IT STARTED AS AN EXPERIMENT.
It ended with an invention.
He never intended to use it.
But then they betrayed him.
Presumed dead after a staged terrorist attack, FBI Agent Odysseus Carr is running for his life with the doctor who rescued him. Meanwhile, the same power players who sent Odi to his death are now manipulating an FBI profiler into blindly tracking him down. She's not just their best, she's also his sister.
As Odi unravels a devious plot of profound political manipulation and global consequence, the hunted becomes the hunter, and the real terror begins.
Release date: September 7, 2013
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 295
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FBI Counterterrorism Response Team Headquarters, Quantico, VA
SPECIAL AGENT ODYSSEUS CARR looked up at the graying tiles of his boss’s ceiling and began counting to ten. He almost made it to three. “What do you mean, I can’t brief my men? They’re putting their lives at risk, Commander. Big risk. These aren’t stone-throwers you’re asking us to kill. These are the guys who took out the World Trade Center.”
Commander Potchak stood. He was a head shorter than Odi but built like a fireplug, and every bit as tough. “What’s your point?”
Odi leaned forward and rested predatory palms on the edge of Potchak’s metal desk. “My point, sir, is that we’re giving up a crucial advantage if we don’t rehearse. I want to give my men every available advantage. They deserve no less.”
Potchak did not twitch or blink. He just stared back cold and hard for a couple seconds and then said, “If you’re not up to it, Agent Carr, I’ll give Echo Team to Waslager. He’s been itching to go international. You can sit this one out—in isolation, of course.”
Odi wanted to leap over the desk, grab his boss by the ears and put a knee through his smug face, but he knew that would not help his team. Instead he bit back his frustration and tried to suck it up like a good soldier. “That won’t be necessary, sir.”
Potchak turned and spat a thick river of tobacco juice into his trash can, making Odi forget his own frustration for a moment to pity Jose the janitor. “Good,” Potchak said. “Now, if you’ll take your head just a little bit farther out of your ass and break this task down, you’ll see that I’m not ordering you to give anything up. The physics of the assault are the same whether it’s Hogan’s Alley or I-fucking-ran. A building is a building. A grenade is a grenade. Considering that you used to be the Bureau’s top Explosive Ordnance Disposal pro, you should know that. All you need to rehearse effectively are models of the buildings and the lay of the land. Both are at your disposal, so I don’t want to hear any more whining.”
Odi felt his stomach quiver with a pluck of doubt. He moderated his tone and reminded himself that Potchak was usually a reasonable man. “May I ask why, sir? Why the unusual level of secrecy? Surely you don’t think anyone on my team has links to al-Qaeda?”
“Oh Jesus, Carr. I’d have thought you’d understand that by now. Have you learned nothing about the way things really work these past two years? Counterterrorism is not a military matter; it’s politics. By limiting foreknowledge to the mission leader and myself, some politician feels that he’s protecting either his source or his ass. Probably both. I don’t know who the source is, or even the politician for that matter, but I’m damn sure that whoever reconned that complex risked his ass to do it. So I’m not without sympathy.”
Fighting back the urge to tell his boss what he thought of that, Odi picked up the satellite map to busy his hands. The complex in question consisted of three old cinderblock buildings in Nowheresville, Iran. It would take each of his two-man teams less than two minutes to run their building’s perimeter, firing modified M441 high-explosive Rocket-Propelled Grenades. In the dead of night, it probably would not matter that the complex was in Iran. The commander was right about that. But Potchak was making a big mistake. A bureaucrat’s mistake. The instant things deviated from plan—and things always deviated from plan—being in Iran would make all the difference. As a hardened field operative, Potchak knew that. This discrepancy bothered Odi, but he was not going to risk losing his team leader slot over it. “What did this secret source say about sentries?”
Potchak spat again and then sat down, signaling a truce.
Odi followed suit.
“There are usually just two men armed with AKs. One guards the entrance to the central building; the other walks a perimeter patrol. You’ll have no problem taking them out with synchronized sniper shots. Use those shots as a starting gun, as your team’s cue to begin the assault runs.”
Odi nodded. “An eight-man team might make more sense than the standard seven. If you’ll loan me Johnson, he and I could do that synchronized sniping from polar perimeter positions and then provide cover while the teams make their assault runs.”
Potchak cracked a wry smile that warned Odi he would not like what came next. “You’ve got the right strategy, but the wrong man. You’re getting Waslager. He’ll be your second sniper … and your second in command.”
