Dead or Alive

Dead or Alive

3.7 1462
by Tom Clancy, Grant Blackwood

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For years, Jack Ryan, Jr. and his colleagues at the Campus have waged an unofficial and highly effective campaign against the terrorists who threaten western civilization. The most dangerous of these is the Emir. This sadistic killer has masterminded the most vicious attacks on the west and has eluded capture by the world's law enforcement agencies. Now the Campus is… See more details below


For years, Jack Ryan, Jr. and his colleagues at the Campus have waged an unofficial and highly effective campaign against the terrorists who threaten western civilization. The most dangerous of these is the Emir. This sadistic killer has masterminded the most vicious attacks on the west and has eluded capture by the world's law enforcement agencies. Now the Campus is on his trail. Joined by their latest recruits, John Clark and Ding Chavez, Jack Ryan, Jr. and his cousins, Dominick and Brian Caruso, are determined to catch the Emir and they will bring him in . . . dead or alive.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

After stumbling with The Teeth of the Tiger (2003), bestseller Clancy is back at the top of his game, aided by Blackwood (An Echo of War), with this update on the Jack Ryan story, both father and son. While the senior Ryan is sitting at home quietly penning his memoirs, the real action is taking place at "The Campus," the independent secret intelligence agency he set up when he was commander in chief. Jack Ryan Jr., who works for The Campus as a researcher, has, unbeknownst to his father, begun involving himself in field operations. Uppermost in the sights of The Campus is the deadly Emir (read Osama bin Laden), who has set in motion a new round of attacks. Jack Sr. is furious at current President Edward Kealty, whose liberal administration is stripping the CIA and other intelligence agencies of funding and manpower. In-depth research, continuous suspense, and scores of fascinating characters prove again why Clancy, the man who virtually invented this genre, reigns supreme in the crowded thriller field.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From the Publisher
“Heart-stopping action…entertaining and eminently topical.” —The Washington Post

“The best characters from all of Clancy’s previous novels are on the case.…For fans of the genre, Dead or Alive is likely to provide a long weekend’s pleasure.”—Los Angeles Times

“Clancy is back at the top of his game…In-depth research, continuous suspense, and scores of fascinating characters.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Los Angeles Times
"Clancy fans may regard "Dead or Alive" as rather like one of those NBA "dream teams" they throw together for the Olympics; win, lose or draw — it's fun to see them all on the court. This time, the best characters from all Clancy's previous novels are on the case, including Jack Ryan and his son, Jack Ryan Jr.; the deadly John Clark (Jack senior's darker half); the Caruso brothers, Dominic and Brian; the ace intelligence analyst Mary Pat Foley; and even Clark's protégé, Ding Chavez. Their quarry is the "Emir," a Bin Laden-like terrorist in hiding after a series of horrific attacks on the United States by his Al Qaeda-like network...For fans of the genre, "Dead or Alive" is likely to provide a long weekend's pleasure..."--(Rutten, Tim)
May I cut to the chase? DEAD OR ALIVE is the book that Tom Clancy fans have been waiting for. With the strong and capable contribution of Grant Blackwood, who brings Clancy’s major characters together, it is a magnum opus long enough for three books, yet reads and moves like a great short story. I kept waiting for one of those moments where things drag a bit. It occurs even in short novels, where you can almost feel the author take a breather, but that never happens here. The dialogue, setups, descriptions and characterizations are just as interesting and well-told as the life-or-death passages where all hell breaks loose.

DEAD OR ALIVE is a step-by-step game of cat-and-mouse. The cat, in this case, is the Campus, an organization created under the presidential administration of Jack Ryan to carry out its mission of identifying, hunting down and eliminating terrorists, and to do so without outside oversight or supervision. The Campus is a small but capable group that includes two generations of black ops, John Clark and “Ding” Gomez, as well as brothers Dominic and Brian Caruso. The mouse is a thinly disguised Osama bin Laden caricature known as the Emir, a terrorist who is the most wanted man on earth and who, in an admittedly brilliant stroke, is hiding in plain sight under the nose of the nation he regards as the Great Satan.

The Campus, being an off-the-books organization that officially does not exist on the American intelligence grid, wants to locate the Emir in the worst possible way. The Carusos’ cousin, Jack Ryan, Jr., has decided that he wants a piece of the action as well. Having had a taste of field work more by accident than by design in THE TEETH OF THE TIGER, Ryan is hungry for more, but isn’t especially keen on letting his famous father know about his newfound avocation. The senior Ryan is faced with a major decision and a momentous opportunity provided in part by the current presidential administration, which is frequently wrong but never in doubt. When a number of seemingly disparate occurrences appear to indicate that the Emir is planning a major attack, the Campus begins a race against time to determine the exact details in order to head it off.

One of the major enjoyments of DEAD OR ALIVE is that Clancy and Blackwood aren’t quick at all to reveal precisely what the Emir has planned. Instead, they drop clues from multiple scenarios around the world, from Russia to Paris, from Sweden to the Hindu Kush, and from sources as varied as airplane mechanics to…Santa. I’m serious. You’ll look at the world, and the people who risk their lives on our behalf --- the rough men of whom George Orwell wrote, who stand ready in the night to do violence against those who would harm us --- in an entirely new light. You’ll also find that this is one of those rare giant books that, after close to a thousand pages, will leave you wanting even more.

While one could be forgiven for initially believing that DEAD OR ALIVE would be Clancy’s finis to his universe, it is quite clear after reading it that things are just getting warmed up. That does not mean that every single character we have come to know and love make it to the end of the finish line; not all of them do. I was surprised by who did not and how strongly it affected me. Clancy has always been a real-world guy, however, and in the real world the good guys take some hits.

Blackwood’s contribution to DEAD OR ALIVE --- equal parts experience, hard work, writing skill and storytelling craft --- cannot be overstated. If Clancy has been searching for his heir apparent, he has found him. I’m looking forward to more from both of them, individually and collaboratively, in the future.

--(Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub)

Library Journal
After years of waiting by eager fans, Clancy's sequel to Teeth of the Tiger begins where that title left off and features the ensemble characters from previous novels, including John Clark, "Ding" Chavez, and a thoroughly aggravated former president, Jack Ryan Sr. The United States is threatened by the Emir, a shadowy Osama Bin Laden-type terrorist leader who has planned a series of devastating attacks on America and her allies. Internally, a corrupt and inept John Kealty, an old nemesis of Ryan's, is now president, and his actions threaten the country as much as the Emir's, causing Ryan to consider another presidential bid.Verdict At a whopping 900-plus pages, it would be awful if this thriller wasn't good. Fortunately, it is good, although the complex plot and the large number of characters can be confusing. Still, it is a surprisingly fast read for a Clancy novel and is, as usual, timely and controversial. Better, there is plenty of room for future installments. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/10.]—Robert Conroy, Warren, MI

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Jack Ryan Series, #13
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.70(d)
890L (what's this?)
Age Range:
18 Years

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Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Chapter 71

Chapter 72

Chapter 73

Chapter 74

Chapter 75

Chapter 76

Chapter 77

Chapter 78

Chapter 79

Chapter 80

Chapter 81

Chapter 82

Chapter 83

Chapter 84

Chapter 85

Chapter 86

Chapter 87

Chapter 88

Chapter 89

Chapter 90



Tom Clancy—acknowledged master of international
intrigue and nonstop military action—returns to
what he knows better than anyone: a world caught
in the cross fire of politics and power, placed on the
edge of annihilation by evil men.


But there are other men who are honor
bound to stop the bloodshed and protect their
homeland by any means necessary . . .


It is The Campus. Secretly created under the administration of President Jack Ryan, its sole purpose is to eliminate terrorists and those who protect them. Officially, it has no connection to the American government—a necessity in a time when those in power consider themselves above such arcane ideals as loyalty, justice, and right or wrong.

Now covert intelligence expert Jack Ryan, Jr., and his compatriots at The Campus—joined by black ops warriors John Clark and “Ding” Chavez—have come up against their greatest foe: a sadistic killer known as the Emir. Mastermind of countless horrific attacks, the Emir has eluded capture by every law enforcement agency in the world. But his greatest devastation is yet to be unleashed as he plans a monumental strike at the heart of America.

On the trail of the Emir, Jack Ryan, Jr., will find himself following in his legendary father’s footsteps on a manhunt that will take him and his allies across the globe, into the shadowy arenas of political gamesmanship, and back onto U.S. soil in a race to prevent the fall of the West . . .



“HEART-STOPPING ACTION . . . entertaining and eminently topical . . . Clancy still reigns.”

The Washington Post









The Wall Street Journal



Los Angeles Daily News


“EXHILARATING . . . No other novelist is giving so full a picture of modern conflict.”

The Sunday Times (London)


“CLANCY IS A MASTER OF DETAIL—especially those having to do with military action and weapons.... And he builds strongly moral, attractive characters, ones we would like to emulate.”

Houston Chronicle


“CLANCY DELIVERS.... The guts, the fun of these books, are the high-tech devices, the ingenious schemes, and the inside look at military tactics.”—The Denver Post



The Indianapolis Star



The Dallas Morning News




The Hunt for Red October


Red Storm Rising


Patriot Games


The Cardinal of the Kremlin


Clear and Present Danger


The Sum of All Fears


Without Remorse


Debt of Honor


Executive Orders


Rainbow Six


The Bear and the Dragon


Red Rabbit


The Teeth of the Tiger


Dead or Alive


SSN: Strategies of Submarine Warfare




Submarine: A Guided Tour Inside a Nuclear Warship


Armored Cav: A Guided Tour of an Armored Cavalry Regiment


Fighter Wing: A Guided Tour of an Air Force Combat Wing


Marine: A Guided Tour of a Marine Expeditionary Unit


Airborne: A Guided Tour of an Airborne Task Force


Carrier: A Guided Tour of an Aircraft Carrier


Special Forces: A Guided Tour of U.S. Army Special Forces


Into the Storm: A Study in Command


(written with General Fred Franks, Jr., Ret., and Tony Koltz)
Every Man a Tiger: The Gulf War Air Campaign


(written with General Charles Horner, Ret., and Tony Koltz)


Shadow Warriors: Inside the Special Forces


(written with General Carl Stiner, Ret., and Tony Koltz)


Battle Ready

(written with General Tony Zinni, Ret., and Tony Koltz)


Published by the Penguin Group

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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.


Copyright © 2010 by Rubicon, Inc.


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the authors’ rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

BERKLEY® is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. The “B” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.



ISBN: 9781101544358


ISBN: 9781101544358

1. Ryan, Jack (Fictitious character)—Fiction.
2. Terrorism—Prevention—Fiction. 3. Terrorists—Fiction.
4. Children of presidents—Fiction. 5. Intelligence officers—Fiction.
6. Fathers and sons—Fiction. I. Blackwood, Grant. II. Title.






LIGHT TROOPS—Eleven-Bravo light infantrymen, according to the United States Army’s MOS (military occupational specialty) system—are supposed to be “pretty” spit-and-polish troops with spotless uniforms and clean-shaven faces, but First Sergeant Sam Driscoll wasn’t one of those anymore, and hadn’t been for some time. The concept of camouflage often involved more than patterned BDUs. No, wait, they weren’t called that anymore, were they? Now they were called “Army combat uniforms,” ACUs. Same, same.

Driscoll’s beard was fully four inches long, with enough flecks of white in it that his men had taken to calling him Santa—rather annoying to a man hardly thirty-six years old, but when most of your compatriots were an average of ten years younger than you . . . Oh, well. Could be worse. Could be “Pops” or “Gramps.”

