Former journalist Hunt's sequel to Corrupts Absolutely(2005), which boldly imagined a near-future U.S. in which the war on terror has led to martial law, further explores the war's impact on American society, but the execution falls short of the intriguing premise. In the opening pages, headlines announce that the Martial Law Act has been repealed, the shadowy Bureau of Illegal Substance Control is to be disbanded, and Islamic fundamentalists have finally overthrown the Saudi royal family. As a bitter presidential election looms, Elliott Delgado, an investigative reporter, and Leah Berglund, a social worker who used to be an officially sanctioned assassin, learn that some suitcase nukes have entered the U.S. as part of a plot meant to dwarf the 9/11 tragedy. Paul Oppermann, the Yiddish-spouting FBI director, and former senator Adam Manchester, the leading Republican presidential candidate, make unlikely action allies as the plot builds to its uninspired climax. (Mar.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Homeland Securityby Alexa Hunt
Former assassin Leah Berglund and Pulitzer-winning reporter Elliott Delgado are back and chasing two suitcase nukes on the loose inside the United States in this gritty, near-future thriller.
Whoever stole the nukes is leaving a trail of dead bodies behind him, but before Leah and Del can track him down they’ve got to figure out who wants to buy the
Former assassin Leah Berglund and Pulitzer-winning reporter Elliott Delgado are back and chasing two suitcase nukes on the loose inside the United States in this gritty, near-future thriller.
Whoever stole the nukes is leaving a trail of dead bodies behind him, but before Leah and Del can track him down they’ve got to figure out who wants to buy the nukes:
* Is it Holy Arabia, the fanatic Muslim government that has overthrown the House of Saud in a bloody coup?
* Is it the Fidelista exiles hiding in Miami intent on overthrowing Cuba’s fledgling democracy?
* Or a domestic drug dealer in the war zone of America’s cities?
* Or the rival of the Colombian Cartel boss who rules all of South America?
Together Leah and Del unravel a plot within a plot, culminating in two simultaneous races to stop the bombs from detonating. If they fail, the heart and soul of our homeland will be left in radioactive ruins.
“A thought-provoking look at the War on Drugs. Corrupts Absolutely may turn out to be more prophecy than fiction.”Stephen Coonts, New York Times bestselling author
“Corrupts Absolutely is nonstop action and thrills. Alexa Hunt knows how to keep up a pace that never lets up.”Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of The Sinner
“A new kind of thriller, absorbing, brilliantly plotted. It’s all hereinternational intrigue, fascinating characters, and high suspense.”Clive Cussler, New York Times bestselling author on Corrupts Absolutely
“Hang on for a thrill-a-minute ride. Hunt really delivers the goods.”Tami Hoag, New York Times bestselling author of Kill the Messenger on Corrupts Absolutely
“Corrupts Absolutely is absolutely entertaining. Alexa Hunt is a fresh new talent in the thriller arena.”Sandra Brown, New York Times bestselling author of Hello Darkness
- Tom Doherty Associates
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 6.37(w) x 9.63(h) x 1.24(d)
Read an Excerpt
8 P.M. MST, MONDAY, OCTOBER 27
SAN CARLOS, OUTSIDE GUAYMAS, MEXICO
ChiChi Bernal always beat the odds. That’s why he’d lived this long. But right now things weren’t looking too good. He felt the pull of two innocuous suitcases, one gripped in each meaty fist. They were heavy mothers, but he held them easily. He was a stocky man whose squat, round body hid hard muscle beneath a genial layer of belly flab.
He was late but dared not rush, running the risk of unwelcome attention. San Carlos was a quiet seaside resort that attracted tourists like yellow drew bees. They moved with the languid ease of the balmy weather, gawking at the sky, sipping umbrella-topped alcoholic drinks, and fending off persistent vendors who offered everything from handwoven blankets to plaster statuettes of the Virgin.
A soft hum of conversation surrounded Bernal, English and Spanish blended with German and Japanese. Being a seasoned traveler, he understood snatches of it as he moved through the crowds with watchful eyes.
