Imagine Bin Laden meets Bernie Madoff—and hold on for the ride.
A mysterious summons lures Kyle Achilles to a midnight meeting that shocks the world and sets a master plan in motion.
Meanwhile, his former partner also enters a terrible trap. It’s ingenious and unprecedented, but just a hint of what’s to follow.
Achilles and Jo join forces against the cunning culprit, but time is tight and the pressure is great. The Russian is not just making millions with his clever crimes—he’s waging war on the United States.
Come for the characters, stay for the surprises. Falling Stars is a fast-paced thriller you'll want to share with friends.
Amazon named Tim Tigner an All-Star Author in December, 2017 and every month since for being one of the most popular authors in Kindle Unlimited.
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: November 2, 2017
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 398
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
THE DRONE PERCHED atop the slate roof like the big black bird for which it was named, saving battery, waiting to strike. Its minders waited nearby in a black Tesla Model X: a pilot, an engineer and the team leader.
Under normal operational security protocols, the three Russians would have hidden away, out of sight, as drone commanders usually did. But this wasn’t a normal operation.
This was a test run. A learning exercise.
All three team members needed to experience the first human capture directly.
The pilot needed confirmation that Raven’s cameras were sufficient for combat operations. The engineer needed confirmation that Raven’s weapons would work as designed. The team leader needed feedback, immediate and first-hand. If they unearthed any flaws, he’d have to figure out how to fix them, fast.
The house beneath the slate roof was typical old-European city-center. A centuries old stone-block facade abutting both neighbors on a cobblestone street. The street lights were also classic. Old gas lamps turned electric, now yielding to dawn. The neighborhood was still asleep, other than the baker—and the three Russians in their silent Tesla.
“Why this particular house?” Boris asked.
Michael glanced over at the design engineer. Initially surprised to hear him speak, Michael quickly understood that the query wasn’t chitchat or idle curiosity. It was a technical question from a technical man. Boris could build anything. Fix anything. Create anything. He was Leonardo DaVinci reincarnate. But like many savants, his talents ceased at humanity’s edge. He was often oblivious to things beyond the mechanical realm. “It’s not the house that’s special. It’s the occupant,” Michael replied.
Boris grunted dismissively without turning from the window, his interest extinguished.
“And what’s special about her?” Pavel called out from the Tesla’s third row. The pilot was former military. He knew better than to ask indulgent questions. But Boris had cracked the door and curiosity had emerged.
Michael kept his eyes on the house while replying. “What makes you think it’s a woman?”
“You told Boris the target weighed fifty kilos.”
So he had. One point for Pavel. Michael decided to toss him a warning disguised as a bone. “Ivan has a score to settle. She interfered with one of our operations a few years back. Today, she gets what’s coming.”
Their employer was literally a living legend. Ivan the Ghost was the man to whom the wealthy turned when they needed dirty deeds done without a trace. Or at least he used to be. Ivan didn’t take jobs anymore.
He’d given up his work-for-hire business in order to develop Raven, and the plan that went with it. If that plan worked, and Ivan’s plans always worked, he would rake in billions. With a b. If it didn’t, well, Michael chose not to think about that. Like most geniuses, Ivan had a temper. And like most pioneers, he could be ruthless with those around him when things didn’t go his way.
But they would go his way. Ivan wasn’t just a genius. He was meticulous.
Before driving half the night to Versailles’ city center, he had them run Raven through tests. Dozens of tests. Dogs at first. Then calves. The trial attacks were nothing short of mesmerizing.
The drone itself was impressive, if not a technological breakthrough. A scaled-up version of the quadcopter you could buy at any hobby store. They powered it using breakthrough battery technology from the lab of John Goodenough—stolen of course—and framed it with the same carbon-fiber construction used on racing bikes and tennis rackets. Boris built it to carry 250 pounds of active cargo, and hinged it to fold up for transport by SUV.
Raven’s main offensive mechanism was the true marvel—both for its apparent simplicity and for its amazing action. They named it The Claw because it was Raven’s grasping mechanism, although to Michael it looked more like a snake than a talon.
Roughly the width of a broomstick and thirty feet in length, The Claw was constructed from segments of aluminum tube, anodized black and ingeniously cut to articulate. If properly positioned, The Claw would wrap around the victim’s waist with the push of a single button, automatically applying enough pressure to squeeze flesh without crushing bone. Boris insisted that the mechanics were rudimentary, but The Claw’s speed and grace still stole Michael’s breath every time he saw it in operation.
Of course, the trick to a clean capture was getting The Claw close enough to strike. Pets and livestock were one thing, humans were literally a different breed.
Given Raven’s speed and nimble nature, Pavel was confident that he could catch anyone outdoors. The way he figured it, about a third of the victims would behave like a deer in the headlights, too frightened to react. Another third would allow curiosity to override judgment, rubbernecking until it was too late. For the final third, the warrior class, there was the taser.
