Excerpt: 'The Regime'

It was neither Planchette nor Ivins who suggested his course of action this day. Rather it was his own spirit guide. Nicolae was nearly drunk with the privilege of essentially going over the heads of the other humans to communicate directly with the spirit world. He had not yet determined, this exercise being barely twenty-four hours old, whether the being he prayed to was the same one who had accompanied him to the wilderness. It didn't matter. He had access to what appeared unlimited power, a sea of resources. All Nicolae wanted was to know what was expected of him. He already knew what had become his entitlement. Nothing less than all the kingdoms of the world.

Pan Con Airlines heavy craft captain Rayford Steele looked different, at least to himself. As he left the flight center at O'Hare well after midnight for the drive home to Mount Prospect, he wondered if others could see in his face what he felt so deeply. The embarrassment of having to ride back to Chicago on another Pan Con plane rather than pilot his craft back was one thing. It was not uncommon for a pilot to be put on temporary leave as a near crash was investigated both by Pan Con and the National Transportation Safety Board.

What had shaken Rayford, naturally, was the brush with death. He hated rehashing it, but missing a jet on the ground by what seemed inches refused to be set aside in his mind. All the what-ifs and why-nots swirled until they nearly drove him mad. Especially after having to rehearse it for hours at LAX.

He had cried out a prayer when he believed he was going to die, and he couldn't just pass that off now. Rayford had meant it. He had made some promises. He had to at least talk to Irene about it.

She was a woman of insight, he had to give her that. Intensely loyal and loving, she seemed to know him better than he knew himself. And while they had had their fights and disagreements, he felt they were solid -- despite his nearly having strayed once at an office Christmas party she couldn't attend.

That was far enough in the past that Rayford believed he had already made it up to Irene, though he had never confessed it and never would. But this, this whatever-had-happened-to-him, he couldn't keep to himself. And yet Irene was the only person he felt he could tell.

He'd never seriously considered God, even as a child when his parents took him to church every Sunday. It was just something they did. That was the way it was now, too. Irene, his wife, was more devout, it seemed. More interested anyway. Rayford didn't mind missing a Sunday due to work. Sometimes he found reasons to miss even when he was off. But Irene was determined to take the kids, and while she had apparently learned not to nag Rayford, she couldn't hide her feelings when he made her go alone.

Irene was waiting by the door when he arrived. The kids were in bed. "Peek in on them," she said. "But don't wake them."

"Okay," he said, "and then we have to talk."

"I can tell," Irene said. "Anything I need to worry about?"

"Nah. Just something I have to tell you."

"Good morning, sir," the body guard said, opening Nicolae's car door. "How's the most successful businessman in Europe this morning?"

"Bored," Nicolae said.

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