Buzz (Game Trilogy)

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9780007500291: Buzz (Game Trilogy)

“A timely, realistic thriller about the governance of online information” (Kirkus Reviews)—the second novel in a groundbreaking international thriller trilogy about a deadly game that blurs the line between reality and fiction.

It’s been four months since Henrik “HP” Pettersson was dragged into a ruthless Alternate Reality Game that nearly cost him his life. Although he now has everything he ever wished for—freedom, money, and no responsibilities—he isn’t satisfied. He’s plagued by insomnia and paranoia, and misses the adrenaline rush of the Game. He misses the attention. At times, he even hopes the Game Master will find him. And when HP catches the eye of a rich and powerful CEO for all the wrong reasons, he may get his wish. But he quickly learns that sometimes, you have to be careful what you wish for...

The second in a fast-paced, exciting trilogy, Buzz will keep you guessing until the end. HP believes the game is over, but is it really just beginning?

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About the Author:

Anders de la Motte is the author of Game, Buzz, and Bubble. He has worked as a police officer and the director of security at one of the world’s largest IT companies. He now works as an international security consultant in addition to being Sweden’s most exciting and innovative new thriller writer.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Buzz
1

NEVERLANDS

HE WAS ON her in two quick strides.

She didn’t even have time to react before he had dragged her out of her chair. Her back against the wall, one of his hands in an unshakeable stranglehold around her throat—so hard that the tips of her toes began to lift from the soft carpet.

There was a clatter of porcelain and gasps of horror from the other diners—but he didn’t care. The lounge was on the sixth floor and it would be at least three minutes before the security staff got there. And three minutes were more than enough for him to do what he had to.

She was gurgling, desperately trying to ease his grip, but he tightened it instead and felt her resistance draining away. The color of her immaculately made-up face dropped from bright red to chalk white in a matter of seconds, suddenly matching her little pale suit.

Blond businesswoman—my ass!

He released his grip enough to let a small amount of blood reach her brain, while he fumbled for the object on the table with his free hand. A sudden badly aimed kick at his crotch made him jerk, but she’d lost one of her shoes and without Jimmy Choo’s help the kick wasn’t hard enough to make him loosen his grip. He tightened it again and pressed his face right next to hers. The terror in her eyes was oddly satisfying.

“How the fuck did you find me?” he hissed, holding the cell up in front of her eyes. A shiny silvery object with a glass touch screen.

Suddenly the phone burst into life. Out of reflex he held it farther away from him, and to his surprise saw his own face reflected in the screen. Staring, bulging eyes, sweaty, bright-red face. The cell must have a camera on the other side because when he moved his hand her terrified, pale face moved into the shot. Beauty and the blasted beast, in podcast!

Totally fucking mad!

What the hell was he actually doing?

He was supposed to be a superhero, a savior of worlds—but this? Attacking a woman? Had he really sunk so low?

He met her gaze again, but this time the fear in her eyes merely made him feel empty.

He wasn’t himself.

He wasn’t . . .

♦  ♦  ♦

“Mr. Andersen?”

“Hmm?!” HP muttered with a start.

A little man in a uniform was standing next to his table, his soft voice just loud enough to drown out the soporific background noise of the lounge.

“Sorry to disturb you, sir, but your new room is ready.”

The man held out a small envelope containing a key card.

“Room number 931, Mr. Andersen, we’ve upgraded you to a junior suite. Your luggage is on its way up. I hope you continue to have a pleasant stay with us, and I can only apologize for the confusion regarding the change of room.”

The man bowed lightly and gently placed the envelope on the table.

“Can I get you a refill, sir?”

“No, thanks,” HP muttered, casting a red-eyed glance at the window table. Yep, the woman was still there, and beside her cup he could still see the little silvery rectangle that had made his imagination go mad.

He closed his eyes again, pinched the bridge of his nose, and took several deep breaths.

Apart from the fact that the phone looked familiar, what evidence was there to suggest that they might have caught up with him?

He was on his umpteenth false passport, and none of them had the slightest connection with the previous ones. And he had put on a few kilos, had a deep suntan, and had grown a long, fair hippie beard to match his even longer hair. He hadn’t spoken Swedish for at least a year, not since he left Thailand. In other words, the risk of anyone being able to identify him was pretty damned small, not to say microscopic. Apart from him, there wasn’t a single soul in the whole world who knew where he was.

So your conclusion, Sherlock?