He was even more annoyed to have long hair. It was dark and shaggy and greasy, and his beard coarse, which was useful here, where the facial hair was important to his cover and the local people rarely bothered with haircuts. His dress was entirely local in character, and this was true of his team as well. There were fifteen of them. Their company commander, a captain, was down with a broken leg from a misstep—which was all it took to sideline you in this terrain—sitting on a hilltop and waiting for the Chinook to evac him, along with one of the team’s two medics who’d stayed behind to make sure he didn’t go into shock. That left Driscoll in command for the mission. He didn’t mind. He had more time in the field than Captain Wilson had, though the captain had a college degree, and Driscoll didn’t have his yet. One thing at a time. He had to survive this deployment still, and after that he could go back to his classes at the University of Georgia. Funny, he thought, that it had taken him nearly three decades to start enjoying school. Well, hell, better late than never, he supposed.

He was tired, the kind of mind-numbing, bone-grinding fatigue Rangers knew only too well. He knew how to sleep like a dog on a granite block with only a rifle stock for a pillow, knew how to stay alert when his brain and body were screaming at him to lie down. Problem was, now that he was closer to forty than thirty, he felt the aches and pains a little more than he had when he was twenty, and it took twice as long to work out the kinks in the morning. Then again, those aches were offset by wisdom and experience. He’d learned over the years that despite it being a cliché, it was in fact mind over matter. He’d learned to largely block out pain, which was a handy skill when you were leading much younger men whose packs undoubtedly felt much lighter on their shoulders than Driscoll’s did on his own. Life, he decided, was all about trade-offs.

They’d been in the hills for two days, all of it on the move, sleeping two to three hours a night. He was part of the Special Operations team of the 75th Ranger Regiment, based permanently at Fort Benning, Georgia, where there was a nice NCO club with good beer on tap. By closing his eyes and concentrating, he imagined he could still taste the cold beer, but that moment passed quickly. He had to focus here, every second. They were fifteen thousand feet above sea level, in the Hindu Kush mountains, in that gray zone that was both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and neither—at least to the locals. Lines on maps didn’t make borders, Driscoll knew, especially in Indian country like this. He’d check his GPS equipment to be sure of his position, but latitude and longitude really didn’t matter to his mission. What mattered was where they were headed, regardless of where it fell on the map.

The local population knew little about borders, and didn’t especially care. For them reality was which tribe you were in, which family you were a part of, and which flavor of Muslim you were. Here memories lasted a hundred years, and the stories even longer. And grudges even longer than that. The locals still boasted that their ancestors had driven Alexander the Great out of the country, and some of them still remembered the names of the warriors who had bested the Macedonian spearmen who had up until then conquered every other place they’d wandered into. Most of all, though, the locals spoke of the Russians, and how many of those they’d killed, mostly by ambush, some with knives, face-to-face. They smiled and laughed with those stories, legends passed on from father to son. Driscoll doubted the Russian soldiers who made it out of Afghanistan did much laughing about the experience. No, sir, these were not nice folks, he knew. They were scary-tough, hardened by weather, war, famine, and just generally trying to stay alive in a country that seemed to be doing its best to kill you most of the time. Driscoll knew he ought to feel some sympathy for them. God had just dealt them a bad hand, and maybe that wasn’t their fault, but it wasn’t Driscoll’s fault, either, nor his concern. They were enemies of Driscoll’s country, and the powers-that-be had pointed the stick at them and ordered “Go,” and so here they were. That was the central truth of the moment, the reason he was in these goddamned mountains.

One more ridge was the other central truth, especially here, it seemed. They’d legged it fifteen klicks, almost all of it uphill and over sharp rock and scree, since they’d hopped off the CH-47 Chinook helicopter, a Delta variant, the only one at their disposal that could handle the altitude here.

There . . . the ridgeline. Fifty meters.

Driscoll slowed his pace. He was walking point, leading the patrol as the senior NCO present, with his men stretched out a hundred meters to his rear, alert, eyes sweeping left and right, up and down, M4 carbines at ready-low and trained at their sectors. They expected there to be a few sentries on the ridgeline. The locals might be uneducated in the traditional sense, but they weren’t stupid by any measure, which was why the Rangers were running this op at night—0144, or a quarter to two in the morning—according to his digital watch. No moon tonight, and high clouds thick enough to block whatever light came from the stars. Good hunting weather, he thought.

His eyes traced more down than up. He didn’t want to make any noise, and noise came from the feet. One damned rock, kicked loose and rolling down the hillside, could betray them all. Couldn’t have that, could he? Couldn’t waste the three days and fifteen klicks it had taken them to get this close.

Twenty meters to the ridgeline. Sixty-five feet.

His eyes searched the line for movement. Nothing close. A few more steps, looking left and right, his noise-suppressed carbine cradled to his chest at ready-low, finger resting lightly on the trigger, just enough to know it was there.

It was hard to explain to people how hard this was, how tiring and debilitating—far more so than a hike in the woods—knowing there might be someone with an AK-47 in his hands and his finger on a trigger, the selector switch set to full auto, ready to cut your ass in half. His men would take care of such a person, but that wouldn’t do him any good, Driscoll knew. Still, he consoled himself, if it happened, the odds were that he wouldn’t even know it. He’d dispatched enough enemies to know how it worked: One moment you’re stepping forward, eyes scanning ahead, ears tuned, listening for danger . . . the next nothing. Death.

Driscoll knew the rule out here, in the badlands, in the dead of night: Slow is fast. Move slow, walk slow, step carefully. It had served him well lo these many years.

Just six months earlier he’d finished third in the Best Ranger Competition, the Super Bowl of Special Operations troops. Driscoll and Captain Wilson, in fact, entered as Team 21. The captain had to be pissed at the broken leg. He was a pretty good Ranger, Driscoll thought, but a broken tibia was a broken tibia. When a bone broke, there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot to be done about it. A torn muscle hurt like hell but got better rapidly. On the other hand, a broken bone had to knit and mend, and that meant lying on your back for a few weeks at an Army hospital before the docs let you put weight on it again. Then you had to learn to run again, after you relearned how to walk. What a pain in the ass that would be.... He’d been lucky in his career, having suffered nothing worse than a twisted ankle, a broken pinkie, and a bone-bruised hip, none of which had sidelined him for much longer than a week. Not so much as a bullet or shrapnel graze. The Ranger gods had smiled on him for sure.

Five more steps . . .

Okay, there you are . . . Yep. As he’d expected, there was the sentry, right where he should be. Twenty-five meters to his right. It was just too obvious a spot for a sentry, though this particular one was doing a piss-poor job of it, sitting there, looking backward mostly, probably bored and half asleep and counting the minutes until his relief arrived. Well, boredom could kill you, and it was about to kill this guy in less than a minute, though he’d never even realize it. Unless I miss the shot, Driscoll reminded himself, knowing he wouldn’t.

He turned one last time, scanning the area through his PVS-17 night-vision goggles. Nobody else close. Okay. He settled down, tucked the carbine to his right shoulder and centered the sights on the guy’s right ear, controlled his breathing—

To his right, down a narrow trail, came the rasp of leather on rock.

Driscoll froze.

He did a quick mental recheck, placing the rest of the team in his mind’s eye. Anyone down that way? No. Most of the team was spread out behind him and to his right. Moving with exaggerated slowness, Driscoll rotated his head in the direction of the sound. Nothing in the night vision. He lowered his carbine, laying it diagonally across his chest. He looked left. Ten feet away, Collins crouched behind a rock. Driscoll gestured: Sound to the left; take two men. Collins nodded and crab-walked backward out of sight. Driscoll did the same, then laid himself flat between a pair of scrub bushes.

Down the trail, another sound now: liquid splattering against stone. This brought a smile to Driscoll’s lips. The call of nature. The urinating tapered off, then stopped. Footsteps began padding down the trail. Twenty feet away, Driscoll estimated, around the bend.

Moments later a figure appeared on the trail. His gait was unhurried, almost lazy. In the night vision Driscoll could see an AK-47 slung over his shoulder, barrel down. The guard kept coming. Driscoll didn’t move. Fifteen feet . . . ten.

A figure rose up from the shadows along the trail and slipped in behind the guard. A hand appeared over the guard’s shoulder, then the flash of a blade came over the other shoulder. Collins twisted the man to the right and down to the ground, and their shadows melted together. Ten seconds passed. Collins rose, ducked off the trail, and dragged the guard out of sight.

Textbook sentry takedown, Driscoll thought. Movie portrayals aside, knifework was something of a rarity in their business. Even so, Collins clearly hadn’t lost the skill.

Moments later Collins reappeared on Driscoll’s right.

Driscoll returned his attention to the sentry on the ridge. Still there. Hadn’t moved at all. Driscoll brought his M4 up, settled the sights on the nape of the man’s neck, and then tightened his finger on the trigger.

Easy, easy . . . squeeze ...

Pop. Not much of a sound. Hard to hear at all at a range of more than fifty meters, but the bullet flew true and transited the target’s head, leaving a puff of green vapor behind, and he went off to see Allah, or whatever god he acknowledged; at twentyodd years old, growing and eating and learning, and probably fighting, came to an abrupt and unwarned end.

The target crumpled, folding sideways out of sight.

Tough luck, Gomer, Driscoll thought. But we’re after bigger game than you tonight.

“Sentry down,” Driscoll said quietly into his radio. “The ridgeline is clear. Move on up. Keep it nice and tight.” That last bit wasn’t really necessary—not with these guys.

He looked back to see his men moving a little faster now. They were excited but under control, ready to get down to business. He could see it in their postures, the economy of movement that separated real shooters from wannabees and in-and-outers who were just waiting to return to civilian life.

Their real target might be less than a hundred meters away now, and they’d worked hard over the previous three months to bag this bastard. Mountain climbing was not anyone’s idea of fun, except for maybe those nutjobs who pined after Everest and K2. Be that as it may, this was part of the job, and part of their current mission, so everybody sucked it up and kept moving.

The fifteen men formed up in three fire teams of five Rangers each. One would stay here with their heavy weapons—they’d brought two M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) machine guns for fire cover on overwatch. No telling how many bad guys there might be about, and the SAW was a great equalizer. Satellites could give you only so much intel; some variables you just had to deal with as they came to you. All his men were scanning the rocks, looking for movement. Any movement. Maybe just a bad guy who came out to take a dump. In this neck of the woods, there was a ninety percent chance that anybody you encountered was a bad guy. Made their job that much easier, Driscoll thought.

Moving even more slowly now, he stalked forward, eyes flicking from his feet, watching each placement for loose rocks and twigs, then ahead, scanning, scanning.... This was another benefit of wisdom, he thought, knowing how to quash the excitement of being so close to the goal line. This is often where rookies and dead men made their mistakes, thinking the hard part was behind them and their target was so close. And that, Driscoll knew, is when Old Man Murphy, of Murphy’s Law fame, usually snuck up behind you, tapped you on the shoulder, and handed you an ugly surprise. Anticipation and expectation were lethal sides of the same coin. Either one in the right dose at the wrong moment would get you killed.

Not this time, though. Not on my damned watch. And not with a team as good as his.

Driscoll saw the ridgeline looming ahead not more than ten feet away, and he hunched over, careful to keep his head below the lip, lest he present a tantalizing silhouette target for some alert gomer. He covered the last few feet on flat feet, then leaned forward, left hand flat against the rock, and peeked his head up.

And there you are . . . The cave.


LOW FUEL,” whoop, whoop, “low fuel,” the computer-generated voice announced. “I know, I know,” the pilot growled in reply.