Under normal circumstances, Michael was certain this particular target would require the taser. She was a fighter. But today she wouldn’t get the chance. Not with Raven silently perched and The Claw ready to strike.
“How long have you worked for Ivan?” Pavel asked, breaking the silence from behind the Drone Mobile Command Unit. He was trying to make the question sound casual, but came up short.
Michael weighed his response. In fact, he’d been with Ivan since Ivan was in middle school. Michael had just won Russia’s welterweight youth boxing championship when Ivan’s hard-charging father had recruited him to be a companion and mentor to his son. It was Michael’s first paid position, and it would be his last. After twenty years, Michael knew he was destined to be with Ivan to the end—be it abominably bitter or unbelievably sweet. “Long enough to know that he treats those who please him extremely well—and those who don’t, accordingly.”
A mood of grim reflection wrapped around the Tesla like a black burial shroud. But only for a moment.
Before another word was spoken, the front door of the house opened, and Jo Monfort emerged.
Not a Dream
JOSEPHINE MONFORT stepped onto the stoop of her house and began to stretch. She’d always loved her early morning runs, but ever since moving to the posh Paris suburb of Versailles, they’d been positively blissful. This was her meditative time, her opportunity to put her body to work and her mind at ease. What better place for that than the grounds of the legendary palace built by Louis XIII? What better time than dawn—when the birds were chirping, the bread was baking, and the tourists were sleeping?
Jo braced her hands against the cool stone and leaned back into her calves. She’d dreamed of swarms of locusts, and was eager to push that pestilent thought from her mind. A good run would be perfect.
Two seconds into her stretch, she sensed an ozone disturbance off to her left, like a television coming to life in a cool, dry room. A flash of movement followed, then something brushed against her waist. Something hard. Something cold. Faster than she could flinch it wrapped itself around her, like a cattle lasso or a boa constrictor.
She seized the end of the object with both hands while sizing it up. A steel cable gripped her waist. No not a cable, a mechanical construction. And not steel, more like black aluminum. She had to be dreaming. This couldn’t possibly be real.
Time slowed, just like in a dream. She became capable of calculating actions between heartbeats and planning battles between breaths, but she could not escape the feeling that this couldn’t possibly be happening.
Willing herself to wake up, Jo wrapped her right hand around the loose end of the coil and her left around the lower loop. She tried pulling them apart.
The object pressed back. It felt alive.
She clawed at the mechanical creature this way and that, trying to pry it from her flesh.
It wouldn’t budge. Not a millimeter. Not with everything she had. She didn’t stop. It got worse.
A billowing hum erupted from the rooftop some twenty feet above her head. It sounded like a swarm of locusts and signaled the second stage of the assault. That explained her earlier dream but shed no light on her present inexplicable condition.
She traced the tail of the mechanical snake up to the source of the sound, a shadow of an object now emerging from atop her home. A big black UFO. No, not a UFO. A drone.
The object that ensnared her was much smaller than a military craft, but much larger than a civilian one. Roughly the size of a mattress, it was shaped like an X with propellers extending from each corner. The snaking cable descended from a spool in the center. It resembled the line dropped from a Coast Guard helicopter, although this was clearly no rescue.
Jo’s hands continued to battle her bindings while her brain grappled for answers. If this was an assassination, why not use a gun? If an abduction, why not a couple of thugs and a panel van? There had to be something bigger, deeper, or broader behind the attack. Something strategic. Something sinister. Something …
The answer struck her as swiftly and unexpectedly as the snake. Ivan! Ivan the Ghost. The grandest strategist of them all.
Jo had been part of the team that put a big black mark on Ivan’s otherwise flawless record. She had long suspected that he would not forget, that he’d have his revenge, that this day would come. But Ivan had disappeared, and most believed that he was either dead or retired. Apparently he had fooled everyone, yet again.
Without relaxing her grip on the snake, Jo studied the drone hovering overhead. No doubt it had cameras. Was Ivan observing her now? Was he going to watch as the metallic snake crushed her to death?
Convinced that she couldn’t overpower the metallic snake, Jo began searching for another weakness. Her focus shifted skyward and settled on the propellers humming overhead. Could she stop them with sticks or stones?
As if in answer, their pitch increased, and her situation went from bad to worse.
The drone lifted skyward and her feet left the ground. Before she could reorient, Jo found herself dangling like a hooked fish.
Desperate to stop her ascent, she lunged for the lamppost. It was the old fashioned kind, a fluted black steel cylinder that crooked to suspend its lamp from above. A functional ornament retained by a city that clung to its grandiose past.
The fingers of her right hand caught the fluting. Pulling carefully on that precious purchase, she swung closer to the pole, but the drone’s ascent denied her left hand a grip. Without a second to spare, Jo brought her legs into play. Quick as a falling cat she twisted and arced and swung them around the pole, crossing her ankles as the drone drove her higher.
Her legs latched around the top of the crook. But not at the knees. She caught it down by her calves.