The phone had to be a coincidence. Almost all smartphones on the market looked fairly similar; most of them were probably made in the same Chinese sweatshops. Besides, this was hardly the first time he had imagined he had been found . . .

He’d lost count of the number of times he had panicked and escaped through rear exits and down fire escapes to get away from imaginary pursuers.

Even if it had been a couple of months since his last dope trip, his overheated little brain still played tricks on him on a fairly regular basis. Serving up ghosts in broad daylight, courtesy of the little gray men in the withdrawal department.

His lack of sleep was hardly making things any better.

He had just managed to nag his way to a more comfortable room, farther away from the lifts.

But he already knew that wasn’t going to help . . .

The woman whose phone it was showed no sign of picking it up.

Instead, she was calmly sipping her coffee, glancing out at the sea, and didn’t even seem to have noticed him. She was pretty, forty-something, with her hair cut in a tight little bob. Jacket, trousers, and low pumps. Now that he was looking more closely, he could see that she had her ankles crossed and had slipped her heel out of one of her presumably extremely expensive shoes, and was dangling it rather absentmindedly from her toes.

For some reason this casual act made him feel a bit calmer.

He took a deep breath through his nose and slowly let the air out through his mouth.

♦  ♦  ♦

The whole of his dreamlike existence had almost imperceptibly changed to become something completely different.

Fourteen damned months in exile, four more than he had spent locked up, and obviously in many ways a hell of a lot nicer. Even so, the sense of restlessness was, weirdly enough, almost the same now.

The nights were worst. Grass huts, youth hostels, airport hotels, or platinum palaces like this—it didn’t really make much difference. His insomnia didn’t seem to care about the weave density of the sheets.

At the start of his tour he made sure he always had company. He had picked up giggling backpack girls at various campfire parties who were willing to party the night away.

Then, later on, when he was sick of the meaningless pillow talk and beach-busker versions of “Oooh, baby, it’s a wild world,” he had restricted himself to the pickings in the hotel bars.

But by now it was a long time since he had felt any real human intimacy.

Instead he was left having a doped-up jack-off to one of the stupid porn films that his increasingly desensitized sex drive demanded. Then a bit of lukewarm room service grub while he surfed through the Thai knockoffs of blockbuster films until he slid into a state that was at least reminiscent of sleep. A gray fug where his imagination ran riot, exploring places he’d sooner forget.

He just had to accept that his dream life was slowly going to . . .

♦  ♦  ♦

Hell!

Even though she had seen the automatic weapons before the cortège stopped, the smell that hit her was so overpowering that Rebecca almost forgot about them for a couple of seconds.

It was a sweet, sickly pressure wave from tightly packed bodies, rubbish, sewage, and decay. She may have noticed the stench the day before when they checked the route, but it was considerably hotter today and the heat seemed to have made the smell exponentially stronger.

The crowd quickly circled their drop-off point, as hundreds of agitated people pressed against the cordon of tape that had been put up to hold them back.

The soldiers exchanged nervous glances. Their hands were hugging the barrels of their guns as they shuffled their feet anxiously on the red dirt.

There were six assault rifles, and the same number of soldiers in badly fitting, sweat-stained camouflage uniforms and scruffy boots. Their leader, a considerably better-dressed officer in shiny, reflecting mirrored sunglasses, waved at her to encourage her to unload her charge. His gun was still in its tight leg holster along his right thigh, which meant seven weapons in total, not counting their own.

The officer’s gestures became more impatient the longer she hesitated, but Rebecca ignored him. She remained standing with the car door open, while Karolina Modin, her driver, waited behind the wheel with the engine running.

She heard the doors of the following car and cast a quick glance over her shoulder. Göransson and Malmén were coming up behind her. Neither of the men said anything, but the expressions on their faces below their sunglasses told her what they thought of the situation.

The crowd was getting noisier and pressing harder against the cordon, making the feeble plastic poles that were holding the tape start to buckle. Rebecca could make out a few random words in English.

Help us. No food, no doctor.

The soldier standing closest to her licked his lips nervously as he fingered the safety catch of his rifle.

Click, click.

Safe, unsafe.

Not dangerous, dangerous.

A drop of sweat ran slowly down her spine.

Then another.

“Well, what are we waiting for, Normén?”

Gladh, the desiccated embassy counselor, had evidently let himself out of the other side of the car and had come up behind her.

“The press are waiting, time to get going. We’re already late.”

