MIND VIRUS - SYNOPSIS
Robin Fox is a peace-loving professor of world religions, trying to atone for his crimes as a U.S. Army interrogator. But at a Washington prayer rally, a suspect is caught trying to disperse a rare encephalitis virus, the same one used in an attack in Iraq that Fox once foiled. A CIA agent, John Adler, asks Fox for help.
Troubled by this request, Fox consults Emily Hart, his colleague at the United States Peace Research Institute and wife of its strongest supporter in Congress. She, however, has her own troubles. Leila Halabi, a Palestinian peace educator, has disappeared on the way to Washington for a lecture tour. Fox accepts Adler's request, in exchange for the CIA's help in finding Leila.
Fox works with a joint FBI-CIA interrogation team, and worries that Adler's prejudice against Muslims is clouding his judgment. The suspect eventually reveals that he is part of an international conspiracy to eradicate religion, "using one virus to cure another".
Fox deduces that the next attack is planned for Israel during Passover. Meanwhile, Emily learns that Leila has been imprisoned in Israel, and travels there to campaign for her release. Spurred by danger to the woman he loves – although he could never admit it, even to himself – Fox boards a plane that will reach Tel Aviv before her.
By careful observation, Fox catches another suspect at Ben-Gurion Airport. Now a hero to Israel, he persuades the head of Shin Bet to release Leila and let him interrogate the suspect.
He infers that the next attack is planned for Jerusalem on Holy Saturday. Joined by Adler, he sets up surveillance at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but fails to prevent an explosion.
Suspecting that this attack was a diversion, Fox reinterprets his clues and concludes that the real target is the Vatican. He and Adler fly to Rome in time to catch a suspect in the act of planting an aerosol device in the dome of St. Peter's during Easter Vigil Mass. Fox breaks her silence by intimating that her love for the group's mastermind has been betrayed. She reveals the name by which she knows him, and gives up enough information to identify the next target: Westminster Abbey, at an Easter service with the Royal Family attending. But at the same time, he receives a menacing message: Emily has been abducted by the mastermind, who threatens to kill her if any cameras catch Fox there.
Fox goes to London, enters the Abbey in disguise, and uncovers the most elaborate strategy yet: a sleeper agent in the Abbey choir planted the virus in a fire extinguisher, and used a time-release flammable agent to make the Archbishop's vestments spontaneously combust.
After stopping the attack, Fox roughs up the suspect but learns nothing. His escort from the Security Service takes him to question the mastermind's mentor at Oxford. Shocked to hear how his teachings have been twisted, he gives up a name: Theodore Gottlieb. They go to Gottlieb's house, to find him calmly awaiting them with high tea and high explosives.
After a standoff, the bombs detonate and set fire to the house. Fox, cut off from the police, has to chase Gottlieb to the room where Emily is being held hostage. Using his military training, he succeeds in seizing Gottlieb's pistol, but his principles of nonviolence will not allow him to shoot. They struggle, Gottlieb falls, and the firefighters rescue Fox and Emily in time.
They return to Washington. Adler has promised to tell the Saudis about the final target, Mecca during the Hajj, but Fox suspects he is lying and goes to the Saudi embassy himself. A furious phone call from Adler confirms his suspicions: the CIA was planning to let the attack proceed, and use an Army-designed antiserum to blackmail the entire Muslim world.
After launching Leila's tour, Fox and Emily walk together through the GWU campus. He yearns to tell her that, when he was sure his life was over, his only thought was of her. But discretion trumps valor, and when they say goodnight, his true feelings for her are still a secret.
SATURDAY, MARCH 28
The coroner’s report confirmed that Thom had died of cyanide poisoning. The news claimed the top spot on all the networks, and even the BBC gave it airtime, right after a fire in the chapel of Windsor Castle. Thom’s name had clearly been known far beyond the Oberlin College campus.
The president of USAtheists called a press conference. “The murder of Thom DiDio is a tragedy and an outrage. Whether he was killed because of what he believed, or because of whom he loved, is irrelevant. What matters is that the world has lost a great intellect and a great humanitarian, and his blood is on the hands of religious fanatics.”
Fox flinched at the incendiary last line. That’s not how Thom would talk. But if the man needed to lash out, Fox could scarcely blame him.
He and Emily had worked with the FBI to help create a composite sketch, which was now being broadcast regularly on television. But so far, it had yet to yield any leads.
“Any progress with Harpo?” Fox asked once he was back in the incident room at FBI headquarters.
Adler shook his head. “We kept him under observation last night. Gave him a box of books, as you suggested, but he didn’t read any.”
“What did he do?”
“Just lay on his bed.”
“The whole time? You never saw him perform salat?”
“Say his prayers facing Mecca?”
“Well, he’s been in a cell without windows. He has no way of knowing what time it is, or which way Mecca is.”