The aquamarine bay glimmered in evening sunlight, hinting that the tropics extended to northern Mexico. ChiChi walked through the maze of dissecting piers that comprised the big marina, hard black eyes searching out the longest one—his rendezvous site was at the end of it. A maze of sailing masts and power antennae jutted against the orange-gold of the sky as hundreds of yachts bobbed on the incoming tide, obscuring his view. He cursed silently and kept walking.
He’d dressed like a tourist, in a floral print shirt and linen slacks, but his casual jacket concealed the .25-caliber pistol strapped beneath his arm. If anyone wondered why a heavyset man perspired in a linen coat, Bernal saw no evidence of it. He’d made a life’s work of blending in. As he neared his destination, the sun sank slowly into the bay, gilding the jagged twin spikes of old Tetakawi, the highest landmark in the coastal range.
From halfway down the pier, Bernal could at last see the opening from the bay to the ocean beyond. “No boat coming in,” he muttered to himself. His gut clenched.
Cabril’s man, Felix Ortiz, had spotted him in Ciudad Obregon that afternoon and smelled a rat. ChiChi was supposed to be in Culiacán, two hundred kilometers to the south. Had Felix intended to cut himself in on Bernal’s action, or had he reported Bernal’s whereabouts to Cabril? He’d had no time to find out.
Ortiz and two of his men lay dead near a rest stop forty kilometers south on Highway 15. That had added an hour to this leg of Bernal’s trip. It took time to dispose of the bodies, wash away the blood, and change clothes. If Ortiz had told Cabril ChiChi’s destination before he died, ChiChi was screwed. He set one case down on the dock and looked around, feeling the weight of the Colt under his jacket. In spite of the cool breeze off the ocean he was now sweating profusely.
Cabril must be the reason the damn boat wasn’t here. Bernal looked around the marina crowded with pleasure crafts. Maybe he could steal one, but even after serving three years in the U.S. Navy and seven in its Mexican counterpart, he’d never learned to operate so much as a dingy. He was a cook by trade, not a boatswain mate. His only option would be to kidnap an owner and force him to head out to sea. Bernal didn’t like the odds on that. Cabril’s outfit had spy planes patrolling the coast regularly.
Scanning the crowd of tourists and vendors, he saw no one suspicious until two big, blond Anglo types approached him, splitting up casually as they drew nearer. The hair on the back of his thick neck prickled. Like him, they wore jackets on this warm night when most men dressed in short-sleeved shirts.
Shit! He picked up the cases and walked as fast as his short legs would carry him, heading to the end of the crowded pier. He knew without looking that the gringos were closing the distance between them. Still no sign of his contact entering the narrow neck of the harbor.
Much as he disliked using some frightened hostage as a pilot, he might not have another choice. The pier he was on ran parallel to three others, all crowded with boats of various sizes. He glanced into each cabin as he walked past, looking for one that was occupied, but quickly abandoned the idea. It would take far too long to ease a boat from its berth.
Bernal went with his gut and jumped onto the small Sea Ray directly beside him. He landed with surprising agility for a stocky man carrying such a heavy load. He could hear his pursuers’ footsteps break into a run as he regained his footing on the rocking deck and flattened himself behind the cover of the cabin. The soft ping of a silenced bullet ricocheted off the metal rail to his right as he moved to the stern of the boat. He held his breath and threw the cases onto the bow of a large Bayliner moored beside it.
The next shot missed his head by an inch. One of the men fired from the stability of the pier while the other jumped onto the boat, causing it to rock violently under his weight. A tall man with a high center of gravity, he lost his balance and pitched forward. When he seized hold of the rail, ChiChi fired a single shot. The gringo tumbled over the edge and dropped with a loud splash into the water.
Down the pier a woman screamed. Bernal swore as he sighted in on the second man who dived behind the gate of the Bayliner. He fired when the blond head appeared over the edge of the stern, then jumped to the bow of the Bayliner, flattening himself at another popping sound. It was a standoff now. Both men were pinned down on the same boat, but Bernal once more held the suitcases.
At the opposite end of the pier a crowd gathered for the impromptu entertainment. He could hear the sound of angry voices and women’s hysteria. Soon the police would arrive. In a rich tourist area like this they were uncharacteristically prompt. ChiChi looked at the alloy metal cases and went with his gut again.
