end of the ballroom, he saw a waitress weaving through the guests. She was skillfully balancing a tray holding several cocktail glasses, ices cubes clinking. Cotton made his way over to the young woman. She smiled at him as he took two of the glasses from her tray and thanked her.
With a glass in each hand, Cotton went back to where he had left Decker standing, but she was no longer there. Apparently, she was too attractive a woman to be left alone for long. He discovered her standing by the fireplace, almost completely surrounded by a group of attractive men. There was a charming smile on her face; she was evidently enjoying the attention.
As things stood now, Cotton was effectively alone. Accompanied by the gentle sounds of a jazz trio, the two martini glasses, and a feeling of abandonment, he walked over to one of the tall doors leading out to the terrace. With something approaching virtuosity, he worked the door handle with his elbow to open it, as his hands were full with the two glasses; he didn’t spill a drop. He stepped out into the mild night air, closing the door behind him in a similar fashion.
Cotton took a deep breath. The terrace was empty. From somewhere in the dark came the sound of water gushing through a fountain. The sickle of the new moon and a few of the brighter stars were visible in the Washington sky, which the city lights kept from ever being completely dark.
Standing by the stone balustrade, the agent stared out into the park and finished the two drinks, one after the other. His plan was simple: to make this dull evening a little more bearable with the help of alcohol.
As he put down the second glass, he noticed the silhouette of a woman by one of the terrace doors. Her dark, slim shadow was surrounded by the lights of the banquet hall. He observed her curiously. She took a small sip from her glass as she looked at the agent.
“Good evening,” he greeted her. “Can I help you with anything?”
“Maybe; I’m looking for someone,” she said in a surprisingly low, soft voice.
“I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to assist you with that. I hardly know a soul in there.”
“Aren’t you Jeremiah Cotton?”
“As it happens, I am,” he told her, wondering how she had recognized him.
With graceful steps, she strolled over to him. The subdued lights of the veranda revealed an attractive woman in her thirties with fine features and unusually beautiful eyes. Her make-up was flawless, as was her tight-fitting, knee-length, light-blue silk dress. Her chestnut-brown hair was styled asymmetrically, the left side combed back to expose one ear. Long curly locks fell over her right shoulder. One hand was holding a small shiny purse, and the other, a half-full martini glass.
“I’d like to have a talk with you.” She smiled, but it was a forced and somewhat tense smile.
“It’s … how should I put it … a bit delicate.”
“Are you sure you’re talking with the right person? We don’t know each other, and …”
“It doesn’t concern only me, but also my husband. Maybe even national security.”
“You’ve piqued my interest. Would you be so kind as to tell me your name?”
“My name is Joan Fallon; I’m Richard Fallon’s wife.”
Cotton’s ears perked up — Fallon was the president’s closest advisor.
“My husband always makes certain that his private life, which includes me, stays private. I give no interviews, I try to avoid being photographed, and I accompany my husband only to private gatherings. If I hadn’t found out that you would be here tonight, I might not have attended this party at all.”
“Really? I feel honored, but …”
“Do you have a problem with who I am?”
“No. I’m just a bit confused. I can’t imagine how I, of all people, could help the wife of one of the most influential men in the country.”
“That’s what I’m trying to explain to you, Mr. Cotton.”
“Please call me Jeremiah.”
“As you wish, Jeremiah.” She looked at him with eyes that reflected both hope and despair. “But first, you must promise me that you won’t repeat to anyone what I’m about to tell you.”
“As long as it’s nothing illegal, I can easily give you that promise. So, how can I help you, ma’am?”
“I’m an attractive and, compared to my husband, relatively young woman,” she told him matter-of-factly.
“Without a doubt.”
“However, my looks also have a downside.”
“There was a dark time in my life that neither my husband, nor anyone else in my circle of friends and family knows about, and I never want them to find out. Before I met Richard, I was an actress in … well, let’s say, adult films.”
“Adult? Do you mean …?” Cotton loosened his tie a bit. For some reason, his tie, which he only wore for special occasions, was suddenly restricting his breathing.
“Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Before I became the wife of the president’s advisor, I acted in porn. Partly because I needed the money and partly because I was naïve enough to think that it would open the door to a more serious type of acting career.” She sighed as she added, “I believed that for way too long back then. But, thank God, my films were never very popular. Hardly anyone ever went to the theaters to watch them. They ended up as cheap videos on the back shelves of sex shops. After I met Richard a few years ago, I bought up all the videos and photos from that period in my life. I knew all the film-makers and photographers … all losers who were just barely eking out a living. They were more than happy to make a few extra bucks on stuff that never sold anyways by selling it all to me. There were scarcely any copies left on the market in the first place, simply due to the age of the material. The few copies that did get sold have also probably fallen victim to the ravages of time.”
“That’s wonderful. Then your problem is solved.”
“That’s what I thought, too.” She turned away from Cotton and stared out into the darkness of the garden. “Until I learned that there is still one video out there featuring me as the star.” Tears formed in her eyes. “My husband would never forgive me for the scandal.”
“Are you being blackmailed?”
“Yes, but not for money — for government secrets that my husband has access to. To be precise, for a file with the code name ‘Project Omega’. He might even keep copies of it in our home safe.”
“Do you have any idea what this project is about?”
“No, none at all. My husband would never speak about anything like that — even to me. All I know is that it’s something secret. If I don’t play along, then my husband will learn about my past, and that would be the end of our marriage and his career.”
“How … ah, revealing is this film?”
She gritted her teeth and closed her eyes tightly for a moment. “We’re not talking about soft porn here, it’s … hard-core.”
“I see. Do you know who the blackmailer is?”
“No. He contacted me anonymously via e-mail.”
“Is there any proof of the video’s existence? He may just be bluffing.”
“And if it’s not a bluff? What would happen to me and my husband if the video really is out there and is made public? That can never be allowed to happen. That’s why I have to assume that the video exists.”
“But if you give in and hand over the secret information, chances are that it’ll happen again, and who knows where it might end?” Cotton rubbed his chin as he thought. “Even if this film really does exist, I wouldn’t be able to get it for you. The movie is a private matter, and the FBI has no business investigating such a case. Helping you would be an abuse of my position.”
“I understand.” She was trying hard to accept his rejection without tearing up. “I’m sorry to having wasted your time. Good night.”
“Just a moment, please. That was the bad news. The good news is, the way things look, this isn’t really about some old sex video; it’s about blackmailing and treason. And the FBI does have jurisdiction in both cases. And if I should stumble upon a revealing video of you in the course of my investigation, it could easily disappear into the evidence locker forever. However, if I were to help you, I wouldn’t be able to do it alone.”
She took a deep breath at those last words. “But you promised …”
“Not to tell anyone about your past.” Cotton nodded. “You put your trust in me when you told me your story. Now I’ll ask you to trust me again. To ensure success in this case, I’ll have to tell my boss and my partner about it. I can guarantee discretion, at any rate. No one else will know about this, I promise you.”
There was a look of doubt in her eyes for a few moments. Then, with a nod, she agreed.
“There’s one more thing.” Cotton leaned a bit closer to her. “What pseudonym did you use back then?”
“Heather Heart,” she answered, somewhat taken aback at the question. “Does that matter?”
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