“John, even at Gitmo, we showed the detainees at least that much courtesy. We gave them copies of the Qur’an, a qibla sign to point the way to Mecca, and even played a recording of the adhaan at the proper times.”
Adler shrugged. “If you want, you can take it up with the FBI; this is their turf. Now, the technician has him all hooked up, and they’re waiting for you in the interview room.”
The room held Harpo, Kato, Malika, the technician, Fox, and the extra guard he had requested. The polygraph apparatus, the projector, and a tripod-mounted video camera were crammed into the little space that remained. There was barely room to take a deep breath.
Fox kept a close eye on Harpo, and the readout from the polygraph. Harpo’s breathing was very steady and regular, three seconds in, five seconds out. Fox suspected that he had been trained in ways to “beat the box,” to fool a lie detector.
“Do you speak English?”
Fox watched the readout. It showed no variation in his blood pressure, heart rate, or galvanic skin response, either then or when Malika tried him in Russian and Chechen.
“Are there six people in this room?” This was a control question, to show what his vital signs looked like at baseline, after he was over his initial nervousness.
“Are you an American citizen?” No change in his vitals for that either, nor for the Eastern European equivalents.
“Can you hear me? Testing? One, two, three? Four, five? Six, seven?” Then, with a little extra emphasis: “Eight, eight?”
No variation. That diminished the likelihood that he was a white supremacist. The number 88, if letters were substituted for the numerals, became “HH”—a code for “Heil Hitler.”
“All right, let’s try some names. Do you know A.J. Muste? George Fox? Gene Hoffman?” These were control questions. All those names were peace philosophers, whom Fox thought it highly unlikely that he had ever heard of.
No change in the readout. No flicker of recognition on his face.
“Do you realize that if you answer our questions, the prosecutors will be much less likely to ask for the death penalty?”
That finally got to him. The readout showed a slight increase in his vital signs. A normal fear reaction to the threat of death? Or excitement at the prospect of martyrdom?
And they had also established that he understood English. They would have no further need of Malika’s services. It was just as well; the smell of her perfume in that confined space had been a little overpowering.
“You know, it must be awfully boring for you, cooped up in a cell all that time,” Fox continued. “I’ve put together a little video for you. I’m curious to see how you’ll like it.”
He put in a DVD that he had made, a montage of various clips garnered from the Internet. It began with innocuous natural scenes—flowers, mountains, waterfalls—with a background of soothing classical music.
Then came the scenes meant to show his reaction at times of emotional arousal. A battle scene from a movie, with loud explosions and bursts of gunfire. There was a slight rise in his vitals—the startle reflex—but he soon reverted to baseline, and stayed there as the video switched back to the control images.
A clip of a shapely blonde model sliding a gossamer silk robe off her shoulders to reveal her lingerie, and then reaching behind her back to unfasten her brassiere. Fox kept his eyes fixed on the readout, ignoring the stern look he got from Kato and the blush on Malika’s face.
Such an image would usually provoke an involuntary response in any red-blooded young male, but Harpo showed no more reaction than at baseline. Clearly, he was very well trained.
The control images again, this time alternating with others meant to provoke an emotional response. A sermon by the Reverend Hill. A cross being set alight by white-robed Klansmen. A muezzin intoning the call to prayer from a minaret. The second plane crashing into the World Trade Center. A speech by Osama bin Laden. A speech by President Obama, announcing the death of Osama bin Laden.
Then came the part that Fox had wanted extra protection for: a clip from a back-alley YouTube video making a mockery of the prophet Mohammed. For this one, he stepped out of Harpo’s reach, anticipating that he might jump up and attack even if he had to drag the entire polygraph apparatus behind him.
Harpo showed no inclination to move. The readout showed no reaction. If he was indeed a fanatical Muslim, he had a level of mental discipline worthy of a Zen master.
Fox stepped out of Harpo’s field of view again. “All right, we’re done. You can turn it off now,” he told the technician, while gesturing that he should keep it going. “Very interesting, don’t you think? These results indicate…” He put in a dramatic pause, then looked at Harpo and enunciated ominously: “N-S-R.”
Harpo’s shoulders relaxed slightly, and he let out a long breath. It was barely visible when you looked at him, but it showed up on the readout. A well-concealed sigh of relief.
Fox’s suspicions were confirmed. “NSR” meant “No Significant Response,” but there was no way Harpo could know that unless he had studied polygraphy.
Even so, the results were remarkable. The most common technique for beating a lie detector involved focusing on some frightening or exciting image after every question, to cause an artificial jump in the vital signs. The goal was to bring up the baseline, creating so many false positives that the polygrapher would have trouble distinguishing them from significant responses. Harpo had done the opposite, bringing everything down to a level where hardly any reaction was perceptible. How much mental training had he had to undergo in order to do that?