He reached for the handle of the rear door of the car to let the minister for international development out, but Rebecca beat him to it.

“Don’t touch that door!” she snarled as she slapped the door window with the palm of her right hand.

The embassy counselor kept hold of the handle, and for a few seconds they stood there exchanging hostile glances. Then Gladh let go, straightened up, and, insulted, adjusted the knot of his tie.

“How long are you thinking of making us stand out here in the heat, Normén?” he whined, slightly too loudly, so that the minister would hear him through the tinted glass. “Can’t you see that these people are getting more agitated the longer we hesitate? They’re waiting for us—for the minister, don’t you understand that?”

Oh yes, she understood all right, but there was something about the whole situation that didn’t feel right.

When they reconnoitered the site the day before they had been able to drive right up to the office of the refugee camp where the meeting was to take place. But today the road was suddenly blocked off some way from the building, even though she could see plenty of vehicles there already.

Walking the minister two hundred meters through the crowd with six nervous government soldiers as their escort didn’t feel like a particularly good idea.

Anyway, why so few?

The previous day the place had been crawling with soldiers, armored vehicles, and even a helicopter hovering above. The refugees had mostly stayed inside their flimsy little tents, hardly daring to come out.

But today the situation was suddenly the complete reverse.

“Come on, let’s go! All is good, all is good . . .” the officer called, waving eagerly at them to go over to him, while a couple of his soldiers made a feeble attempt to hold back the more eager members of the crowd pushing against the cordon. But still Rebecca hesitated.

♦  ♦  ♦

The sound of the mob was getting louder, yet she still imagined she could hear the metallic sound of the soldiers’ safety catches.

Almost like a second hand counting down.

Click . . .

Click . . .

Click . . .

Unconsciously she moved her right hand to the pistol in the holster on her belt.

“We need to move now,” Gladh whined, and she noted the sudden fear in his voice.

Göransson and Malmén exchanged glances across the roof of the car.

“How do you want to do this, Normén?”

Her deputy was right. She had to make a decision.

Dangerous?

Not dangerous?

Make a decision, Normén!

Obviously she ought to open the door and let the minister out. But she still couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right—something more than just an agitated crowd, a blocked road, and an embassy counselor who needed the toilet.

The rubber handle of her pistol felt clammy against the palm of her hand.

Click . . .

Click . . .

Then suddenly she saw him. A man in the crowd to her right. He was dressed the same as all the screaming black people around him. A long white shirt, dark Middle Eastern trousers, and a length of cloth covering his head. But there was still something about him that made him stand out.

To start with, he was calm. He wasn’t shouting, he wasn’t waving his fists or trying to get her attention.

Instead he was moving steadily forward, cruising calmly between his agitated brothers in misfortune as he got closer and closer.

The man was holding something in his hand and it took her several seconds to see what it was.

A plastic bag, and, to judge by its uniformly bright-yellow color, it was still too new to have been bleached by the sun and creased like everything else in the camp.

What was something as new and clean as that doing in the midst of all this overwhelming misery?

She shaded her eyes with her left hand and tried to focus her gaze. The bag kept moving in and out of her field of vision, hidden by the crowd only to reappear shortly afterward in a small gap. Bright yellow, smooth, and definitely out of place.

For a moment she thought she could just make out a dark object at the bottom of it.

And suddenly her decision was made.

“Get back in!” she roared, glancing quickly at her two colleagues to make sure they’d understood her order.

“Get in at once, we’re aborting!” she yelled at Malmén, who didn’t seem to have heard her over the noise of the crowd.

At first her deputy didn’t react, then he nodded curtly and signaled with his hand to the driver of the third car to reverse and clear their path.

“What the hell are you doing, Normén?!” the embassy counselor shrieked, grabbing her right arm.

She shook him off easily.

“Inside the car, Gladh, unless you want to get left behind!” she snarled as she gestured to her driver to get ready to leave.

Gladh carried on shouting in her ear but she wasn’t listening.

The man with the plastic bag had vanished, but she was sure he was somewhere inside the crowd—and that he was still heading toward them.

The Land Cruiser behind them reversed a few meters, and without taking her eyes off the crowd she banged on the roof of the car to signal to Modin to follow suit.

Slowly their car began rolling backward over the uneven road surface.

The passenger door was still wide open, waiting for her to jump in.

At the same moment as the cortège began its retreat the noise of the crowd ...

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