Odi felt resentment run down his spine like boiling oil, but he could not stand up and get in his boss’s face again. He had already played that card. He bit his tongue while taking a moment to analyze the situation. The core problem was that nobody on his team liked Waslager, or worse yet, trusted him. He was a self-serving loner and a politician. Odi knew that was exactly why the brass did like him. The question he should be asking, Odi realized, was: Why did they like Waslager on this mission?
He set that thought aside for later and latched onto a negotiation tactic. Since aggression was out, he would try to backpedal. “On the other hand, if I wait to shoot until the path of the second guard passes the first, I could take them both out—probably with a single shot if I use high-velocity rounds. Then we would only need—”
“Forget it, Carr,” Potchak interrupted. “You’re getting Waslager.”
Asgard Island, Chesapeake Bay
FBI DIRECTOR WILEY PROFFITT set his wineglass down a little too quickly. A drop of blood-red wine sloshed out onto the virgin white tablecloth, spreading with ominous portent. He was more nervous than he realized. He picked the glass back up and took another sip before locking his lover’s gaze. “How would you like to be First Lady?”
“Of the United States?”
“Um hum.” He grinned, feeling better already and enjoying the confused look that danced across Cassi Carr’s amber eyes.
She instantly picked up on his mirth and mirrored it. “Does the Director of the FBI know something about Anna Beth Carver that the rest of us mortals have yet to learn?”
“Actually, it’s Aaron Dish,” he said deadpan.
She leaned toward him conspiratorially. “The First Lady is having an affair with the Vice President?”
Wiley shook his head. For six months he had kept his earthshaking secret, neither hinting at the future that awaited them nor alluding to his secret pact. It felt great to share the big news with Cassi at last. He decided to start with the background, give her excitement time to build. “Dish has a health condition. He won’t be joining Carver on the reelection ticket.”
“I see,” Cassi said, clearly not believing him but apparently willing to play along. Her eyes twinkled. “So how does that make me First Lady?”
“It doesn’t,” he said, shaking his head as she feigned disappointment. “You’re going to have to wait five years for that. In the meantime, it makes you Second Lady—come a year from January anyway.”
Wiley saw a flash of confusion cross Cassi’s brow. She appeared unsure if he was being goofy or serious. “Dish really is sick? Carver really asked you to join him on the ticket?”
“Yes and no,” Wiley said. “Yes, Dish really is sick. And no, President Carver has not asked me to be his running mate—not yet. But he will.”
“Oh, and why is that?” she asked.
Wiley leaned forward so that his lips were an inch from Cassi’s ear. He paused there to inhale her sweet perfume before whispering the prophecy. She was wearing a new scent. “Because terrorism is going to top the American agenda.”
She pulled back, sobered by his words. Her parents, after all, had died on 9/11. “You really are expecting an attack?”
“I am. You know all those homeland defense speeches I’ve been giving of late …?”
“They weren’t just typical keep-’em-scared politics.”
Cassi took a moment to chew on that one. He watched the gears spinning frantically behind her worried brow. “Maybe at one level they weren’t,” she finally said, thinking out loud. “But nonetheless, it is because of those speeches that you think Carver will put you on the ticket. They were what earned you the Antiterrorist Czar epithet.”
Wiley raised his wine glass in a toast. “To your deductive powers.”
Cassi returned the gesture, but he could see that her mind was still focused on working through the implications of his revelation. When she looked up at him wide-eyed, he knew that the other shoe had dropped.
“I’ll be Second Lady?” she asked, her voice a choked whisper.
Wiley tried to smile but his lips would not move. He tried to nod but couldn’t. Panic gripped him like a cold iron glove. He could not move his head.
As he struggled, Cassi continued, blissfully unaware. “Are you asking me to marry you?”
Wiley realized that a cold hand was clamped over his mouth. He endured a second of complete disorientation and then he understood. His conversation with Cassi had been a dream. The intruder in their bed, and the icy palm clamped over his mouth, were real.
Wiley’s eyes bulged in horror as the dark shadow over him shifted in silence. A prickly lump filled his throat as a muscled arm drew back. Fully awake now, Wiley strained to pierce the darkness, searching for the glint of the knife that would complete the picture and end his life. All he saw were fuzzy shadows. Part of his mind latched onto the fact that Cassi was sleeping beside him. The need to warn and protect her surged within his chest, but the heavy quilt, the vise across his face, and the fear in his heart pinned him like Christ to the cross.
As he prepared to buck and lunge, the bedside lamp clicked on and Wiley recognized the intruder’s face. His tension drained. He should have guessed.