With her head above the rooftops and her legs clinging to the pole, Jo felt like a worm in the beak of a bird. Refusing to become breakfast, she put everything into her legs. She willed them to become bands of steel.
The upward force pulled the cold coil hard against her diaphragm, restricting her breath and raising her panic.
She pressed the panic back down while refusing to release her ankles. She might suffocate or be ripped in half, but she vowed to fight up to that point. She vowed not to give. She stared up at the mechanical beast with a defiant stare and drew energy from her rage.
That was when she first noticed it. A familiar rectangular barrel with a yellow tip, a muzzle turning in her direction. A taser.
Her heart sank. Her tears started flowing. There was nothing she could do.
She had no shield, no place to hide. Just locking her legs demanded all the might she could muster. She wanted to shout “That’s not fair!” but couldn’t spare the breath.
Staring back at the beast above, Jo swore she would not yield.
Inch by Inch
MICHAEL WATCHED the scene unfolding on the other side of the windshield with a fearful fascination he hadn’t experienced since the second plane hit the World Trade Center on 9/11. Jo was clinging to the top of a lamp post while Raven strained to snatch her skyward. It was human versus machine—and for the moment the woman was winning. Surely she couldn’t keep it up?
Just to be certain, Michael decided to tip the scales. “Hit her with the taser.”
“Already aiming,” Pavel replied, his voice cool as arctic ice.
Michael had investigated Jo, both immediately after an unfortunate event a few years ago, and more recently in preparation for the Raven trial. The Frenchwoman had a colorful background to say the least. She came from a family of con artists. According to the file mysteriously procured by Ivan, Jo’s parents had involved her in the family business from the day she was born. They gave her daily on-the-job training, and skewed her formal education to facilitate the life they led. Gymnastics lessons prepared her to become an exceptional cat burglar, while acting and debate classes prepped her for sophisticated confidence scams.
She’d been on track to be a female version of Ivan until her soft side blossomed and fate intervened. After inadvertently swiping the briefcase of an American diplomat, she returned it in flamboyant fashion. This so impressed the ambassador that he recommended her to the CIA for field ops.
The future had looked bright for Miss Monfort until she landed on the team pursuing Ivan—for her very first assignment. Although she and Kyle Achilles ultimately foiled Ivan’s plan, Ivan and Michael had escaped. That failure earned her the personal animosity of CIA Director Wiley Rider, ending her government career. Now she did P.I. work and security consulting—apparently pretty well, given her Versailles address.
But that too was about to end.
Ivan wasn’t one to forgive and forget. In fact, the only reason he wasn’t there to enjoy this little bit of revenge in person was that he was overseas, settling an even bigger score.
“Firing,” Pavel said.
Tasers shoot twin barbed electrodes attached to long thin wires. Once they penetrate a target, the electrodes deliver 50,000 volts, causing considerable pain and disrupting voluntary muscle control.
“Merde!” Pavel said. “One electrode hit The Claw.”
“I thought you were aiming?”
“She’s wriggling around like a worm in the beak of a bird—and The Claw is center mass. Plus the rotor wash is wreaking havoc on the aerodynamics.”
“You’ve got a second taser, right?” Michael asked, attempting to repress his growing sense of panic. He had no idea how Ivan would react if they failed. The possibility had never crossed his mind. Michael never came up short. He’d just flown in from a flawlessly executed mission in Moscow. To follow that with a flop was unthinkable. A “C” average for the day just wouldn’t do. Granted today’s mission was just a test run. Part of the meticulous preparation Ivan always put in before a big job. But the expectations were clear. Ivan paid top dollar for top talent, and expected nothing but shining successes.
“We’ve got one more,” Pavel said. “Aiming. Firing.”
Michael watched Jo flinch as one electrode penetrated her upper arm and another hit her thigh, but she didn’t start convulsing and she didn’t release her grip. “What’s going on? Why isn’t she flailing like a landed flounder?”
“I don’t know!” Pavel zoomed in on the taser’s silver barbs. “It’s the leg electrode. It hit the loose fabric at the side of her shorts, but didn’t penetrate flesh.”
“Dammit! What now?”
“We just keep pulling. We’ve got plenty of battery. We’ll pry her off.”
“I’m not worried about the battery. I’m worried about the neighbors.”
“She doesn’t have the breath to scream. Not with all her oxygen going to her legs. And not with The Claw wrapped around her ribs.”
“This was supposed to be a quick in-and-out grab. An easy victory. Proof positive.”
Nobody replied to Michael’s reproach.
Raven kept straining skyward.
Jo did not yield.
“Unbelievable,” Michael added.
“Never seen anything like it,” Pavel said, his voice also a mutter. “Where does she get the strength?”
They continued staring in silence at the petite P.I., waiting for her legs to give. Waiting to get on with their mission.
But her legs didn’t give. Her arms came into play instead. She grabbed hold of The Claw … and began pulling.
“What’s she doing?” Michael asked, his voice cool but cracking around the edges.
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