Saylor's Goodreads Bookshelf

Saylor's books

Animal Farm
Where the Sidewalk Ends
The Great Gatsby
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Catcher in the Rye
Of Mice and Men
The Alchemist
Me Talk Pretty One Day
Lord of the Flies
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Little Women
A Tale of Two Cities
The Count of Monte Cristo
Les Misérables
Moby-Dick or, The Whale
The Joy Luck Club
The Memory Keeper's Daughter

Saylor's favorite books »


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Where To Buy The O Line Mystery books and ebooks:

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The Rot is Deep excerpt

From Book 3 of The O Line Mysteries:

The Rot is Deep
An O Line Mystery

M. Saylor Billings
Billibatt Productions

This is a work of fiction.  All characters appearing in this work are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, businesses, organizations, events, or locales is purely coincidental.
The Rot is Deep - An O Line Mystery
Copyright Ó 2012 by M. Saylor Billings
All rights reserved.  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2012908310
ISBN: 978-09838061-6-5
Billibatt Productions

Coming Soon from M. Saylor Billings

Red, White, and Scotch:  Book 4 of
The O Line Mystery Series

The O Line Mystery Short Stories

Writing as Lorna Tollison:
Nobody, really, Likes You
A Guide to Insouciance.

For Claude LaFayette

In Memoriam

Table of contents



Moving in, again

The Aurora Shield

Hurricane Tessa

The Auld Alliance

Standard Practice

Greed and Loathing

3 Blind Mice

Parent sTrap

He Travels Alone

Rumor is truth, in drag

The Invisible Link

Ebb and Flow

Truth Will Out

The author gratefully acknowledges all the listeners of the O Line Mysteries podcast who have graciously written in, sometimes just to say, ‘Hi, we’re out here.’


Code named “Aurora Shield”, the satellite cloaking device tricks any satellite tracking networks into believing they are tracking space rocks or space detritus. By using magnets and mirrors in the housing and coding the software to replicate the radio signals that would bounce off space detritus back to earth, the cloaking device makes the satellite and its functions virtually invisible.  The brilliant simplicity of Aurora’s design shares the same survival functions animals have developed through evolution.  It should have been code named “Chameleon”. 
Several reconnaissance and space surveillance agencies had been working on their own ‘invisibility shields’ and jamming devices for years.  But it was a small geospatial software company, The Hayward, located in the sprawling Northern California coastal town of Hayward, that perfected the cloaking trick of the satellite trade and sold their idea to No Such Agency, the NSA. 
Originally, The Hayward had been contracted to create mapping software for Spectorgies’ defense contracting sector, whose main customers are the sixteen members of the national intelligence agencies.  It was through Spectorgies’ employees that the NSA had gotten wind of The Hayward’s cloaking device.  The NSA, however, skipped the Spectorgies’ middlemen and contracted The Hayward directly.  With the increasing threat of a cyber attacks from both in and out of the country, it was imperative that the building and launching of such a powerful surveillance unit remain an ‘Eyes Only’ project. In an effort to keep their new satellite asset a secret for as long as possible, the NSA used The Hayward’s hardware design and paid EarthSat, a satellite maker in San Diego, for the hardware construction.

Tim steered his car into the parking space marked: VISITOR. The nondescript cement building among a street of identical nondescript cement buildings looked more like a distribution administration building for car parts or toilet tissue than a high-tech software company.  He smiled at Sergey His-last-name-has-no-vowels strolling languidly over to his car.  He met Sergey yesterday during the initial human resource meeting he conducted here at The Hayward and realized that it may be too late for these employees to emerge into a working group.  Tim considered Sergey to be a typical software coder, unbelievably bright, but completely without social skills.  But the rest of the software engineers social skills had morphed into a scene played out in Lord of the Flies.
“I have family in Ukraine and I tell them I work at The Hayward in Hayward, California.  They think we own the town.”  Sergey pointed to the visitor’s sign in front of Tim’s car and said, “Why don’t you park in back, behind the fence, since you will be here all day.  I’ll have them open the gates for you.”
As Sergey went inside Tim started his car and pulled out again. He waited in front of the gate and flipped through a file folder, Sergey Smrz, and turned the page to a handwritten note. Smurtz.  “Smurtz.”  He practiced it a couple of times as the gate slid back.  Considering his own last name, Doughall, is pronounced “Doyle”, Tim felt a kinship to the young Ukrainian.  And it was important for a human resource specialist be able to pronounce everyone’s name, with or without vowels.
At the sudden shrill of his cell phone, Tim gripped the steering wheel tighter and inhaled sharply.  Finally, as he parked the car again, he slowly let out his breath.  Glancing in the rearview mirror and giving his short brown hair a pat, he gave himself a relaxed, reassuring smile.  He clicked the cell phone silent and nodded earnestly in the mirror.
Tim’s life had been snowballing out of control for the past year or more. Tim could trace the beginning of the snowball’s path to his former employer being bought by the conglomerate Spectorgies, whose reach involved everything from defense contracts, software development, bio-tech companies, weapons development, to, oddly, infant wear. That’s when Tim had been tapped as an informant to the NSA.  Spectorgies had overseas companies and contracts with foreign governments; so, at that time Tim believed it to be his civic duty to inform on them if necessary.  Then the FBI contacted him to inform on the NSA’s relationship with Spectorgies.  But when his handler at the FBI was murdered, he decided his first allegiance must be to himself and his wife, Annie. He looked down at the cell phone, the display read: Annie.  She must have gotten the divorce papers, he thought.
Tim followed the sidewalk around the corner and entered the building.  Placing his two bags on the screener belt and emptying his pockets, he walked though the metal detector.  Yesterday, Tim had not met this particular elderly security guard who wore a wig under his cap and two sets of glasses hanging from ropes across his potbelly.  He tried not to stare at the older man as he limped over to his clipboard.
“Mr. Doug-Hall?”  The security guard asked, smiling up from his clipboard.
“You’re to go to the boardroom, down the hall on the left.”
“What is that anyway?” The guard asked as glanced at the security monitor.
“It’s my projector. It makes doing presentations easier if I have a lot of information to go over.”  Tim pulled out a box of donuts and offered one to the guard, but the elderly guard declined the offer, patting his potbelly.
“What’ll they think of next?” The security guard turned the conveyor belt back on and handed Tim his bag and said wearily,  “Bathrooms are down the hall and around the corner.”
“Thanks.”  Tim flashed his confident smile and walked down the hall.