He could see the necessary information on his instrument/ CRT display panel. The onboard computer master-trouble light had been blinking for fifteen minutes. They’d crossed the Canadian coast ten minutes earlier, and they could look down at what in daylight would have been green terrain covered with stunted trees. Unless he’d really screwed the navigational pooch, they’d see some lights soon. Anyway, they were feet-dry, which was a relief.

The North Atlantic winds had been far stiffer than predicted. Most of the traffic was eastbound this time of night, and those aircraft carried a lot more fuel than a Dassault Falcon 9000. Twenty minutes’ more fuel. Ten minutes more than they needed. Their indicated air speed was just over five hundred knots, altitude twenty-five thousand feet and falling.

“Gander Approach,” he said into his radio microphone, “this is Hotel zero-niner-seven Mike Foxtrot, inbound for gas, over.”

“Mike Foxtrot,” came the reply, “this is Gander. Winds are calm. Recommend runway two-niner for a normal approach.”

“Calm winds?” the copilot observed. “Damn.” They’d just come through more than a hundred knots of jet stream right on the nose for three hours of minor buffeting, not too bad at forty-one thousand feet, but still noticeable. “This is about as long a hop over water as I like.”

“Especially with winds like this,” the pilot replied. “I hope the engines work on fumes.”

“We set with customs?”

“Should be. We’ve done the CANPASS, and we’re cleared into Moose Jaw. Do immigration there?”

“Yeah, right.” Both knew better. This flight would be a little on the unusual side from Gander on in to their final destination. But they were being paid for it. And the euro–dollar exchange rate would be working in their favor. Especially Canadian dollars.

“Got the lights. Five minutes out,” the copilot said.

“Roger, runway in view,” the pilot said. “Flaps.”

“Flaps coming down to ten.” The copilot worked the controls, and they could hear the whine of the electric motors extending the flaps. “Wake up the passengers?”

“No. Why bother?” the pilot decided. If he did this right, they wouldn’t notice a thing until the acceleration for the next takeoff. Having earned his spurs and twenty thousand hours with Swissair, he’d retired and bought his own used Dassault Falcon to charter millionaires and billionaires across Europe and around the globe. Half the people who could afford his services ended up going to the same places—Monaco, Harbor Island in the Bahamas, Saint-Tropez, Aspen. The fact that his current passenger was going to none of those places was a curiosity, but as long as he paid, the destination was none of his business.

They passed downward through ten thousand feet. The runway lights were easy to see, a straight lane in the darkness that had once accommodated a wing of United States Air Force F-84 interceptors.

Five thousand feet and descending. “Flaps to twenty.”

“Roger flaps twenty,” the copilot acknowledged.

“Gear,” he commanded next, and the copilot reached for the levers. The sound of rushing air entered the cabin as the landing-gear doors opened and the struts came down. Three hundred feet.

“Down and locked,” the copilot replied.

“One hundred feet,” the computer voice said.

The pilot tensed his arms, then relaxed them, easing the aircraft down, gently, gently, picking the proper spot to touch down. Only his skilled senses could tell when the Falcon touched down on the ten-meter concrete squares. He activated the thrustreversers, and the Dassault slowed. A truck with blinking lights showed him where to go and whom to follow as he headed off to where the fuel truck would be waiting.

They were on the ground for a total of twenty minutes. An immigration officer queried them over the radio and determined that there were no changes from the CANPASS data. Outside, the fuel truck’s driver disconnected his hose and secured the fuel valve.

Okay. That’s done, the pilot thought. Now for the second segment of the three-part flight.

The Falcon taxied back out to the north end of the runway, the pilot going through the pre-liftoff checklist, as he always did, after waiting at the end of the runway. The acceleration went smoothly; then the wheels came up, then the flaps, followed by the climb-out. Ten more minutes and they were at thirty-seven thousand, their initial assigned altitude from Toronto Center.



They cruised west at Mach 0.81—about 520 knots, or 600 miles per hour true air speed—with their passengers asleep aft while the engines gobbled fuel at a fixed rate of 3,400 pounds per hour. The aircraft transponder broadcast their speed and altitude to the air-traffic-control radars, and aside from that there was no need for radio traffic of any sort. In rough weather they might have requested a different, probably higher, altitude for more comfortable cruising, but Gander tower had been correct. Having passed through the cold front that had opposed their flight into Newfoundland, they might not have been moving at all, except for the muted roar of the jet engines hanging on the tail. Pilot and copilot didn’t even speak very much. They’d flown together enough that they knew all the same jokes, and on such an uneventful flight there was no need to swap information. Everything had been planned, down to the proverbial gnat’s ass. Both wondered what Hawaii might be like. They could look forward to a pair of suites at the Royal Hawaiian, and a long sleep to ward off the inevitable jet lag, sure to accompany the ten hours of additional day they were going to experience. Well, both liked a nap on a sunny beach, and the weather in Hawaii was forecast to be as monotonously perfect as it usually was. They planned a two-day layover before proceeding back east to their home field outside of Geneva, with no scheduled passengers on that leg.

“Moose Jaw in forty minutes,” the copilot observed.

“Time to get back to work, I guess.”

The plan was simple. The pilot got on the HF radio—a holdover from World War Two—and called Moose Jaw, announcing his approach and his early descent, plus estimated time of arrival. Moose Jaw’s approach control took the information from the area control systems and spotted the transponder alphanumerics on its scopes.

The Dassault began bleeding altitude on a completely normal approach, which was duly noted by Toronto Center. The local time was 0304, or Zulu–6:00, keeping homage to Greenwich Mean/Universal time, six hours to the east.

“There it is,” the copilot announced. The approach lights for Moose Jaw showed up on the black countryside. “Altitude twelve thousand, descending one thousand per minute.”

“Stand by the transponder,” the pilot ordered.

“Roger,” the copilot replied. The transponder was a custom installation, done by the flight crew themselves. “Six thousand feet. Flaps?”

“Leave ’em,” the pilot commanded.

“Roger. Runway in view.” The sky was clear, and the Moose Jaw approach lights strobed in the cloudless air.

“Moose Jaw, this is Mike Foxtrot, over.”

“Mike Foxtrot, Moose Jaw, over.”

“Moose Jaw, our gear doesn’t want to come down. Please stand by. Over.” That notification woke people up.

“Roger. Are you declaring an emergency, over?” the approach radio inquired at once.

“Negative, Moose Jaw. We’re checking the electrics. Stand by.”

“Roger, standing by.” Just a hint of concern in the voice.

“Okay,” the pilot said to his copilot, “we’ll drop off their scope at one thousand feet.” They’d been through all this, of course. “Altitude three thousand and descending.”

The pilot eased right. This was to show a course change on the Moose Jaw approach radar, nothing serious but a change nonetheless. With altitude dropping it might look interesting on the radar tapes if anyone cared to look, which was doubtful. Another blip lost in the airspace.



Two thousand,” the copilot said. The air was a little bumpier at the lower altitude but not as bumpy as it was going to get. “Fifteen hundred. Might want to adjust the descent rate.”

“Fair enough.” The pilot inched back on the yoke to flatten out the down-angle so that he could level out at nine hundred feet AGL. That was low enough to enter Moose Jaw’s ground clutter. Though the Dassault was anything but stealthy, most civilian traffic-control radars primarily saw transponder signals, not “skin-paints.” In commercial aviation, a plane on radar was nothing more than a notional signal in the sky.

“Mike Foxtrot, Moose Jaw, say altitude, over.”

They’d be doing this for a while. The local tower team was unusually awake. Maybe they’d flown into a training exercise, the pilot thought. Too bad, but not a major problem.

“Autopilot off. Hand-flying the airplane.”

“Pilot’s airplane,” the copilot replied.

“Okay, looping right. Transponder off,” the pilot commanded.

The copilot killed power to transponder one. “Powered off. We’re invisible.” That got Moose Jaw’s attention.

“Mike Foxtrot, Moose Jaw. Say altitude, over,” the voice commanded more crisply. Then a second call.

The Falcon completed its northern loop and settled down on a course of two-two-five. The ground below was flat, and the pilot was tempted to reduce altitude to five hundred feet but decided against it. No need. As planned, the aircraft had just evaporated off the Moose Jaw radar.

“Mike Foxtrot, Moose Jaw. Say altitude, over!”

“Sounds excited,” the copilot observed.

“I don’t blame him.”

The transponder they’d just shut down was for another plane entirely, probably parked in its hangar outside Söderhamn, Sweden. This flight was costing their charter party seventy thousand extra euros, but the Swiss flight crew understood about making money, and they weren’t flying drugs or anything like that. Money or not, that sort of cargo was not worth the trouble.

Moose Jaw was forty miles behind them now, and dwindling at seven miles per minute, according to the plane’s Doppler radar. The pilot adjusted his yoke to compensate for the crosswind. The computer by his right knee would compute for drift, and the computer knew exactly where they were going.

Part of the way, anyway.


IT LOOKED DIFFERENT than it had in the imagery—they always did—but they were in the right place, that was for sure. He felt his exhaustion drain away, replaced by focused anticipation.

Ten weeks earlier a CIA satellite had tapped into a radio transmission here, and another had taken a photo, which Driscoll now had in his pocket. This was it, no question. A triangular formation of rocks over the top identified the spot. It wasn’t decoration, despite its man-made appearance, but rather something left behind by the last set of glaciers that had ground their way through this valley God knew how many thousands of years ago. Probably the same meltwater that had carved the triangle had helped bore out the cave. Or however caves were formed. Driscoll didn’t know, and didn’t especially care. Some of them were pretty deep, some hundreds of meters deep, perfect safe holes to hide in. But this one had originated a radio signal. And that made it special. Special as hell. It had taken Washington and Langley more than a week to localize this place, but they’d been oh-so-careful following it up. Almost nobody knew about this mission. Fewer than thirty people in total, and most of those were at Fort Benning. Where the NCO club was. Where he and his team would return in less than forty-eight hours. God willing—inshallah, as they said locally. Not his religion, but the sentiment made sense. Driscoll was a Methodist, though that didn’t keep him from having the occasional beer. Mostly he was a soldier.

Okay, how do we do this? he asked himself. Hard and fast, of course, but how to do it hard and fast? He was carrying half a dozen grenades. Three real ones and three M84 flashbangs. The latter were sheathed in plastic instead of steel, heavy on noise-making explosives, made from some kind of mix of magnesium and ammonium to make it seem as though the surface of the sun had paid an unexpected visit, to dazzle and blind anyone nearby. Again, the chemistry and physics of the things didn’t really concern him. They worked damned well, and that was what counted.

The Rangers were not in the business of fair fights. This was combat operations, not the Olympic Games. They might apply first aid to whatever bad guys survived, but that was as far as it went, and only then because survivors tended to be somewhat more talkative than the dead. Driscoll peered again at the cave’s entrance. Somebody had stood right in that spot to make his satellite phone call, and a RHYTHM ELINT satellite had copied it, and a KEYHOLE satellite had marked the location, and their mission had been authorized by SOCOM himself. He stood still, next to a large rock, close enough that his silhouette would blend with it. No evident movement inside. He wasn’t surprised. Even terrorists had to sleep. And that worked for him. Just fine, in fact. Ten meters. He approached with movements that would have appeared comical to the uninitiated, exaggerated straight-up-and-down movements of his feet and lower legs, carefully avoiding loose stones. Then he got there. Dropped to one knee and looked inside. He glanced over his shoulder to ensure that the rest of the team wasn’t bunching up. No worries there. Still, Driscoll felt the flutter of apprehension in his belly. Or was it fear? Fear of screwing the pooch, fear of repeating history. Fear of getting men killed.

