The boundless ambitions
of some CEOs and politicians
are dangerous, shameless and sly.
Only when heroes step forward to fight,
will we see the end of their lies.
Imagine HOUSE OF CARDS meets JAMES BOND in a clever suspense thriller.
Sometimes the bad guys play out of bounds.
Our world is plagued by the devious schemes of disguised cheaters and thieves. The worst of these frauds are perpetrated by prominent figures—powerful people with sincere smiles, boundless ambitions, and flexible souls. They play on hope, fear and pride while stealing billions right before our eyes.
This is the story of one such group. Although thoroughly unpredictable, it’s inspired by true events.
Created using the same compelling mix of savvy plotting, rapid pacing, and clever conundrums that turned the first four Kyle Achilles books into international bestsellers, Boundless Ambition gives you heroes to love, villains to hate, and puzzles to solve. It’s a story destined to delight both new comers and avid Tim Tigner fans.
“Prepare yourself for one of those rare books that builds and builds until your fingers can’t flip fast enough and your mind finally blows.” —Sandy Wallace
Amazon named Tim Tigner an All-Star Author in December, 2017 and every month since for being one of the most popular authors on Kindle.
His books are recommended for fans of David Baldacci, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Nelson DeMille’s John Corey, Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp, Mark Greaney’s Gray Man, Gregg Hurwitz’s Orphan X, Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne, John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport, Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon, Brad Taylor’s Pike Logan, Brad Thor’s Scot Harvath, and Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon.
Release date: May 1, 2020
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 446
Reader says this book is...: action-packed (1) unexpected twists (1)
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THE HELICOPTER ROTORS beat the humid air like the wings of angry dragons as Lucille Ferro descended toward the hunting lodge. Or perhaps that was just her imagination. The freshly minted CEO projecting her frustrated mood.
Luci had been battling for status her entire career, and was sick of the subtle slights and standard assumptions. While every sister knew her struggle to some extent, Luci had been hit particularly hard. The industry sectors she’d selected and ascended were bastions of brotherhood. The military. The airline industry. And now energy. Yet even as chief executive of the biggest blue-chip in the baddest industry, she still got snubbed by the boys.
The revenues generated by KAKO Energy dwarfed those of the other two Texas companies in the cozy little alliance they called the C3. But rather than wave her ace, Luci had gracefully agreed to accommodate the group’s established rules. Tradition was important, deep in the heart of Texas—but that wasn’t what drove her decision.
Luci had pulled on jeans and boots, and agreed to fly up from Houston for a weekend on their turf because she wouldn’t allow ego to interfere with her agenda. Not given the stakes, or the audacity of the proposal she’d be putting forward. Her plan would make them all unbelievably rich—if they screwed their courage to the sticking place.
Three men in cowboy hats watched her approach from the edge of the helipad. Two CEOs, easily discernible by their pompous stature despite the twilight hour, and a lone ranch hand who ran forward while the rotors were still spinning. Hat in hand, he opened her door and held it politely as she disembarked.
Once Luci had both feet on the ground, the young man extracted her roller bag from the luggage compartment. Then, to her surprise, he extended the handle and leaned it in her direction while bowing his head. A handoff gesture.
Apparently, he wasn’t planning to carry it.
Luci accepted her bag without comment.
The ranch hand proceeded to shock her a second time by climbing into the seat she’d just vacated and shutting the helicopter door.
Perplexed but unperturbed, Luci wheeled her bag toward the C3’s other two members without a backward glance. No sooner had she cleared the rotor area than the engine accelerated and the helicopter began to ascend.
“Welcome to Lonestar Lodge. Pardon the unconventional greeting,” the host and senior member of the trio said, touching the brim of his hat before extending his hand. “I find these meetings work best when there’s nobody else around.”
The handshake revealed rough skin. That shouldn’t have surprised her, but it did. William Zacharia Bubb, founding CEO of Steel Shield, was a former UT Longhorn quarterback turned Marine, turned defense contractor. His appearance reflected that rugged history. Big and broad, with a face well-suited for delivering both steely stares and Aw, shucks, ma’am—as evidenced in the video clips she’d studied.
“Nobody else?” she asked, glancing around.