Wiley looked over at Cassi the instant the palm backed off of his mouth. She was sound asleep. At least she appeared to be …
“Halothane,” his visitor supplied, reading Wiley’s thoughts. “Like chloroform only safer.”
“And more aromatic,” Wiley mumbled to himself, recalling the perfume in his dream. Slowly, he returned his gaze to the midnight caller and voiced the obvious question with his eyes.
Stuart’s answer was matter-of-fact. “We need to talk.”
Stuart Slider was the invisible man. Compact, sinewy and average of face. Every time they met he struck Wiley as unexpectedly small. He also enjoyed the annoying ability to appear and disappear at will. Or so it often seemed. Wiley was beginning to detest that trait.
“What the devil are you doing here in the middle of the night?” Wiley asked. “Do you need another hole in your head?”
Wiley had been secretly working with Stuart for six months now, but this was the first time that Stuart had set foot on his Chesapeake Island home. Or, Wiley reflected, at least it was the first time that he knew about.
“We need to talk,” Stuart repeated. “Unseen, uninterrupted and alone.” He stood, canted his head toward the door, and said, “Let’s go to your study. No sense giving Sleeping Beauty here bad dreams.” Without waiting for a reply, Stuart reached out and extinguished the bedside lamp.
Wiley followed obediently, more out of curiosity than any feeling of subservience. They walked down the plushly carpeted hall to the room at the end. The massive oak door to his soundproofed study was ajar. An eerie glow leaked out into the hall from the 300-gallon aquarium within. The ghoulish atmosphere seemed to suit a halothane-assisted secret midnight rendezvous, so Wiley did not turn on the lights when they entered.
Sleepless fish cast darting shadows about the room as pale moonlight trickled in from the east. Wiley sought his favorite armchair, a black leather recliner. As he sat he discovered a steaming Starbucks cup waiting on the end table beside his right arm. Unbelievable, he thought. Stuart had never been to his island home before, and yet there the cup was—a low-fat latte no doubt—just what he wanted, right where he wanted it.
Setting the creepiness factor aside, the latte was both a thoughtful and insightful gesture. Yet its primary effect was to fan Wiley’s flame. The invisible, unflappable Stuart Slider did not drink coffee or tea or cola. He did not smoke. He did not drink. Wiley was not entirely certain that he even slept. Yet he was always awake, alert and controlled. What a bastard.
Wiley picked up the familiar cup, more irritated at himself for being weak than pleased to have his fix. It was still hot despite the trip from the mainland. Stuart must have planned even that detail in advance and packed a thermos. Meticulous and a bastard. Wiley took a sip, nodded a perfunctory thanks, and gave his guest a get-on-with-it look.
“Is it true what I’ve heard about this room?” Stuart asked.
Despite the latte, Wiley wanted to go back to bed. He wanted Stuart to get to the point and then get out. But he knew from experience that playing along would get him there faster than resisting. “What have you heard?”
“I heard that the Secret Service turned your study into a fortress because you refused to have the Proffitt family’s ancestral estate updated with the technology and security advances of the past hundred years.”
Wiley rolled his eyes. “For an organization whose purpose is to protect national icons, the Secret Service has surprisingly little respect for history or tradition. I’m glad that I only had to deal with them that one time. They call it a panic room. It was a compromise.” He reached out and picked up a large universal remote control off the coffee table. “Allow me to demonstrate. First, I’ll type in the code to let the system know that this is not an emergency, and then …” He held the square red button down with his thumb. After three seconds of constant pressure the door to the study swung shut. Hidden bolts scraped into place as titanium louvers began to lower over the bulletproof windows with a motorized hum. “Now we’re safe from everything up to and including shoulder-fired missiles.”
Stuart looked about the room. “You’ve even got a bar and a bathroom in your bunker. Not bad. What’s through that door?” He pointed to the corner.
“It’s just a closet.”
“What about the cavalry?”
“If I had not told the system that this was a test, then the Hostage Rescue Team would automatically be summoned from Quantico by a beacon hidden in the roof.” Wiley pressed and held the red square again. The lockdown procedure reversed.
Stuart nodded in appreciation and then assumed a contemplative expression.
In that dim light, with his black-clad form framed against the black leather couch, he appeared as little more than an intense set of eyes. The sight made Wiley think of an alligator in a tar pit. An alligator in a tar pit, he repeated to himself. Now there was the very definition of a Beltway lobbyist.
“I’ve come with news,” Stuart said.