A year earlier in Iraq, Captain Wilson’s predecessor, a green second lieutenant, had planned a mission—a straightforward insurgent hunt along the southern shores of Buhayrat (Lake) Saddam, north of Mosel—and Driscoll had concurred. Problem was, the young lieutenant was more interested in filing a glowing report than he was in the safety of his Rangers. Against Driscoll’s advice and with night falling, he’d split the team to flank a bunker complex, but as was their tendency, the hastily redrawn plan didn’t survive its first contact with the enemy—in this case, a company-sized gathering of Saddam ex-Army loyalists who encircled and butchered the young lieutenant’s fire team before turning their attention on Driscoll and his men. The fighting withdrawal had taken most of the night, until finally Driscoll and three others made their way back across the Tigris and within range of a firebase.

Driscoll had known the lieutenant’s plan was a disaster in the making. But had he argued strongly enough against it? If he’d pushed it . . . Well. This was the question that had haunted him for the past year. And now here again in Indian country, but this time all the decisions—good, bad, disastrous—were all his own.

Eye on the ball, Driscoll commanded himself. Head back in the game.

He took another step forward. Still nothing ahead. The Pashtun people might be tough—they damned well were tough, Driscoll had learned—but they hadn’t been trained beyond how to point a rifle and pull the trigger. There should have been somebody in the cave entrance doing overwatch. He saw some cigarette butts nearby. Maybe a sentry had been here and run out of smokes. Bad habit, Gomer, Driscoll thought. Bad fieldcraft. Slowly, carefully, he eased inside. His night-vision goggles were a godsend. The cave was straight for about fifteen meters, rough sides, mostly oval-shaped in cross section. No lights. Not even a candle, but he could see a right turn coming, so Driscoll kept his eyes tuned for light. The cave floor was devoid of clutter. That told the sergeant much: Somebody lived here. They’d been given solid information. Will miracles never cease? Driscoll thought. As often as not, these hunting expeditions turned up nothing but an empty hidey-hole and a bunch of pissed-off Rangers holding their own dicks.

Maybe the right cave? He didn’t often allow himself to think such thoughts. Wouldn’t that be something? Driscoll thought for a bare instant. Big prize, this one. He set the thought aside. The size of the prize didn’t change how they did their jobs.

The soles of his boots were flexible. Easier on his feet, but more important, quiet. He tucked his M4 carbine in close to his shoulder. He’d left his backpack outside. No need for additional weight or bulk inside the cave. Driscoll was not overly big. A hair under six feet, he weighed a hundred and eighty pounds, lean and tough, his blue eyes tracing forward. He had two soldiers a few meters behind him, and while they heard his breathing over the radio links they all carried, he didn’t speak a word. Just hand signals, which were in any case data-dense in their content.

Movement. Somebody was coming their way.

Driscoll dropped to one knee.

The footsteps approached. Driscoll held up his left fist, telling those behind him to drop, as his carbine came up. The footsteps were casual. Alert ones sounded different to his trained ear. This guy was home, and was comfortable there. Well, too bad for him. Behind him, pebbles skittered and Driscoll knew the source; he’d done it before himself: a boot slip. He froze. Around the corner, the footsteps stopped. Ten seconds passed, then twenty. For a full thirty seconds, nothing moved. Then the footsteps began moving again. Still casual.

Driscoll tucked the M4 to his shoulder and turned the corner and there was the gomer. A moment later he had two rounds in the chest and a third one in the forehead, and he went down without a sound. He was older than the one outside, maybe twenty-five, with a mature beard, Driscoll saw. Too bad for you. Driscoll pressed on, stepping around the body and taking the right turn, then pausing to wait for his companions to catch up. Ahead he could see another six meters or so. Nothing directly ahead. Press on. How deep did this cave go? No telling that at the moment. He cradled the carbine tight in his hands.

There was more light ahead, flickering. Candles, probably. Maybe the gomers needed a night-light, like Driscoll’s young kids. Still the cave floor was devoid of clutter. Somebody had cleaned this place up. Why? Driscoll wondered. How long ago?

He kept moving forward.

The next turn was to the left, a shallow, sweeping turn in the limestone rock, and at the next turn, a lot of light—relatively speaking. Without the PVS-17s it would have been a dull glow at most.

That’s when he heard noise. Snoring. Not too far forward. Driscoll wasn’t moving fast, but now he slowed a bit. Time to be careful. He approached the turn, weapon foremost, turning, turning, turning slowly.

There. That’s what he was looking for. Semifinished lumber. Plain old untreated two-by-fours, and those didn’t grow out of the ground. Somebody had carried them in here from civilization, and that somebody had used a saw to cut them and shape them to size.

Sure as hell, somebody lived here, and it wasn’t just a temporary bolt-hole. That was a damned good sign for this cave.

He started to get excited, could feel the tingle of it in his belly. That didn’t often happen to First Sergeant (E-8) Sam Driscoll. His left hand motioned for his companions to close up. They closed to an interval of maybe three meters and followed his lead.

Double-decker bunks. That’s what the lumber was for. Six of them he could see. Half were occupied. Six bunks, six gomers. One even appeared to have a mattress, the blow-up plastic kind you could buy at Gander Mountain. On the floor was a footpowered air pump. Whoever that one was, he liked sleeping in comfort.

Okay. Now what? he asked himself. It wasn’t often that he didn’t know what to do, and more often than not he advised his company commander at times like this, but Captain Wilson was stuck on a hilltop ten miles behind them, and that put Driscoll in command, and command was suddenly pretty damned lonely. Worst of all, this wasn’t the last room. The cave went on forward. No telling how far. Oh, shit.

Back to work.

He eased forward. His orders were fairly simple, and for that purpose he had a noise suppressor for his pistol. This he now drew out of his web holster. Moving forward, he reached the first sleeping man. He put his Beretta next to the man’s head and squeezed off the first round. The suppressor worked as advertised. The sound of the cycling pistol action was far louder than the report of the shot itself. He even heard the brass cartridge case rattling on the stone floor with its small, toylike tinkling clatter. Whatever the guy had been dreaming about was now as real as hell. The guy sleeping on the lower bunk went the same way.

It occurred briefly to Driscoll that in the civilian world this would be considered pure murder, but that wasn’t his worry. These guys had thrown their lot in with people who were making war on his country, and it was their fault that they hadn’t mounted a sufficient guard on their quarters. Laziness had consequences, and war had rules, and those rules were hard on those who violated them. Inside of three seconds, the remaining men were dispatched. Maybe they’d get their virgins. Driscoll didn’t know. Nor did he especially care. Nine bad guys down and dead. He moved forward. Behind him, two more Rangers were following, not too close but close enough, pistol up in one case, M4 carbine in the other for overwatch, just like it said in The Book. The cave turned to the right a few feet ahead. Driscoll pressed on, taking time only to breathe. More bunks, he saw. Two of them.

But neither of these was occupied. The cave kept going. He’d been in a bunch of similar caves. A few had stretched on for as much as three, four hundred meters. Most didn’t. Some were mere walk-in closets, but this wasn’t one of those, either. He’d heard that some, in Afghanistan, went on for half of forever, too long for the Russians to defeat them, despite significant measures up to and including filling them with diesel fuel and tossing a match. Maybe gasoline would have been better here, Driscoll thought. Or explosives, maybe. The Afghans were tough enough, and most of them were not afraid to die. Driscoll had never encountered people like that before coming to this part of the world. But they died, just like everybody else, and then the problems they made ended with them.

One step at a time. Nine bodies behind him, all men, all in their twenties, too young to have any useful information, probably, and Gitmo had enough useless people sitting inside the wire. Thirty years or older—then maybe he would have been better advised to spare their lives and have an intel guy talk to them. But they’d all been too young, and they were all now dead.

Back to work.

Nothing more to be seen here. But there was still a faint glow ahead. Maybe another candle. His eyes looked down every few feet, looking for some stones that might have generated some noise, and noise was his most dangerous enemy at the moment. Noise woke people up, especially in a place like this. Echoes. That was why he had soft soles on his boots. The next turn went to the left, and it looked sharper. Time to slow down again. A sharp turn meant a sentry spot. Slowly, slowly. Four meters. Twelve feet or so. Slowly, gently. Like creeping into his baby’s bedroom to look at her lying in her crib. But he worried about a grown man around the corner, holding a rifle, and fitfully asleep. He still had his pistol out, held in both hands, the soda can–like suppressor screwed on the front end. Eleven rounds left in the magazine. He stopped and turned. Both of the other Rangers were still there, eyes locked on him. Not scared but tense and focused as hell. Tait and Young, two sergeants from Delta Company, Second Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. Real serious pros, as he was, both looking to make the Army a career.

Eyes on the job. It was hard, sometimes, to keep focus. Another couple of feet to the corner. It was a sharp corner. Driscoll eased up to it . . . and stuck his head around the corner. There was somebody nearby. An Afghan, or some sort of gomer, sitting on a . . . chair? No, a rock, it appeared. This one was older than he’d expected. Maybe thirty. The guy was just sitting, not quite asleep, but not awake, either. Sort of in between, and definitely not paying attention. The man had a weapon, an AK-47, maybe four feet away from his hands, leaning against a rock. Close, but not close enough to reach in a real emergency, which the guy was about to have on his hands.

Driscoll approached quietly, moving his legs in an exaggerated way, getting close, and—

He clubbed the guy’s head on the right side. Maybe enough to kill, but probably not. Driscoll reached into his field-jacket pockets and pulled out a set of plastic flex-cuffs. This one was probably old enough for the spooks to talk to, would probably end up at Gitmo. He’d let Tait and Young wrap him up for transport. He caught Tait’s attention, pointed to the unconscious form, and made a twirling motion with his index finger: Wrap him up. Tait nodded in return.

Another turn ahead, five more meters away, to the right, and the glow was flickering.

Six more feet, then right.

Driscoll didn’t lose focus now. Slow, careful steps, weapon held in tight.

The next chamber, which measured roughly ten meters by ten meters, turned out to be the end. He was, what, maybe seventy meters inside the cave. Deep enough. This cave probably had been set up for one of the important ones. Maybe the important one? He’d know in three more minutes. He didn’t often allow himself that sort of thought. But that was the underlying reason for this mission. Maybe, maybe, maybe. That was why Driscoll was a Special Ops Ranger. Forward, slowly. His hand went up behind him.

It was so dark now that his PVS-17 night-vision goggles were displaying as much receiver noise as proper image now, like little bits of popcorn in his field of view, popping and flitting around. He eased to the edge of the turn and very carefully looked around the corner. Somebody there, lying down. There was an AK-47 close by, complete with a preloaded plastic magazine, within easy reach. The guy appeared to be asleep, but in that respect they were good soldiers. They didn’t sleep all the way, like civilians did, but hovered just below full wakefulness. And he wanted this one alive. Okay, fine, he’d killed a handful of people so far this night, just in the last ten minutes, but this one they wanted alive . . . if possible . . .

All right. Driscoll switched his pistol to his right hand, and with his left pulled a flashbang off his chest web gear. Tait and Young saw this and froze in place. The cave was about to change. Driscoll held up one finger. Tait gave his senior sergeant a thumbs-up. Time to rock and roll. Gomer was about to get his wake-up call. Tait looked around. One small candle that lit up the chamber nicely. Driscoll took a step or two back, flipped off his NV, and pulled the pin on the grenade. He let the safety spoon fly free, let it cook for a beat, then he tossed it, counting, a thousand one, a thousand two, a thousand three . . .

