By Dawn's Early Lightby Philip Shelby, Philip Shelby (Editor), Shelby Philip
After she's blackballed by Wall Street for exposing a powerful banker's corruption, Sloane Ryder is recruited by a covert government agency to hunt down moles and spies within the corridors of power. It seems to be the perfect job for the straight-shooting Sloane -- until a suspicious tip leads her to uncover a shocking conspiracy wrought by some of the most prominent figures in government. Their aim: assassinate the first woman president of the United States, whose policies could endanger their shadowy activities.
As Sloane frantically pieces together a series of strange but seemingly unrelated events, the trail leads her to the Handyman, an enigmatic killer-for-hire whose reputation is built on his unerring tenacity. Now, she finds herself caught in a deadly game of high-stakes international intrigue, in which the wrong move may be her last.
- Simon & Schuster
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.40(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.21(d)
Read an Excerpt
There were forty children in Barracks 6, the orphanage section of the refugee camp in western North Korea. The youngest was five, the oldest eleven, which was the cutoff age. Twelve-year-olds were moved into the general population.
The children lived in a universe of cold, hunger, and fear that not even sleep could relieve. Each was trapped inside a brittle cocoon of pain. The room was never silent, the days and nights filled with hacking coughs and cries as sharp as piranhas' teeth.
The older ones preyed on the young when they could, for as long as they were strong enough to do so. They stole rations and water, and, when these were not to be had, they explored the parameters of their own crippled psyches by twisting limbs and breaking joints with the indifferent curiosity of seasoned torturers.
The colonel in charge of the camp stepped across the frozen mud of the compound. A year before he had inadvertently slighted a superior and was relieved of his command, banished to run this dung heap the United Nations and the International Red Cross called a displaced persons camp. But he sensed his luck was changing, all because of the man walking beside him.
The stranger was a Caucasian, tall and loose-limbed, with close-cropped iron-gray hair and the dark, weathered features of a farmer. He was in his forties or early fifties -- hard to tell because he was very fit, moving through the bitter spring air like a ghost.
The colonel had not been informed of the man's visit until the helicopter carrying him was airborne. His orders had been to cooperate fully. The camp held back many secrets from international inspectors but this visitor was to be shown anything he wanted.
Which told the colonel that the man was important. Very important. And if he served him well, it would be reported to the chain of command. Maybe a word or two from the stranger would be enough to retrieve the colonel from this purgatory.
The visitor, who was known in his trade as the Handyman, was aware of the colonel's plight. He did not care, except that it would make the man easier to handle.
The colonel threw open the door to Barracks 6 with more force than necessary. The smell of diseased flesh billowed out.
The barracks was sixty feet by thirty, divided by three rows of bunk beds. The dim lighting filtered down from weak overhead bulbs and died on the grime that covered the windows and raw plank floor. Shapes stirred on the beds and the Handyman saw feral eyes tracking his movements.
The overhead lights flickered and brightened and the Handyman gazed down upon a sight he'd witnessed in other black pits of the world -- the refugee camps of Cambodia and Laos, the Bekáa Valley and the black townships beyond Johannesburg.
Most of the children lay curled up in their bunks. It was impossible to determine their sex. All had skin yellowed by malnutrition, the same sallow faces that made their eyes inordinately large, the knobby knees and elbows with skin stretched tight over bones as brittle as chalk.
Walking between the rows of bunks, the Handyman searched among the faces, dismissing those who were too far gone, weighing those who could still be saved on scales only he had calibrated.
The role of savior unsettled him. At any given time, he was regarded as one of the top four assassins in the world, doling out death on grains of metal and with an unerring eye. His employers were governments or individuals who could afford his fee. But this job was unlike any other he had undertaken. He was to select and to protect, and might never be called upon to pull the trigger.
The Handyman caught a glimpse of the child through the support beams of the other bunks, lying on the mattress, his back pressed against a wall. He was eight, maybe nine years old, thin but not yet emaciated, staring out into space, his expression vacant. But his eyes were still clear, like those of a freshly caught fish laid out on ice.
Moving closer, the Handyman drew in a sharp breath. The child was a doppelgänger, almost an exact double of the child he had been searching for up and down the frozen wastes of this godforsaken land for the last few weeks.
The Handyman slipped onto the edge of the bunk. He reached for the boy, felt him flinch when he touched his shoulder. The boy resisted for a second, then let the strong hand roll him over. There was dried blood on the seat of his pants, indicating that the child had recently been assaulted. The Handyman peeled back the filthy shirt, checked the arms, chest, and back. There were sores and blisters, but nothing was broken -- except the life behind those vacant eyes, a wasteland.
The Handyman rose. He had been the instrument for some of the most audacious killings men could devise and he had carried out his assignments flawlessly. But this assignment was beyond anything he had ever imagined. Looking at the boy, he saw a perfect killing machine, a child so innocent that he would overcome every hurdle, every obstacle, every watcher between him and his intended target. The President of the United States, Claudia Ballantine, would actually feel this child's embrace before she died.
The Handyman turned to the colonel. "Who is this boy?"
"He has no name. He comes from the southeast."
The Handyman knew all about the mass graves that fertilized the fields of that region. Safe to assume that the boy's parents and other relatives would never come looking for him.
"The boy is designated number 1818," the colonel volunteered.
The Handyman gave the colonel his full attention, which caused the officer's mouth to go dry.
"Get him out of here. Have a doctor examine him for an infection and give him the necessary antibiotics. I want him clean and ready to travel in three hours."
The Handyman paused. "My report will comment on your cooperation, provided that everything is in order."
The officer's Adam's apple jutted against the knot of his tie.
"Then we are finished here."
The Handyman took one last look at the boy, then made his way outside. After the stench of the barracks, the cold air was welcome. Pulling out cigarettes, he offered the colonel one and lit one for himself. He hadn't been quite honest when he'd said he was finished here. The colonel was the only witness to 1818's existence. He might be inclined to talk about the man who had come looking for a special child, brag about his role in finding him. In view of the project's importance, this possibility was unacceptable. Therefore, the colonel would have to cooperate further, by dying when the Handyman returned for 1818.
Copyright © 2002 by by Philip Shelby
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