Tim busied himself setting out the donuts and boxes of coffee in the boardroom.  His handler with the FBI, Michael, had been adamant in his instructions.  Tim understood his role here was at the dangerous, small end of the whip.  Officially, this day was to be the end of a long and tenuous FBI investigation into The Hayward’s contracts with Spectorgies through the NSA.  Unofficially, he knew there was more to it than that.  And he was to report to the NSA, to the best of his knowledge, the full extent of the relationship between Spectorgies and The Hayward.  He just needed to get through this day and he was done.   He had been working the equivalent of three jobs for the past year: his regular job, but also his gig as an informant to the NSA about his regular job and also as an informant to the FBI.  And they all paid.  It wasn’t enough to retire on, but enough to get as much distance between Annie and himself as possible for a while, until the smoke cleared.
Sergey walked into the boardroom as Tim finished setting up his laptop and projector.
“You’re like the pied piper with donuts, Tim.  Yes, you get more with honey and vinegar.”
“Yes, but it’s than vinegar.  More with honey than with vinegar.”
“I like vinegar.  Every morning teaspoon, my grandmother taught me.”
“Some things are universal, aren’t they?”
“Tim, do you know any nice girl I could marry?”
Tim paused and thought, “I don’t know. Let me think.”  He poured himself a cup of coffee and grinned.  “I think all the nice girls are married.  I know some nice guys?”
Sergey was bewildered. “Tim! You are turd burglar?”
Tim hadn’t heard that phrase since the eighth grade.  “No.  Sergey.  The phrase is gay or homosexual.  We don’t say that or fudge-packer or anything derogatory involving sexual acts.  Which is exactly why I’m here with you guys today.  Could you round up the other people who are attending the seminar?”

“We’ll break for lunch about noon and reconvene at one?  How does that sound?” Tim looked around the room of a dozen or so goggle eyed faces and resumed.  “So, okay, yesterday, we were working on the employment packets in sections, so after lunch, I’ll just open it up to individual questions you may have.  You guys can come and go and we’ll do the questions one on one.  Oh, and I wanted to thank Sergey for his hospitality.  After I go, if you guys have any questions about the human resources packet or anything please don’t hesitate to give me a call.”
More stares.
“You’re welcome, Tim.  Thank you for spending the time with us.” Sergey beamed at him.
Tim tapped his laptop alive and clicked on the projector but nothing happened.  He flicked the on switch and tinkered with the cord as everyone waited.
“I’m sorry, just give me a minute here,” Tim said looking around.  This is it, the moment he’d planned for all week.  But whoever was his FBI counterpart was not jumping in.  Maybe not yet, he thought, and continued fiddling around with the projector.  “Guys, um, I’m sorry, I was going to go over some slides here but it looks like my projector has had it, I’m afraid.  But I do have a plan B. I don’t think I brought enough copies but we could share some of these worksheets and go over it that way.”
“Don’t we have one of those?”  Someone from the group spoke up, indicating the projector.
“Yes, but it’s in Mr. Hodge’s office.” Sergey replied.
“And there are two in the supply cabinet,” someone else said.
A young man got up. “I’ll get it for ya’,” and left the room.
Tim smiled. “Well, I guess this is like having a heart attack in a hospital.”  He picked up his own projector and moved it to the back of the room and set it on a chair next to the door so his counterpart could make the switch.  He felt his muscles go weak for a moment as the relief shot through him.  Calm and casual, he thought.
“Where’s Hodge?” He heard a man mutter.
“I think he’s in uh, San Diego,” another responded.
“And by that you mean, Vegas.”
“No, man, he’s in Phoenix.  He’s got a thing down there.”
“What thing?” Someone asked.  “Is it on two legs?”
The young man came back in with a projector and helped Tim set it up, the chatter stopped and Tim continued his presentation by rote.
According to Michael, the entire device was supposed to be put together here and sold to the NSA.  Except if the NSA had already got wind of this second mock up, being made here at The Hayward. What if the NSA knew about his informing for the FBI?  Maybe he was just a pawn between the two agencies.  It’s not possible that the NSA got Spectorgies to make some kind of deal with The Hayward to get Tim in here for a human resource session, because that would reveal him as a NSA informant.  Tim’s mind swam through the dark sea of possibilities of what could happen to him when he walked out of here with a multi-multi-million dollar piece of technology.  Would it ever be possible to be safe after this day?
A momentary glance from Sergey brought him back.  “Sergey, a question?”
Sergey got up and walked to the back of the room. “Yeah, which one of you ate the last cruller?”
“Okay, moving on…” Tim started again moving through the slides again while reciting his speech.  Another part of his mind was already moving on through the rest of the day.  He was to meet Michael at their usual safe house, a room above the Lemon Suds bar on Ohlone Island.  They hadn’t met there in a while and Tim hoped Michael had gotten the bathroom working again as he would need to stay there for a few days before heading back to Spectorgies home office in Phoenix and making his report to the NSA.

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