It sounded like the end of the world. The ten grams of magnesium powder bloomed like the noonday sun, but even brighter than that. And the noise. The noise did sound and feel like the end of the world, a crashing BANG that ended whatever sleep the gomer was enjoying. Then Driscoll went in. He was not stunned by the explosion. He’d expected it, and so his ears had adjusted to the noise and he’d closed his eyes to attenuate the magnitude of the flash. The gomer had enjoyed no such protection. His ears had been assaulted, and that adversely affected his balance. He didn’t even reach for his nearby weapon—but Driscoll had leaped inward to bat it away, and a moment later he had his pistol right in the gomer’s face. He had no chance to resist at all, but that was Driscoll’s intention.

That’s when Driscoll saw it was the wrong target. He had a beard, but he was in his early thirties, not anywhere near his forties. Wrong gomer was his immediate thought, followed by Shit. The face was the embodiment of confusion and shock. He was shaking his head, trying to get his brain initialized, but young and tough as he was, he wasn’t fast enough for the necessities of the moment.

Near the back wall of the chamber Driscoll saw movement, a shadow hunched over, sliding along the rock wall. Not moving toward them but somewhere else. Driscoll holstered his pistol, turned to Tait, then pointed at the gomer on the ground—Cuff ’im—then flipped on his NV and dropped the M4’s sights over the moving shadow. Another bearded gomer. His finger tightened on the trigger, but he held off, now curious. Ten feet behind the man, still leaning against the wall where he’d left it, was an AK-47. Clearly he’d heard the flashbang and knew the shit was coming down, so was he making a break for it? Driscoll wondered. Still tracking him with the M4’s sights, Driscoll led him, looking for an exit.... There: a five-foot-wide alcove in the rock wall. He scanned back and now saw the gomer had a grenade in his right hand. It was a 40-millimeter version of an RPG-7; locals were fond of converting the round into hand-thrown versions.

Not so fast, bud, Driscoll thought, and laid the M4’s sights across the man’s ear. Even as he was doing this the man cocked his arm back, underhand, to toss the grenade. Driscoll’s 5.56-millimeter slug entered just above the man’s ear and just behind his eye. His head snapped sideways, and he crumpled, but not before the grenade was flying, bouncing toward the alcove.

“Grenade!” Driscoll shouted and dropped flat.


Driscoll looked up and around. “Head count!”

“Okay,” Tait replied, followed in quick succession by Young and the others.

The grenade had bounced off the wall and rolled to a stop before the alcove, leaving behind a beach ball–sized crater in the dirt.

Driscoll took off his PVS-17s and took out his flashlight. This he turned on and played it about. This was the command segment of the cave. Lots of bookshelves, even a rug on the floor of the cave. Most Afghans they’d met were only semiliterate, but there were books and magazines in evidence, some of the latter in English, in fact. One sparsely filled shelf with nicely bound leather-sided books. One in particular . . . green leather, goldinlaid. Driscoll flipped it open. An illuminated manuscript, printed—not printed by a machine but by the hand of some long-dead scribe in multicolored ink. This book was old, really old. In Arabic, so it appeared, written by hand and illuminated with gold leaf. This had to be a copy of the Holy Koran, and there was no telling its age or relative value. But it had value. Driscoll took it. Some spook would want to look at it. Back at Kabul they had a couple of Saudis, senior military officers who were backing up the Special Operations people and the Army spooks.

“Okay, Peterson, we’re clear. Code it up and call it in,” Driscoll radioed to his communications specialist. “Target secure. Ten tangos down for the count, two prisoners taken alive. Zero friendly casualties.”

“But nothing under the Christmas tree, Santa,” Sergeant Young said quietly. “Damn, this one felt pretty good coming in. Had the right vibe, I thought.” One more dry hole for the Special Operations troops. They’d drilled too many of those already, but that was the nature of Special Operations.

“Me, too. What’s your name, Gomer?” Driscoll asked Tait’s prisoner. There was no response. The flashbang had really tumbled this bastard’s gyros. He didn’t yet understand that it could have been worse. A whole shitload worse. Then again, once the interrogators got ahold of him . . .

“All right, guys, let’s clean this hole out. Look for a computer and any electronic stuff. Turn it upside down and inside out. If it looks interesting, bag it. Get somebody in here to take our friend.”

There was a Chinook on short-fuse alert for this mission, and maybe he’d be aboard it in under an hour. Damn, he wanted to hit the Fort Benning NCO club for a glass of Sam Adams, but that wouldn’t be for a couple of days at best.


While the remainder of his team was setting up an overwatch perimeter outside the cave entrance, Young and Tait searched the entrance tunnel, found a few goodies, maps and such, but no obvious jackpot. That was the way with these things, though. Weenies or not, the intel guys could make a meal out of a walnut. A little scrap of paper, a handwritten Koran, a stick figure drawn in purple crayon—the intel guys could sometimes work miracles with that stuff, which was why Driscoll wasn’t taking any chances. Their target hadn’t been here, and that was a goddamned shame, but maybe the shit the gomers had left behind might lead to something else, which in turn could lead to something good. That’s the way it worked, though Driscoll didn’t dwell on that stuff much. Above his pay grade and out of his MOS—military occupational specialty. Give him and the Rangers the mission, let somebody else worry about the hows and whats and whys.

Driscoll walked to the rear of the cave, playing his flashlight around until he reached the alcove the gomer had seemed so keen to frag. It was about the size of a walk-in closet, he now saw, maybe a little bigger, with a low-hanging ceiling. He crouched down and waddled a few feet into the alcove.

“Whatcha got?” Tait said, coming up behind him.

“Sand table and a wooden ammo crate.”

A flat piece of three-fourths-inch-thick plywood, about two meters square to each side, covered in glued-on sand and papier-mâché mountains and ridges, scatterings of boxlike buildings here and there. It looked like something in one of those old-time World War Two movies, or a grade-school diorama. Pretty good job, too, not something half-assed you sometimes see with these guys. More often than not the gomers here drew a plan in the dirt, said some prayers, then went at it.

The terrain didn’t look familiar to Driscoll. Could be anywhere, but it sure as hell looked rugged enough to be around here, which didn’t narrow down the possibilities much. No landmarks, either. No buildings, no roads. Driscoll lifted the corner of the table. It was damned heavy, maybe eighty pounds, which solved one of Driscoll’s problems: no way they were going to haul that thing down the mountain. It was a goddamned brick hang glider; at this altitude the wind was a bitch, and they’d either lose the thing in a gust or it would start flapping and give them away. And breaking it up might ruin something of value.

“Okay, take some measurements and some samples, then go see if Smith is done taking shots of the gomers’ faces and photograph the hell out of this thing,” Driscoll ordered. “How many SD cards we got?”

“Six. Four gigs each. Plenty.”

“Good. Multiple shots of everything, highest resolution. Get some extra lights on it, too, and drop something beside for scale.”

“Reno’s got a tape measure.”

“Good. Use it. Plenty of angles and close-ups—the more, the better.” That was the beauty of digital cameras—take as many as you want and delete the bad ones. In this case they’d leave the deleting to the intel folks. “And check every inch for markings.”

Never could tell what was important. A lot would depend on the model’s scale, he suspected. If it was to scale they might be able to plug the measurements into a computer, do a little funky algebra or algorithms or whatever they used, and come up with a match somewhere. Who knew, maybe the papier-mâché stuff would turn out to be special or something, made only in some back-alley shop in Kandahar. Stranger shit had happened, and he wasn’t about to give the higher-ups anything to bitch about. They’d be angry enough that their quarry hadn’t been here, but that wasn’t Driscoll’s fault. Pre-mission intelligence, bad or good or otherwise, was beyond a soldier’s control. Still, the old saying in the military, “Shit runs downhill,” was as true as ever, and in this business there was always someone uphill from you, ready to give the shit ball a shove.

“You got it, boss,” Tait said.

“Frag it when you’re done. Might as well finish the job they should have done.”

Tait trotted off.

Driscoll turned his attention to the ammo box, picking it up and carrying it into the entrance tunnel. Inside was a stack of paper about three inches thick—some lined notebook paper covered in Arabic script, some random numbers and doodles—and a large two-sided foldout map. One side was labeled “Sheet Operational Navigation Chart, G-6, Defense Mapping Agency, 1982” and displayed the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, while the other, held in place with masking tape, was a map of Peshawar torn from a Baedeker’s travel guide.


WELCOME TO AMERICAN AIRSPACE, gentlemen,” the copilot announced.

They were about to overfly Montana, home of elk, big skies, and a whole lot of decommissioned ICBM bases with empty silos.

They’d be burning fuel a lot faster down here, but the computer took notice of all that, and they had a much better reserve than what they’d had westbound over the Atlantic a few hours before—with a lot of usable fields down below to land on. The pilot turned on the heads-up display, which used low-light cameras to turn the darkness into green-and-white mono-color TV. Now it showed mountains to the west of their course track. The aircraft would automatically gain altitude to compensate, programmed as it was to maintain one thousand feet AGL—above ground level—and to do so with gentle angles, to keep his wealthy passengers happy and, he hoped, turn them into repeat customers.

The aircraft eased up to a true altitude of 6,100 feet as they passed over the lizard-back spine of the Grand Teton Range. Somewhere down there was Yellowstone National Park. In daylight he could have seen it, but it was a cloudless and moonless night.

The radar-sending systems showed they were “clear of conflict.” No other aircraft was close to their position or altitude. Mountain Home Air Force Base was a few hundred miles behind them, along with its complement of young piss-and-vinegar fighter pilots.

“Pity we can’t steer the HUD off the nose. Might even see the buffalo on the infrared sensors,” he observed. “They are making a real comeback in the West, I’ve read.”

“Along with the wolves,” the copilot responded. Nature was about balance, or so the Discovery Channel said. Not enough bison, the wolves die. Not enough wolves, the bison overproduce.



Utah’s countryside started off mountainous but gradually settled down to rolling flatness. They again maneuvered east to avoid Salt Lake City, which had an international airport and, probably, a sufficiently powerful radar to get a skin-paint.

This entire exercise would have been impossible thirty years earlier. They would have had to cross the Pinetree Line, one of the predecessors to America’s DEW—Distant Early Warning—Lines, and alert the North American Air Defense Command at Cheyenne Mountain. Well, given the current tensions between the United States and Russia, maybe the DEW and Pinetree would be recommissioned.

The ride was smoother than he’d expected. Riding in daylight, in summer, over the desert, could be bumpy indeed, what with the irregular rising thermal currents. Except for a few automobile headlights, the land below might as well have been the sea, so empty and black it was.

Thirty minutes to go. They were down to 9,000 pounds of fuel. The engines burned it a lot faster down here, just over 5,000 pounds per hour instead of the usual 3,400 or so.

“Wake the passengers up?” the copilot asked.

“Good idea.” The pilot lifted the microphone. “Attention. We expect to land in thirty minutes. Let us know if you have any special needs. Thank you,” he added. Thank you indeed for the money, and the interesting flight profile, he did not add.

The pilot and copilot both wondered who the passengers were but asked no questions. Upholding customer anonymity was part of the job, and though what they were doing was technically illegal, probably, by American law, they weren’t American citizens. They were not carrying guns, drugs, or anything else illegal. In any case, they didn’t know their passenger from Adam, and his face was wrapped in bandages anyway.

“Hundred miles, according to the computer. I hope the runway really is that long.”

“Chart says it is. Two thousand six hundred meters. We’ll know soon enough.”