Using them as a shield was his only option. Would his enemy fire and risk hitting one? He had no time to consider because the man he’d sent into the drink surfaced, bloody but decidedly alive. And still armed. He climbed over the bow of the Sea Ray with the business end of a Browning pointed directly at Bernal.
ChiChi could see his finger, glistening with water, tighten on the trigger. “Son of a bitch, die!” He raised the suitcase to his chest and fired his Colt at the same time. The gringo’s slug hit the metal case and knocked the air from his lungs. His ears rang. He shook his head, rolling with the case clutched to his chest, ready to fire again, but his target went down, this time falling across the narrow bow of the Sea Ray.
The big man didn’t move but his companion did. Bernal could hear him climbing around the far side of the cabin. He could also hear the clump of police boots running down the wooden pier. Lots of them. He shoved the Colt into his belt and seized both cases, then jumped to the next boat, a two-story yacht bigger than the house in Detroit where he’d grown up. It provided him enough cover to clear another craft before Blondie followed.
Now they were playing the same game. Elude the cops first, then settle who got the cases. To keep the police from outrunning them to the end of the pier, both antagonists fired at them. Brown uniforms hit the ground like cow shit plopping on a flat rock. The harbor cops found cover on the boats just as the gunmen had done.
Bernal stayed a couple of boats ahead of Blondie as they continued the deadly game of leapfrog. He watched the bay and prayed for a miracle. Then he saw it. A small fishing boat cut like a knife across the calm water. His ride had made it! All he had to do was reach the old shrimper alive with the suitcases. He considered throwing one to his pursuer.
“Five million bucks. Fuck him,” he muttered and held on to both of them as he made another leap, this time almost missing his footing between decks. The big Anglo was gaining on him when he landed on the last boat at the end of the pier, a small Monterey providing little cover. The shrimper was close now. He just might make it—unless the Harbor Patrol boats got in on the act. Or Blondie got lucky. He crouched and waited, peering out from behind one of the cases.
He could hear the roar of the powerful engine concealed beneath the beat-up old boat’s weathered hull. So close. Sounds of orders barked sharply in Spanish led the more foolhardy of the police to dash down the pier. Blondie had finally calculated the odds and knew there was no way he was going to recover the suitcases and elude the authorities with them. The big man dove into the water and vanished in the gathering darkness.
Bernal watched for him to surface at the next pier. “Come on . . . come on.” Then he grinned. His target slid over the side of a small powerboat. ChiChi took careful aim. In spite of the wake created by his approaching rescuer, he hit the mark. As the man went down, he fired again, knocking him back into the water.
One piece of business finished. He couldn’t have anyone reporting back to Cabril, who would recognize a description of the shrimper and know its captain—that was, if the big blond worked for Cabril. He might have worked for the buyer. There was too much money involved not to anticipate a double-cross. After all, he was considering one himself.
ChiChi never left loose ends. He took the last ammo clip from his pocket and shoved it into the Colt. When a young cop dashed a few meters closer he fired. The bullet hit the dumb kid in the thigh and he went down.
“ChiChi, como estas, mi hijo?” a gray-haired man wearing a battered straw hat called out as he swung his craft neatly alongside the Monterey.
“Sandoval, you old fart, what the fuck took you so long?” he replied as he pitched the cases onto the shrimper’s deck and jumped after them.
“A small delay.” The old man shrugged as his gnarled hands clutched the wheel expertly. “It seems Hernan, he wanted to discuss a certain matter with me,” Enrico Sandoval replied in Spanish. Although the old man’s English was serviceable, he refused to use it unless he had to.
As they swung clear of the pier, Bernal was relieved to know the gringos had been Cabril’s men. The alternative would have complicated matters. He shoved the cases against the side of the deck, taking cover as the police fired after them. San Carlos’s finest were lousy shots. Quickly the shrimper slipped out of range. Still, ChiChi scanned the harbor, looking for signs of patrol boats. He was in too deep to get caught now.