“It will just be the three of us this weekend. Hank was the last of the help to leave. Trust me, by the time Sunday morning rolls around, you’ll be a convert. After a week in a big-city boardroom, there’s no work setting more refreshing.” He turned and gestured toward the roof that was visible up the flagstone path.
“I’m sure you’re right. Thank you for the invitation, William Zacharia.”
Despite the remote setting and their informal dress, Luci knew from her research to address her host only with his full first and middle names—or the initials WZ. She understood what motivated the apparent eccentricity. She related to it. The obvious Billy Bubb contraction would cripple a climb up the corporate ladder. A less than respectful nickname could hold a person back in business almost as much as having female genitalia.
“I believe you already know Benjamin Lial, CEO of Grausam Favlos,” William Zacharia continued, gesturing to his left.
“I do indeed,” Luci said, accepting the hand of the construction magnate from Fort Worth who always reminded her of Dustin Hoffman. “We met when I was president of Apex Aviation and you were bidding to build Istanbul’s new mega airport. Good to see you again, Ben.”
William Zacharia grabbed the handle of Luci’s bag while she shook hands with Ben. “I suggest we push the property tour to morning. This time of year, the rattlers get rambunctious at night.”
* * *
Benjamin Lial studied the new arrival as C C CWilliam Zacharia poured three glasses of Blue Label Ghost whisky. Luci fit the requisite image of an inspiring CEO—to the extent that any woman ever could. Tall and athletic, with hypnotic blue eyes and a cultured deep voice, she came across as both fresh and familiar. Part mother, part father, all business.
Ben had been less surprised than most when KAKO Energy brought in Lucille Ferro to become its new CEO two months earlier. He’d worked with her a few years back, or rather in parallel, when they were both jockeying for favorable slices of the pie on a major overseas project.
Observing Luci in action, whether behind the scenes or on center stage, was like watching Simone Biles on the balance beam. She had the strategic mind and tactical instincts required to succeed in industries that required short-term shrewd maneuvers and long-term gutsy gambles—industries like defense, construction and energy. Industries well-positioned to help one another. In short, he considered her an ideal addition to their little club.
William Zacharia raised his crystal tumbler as they sank into the soft leather seats he had arranged around his indoor campfire. A custom fire pit that he claimed to have designed with the C3 meetings in mind.
Ben knew there was a large evacuation vent and fire-suppression system some eighteen feet above them, but he couldn’t see it in the flickering light. In fact, little was visible in the cavernous room besides the fire itself and the three figures surrounding it. No doubt that was exactly what the architect had planned.
“To our shared success,” the host said.
“To our shared success,” Ben and Luci repeated before savoring the precious first sip.
“Fifteen years ago, our predecessors began these meetings with the realization that our organizations share similar business models and face the same daunting challenge: gargantuan growth. While most CEOs spend their careers aspiring to one day reach a billion dollars in revenue, we are expected to grow by at least that amount every year. Year after year.”
Ben found himself nodding along, despite having heard the ego-stroking compliment several times before.
“Annual growth of a billion dollars,” William Zacharia repeated, “is way beyond what most people can fathom, let alone achieve. It takes relentless drive, ruthless determination and boundless ambition. Experience demonstrates that it also requires cooperation, coordination, and cunning. Those are the tenets of the C3 alliance—”
“And our reason for gathering here this weekend,” Luci interjected, “enjoying your fine hospitality.”
Neither of them noted the real reason the three CEOs gave up one weekend every quarter to collude, Ben observed. Not that it would be difficult to deduce were anyone to learn of their meetings.
As CEOs, all three had their compensation linked directly to their company’s stock performance. Obscene payouts were possible, but corporate boards didn’t offer their chief executives those nine-figure pay packages out of the goodness of their hearts. And they weren’t just buying big brains with key connections either. The board members were counting on their CEOs to do whatever it took to keep the share price climbing ever higher. They needed chief executives willing to outwit, outplay and outmaneuver the competition. To go above, beyond and around the law using cutting-edge tactics and clever tricks that could never be detected, much less proven in court.
“The helicopter is scheduled to return for us Sunday morning,” WZ said, setting down his glass. “But I propose that we agree not to leave until we’ve reached accord on the single most important decision of the next few years.” He paused there for effect, even though both guests knew what was coming. “Deciding who will become our country’s next president.”