In fact, the airstrip had been built in 1943, and was scarcely used since, built by an engineer battalion that had been trucked to Nevada and told to build an air base—as practice, really. All the fields looked the same, built from the same manual, like a triangle with one line segment longer than the other two. They were angling for runway two-seven, indicating a due-west approach run into the prevailing winds. It even had runway lights installed, but the cabling had long since degraded, as had the airport’s diesel generator. But as there was little in the way of snow and ice here to damage the concrete runways, they were as good as the day they’d cured out, twelve inches thick of rebarred concrete.


“I see ’em.”

They were, in fact, neon-green chemical lights being broken, shaken, and tossed onto the runway perimeter, and they blazed brightly on the low-light HUD display. Then even more as a truck’s headlights turned on. One such pair even drove down the northern border of the runway, as though to outline it for the approaching aircraft. Neither pilot nor copilot knew, but they assumed that one of the passengers had called ahead on a cell phone to wake someone up.

“Okay, let’s shoot the approach,” the pilot-in-command ordered. He eased the throttles back and lowered flaps to chop air speed. Again the altitude sensor announced their height above the ground, lower . . . lower . . . lower . . . then the wheels kissed the ground. At the west end of the runway, a truck flipped its headlights from high beams to low, back and forth a few times, and the pilot let the aircraft coast all the way.

“We have arrived at our destination,” the pilot said over the intercom as the aircraft came to a slow and gentle halt. He took off his headset and stood to move aft. He opened the left-side door and lowered the stairs, then turned to look at his charter party, most of whom were up and moving forward.

“Welcome to American soil,” he said.

“It was a long flight, but a good one even so,” the chief of the group said. “Thank you. Your fee is already on deposit.”

The pilot nodded his thanks. “If you need us again, please let me know.”

“Yes, we will do that. In two or three weeks, perhaps.”

Neither his voice nor his face gave much away, though his face was somewhat obscured by bandages. Maybe he was just here to sit through the recovery period for whatever surgery he’d just had. Car accident was the pilot’s best guess. At least it was a healthy climate.

“I trust you noticed the fuel truck. They will make sure you are topped off. You leave for Hawaii when?”

“As soon as we’re fueled,” the pilot answered. Four, five hours. He’d do autopilot for most of it, after clearing the California coast.

Another passenger came forward, then turned to go aft. “One moment,” he said, entering the lavatory and closing the door behind him. There was another door aft of the lavatory. It led into the luggage compartment. There he’d left a duffel bag. He pulled down the zipper and flipped the cover open. Here he activated an electronic timer. He figured two and a half hours would be more than sufficient, then rezipped the closure and came forward. “Forgive me,” he said, heading forward and left for the ten-step stairs. “And thank you.”

“My pleasure, sir,” the pilot said. “Enjoy your stay.”

The copilot was already out, supervising the fueling operation. The last passenger followed his boss to the stretch limo that waited on the concrete, got in, and the car drove off. Fueling took five minutes. The pilot wondered how they’d managed to get what looked like an official fuel truck, but it drove off soon thereafter, and the flight crew made their way back to the cockpit and went through their start-up procedures.



After a total of thirty-three minutes on the ground, the Falcon taxied back east to the far end of the runway, and the flight crew advanced the throttles to takeoff power and raced back west to rotate and climb back into the sky for the third flight of what was already a long day. Fifty minutes later, and four thousand pounds lighter in fuel, they transited the California coast just over Ventura and were “feet wet” over the Pacific Ocean, cruising at Mach 0.83 at an altitude of forty-one thousand feet. Their primary transponder was switched on, this one with the aircraft’s “official” registration information. The fact that it had just appeared on San Francisco Center’s master scopes was not a matter of concern for anyone, since flight plans were neither computerized nor really organized in any systematic way. So long as the aircraft did nothing contrary to the rules, it attracted no attention. It was inbound to Honolulu, two thousand miles away, for an estimated flight time of four hours and fifty-four minutes. The home stretch.

Pilot and copilot relaxed, the aircraft on autopilot and all the gauges within norms. The pilot lit another cigarette as he departed the U.S. coast at 510 miles per hour true ground speed.

He didn’t know that in the aft luggage compartment was a bomb made of almost nine pounds—four kilograms—of PETN and RDX plastic explosive—commonly referred to as Semtex—working off an electronic timer. They’d let the passengers and the welcoming party handle such luggage as there had been. Just as the aircraft passed six hundred miles off the California coast, the timer went to zero.

The explosion was immediate and catastrophic. It blew the tail and both engines off the airframe. The main fuel lines, which ran just under the deck, were vented to the sky, and the fuel that was being pumped created a meteor-like trail in the sky. It might have been seen by any aircraft trailing the Falcon, but there were none at this time of night, and the twin gouts of yellow flame flickered out and died in a few seconds.

Forward, pilot and copilot could not have known what had happened, just a sudden noise, a firewall full of flashing emergency lights and alarms, and an aircraft that did not answer to the controls. Aviators are trained to deal with emergencies. And it took five or ten seconds before they realized they were doomed. Without a tail plane, the Dassault could not be controlled; the physics were undeniable. The craft started spiraling downward to an ink-black sea. Both aviators tried to work the controls, hoping against hope. A lifetime of training and endless hours on computerized flight simulators had ingrained in them what to do when their airplane didn’t respond to commands. They tried everything they knew, but the nose didn’t come up. They didn’t really have time to notice that the attempts at adjusting engine power did nothing at all. Locked in their seats by four-point safety belts, they couldn’t look back into the passenger cabin, and both were soon anoxic with the loss of cabin pressure that had ruptured the door aft. Their minds never had a chance to catch up.

In all, it took just over a minute. The nose went up and down, left and right, of its own accord and at the mercy of the air currents until they smashed into the sea at a speed of 240 knots, which was instantly fatal. By that time their charter party was at its final destination, and hardly thinking about them at all.


AS IF A SIGN FROM ALLAH that his course was true and right, Dirar al-Kariim heard the Adhan, the call to prayer, echo over Tripoli’s rooftops and down to where he sat in the café, drinking tea. The timing was no coincidence, he knew. So focused had he been on playing and replaying the operation in his mind, he’d failed to see the sun dipping toward the horizon. No matter. Certainly Allah would forgive him the oversight, especially if he succeeded in his task—and it was his, wasn’t it, for better or worse? That his superiors had failed to see the value of the mission was an unfortunate waste, but Dirar was unconcerned. Initiative, as long as it was in keeping with Allah’s will and Islam’s laws, was a blessing, and surely his superiors would see that once the mission was complete. Whether he would still be alive to accept their praise was a matter for Allah to decide, but his reward was assured, in this life or the next. Dirar took comfort in the thought and used it to calm the churning in his belly.

Up until recently his role in the jihad had been largely supportive, providing transportation and information, offering his home to fellow soldiers, and occasionally aiding in reconnaissance and intelligence collection. He had handled weapons, of course, but to his great shame, he had never wielded one against an enemy. That would soon change—before the next dawn, in fact. Still, just as he’d been taught at the training camp outside Fuqha, proficiency in weapons and their use was only a small part of an operation. In that at least the American military was correct. Most fights are won and lost before the soldiers even take to the battlefield. Plan, replan, then triple-check your plans. Mistakes are born of poor preparation.

His target of choice had proven unfeasible, not only given the limited number of soldiers under his command but also because of the target’s location. The hotel was one of the newest in Tripoli, with enough exits and floors and unknown entry points that it would take two dozen or more men to secure it, and that didn’t even take into account the on-site security force, all former soldiers and police officers armed with advanced weapons and backed up by a surveillance system second to none. Given time and enough resources, Dirar was confident he could make such a mission work, but he had neither at his disposal. Not yet, at least. Next time, perhaps.

Instead he had chosen a secondary target, one that had already been proposed by another cell—the Benghazi group, Dirar suspected—but was subsequently rejected by the leadership. No reason had been given, nor an alternative suggested, and like many of his compatriots, Dirar was tired of waiting while the West continued its crusade unchecked. Unsurprisingly, he’d had little trouble finding other cell members who felt the same, though the recruitment had been a hazardous affair, Dirar never knowing whether word of his plan had found its way to unwelcome ears, both from within and without the organization. Over the past year Qaddafi’s Haiat amn al Jamahiriyya had successfully infiltrated a number of cells, one of which had been led by a childhood friend of Dirar’s. Those nine men, good soldiers and true believers all, had disappeared into the Bab al-Azizia barracks and never come out—not alive, at least.

The secondary target was softer, to be sure, and only peripherally responsible for the act it would soon be punished for, but if he succeeded, Dirar was confident the message would be clear: Allah’s soldiers had long memories and even longer knives. Kill one of ours and we kill a hundred of yours. He doubted he would reach a hundred here, but no matter.

Along with several of the café’s other patrons, Dirar stood up and walked to a shelf built into the café’s wall and took down a rolled sajada. As was required, the prayer rug was clean and free of debris. He returned to his table and unrolled the rug on the brick patio, taking care to ensure that the top was pointed in the direction of the Qibla, Mecca, then stood erect, hands at his sides, and began the salaat, starting with a whispered Iqama, the private call to prayer. He immediately felt a wave of peace wash through his mind as he proceeded through the remaining seven steps of the salaat, ending with the salawat.

O Allah, bless our Muhammad
and his people;


Surely you are the Glorious.


O Allah, be gracious unto Muhammad
and the people of Muhammad;


As you were merciful unto Abraham
and the people of Abraham.


Surely you are the Eternal, the Glorious....

Dirar finished with a lingering glance over each shoulder—acknowledging the angels that recorded each believer’s good deeds as well as his wrongful deeds—then cupped his hands at his chest and wiped his face with his palms.

He opened his eyes and drew in a deep breath. In His wisdom, Allah had seen fit to require believers to perform the salaat at least five times per day, before dawn, at noon, at midafternoon, at sunset, and in the evening. As did most Muslims, Dirar found the frequent rituals were as much a personal recentering as they were a tribute to Allah’s power and grace. He’d never spoken of this feeling to others, afraid it was blasphemous, but in his heart he doubted Allah condemned him for it.

He checked his watch. Time to go.

The only question that remained now was whether he would be alive to perform the day’s final salaat. That was in Allah’s hands now.



Though Driscoll didn’t consider their stroll through the Hindu Kush mountaineering per se, it was close enough to remind him of an old Everest saying: Reach the summit and you’ve only climbed half the mountain. Translation: Oftentimes getting back down safely was the real bitch. And for him and his team this was especially true: Mountaineers usually follow the same route up and down. He and his Rangers couldn’t do that, lest they risk ambush. To complicate matters, they were hauling along two prisoners, both of whom had so far been cooperating, but that could change quickly enough.

Driscoll reached a flat spot in the trail between a pair of boulders and stopped, raising his fist as he did so. Behind him, the rest of the team halted in near unison and crouched down. They were five hundred feet from the valley floor. Another forty minutes, Driscoll estimated, then another two klicks along the valley floor, then head to the LZ, or landing zone. He checked his watch: making good time.

Tait sidled up alongside and offered Driscoll a hunk of jerky. “Prisoners are starting to drag ass a bit.”

“Life’s a bitch.”

“Then you die,” Tait replied.

Handling prisoners was always dicey, and even more so in terrain like this. If one of them snapped an ankle or decided to simply sit down and refuse to get up, you had three choices: leave him behind, haul him, or shoot him. The trick was convincing the prisoners that only one fate—the last one—awaited them. Probably true in any case, Driscoll thought. No way he’d put two gomers back into circulation.

Driscoll said, “Five minutes and we’re moving again. Pass the word.”