The old man continued speaking. His voice was as rusty as the hull of his boat. “Hernan Cabril is not a man to cross. Did I know about certain stolen merchandise, he asks. . . .” He let his words trail away and grinned toothlessly at Bernal.
“Of course, you assured him you knew nothing,” ChiChi replied. Sandoval was his father’s cousin. The two men had grown up together working the shrimp trade along the south Sonoran coast before the elder Bernal and his family emigrated to Detroit. ChiChi had spent many summers in Guaymas as a boy. Old Enrico had been like a second father to him. He grinned back sharkishly.
“I swore I had not heard a word from you for months. But they know you are the one who took the suitcases. You have made some very powerful enemies, my son.”
“For ten million American, I’ll take my chances.”
The old man shrugged again and returned his attention to piloting the boat.
“Did you see any Harbor Patrol when you came in?” Bernal asked.
“Them we can outrun. It is the skies you need to watch.”
ChiChi knew Sandoval was right. If the drug lord’s planes spotted them before they could reach the inlet where he’d hidden his all-terrain vehicle, they were dead men. They made it to the open sea easily. When the police contacted the Harbor Patrol, no boats must have been in range. Good. That way they couldn’t report which direction the fugitives were headed for a spy plane to pick up and relay to Cabril, whose boss had much better equipment than the Mexican government.
The night grew overcast. Another favorable omen. ChiChi started to relax, then reminded himself the journey had barely begun. Enrico Sandoval’s boat, often employed in the local drug trade, plowed through the coastal water headed for an obscure destination known only to the old man and his passenger.
After an hour heading due south, the opposite direction from which his enemies would think to look, his companion’s boat pulled into a small inlet overgrown with mangroves, one of a myriad known to the old drug runner like the palm of his creased hand. “We are here, my son,” he announced proudly. Sandoval had known it was dangerous to cross his employers, but he was an old man who wanted to retire. When ChiChi had approached him, he’d asked for only enough money to allow him and his aged wife to live modestly.
Bernal understood that Enrico was trustworthy. But like the two gringos, his old companion could tell Cabril about his escape route. Not willingly, ChiChi granted. But tell them he would if the drug lord learned that an old shrimp boat with a powerful engine had rescued him. He watched as Sandoval pulled his boat up to the shoreline, concealing it between dense mangroves.
The old man cut the engine and peered up the hillside into the darkness. “You have a Jeep hidden there?” he asked dubiously.
“An all-terrain vehicle. It could travel on the moon,” ChiChi replied with a grin. By the time Cabril found the boat, he would be thousands of miles away on the next leg of his journey. He pulled the Colt from his belt and shot Enrico Sandoval between his eyes.
ChiChi Bernal never left loose ends.
2:00 A.M. PST, SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 8
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Leah sat in the window of the old deserted warehouse smelling the coppery stench of fresh blood. Far below, a fat man lay on the floor with a single hole in his bulging forehead, directly between his eyes. She never missed.
For some reason she felt compelled to climb down to where Big Frankie Dittmeier lay. The second-story window made that impractical but she was lithe and athletic. Holding on to the edge of the sill, she lowered herself, using her feet on the rough cinder-block wall for purchase. Then she jumped the last several meters onto a pile of boxes. Before they could topple over, she leaped clear, approached the corpse.
Suddenly the “Big” sat up. But it no longer was Frankie, the obese drug kingpin. His whole body melted before her horrified eyes. “Zig-Zag!” she gasped, standing frozen as she looked at the skinny fifteen-year-old named Rob Zigler, a boy she was trying to save. A boy who reminded her of Kevin . . .
Then she was in the car with Griffin, her trainer. He drove down the spiraling exit ramp from the parking deck where she’d made her first “cancellation.” Only this time the ramp went down instead of up. Down and down, circling . . .
“Stop! Please, stop the car. I’m going to be sick,” she gasped as the dark concrete walls sped past her window like a grainy old black and white film.
He kept on driving, his harsh profile focused straight ahead. Not saying anything.
“Didn’t you hear me, Griff?” She felt the icy cold of the metal door handle and yanked on it. It wouldn’t move.