When Harpo had been disconnected and returned to his cell, Fox went back to the conference room to watch the video, together with Kato and Adler. The first time through, Fox kept his eyes on the readout. Neither the Klansmen nor President Obama did anything for Harpo; he appeared to feel no particular animosity or affinity toward either. The most noticeable reactions came with the images of the Reverend Hill’s sermon, the muezzin, and the Twin Towers.
They played the video again, this time concentrating on his face, looking for microexpressions—facial reactions that may be as brief as one twenty-fifth of a second, but are almost impossible to suppress. Harpo was very good at keeping his face impassive, but not perfect. He could have won big at poker but was not quite ready to stand guard at Buckingham Palace. With the Reverend Hill’s sermon, his upper lip curled in a slight but unmistakable expression of scorn.
Fox thought he noticed a very slight microexpression at one point, during the clip mocking Mohammed. It was so unexpected that he thought he must be imagining it, and backed up the video a couple of times to make sure.
“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” he asked.
“Maybe,” Kato said in a voice that sounded as mystified as he felt. “That looks like Action Unit 12A, neutralized.”
“Which means?” asked Adler.
“A trace contraction, quickly suppressed, of the zygomaticus major and risorius.”
“In English, please?”
“She said,” Fox translated, “that he was hiding a smile.
Review's and Testimony's:
“Charles Kowalski takes a frightening idea to its logical (and terrifying) conclusion. The kind of pulse-pounding, adrenaline-pumping adventure tale that I associate with the best of Clive Cussler, Frederick Forsyth, and Ken Follett. If this book doesn’t have you flipping pages long into the night, see your doctor. You may already be dead.”
— Jeff Edwards, bestselling author of Sea of Shadows and Steel Wind Rising
“A fast-paced thriller that will keep you breathless and wanting more. Robin Fox is one of the best heroes to come along in quite a while.”
— Leo J. Maloney, author of Termination Orders and Arch Enemy
“A fiendishly clever stew of mind games, bioterror, and a new breed of extremist malice. Mind Virus is one heck of a ride.”
— Barry Lancet, award-winning author of The Spy Across the Table
“ ‘Religion is the smallpox of the mind, and I am its Jonas Salk,’ states the evil mastermind who is behind a wave of global terrorist attacks in Mind Virus. The villain (whose name shall not be revealed here so as not to spoil some of the fun) believes the optimum way to eradicate this virus of the mind is to kill the infected hosts—otherwise known as people of faith. Enter religious studies teacher and Army veteran Robin Fox, whose job it unwittingly becomes to stop these international attacks and find the person responsible. His task becomes all the more personal when colleague and friend (or more?) Emily Paxton is kidnapped and held as leverage to get Fox to stop interfering in the terrorist’s plans.
It is no wonder Charles Kowalski won RMFW’s Colorado Gold Award for Mind Virus. It is a thoroughly researched, thoughtful novel regarding the nature of belief, and how what we believe governs how we treat each other, and in turn, how the way we are treated instructs what we come to believe. Don’t let words like ‘thoroughly researched’ and ‘thoughtful’ fool you—Mind Virus is also well-plotted, nicely paced, and packed with action. To wit, Professor Fox survives several attempts on his life, saves the Royal Family from a terrorist attack, and makes it from D.C. to Israel and to London and back during the Passover and Easter holidays. Not bad for a week’s work.
In Mind Virus, Kowalski skillfully tackles some of the largest issues of our time—namely religion and terrorism and their respective roles in shaping who we are as a global people. And who we are choosing to become as we move forward. He adroitly weaves together Bible verses, deadly nerve agents, and the imminent murder of thousands of innocent people to create a brilliant, riveting read. Hopefully we will see much more from Charles Kowalski in the years to come.”
— Five-Star Review from Colorado Book Review
If you enjoy thrillers this book is for you. I enjoyed reading this story. It was fast paced read for me I couldn't put the book down. I just wanted more so I couldn't stop.
Robin Fox is a very smart character I couldn't believe how well he could figure things out so fast. A great character to read about an enjoy sure kept me at the edge of my feet.
If you want a good thriller to read definitely pick this book up. You will not be disappointed.
About The Author;
Charles Kowalski is almost as much a citizen of the world as his fictional character, Robin Fox, having lived abroad for over 15 years, visited over 30 countries, and studied over 10 languages. His unpublished debut novel, Mind Virus, won the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Award and was a finalist for the Adventure Writers’ Competition, the Killer Nashville Claymore Award, and the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association literary award.
Charles currently divides his time between Japan, where he teaches English at a university, and his family home in Maine.
Mind Virus is scheduled for publication by Literary Wanderlust on July 1, 2017.
Other novels and short stories by Charles Kowalski:
“Let This Cup Pass From Me”
“Arise, My Love”
“The Evil I Do Not Mean To Do”