The boulder-strewn terrain slowly leveled out and gave way to barrel-sized rocks and gravel. A hundred meters from the valley floor, Driscoll called another halt and checked the way ahead through the night vision. He followed the trail’s zigzagging course to where it bottomed out, pausing at every potential area of concealment until he was certain nothing was moving. The valley was two hundred meters wide and bordered by sheer rock walls. Perfect place for an ambush, Driscoll thought, but then again, the geography of the Hindu Kush made that more the rule than the exception, a lesson that had been passed down through the millennia, starting with Alexander the Great, then the Soviets, and now the U.S. military. Driscoll and their now–leg-broke captain had planned this mission backward and forward, each time looking for a better exfiltration route, but had found no alternatives, at least not within ten klicks, a detour that would have put their extraction into the daylight hours.

Driscoll turned around and did a quick head count: fifteen and two. Coming out with the same he’d taken in, a victory in itself. He signaled to Tait—moving—who passed it down the line. Driscoll stood up and started down the trail. Ten minutes later they were within a stone’s throw of the valley floor. He paused to check that nobody was bunching up, then started out again, then stopped.

Something not right . . .

It took a moment for Driscoll to nail down the source: One of their prisoners, the one in the number-four position with Peterson, no longer seemed as tired. His posture was stiff, his head swiveling left and right. A worried man. Why? Driscoll called another halt, brought the column into a crouch. Tait was there a few moments later.

“What’s up?”

“Peterson’s gomer is nervous about something.”

Driscoll did a scan ahead with the night vision but saw nothing. The valley floor, level and clear of debris save the occasional boulder, appeared empty. Nothing moving, and no sound except the faint whistling of wind. Still, Driscoll’s gut was talking to him.

Tait asked, “See something?”

“Not a thing, but something’s got what’s-his-face jumpy. Grab Collins, Smith, and Gomez, then backtrack fifty yards and pick your way along the hillside. Tell Peterson and Flaherty to put their prisoners in the dirt and keep them quiet.”


Tait disappeared back down the trail, pausing to whisper instructions to each man. Through the night vision, Driscoll watched Tait’s progress as he and the other three snaked their way back up the slope, then off the trail, moving from boulder to boulder, paralleling the valley.

Zimmer had moved up the line to Driscoll’s position. “Little voice talking to you, Santa?” he asked.


Fifteen minutes passed. In the green, washed-out glow of the NV, Driscoll saw Tait suddenly stop. Over the radio: “Boss, we got an open space ahead of us—a notch in the rock. I can see the peak of a tent.”

Which explains the nervous gomer, Driscoll thought. He knows the camp is there. “Life signs?”

“Muffled voices—five, maybe six.”

“Roger, hold pos—”

To the right, fifty meters up the valley, came a pair of headlights. Driscoll turned to see a UAZ-469 jeep skid around the corner and head in their direction. Throwbacks to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, UAZs were favored among the country’s sundry bad guys. This one was open-topped and equipped with another piece of Soviet Army equipment, a mounted NSV 12.7-millimeter heavy machine gun. Thirteen shots a second, 1,500-meter range, Driscoll thought. Even as he recognized it for what it was, the muzzle began flashing. Bullets thudded into rock and soil, throwing up shards and plumes of dust. Farther down the valley, atop the cliff opposite Tait and the others, muzzles began flashing. Peterson’s prisoner began shouting in Arabic, none of which Driscoll understood, but the tone was unmistakable: encouragement for his compatriots. Peterson popped him behind the ear with the butt of his M4, and the man went limp.

Tait’s team opened up, their M4s cracking and echoing through the valley. Driscoll’s remaining men had found cover and were lighting up the UAZ, which had skidded to a stop twenty meters away, its headlights aimed at the Rangers.

“Tait, put some grenades into those tents!” Driscoll ordered, then ducked left and snapped off two quick bursts at the UAZ.

“On it!” Tait replied.

Up the trail, Barnes had found a niche between some rocks and had his M249 SAW—Squad Automatic Weapon—up on its tripod. The muzzle started flashing. Its windshield spiderwebbed, the UAZ started backing up now, the 12.7-millimeter still pumping rounds into the hillside. From Tait’s direction Driscoll heard the crump of a grenade, then another, then two more in quick succession. Now more shouting in Arabic. Screams. It took a half-second for Driscoll to realize the screams were coming from behind. He spun, M4 to his shoulder. Fifteen meters up the trail, Gomez’s prisoner was on his feet, facing the UAZ and shouting. Driscoll caught a snippet—Shoot me. . . . Shoot me. . . .—and then the top of the man’s head exploded and he toppled backward.

“Barnes, get that thing stopped!” Driscoll shouted.

In answer, the SAW’s tracers dropped from the UAZ’s cab and roof to its front grille, which began sparking. Bullets thudded into the engine block, followed seconds later by a geyser of steam. The driver’s-side door opened and a figure staggered out. The SAW cut him down. In the truck’s bed, the NSV went silent, and Driscoll could see a figure scrambling. Reloading. Driscoll turned around and signaled to Peterson and Deacons—grenades—but they were already on their feet, arms cocked. The first grenade went long and right, exploding harmlessly behind the UAZ, but the second landed beside the truck’s rear tire. The explosion lifted the truck’s rear end a few inches off the ground. The gunner in the bed tumbled over the side and lay still.

Driscoll turned back, scanned the far cliff wall through the NV. He counted six gomers, all prone and pouring fire into Tait’s position. “Light those fuckers up!” Driscoll ordered, and eleven guns began hosing down the cliff face. Thirty seconds was all it took. “Cease fire, cease fire!” Driscoll ordered. The gunfire ceased. He got on the radio: “Tait, head count.”

“Still got four. Caught a few rock splinters, but we’re good.”

“Check the tents, mop it up.”


Driscoll picked his way up the trail, checking each man in turn and finding only minor scrapes and cuts from flying rock. “Barnes, you and Deacons check the—”

“Santa, you’re—”


“Your shoulder. Sit down, Sam, sit down! Medic up!”

Now Driscoll could feel the numbness, as though his right arm had fallen asleep from the shoulder down. He let Barnes sit him down on the trail. Collins, the team’s second medic, came running up. He knelt down, and he and Barnes eased Driscoll’s pack off his right shoulder, then the left. Collins clicked on his hooded flashlight and examined Driscoll’s shoulder.

“You got a rock splinter in there, Santa. About the size of my thumb.”

“Ah, shit. Barnes, you and Deacons go check that truck.”

“Got it, boss.”

They trotted down the trail, then across to the truck. “Two dead,” Deacons called.

“Frisk ’em, check for intel,” Driscoll said through gritted teeth. The numbness was giving way to white-hot pain.

“You’re bleeding pretty bad,” Collins said. He pulled a field dressing from his pack and pressed it against the wound.

“Pack it up as best you can.”

Tait, on the radio: “Santa, we got four KIA and two wounded, both are on their way out.”

“Roger. Intel check, then get back here.”

Collins said, “I’m gonna call for an evac—”

“Bullshit. In about fifteen minutes we’re gonna be drowning in gomers. We’re humping out of here. Get me up.”


IT WAS GOING TO BE a sad day, Clark knew. His gear was already packed—Sandy always handled that, as efficiently as ever. It would be the same at Ding’s place—Patsy had learned packing from her mother. Rainbow Six was moving into its second generation, much of the original crew gone by now, rotated back stateside in the case of the Americans, mainly back to Fort Bragg and Delta School, or Coronado, California, where the Navy trained its SEAL candidates, there to tell such stories as the rules allowed over beers to a very few trusted fellow instructors. Every so often they’d come through Hereford in Herefordshire, to drink pints of John Courage at the Green Dragon’s comfortable bar and trade war stories rather more freely with fellow graduates of the Men of Black. The locals knew who they were, but they were as security-conscious as the Security Service agents—called “Five” men in a nod to the former British MI5—who hung out there, too.

Nothing was permanent in the service, regardless of the country. This was healthy for the organizations, always bringing in fresh people, some of them with fresh ideas, and it made for warm reunions in the most unlikely of places—a lot of them airport terminals, all over the freaking world—and a lot of beers to be drunk and handshakes to be exchanged before the departing flights were called. But the impermanence and uncertainty wore at you over time. You started wondering when a close friend and colleague would be called away, to disappear into some other compartment of the “black” world, often remembered but rarely seen again. Clark had seen a lot of friends die on “training missions”—which usually meant catching a bullet in a denied area. But such things were the cost of belonging to this exclusive fraternity, and there was no changing it. As the SEALs were fond of saying, “You don’t have to like it; you just have to do it.”

Eddie Price, for example, had taken retirement as Regimental Sergeant Major of the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, and was now the Yeoman Gaoler at Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, the Tower of London. John and Ding had both wondered if the U.K.’s Chief of State understood how much more secure her Palace and Fortress was today, and if Price’s ceremonial ax (the Yeoman Gaoler is the official executioner there) had a proper edge to it. For damned sure he still did his morning run and PT, and woe betide any member of the regular-Army security force quartered there who didn’t have his boots spit-shined, his gig-lines in order, and his rifle cleaner than when it had left the factory.

It was a damned shame that you had to get old, John Clark told himself, close enough to sixty to see the shadow of it, and the worst part of getting old was that you could remember being young, even the things best forgotten, in his case. Memories were a double-edged sword.

“Hey, Mr. C.,” said a familiar voice at the front door. “Hell of a day out, isn’t it?”

“Ding, we talked about this,” John said without turning.

“Sorry . . . John.”

It had taken John Clark years to get Chavez, colleague and son-in-law, to call him by his first name, and even now Ding was having trouble with it.

“Ready if somebody tries to hijack the flight?”

“Mr. Beretta is in his usual place,” Ding responded. They were among the handful of people in Britain who got to carry firearms, and such privileges were not lightly set aside.

“How are Johnny and Patsy?”

“The little guy is pretty excited about going home. We have a plan after we get there?”

“Not really. Tomorrow morning we make a courtesy call at Langley. I might want to drive over and see Jack in a day or two.”

“See if he’s leaving footprints on the ceiling?” Ding asked with a chuckle.

“More likely claw marks, if I know Jack.”

“Retirement ain’t fun, I suppose.” Chavez didn’t push it further. That was a touchy subject for his father-in-law. Time passed, no matter how much you wished it wouldn’t.

“How’s Price handling it?”

“Eddie? He takes an even strain with life—that’s how you sailors say it, right?”

“Close enough for a doggie.”

“Hey, man, I said ‘sailor,’ not ‘squid.’”

“Duly noted, Domingo. I beg your pardon, Colonel.”

Chavez enjoyed the next laugh. “Yeah, I’m gonna miss that.”

“How’s Patsy?”

“Better than the last pregnancy. Looks great. Feels great—least she says she does. Not a big complainer, Patsy. She’s a good girl, John—but then again, I ain’t telling you anything you didn’t already know, am I?”

“Nope, but it’s always nice to hear it.”

“Well, I have no complaints.” And if he did, he’d have to approach the subject with great diplomacy. But he didn’t. “The chopper is waiting, boss,” he added.

“Damn.” A sad whisper.

Sergeant Ivor Rogers had the luggage well in hand, loaded in a green British Army truck for the drive to the helipad, and he was waiting outside for his personal Brigadier, which was John’s virtual rank. The Brits were unusually conscious of rank and ceremony, and he saw more of that when he got outside. He’d hoped to have a low-profile departure, but the locals weren’t thinking that way. As they rolled onto the helipad, there was the entire Rainbow force, the shooters, the intel support, even the team armorers—Rainbow had the best three gunsmiths in all of Britain—formed up—the local term was “paraded”—in whatever uniforms they were authorized to wear. There was even a squad from the SAS. Stone-faced, they collectively snapped to Present Arms, in the elegant three-count movement the British Army had adopted several centuries earlier. Tradition could be a beautiful thing.