But then he broke his silence. Leah swiveled her head to look at him. A middle-aged white man morphed into a fourteen-year-old black kid named Danny Taylor, Danny T, Zig-Zag’s friend. “It get easier, Sista. Word,” he mouthed, grinning at her.
“No! This is crazy! This can’t be happening. I’m going to throw up! Stop the car! Stop the fucking car!” she screamed, but the black youth, his eyes barely able to see over the steering wheel, kept driving intently in downward circles.
They spiraled into oblivion, picking up speed. She rolled down the window and vomited over the faded gray paint on the government-issue electric vehicle. Then a new voice brought her wheeling around in her seat.
“Murderer! You’re a killer. A natural-born killer!”
A child’s voice but not Danny Taylor’s or Rob Zigler’s. It was Mike Delgado who accused her. Mike, the twelve-year-old son of her lover . . . Mike who then raised a Smith & Wesson .50-caliber handgun far too big for his hands.
“You killed my father,” he cried. And fired point-blank at her. . . .
But the explosion never came. Instead, a soft buzz jarred her consciousness. The sickening downward spiraling slowed as she rolled to the side of the bed, sweat-soaked and trembling. Swallowing the acid taste of bile, she picked up the beeping link and opened it. “Berglund here,” was all she could manage. Her throat felt as raw as if she had really vomited.
A hesitant voice on the other end of the link said, “Ms. Berglund, I’m so sorry to be wakin’ you, but Joey . . .” Her voice choked.
Leah came fully awake now, peering around in the dark. She was in her modest Long Beach apartment. “Mrs. Buccoli?” It was Joey’s mother. He was one of the kids she was trying to rescue from a nasty street gang whose members sold Elevator, the lethal drug that had turned most of America’s cities into free-fire zones for dealers and addicts. And her into a government assassin.
In this rare instance, the boy Joey had a parent who gave a damn what happened to her kid. “Where’s Joey, Mrs. Buccoli?” she asked, praying he wasn’t lying in the morgue.
3 A.M. PST, SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 8
SAN PEDRO WATERFRONT, CALIFORNIA
Social work wasn’t supposed to be a life-threatening occupation. At least, in theory. Leah Berglund knew theory was usually crap. She walked along the deserted wharf, a tall woman with white-blond hair and an easy, self-confident stride. But tonight she walked with a wary step.
San Pedro Harbor had once been the site for scenic cruises and whale watching. Now it was a drug-infested hellhole, thanks to the “Elevator epidemic.” The deadly cocaine-Viagra combo sent users on a fast high that sometimes cost their lives. But there was serious money for the Elevator Operators, or El-Ops, as they were called. They’d taken over what had once been a prosperous scenic bay. Tourists had been replaced by thugs carrying automatic weapons.
“Even drug dealers have to sleep sometime,” she muttered as she listened to the wheeze of tug engines in the darkness, not wanting to think of what else was out there. The fog-laden air was heavy with the smell of diesel fuel, a rare occurrence since the Fossil Fuels Prohibition Act. It burned her nose and swirled around her body like a slimy gray raincoat.
She suppressed a shiver of apprehension and focused on what she had to do. Becoming a caseworker for a drug rehab project was her atonement for joining BISC. She’d thrown herself into the job with desperate intensity, hoping she could redeem her soul . . . and stop the nightmares. So far it hadn’t worked.
Leah scanned the dark warehouse windows with the practiced eye of an assassin. From government sanctioned killer to savior of lost youth. Just then a soft rustling sound, barely audible over the lap of water, caused her to freeze. “Joey?”
Her hand automatically went for the needle gun she’d carried for over three years, but the personalized weapons were unavailable since the agency that created them had been disbanded. She was unarmed now. And crazy to be here alone, but it was the only way Joey Buccoli would meet her. He’d picked the time and place. His mother relayed the message but Leah had heard the unspoken warning under the old woman’s desperate plea.
Another noise. Leah tensed, glad she’d opted for hard-toed boots and loose slacks since she was now certain there were two people in the darkness, one ahead and one behind her. Joey’s friends didn’t want him leaving the gang. He’d been one of their most successful “El-Ops.”