“And what tactics will give us the greatest influence over him—or her,” Ben clarified.
“Agreed,” Luci said, with a smile in her eyes.
“Good. I’d like to kick off the discussion with an observation.”
Two nods prompted him on.
“Elections are traditionally unpredictable and early polls considered worthless, but this time around the numbers have been remarkably steady, with Hughes constantly hovering at thirty-five percent, Ames around twenty-five, Saxon near twenty, and the rest of the pack in mid-to-low single digits.
“Effectively, we have a three-horse race. Agreed?”
“All three leading candidates are business-friendly, pro-military and sufficiently hawkish. Hughes, with Caterpillar in her backyard, will probably be best for Ben. Saxon, as an oil man, clearly works well for Luci. And Ames, as a decorated veteran and self-declared hawk, is my first choice. But all three are acceptable. Agreed?”
“I’m with you,” Luci said as Ben signaled his approval.
“Given that, I say there’s no need to fight the tide. We make like Alabama and roll with it.”
“Meaning what, exactly?” Ben asked.
“Politicians remember their early donors. The ones who made a difference when the odds were still high and the faith was still low. Sure, they smile and shake your hand whenever you write a check, and if the amount is big enough, the door to the Oval Office will then open whenever you knock. But…” WZ raised his whisky glass with extended index finger, “the connection candidates make with late donors is less visceral.”
He took a sip. “What we want is a president who both knows that he owes us and feels that he owes us—and governs accordingly. Therefore, what I’m proposing is that we give big to the Super PACs supporting all three. Nine figures big. A hundred million dollars to each.
“I’m also proposing that we do it now. Now, before Iowa and New Hampshire. Now, when it will feel like a gift from God rather than just one more log on an already blazing fire. This tactic will triple our spend, but it will also virtually guarantee the desired result.”
Ben cleared his throat as William Zacharia set down his glass. “I want to talk more about tactics for presenting our donation checks, but I’m onboard with the basic strategy.”
Both men turned to Luci.
The newcomer held their gazes, first one, then the other, building tension, creating doubt. “Essentially, your plan is to pay three hundred million dollars to ensure that the next president feels a one-hundred million-dollar debt of gratitude.”
“Deeply feels,” WZ clarified.
“Deeply feels,” Luci repeated. She pressed her lips together for a few seconds, then said, “I’m not interested.”
Her words sucked so much oxygen from the room that Ben thought the fire might extinguish. The bonhomie evaporated like alcohol on a hot barbecue.
“Why not?” WZ asked, slow and low. “Your predecessors always supported our political projects. Dollar-for-dollar, they’ve proven to be the best investment around.”
Ben believed he could read Luci’s thoughts at that moment. Go there, I dare you. Tell me I need to fall in line like a good little boy. But she didn’t take that route. Instead, she said, “As we all know, feelings are fickle. And the further the calendar flips from the day of our gift, the more the president’s sense of obligation will fade.”
William Zacharia again raised his drink-holding index finger. “That would be true if politicians only looked backward. But they don’t. Trust me, they’re always thinking about the next election. Always craving the next big check, the one that will save them from spending too much time sucking up to housewives over rubber-chicken dinners, and shaking thousands of snotty hands.”
“Quid pro quo is programmed into every politician’s code,” Ben added, hoping for a quick and amicable resolution. “It’s their default operating system.”
When Luci replied, her voice projected a tantalizing lilt. “Perhaps. But only until the president feels that he’s delivered his half of the implied bargain.”
Ben suddenly understood where she was going, and immediately became intrigued. “You think we can do better. Better than the system that’s driven our elections for generations. I’d love to hear how.”
* * *
William Zacharia was quickly coming to the conclusion that he didn’t care for Luci very much. But he was a practical man. He didn’t have to like someone to work with her. “What, specifically, is your problem with my proposal?”
Luci stood up and walked to stand behind her chair, leaving only her face and hands visible in the flickering firelight. “Your proposal simply isn’t good enough, William Zacharia. I don’t want POTUS beholden to us out of gratitude for prior donations, or courting us for the next big check. Both situations are fragile. They break the instant a better offer comes along. No, my new friends, I want the president of the United States owned by us. And not just the man, the office.”