“Damn,” Clark muttered, getting out of the truck. He’d come pretty far for an old Navy chief bosun’s mate, but he’d taken a lot of strange steps along the way. Not knowing quite what to do, he figured he had to review the troops, as it were, and shake hands with all of them on the way to the MH-60K helicopter.

It took more time than he’d expected. Nearly every person there got a word or two with the handshake. They all deserved it. His mind went back to 3rd SOG, a lifetime before. These were as good as those, hard to believe though that might be. He’d been young, proud, and immortal back then. And remarkably, he hadn’t died of being immortal, as so many good men had. Why? Luck, maybe. No other likely explanation. He’d learned caution, mostly in Vietnam. Learned from seeing men who’d not been lucky go down hard from making some dumb mistake, often as simple as not paying attention. Some chances you had to take, but you tried to run them through your mind first and take only the necessary chances. Those were plenty bad enough.

Alice Foorgate and Helen Montgomery both gave him hugs. They’d been superb secretaries, and those were hard to find. Clark had been half tempted to try to find them jobs in the United States, but the Brits probably valued them as much as he had and would’ve put up a fight.

And finally Alistair Stanley, the incoming boss, was standing at the end.

“I’ll take good care of them, John,” he promised. They shook hands. There was not much else to be said. “Still no word on the next posting?”

“I expect they’ll tell me before the next check comes.” The government was usually good about getting the paperwork done. Not much else, of course, but paperwork, surely.

With nothing left to be said, Clark walked to the helicopter. Ding, Patsy, and J.C. were already strapped in, along with Sandy. J.C. especially loved flying, and he’d get a gut full in the next ten hours. On lifting off they turned southeast for Heathrow Terminal Four. Landing on their own pad, a van took them to the aircraft, and so they were absolved of passing through the magnetometers. It was a British Airways 777. The same type they’d flown over on four years earlier, then with the Basque terrorists aboard. They were in Spain, though in which prison and how the conditions were they’d never asked. Probably not the Waldorf Astoria.



Are we fired, John?” Ding asked as the aircraft rotated off the Heathrow tarmac.

“Probably not. Even if we are, they’re not going to call it that. They might make you a training officer down at The Farm. Me . . .? Well, they can keep me on the payroll a year or two, maybe I can hold down a desk in the operations center until they take my parking sticker away. We’re too senior to fire. Not worth the paperwork. They’re afraid we might talk to the wrong reporter.”

“Yeah, you still owe Bob Holtzman a lunch, don’t you?”

John almost spilled his preflight champagne at that reminder. “Well, I did give my word, didn’t I?”

They sat in silence for a few minutes, then Ding said, “So we make a courtesy call on Jack?”

“We kinda sorta gotta, Domingo.”

“I hear you. Hell, Jack Junior’s out of school now, isn’t he?”

“Yeah. Not sure what he’s doing, though.”

“Some rich-kid job, I bet. Stocks and bonds, money shit, I bet.”

“Well, what were you doing at that age?”

“Learning how to handle a dead drop from you, down at The Farm, and studying nights at George Mason University. Sleepwalking, mostly.”

“But you got your master’s, as I recall. Lot more than I ever got.”

“Yeah. I got a piece of paper that says I’m smart. You left dead bodies all over the world.” Fortunately, it was virtually impossible to bug an airliner’s cabin.

“Call it foreign-policy laboratory work,” Clark suggested, checking the first-class menu. At least British Airways pretended to serve decent food, though why airlines didn’t just stock up on Big Macs and fries still mystified him. Or maybe a Domino’s pizza. All the money they’d save—but the McDonald’s in the U.K. just didn’t seem to have the right beef. In Italy it was even worse. But their national dish was veal Milanese, and that had a Big Mac beat. “You worried?”

“About having a job? Not really. I can always make real money consulting. You know, the two of us could start up a company, executive security or like that, and really clean up. I’d do the planning, and you’d do the actual protection. You know, just stand there and stare at people in that special ‘don’t fuck with me’ way you do.”

“Too old for that, Domingo.”

“Ain’t nobody dumb enough to kick an old lion in the ass, John. I’m too short to scare bad guys away.”

“Bullshit. I wouldn’t mess with you for the fun of it.”

Chavez had rarely received that magnitude of compliment. He was overly sensitive about his diminutive height—his wife was an inch taller—but it had its tactical value. Over the years, several people had underestimated him and then come within his reach. Not professionals. Those could read his eyes and see the danger that lay behind them. When he bothered to turn the lights on. It rarely came to that, though one street tough in East London had gotten impolite outside a pub. He’d been awakened later with a pint of beer and a playing card tucked in his pocket. It was the queen of clubs, but the back of the card had been a glossy black. Such instances were rare. England remained a civilized country for the most part, and Chavez never went looking for trouble. He’d learned that lesson over the years. The black deck of cards was an unauthorized souvenir for the Men of Black. The newspapers had picked up on it, and Clark had come down hard on the men who carried the cards. But not that hard. There was security, and there was panache. The boys he’d left behind in Hereford had both, and that, really, was okay, as long as the troops knew where the line was.

“What do you think our best job was?”

“Gotta be the amusement park. Malloy did a great job of setting your team down on the castle, and the takedown you did was damned near perfect, especially since we couldn’t rehearse it.”

“Damn, those were good troops,” Domingo agreed with a smile. “My old Ninjas didn’t even come close, and I thought they were as good as soldiers got.”

“They were, but experience counts for a lot.” Every one of the Rainbow team was at least an E-6 or equivalent, which took some years in uniform to achieve. “A lot of smarts comes along with time, and it’s not the sort of thing you get out of a book. Then we trained the hell out of them.”

“Tell me about it. If I run any more, I’ll need two new legs.”

Clark snorted. “You’re still a pup. But I’ll tell ya this: I’ve never seen a better bunch of triggers, and I’ve seen a fair share. Christ, it’s like they were born with H-and-P’s in their hands. How about it, Ding, got a personal champ?”

“Have to measure it with an O-scope and calipers. I’d take Eddie Price for brains. Weber or Johnston on a rifle, hell, there ain’t nothing to choose from. For short guns, that little Frenchie, Loiselle . . . He could have scared Doc Holliday out of Tombstone. But you know, all you can really do is put a bullet in the X-ring. Dead is dead. We could all do it, close or far, day or night, awake or asleep, drunk or sober.”

“Which is why we’re paid the big money.”

“Shame they’re pulling back on the reins.”

“A damned shame.”

“Why, goddamn it? I just don’t get it.”

“Because the European terrorists have gone to ground. We shut them down, Ding, and in the process worked ourselves out of a full-time job. At least they didn’t pull the plug altogether. Given the nature of politics, we’ll call that a success and ride into the sunset.”

“With a pat on the back and an attaboy.”

“You expect gratitude from democratic governments?” John asked with a slight grimace. “You poor, naive boy.”

The European Union bureaucrats had been the main reason. No European countries tolerated capital punishment anymore—what the common folk might have wanted was not considered, of course—and one such representative of the people had said aloud and repeatedly that the Rainbow team had been too ruthless. Whether or not he insisted on humane capture and medical treatment for rabid dogs had never quite been asked. The people had never disapproved of team actions in any country, but their kind and gentle bureaucrats had gotten their panties in a wad, and those faceless people had the real political power. Like every place else in the civilized world.

“You know, in Sweden it’s illegal to raise calves the efficient way. You have to give them social contact with other critters. Next you won’t be able to cut their balls off until they get laid at least once,” Chavez grumped.

“Seems reasonable to me. That way they’ll know what they’re missing.” Clark chuckled. “One less thing for the cowboys to have to do. Probably not a fun job for a man to do that to somebody else.”

“Jesus said the meek shall inherit the earth, and that’s fine with me, but it’s still nice to have cops around.”

“You hear me arguing with you? Rock your seat back and have a glass of wine and get some sleep, Domingo.”

And if some asshole tries to hijack this airplane, we’ll deal with him, Clark didn’t add.

One could always hope. One last jolt of action before going out to pasture.


SO WHAT’S COOKING?” Brian Caruso asked his cousin. “Same stew, different day, I expect,” Jack Ryan, Jr., replied.

“‘Stew’?” Dominic, the other Caruso, replied. “Don’t you mean shit?”

“Trying to be optimistic.”

All three armed with their first cups of coffee of the day, they walked down the corridor to Jack’s office. It was 8:10 a.m., about time for another day to start at The Campus.

“Any word on our friend the Emir?” Brian asked, taking a gulp of coffee.

“Nothing firsthand. He’s not stupid. He even has his e-mails relayed through a series of cutouts now, some of them through ISP accounts that open and close within hours, and even then the account financials turn out to be dead ends. The Pakistan badlands is the best current guess. Maybe next door. Maybe wherever he can buy a safe spot. Hell, at this point I’m tempted to look in our own broom closet.”

It was frustrating, Jack thought. His first adventure into field operations had been a slam dunk. Or beginner’s luck, maybe? Or fate. He’d gone to Rome as Brian and Dominic’s intel support, nothing more, and had by sheer chance spotted MoHa in the hotel. From there things had moved fast, too damned fast, and then it’d been him and MoHa in the bathroom . . .

He wouldn’t be as frightened the next time, Jack told himself with enormous—and false—confidence. He remembered the killing of MoHa as clearly as the first time he’d gotten laid. Most vivid of all was the look on the man’s face when the succinylcholine had taken hold. Jack might have felt regret for the killing except for the adrenaline rush of the moment, and for what Mohammed had been guilty of. He’d found no regret in his soul for that action. MoHa had been a murderer himself, someone who had taken it upon himself to deliver death to innocent civilians, and Jack hadn’t missed a wink of sleep over it.

It had helped that he’d been among family. He and Dominic and Brian shared a grandfather, Jack Muller, his mom’s father. The twins’ paternal grandfather, now eighty-three, was first-generation Italian, having emigrated from Italy to Seattle, where for the past sixty years he’d lived and worked at the family-owned and -run restaurant.

Grandpa Muller, former Army veteran and Merrill Lynch VP, had a strained relationship with Jack Ryan, Sr., having decided that his son-in-law’s abandonment of Wall Street for government service was sheer idiocy—idiocy that had eventually led to his daughter and granddaughter, Little Sally, nearly losing their lives in a car crash. But for his son-in-law’s ill-advised return to the CIA, the incident would have never happened. Of course, no one except Grandpa Muller believed that, including Mom and Sally.

It also helped, Jack Junior had decided, that Brian and Dominic were relatively new to this as well. Not new to the danger—Brian a Marine and Dominic an FBI agent—but to the “Wilderness of Mirrors,” as James Jesus Angleton had called it. They’d adapted well and quickly, having taken out seven URC soldiers in short order—four at the Charlottesville Mall shooting and three in Europe with the Magic Pen. Still, Hendley hadn’t hired them because they were good triggers. “Smart shooters” was the phrase Mike Brennan, his USSS principal, had often used, and it sure as hell fit his cousins.

“Gimme your best guess,” Brian said now.

“Pakistan, but close enough that his people can hop across the border. Somewhere with plenty of evacuation routes. He’s in a place with electricity, but portable generators are easy to come by, so that doesn’t mean much. Maybe a phone line, too. They’ve gotten away from satellite phones. Learned that one the hard way—”

“Yeah, when they read about it in the Times,” Brian growled.

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