Wiley raised his eyebrows.
“I’ve resigned my job as executive director of the AADC to work full-time on your campaign. We decided that the time had come, now that things are underway.”
Wiley did not want to talk about the American Association of Defense Contractors or the things that were now underway. In fact, he had specifically asked The Three Marks to keep him out of that loop. Thus far his only tactical contribution to things had been supplying them with a list of useful names. He hoped to keep it that way. Still, Wiley did not fail to notice that Stuart’s “we” did not include him. “That’s awfully generous of you. Did we agree to give you your old job back after the campaign?”
Wiley saw genuine emotion flash across Stuart’s face in response to his words. That was a first. Despite playing poker for decades to hone exactly that expertise, however, Wiley could not tell which emotion Stuart had shown. Was it disappointment … or anger?
“I won’t need my old job back after the campaign,” Stuart replied.
“Oh? And why is that?”
“Because, after the campaign you are going to be vice president—and I am going to be your chief of staff.”
Stuart’s statement hit Wiley mid-sip and he choked, coughing and spraying latte over the front of his scarlet pajamas. Stuart did not bat an eye at his discomposure, and Wiley figured that the bastard probably had his timing planned. “Is that what you came here to tell me?” Wiley asked, mopping his chin with his sleeve. “Is that why you broke into my home in the middle of the night, drugged my girlfriend and dragged me out of bed—to talk about your career?”
Stuart shook his head.
Wiley felt his stomach drop.
AS THE WOMAN carried her daughter out, Dr. Ayden Archer wiped the sweat from his brow with a soiled rag. He still had a few clean ones left from last night’s wash, but he wanted to save those for the kids. He ventured a peek into the alley before the door swung shut. The line stretched to the far end and disappeared around the corner. He knew it was time to make the mark.
“Please come in,” he said in Farsi, holding open the door. The next woman in line bowed slightly, her baby cradled tight. Though she would not meet his gaze, Ayden knew that there was joy in her eyes.
“I’ll be right back,” he said, grabbing a bottle of iodine and stepping outside. He hated this next part of the daily ritual, but years of experience had taught him that it was the only way.
He walked east down the dusty alley, counting children as he went, offering silent smiles. It always amazed him how orderly they waited. He had not posted rules, yet the configuration never changed. Six days a week the sick children rested side-by-side along the northern wall in the thin ribbon of shade while the mothers stood across from them, baking beneath their chadors in the merciless Iranian sun. If only the women were allowed to rule the country, he mused.
When his count reached thirty children, he stopped. Five more hours at six children per hour would take him to eight o’clock. He crouched down before a two-year-old girl. Lily was her name if he remembered correctly. He said, “Hello Beautiful,” and stroked her hot cheek with the back of his hand. He took the cap off the iodine and wet the tip of his index finger. He drew a semicircle on her forehead and added two dots. To him it was a smiley face, but if asked he would say it was a moon and two stars. Turning to the mother he said, “Your daughter will be the last patient of the day.”
He proceeded to mark the remaining foreheads, also with a smiley face, but this time adding a third star for a nose. When he first began the practice he had numbered them, but he changed to the friendlier system when he found that no one tried to cheat. Mutual suffering bred solidarity when testosterone was not involved. As he drew he explained to the remaining mothers, “I will not be able to see your children today, but they will be first in line tomorrow. With these marks you need not come early, so let your children rest. I will see the first at eight o’clock.” Ayden knew that this was like the seat belt announcement on airplanes—everybody present already knew the rules—but he repeated it anyway. By his reckoning, little ceremonies kept you sane.
As he walked back toward the entrance to his one-room one-man free clinic, Ayden felt a chill despite the heat. The day was soon approaching when he would not draw smiley faces with noses. His funds were dwindling. After five wonderful, horrible years, his clinic would have to close.
He felt tears begin to well.
Hope had knocked on his apartment door a few months ago. He had looked through the peephole to see an exceptionally charismatic face beaming from a bush of long tousled hair and punctuated with whirlpool eyes. “Word of your good works has spread far, my friend,” the man who introduced himself as Arvin had confided. “If you had the resources, the backing shall we say, would you be willing to do more?”
Looking at the stoic figures now standing patiently in the sun with sick children clinging to their legs, Ayden knew that he would do anything to keep his clinic afloat. Anything. At this point, Arvin’s generous offer appeared to be his best and only chance, but he had not encountered the opportunity to earn that support. Not yet. Stepping back into his clinic, he prayed that someday soon he would …
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