The briefcase was a stainless-steel Halliburton, attaché size, exactly the sort you see used in countless movies with drug deal scenes, only this one was matte black, and I knew for a fact it cost at least eight hundred dollars, new.

Here’s what I found inside:

Two matched SIGARMS semiauto pistols, model 229. A hundred rounds of boxed ammunition in .357 caliber and four clean 12-round clips. Two glasspack silencers, threaded to muzzle size. Each silencer was nearly a foot long.

One five-shot .44 caliber Charter Arms Bulldog revolver with rubber grips and fifty rounds of ammunition. The barrel was a hair over two inches long. This type of gun is what I’ve heard called a “snubbie.”

One dispenser containing ten pairs of disposable, left-or right-hand surgical gloves, unpowdered, size large.

One Telemetrix cellphone with a booster antenna.

One laminated, letter-perfect FBI ID featuring a man’s face that’s not mine. A stranger to me. It smelled fake.

In the sleeve pocket of the case lid were two more items: An envelope containing two 8 by 10 photos of a woman I also didn’t know, but whose name was Alicia Brandenberg. I learned this from her fairly detailed itinerary. There was another envelope containing—to near-bursting—$25,000, in used, nonsequential tens and twenties.

No serial numbers on the guns, the phone, anywhere. No lot numbers on the ammo boxes. No product plate on the briefcase. The slugs were heavy-grain cartridges packing maximum muzzle velocity, intended to do a great deal of damage to whatever got in their way.

Not a single fingerprint on anything. It was as though the contents had been boxed by a machine, factory-fresh, untouched by human hands.

There were three numbers programmed into the cellphone, no names or designations attached. I didn’t want to use it to call anyone; I think I was slightly afraid of it.

The briefcase wasn’t mine. I came across it by accident.

Perhaps I should back up a little bit.

My name is Conrad Maddox. For the past twelve years I’ve worked as Vice President in charge of development for Kroeger Concepts, Ltd., an advertising firm in Los Angeles on the Valley side of the hill. My boss is the fellow who founded the firm, Burt Kroeger—a “superior” who has nonetheless managed to remain a friend, or at least an ally. I’m one floor below him and we see each other for drinks; that kind of friend. Burt headhunted me, for which I remain grateful. I’ve always tried to merit his absolute trust in business.

My job earns me a fair amount of frequent flyer travel miles, thanks to several hops a year to Chicago, New York, Seattle, Houston, Mexico City and, occasionally, Beijing or London. Berlin three times; Paris twice so far. I can afford a couple of weeks per year in St. John or Bimini to get away and, you know, unwind.

I’m divorced. Don’t ask about the ex– Mrs. Maddox because: (1) she never took my name, and (2) we don’t stay in touch. I’ve had maybe ninety liaisons, affairs, trysts, and “relationships” in the eddy-rings surrounding my marriage, which lasted three years and then evaporated. It was the only time in my life I’ve been completely faithful to one woman.

I try to resist involvements with co-workers, but as you can guess there’s always an exception. It’s human nature. In fact, I’m breaking my own protocol in my mind right now.

I drive a fairly decent car, a Benz CL600 with blackout tinting everywhere, except on the windshield, which would be illegal. I have a variety of what could be called friends and acquaintances (I differentiate between the two), but more often than not, I veg out