At age fourteen. Like Danny T. Don’t go there.
Had Joey sold her out? She continued toward the opening between the two warehouses where the first member of the welcoming committee waited, listening for the inevitable footsteps behind her.
He came up quick and clean, but not as well as she’d have done it in her other life. Years of conditioning switched on. A split second before the blade could slash her throat she pivoted, seizing its owner’s arm as she bent forward, pulling him off balance, causing him to tumble onto her back for the throw. He sailed over her head and hit the filthy wooden boards with a nasty thump.
Leah followed through with the toe of her boot, kicking the soft flesh beneath his chin. She felt the jawbone snap and he flopped backward on the pier like a tuna tossed from a fishing boat. His knife slithered out of her reach as the second attacker materialized directly ahead. He raised an old snub-nosed revolver and fired.
Copyright © 2007 by Alexa Hunt. All rights reserved.
Meet the Author
Alexa Hunt is a former journalist. She lives in Missouri with her husband.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
Though Alexa Hunt¿s book, Homeland Security, is set in the near-future, the plot is chilling enough to make readers sit up and take notice right now. In the world of Pulitzer-prize winner, Elliott Delgado, and social worker, Leah Bergland, gangs sell a lethally addictive drug called Elevator, Saudi Arabia has become a terrorist state no longer ruled by the royal family, and the United States is bowed and humiliated on the world stage. With so much conflict in the world, it¿s understandable that a measly two dirty bombs can go missing and no one notices. Now the bombs are for sale. When the incumbent president asks his political rival, Leah¿s grandfather, for help, he includes Elliott and Leah in the request. Leah¿s past as an assassin for the government drug interdiction agency and Elliott¿s experience as a former FBI agent provide incomparable experience and contacts to find the man who holds the suitcase bombs. They race against time and frightening possibilities not only for the U.S., but for a world falling farther into chaos. Throughout the rush to recover the bombs, Leah works to overcome her past demons and allow herself to love Elliott and his son. It¿s a result we all root for because she¿s a very sympathetic character. ¿Sympathetic¿ with a gun and killer high kick, of course. She¿s no wimp! Homeland Security is jammed with action and packed with a full cast of characters. The story is realistic and compelling, with characters to admire and proper villains, too. If you enjoy thrilling books that will keep you on the edge of your seat, Homeland Security should be in your stack of books to be read! Also, pick up Alexa Hunt's first Leah Bergland and Elliott Delgado book, Corrupts Absolutely. Leah and Elliott are hot and on the job in the service of our country from the get-go!
President Samson testified at a Congressional session that repealing the Martial Law Act, established eight years ago in reaction to the Columbian Cartel Slaughter terrorist attack, is the right thing to do for the country. Apparently the Bureau of Illegal Substance Control (BISC) abused its authority that the law granted it when it allowed instant execution of drug traffickers due to it being classified as a treasonous offense. Former Senator Adam Manchester, who was one of three members of Congress to oppose the law and now is running for president, claimed BISC was ripe for a coup.--------------- A week after Samson¿s testimony, Islamic Fundamentalists overthrow the Saudi royal family and establish Holy Arabia. This coup upsets the United States at a time the country is divided and an acrimonious presidential election season has begun. Meanwhile reporter Elliott Delgado and former assassin Leah Berglund learn that dirty suitcase nukes have been smuggled into the country through the porous Mexican border. They wonder if perhaps a group loyal to the new Holy Arabia nation plans a terrorist attack on American soil or could it be the Cartel back for a second round? They join with FBI Director Paul Oppermann and Senator Manchester in an attempt to prevent another Slaughter.------------------- The sequel to the fantastic CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY, HOMELAND SECURITY is a tense thriller that readers will enjoy as Alexa Hunt continues to look at the long term effect of the Global War Against Terrorism deteriorating liberties. The story line is fast-paced with the intrepid duo knowing that besides the two prime suspected groups, others like the Fidelistas might be the cause. Though the teaming up of the FBI Director, the leading Republican candidate for the White House with the reporter and the former assassin seems no way possible, fans will enjoy this fascinating look at the war between security and freedom.---------------- Harriet Klausner