I want to pitch a no-hitter and quarterback the Super Bowl, WZ thought, biting his tongue.
“Sounds good to me. How do we arrange that?” Ben said, making his reply sound only mildly sarcastic.
Luci answered his question with one of her own. “Who’s the most likely nominee?”
“And when will she lock-in her frontrunner status?”
“After New Hampshire, assuming she places first there and in Iowa.”
Luci turned to WZ and waited silently for his opinion.
“Agreed. So long as South Carolina’s not a surprising disaster.”
As if propelled by those words, the C3’s first female member began to walk the perimeter of their circle. She stopped in the space between her male colleagues’ chairs. Rather than look at either of them, she spoke directly to the crackling fire. “I know something about Joy Hughes. Something her campaign manager doesn’t. Something her husband doesn’t. Something that, if exposed, would make her un-electable.”
The two senior members both turned toward the new initiate with wide eyes and sinful smiles.
She did not return either gaze, but added, “We were sorority sisters, and roommates.”
“Blackmail. I like it,” WZ said. He was dying to ask exactly what she had on the candidate, but knew that would be fruitless, not to mention bad form.
Luci offered nothing more.
“When do you intend to spring the trap?” Ben asked.
Luci continued staring silently into the flames.
William Zacharia found himself squirming on the hook before she finally let out a little line. “We can do better than blackmail.”
“What’s better than blackmail?” he blurted.
Luci walked back toward her chair, this time taking the inside track. She didn’t sit, but rather turned around before it. “Blackmail is a high-risk endeavor. Extreme and unpredictable. It’s good for a one-off demand. For forcing a single action. But it’s not realistic to expect a person to function long-term while writhing in a vise. Certainly not a person who’s also dealing with the pressures of the Oval Office.”
WZ had no idea where this was going. Glancing at Ben, he observed a similarly confused expression.
“Here’s what I’d like to suggest we do,” Luci continued. “We go to Preston Saxon, the number-three contender, and we offer him two things. We offer him three-hundred-million dollars, and we offer to put Joy Hughes on his ticket.”
“What do you mean?” Ben asked.
“I mean, Hughes endorses Saxon, and runs as his vice president.”
“Well knock me over with a feather,” William Zacharia said. “So first you dash Hughes’s dreams. Then, when she’s despondent, when her golden road becomes a brick wall and she’s staring at you with tears in her eyes, you offer her second fiddle. That’s a beautiful scene.”
“But how will she explain it?” Ben asked.
“She’s bowing to Saxon’s experience. He’s got twenty years on her. She’ll look selfless, magnanimous and wise.”
Ben flashed a conspiratorial smile. “She still gets a federal mansion, a jet, and a place in the history books as the first female VP. Plus perfect positioning to ascend to the Oval.”
“She gets up to sixteen years in one of the federal government’s top two slots,” WZ said.
“All the while knowing that we can bring her down,” Luci added.
WZ raised his glass. “Meanwhile, Saxon knows without any doubt that he owes his presidency to us.”
Ben also raised his drink in salute, but Luci left her tumbler on the end table. “I’m just getting started. Shall I continue?”
William Zacharia was suitably impressed with Luci’s initial idea and duly intrigued by her tease, but he knew where this was going. Same place things always went when newcomers tried too hard to prove themselves. He settled back and braced for disappointment.
* * *
Luci was pleased with her debut performance. She had them hooked—and they hadn’t even heard the big news yet.
“By all means, do continue,” Ben said with wonder and admiration in his voice.
“I’m not about to offer Saxon this windfall with nothing but an implied quid pro quo in mind. Remember, it’s Ames who’s placing second in the polls. He’s the obvious alternative. The easier alternative. Saxon’s third-place status means he’ll be much more eager than Ames. Much more malleable than Ames. So after dangling the golden carrot before Saxon, I’m going to make three demands—then throw in a kicker.”
Luci let the tension build before elaborating. She could see they were both brimming with enthusiasm. She doubted either had been this excited since their last bonus discussion. “In exchange for our support and Hughes’ unprecedented endorsement, Saxon must agree to let us pick his Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Energy, and Secretary of Homeland Security.”
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