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One man stands between the United States and a conspiracy that threatens Western civilizationThough not on the government payroll, Jason Peters kills for Uncle Sam. NARCOM is a private corporation that does what the CIA doesn’t have the nerve to do, and Peters is its best operative—until the job gets the best of him. He completes his last mission and happily retires to Italy, swearing to his girlfriend that he’s through with his deadly past. He has just settled into a peaceful life when NARCOM comes knocking. A contractor for the organization has been shot while on assignment in Iceland, and refuses to talk to anyone but Peters. NARCOM convinces the ex-agent to go, swearing it will be a quick, fact-finding mission. But behind this simple assignment lurks a massive environmental conspiracy, and Peters quickly finds there is no one he can trust other than himself.
Sub-Saharan Africa June of the Present Year
The white man wore a clerical collar and clergy black shirt. His bicycle left a narrow trail of red dust as it swerved between open sewers and around mounds of festering garbage in front of tin-roofed huts. Snarling, skeleton-like dogs, trying to scavenge anything humans had not already taken, growled but gave way. There weren't many of them left, the dogs. Cats had disappeared years ago. Most white priests had too, if for different reasons.
A few Anglicans had remained, made near mad by the African sun, feverish with dengue or malaria, or clinging to demonstrably false hopes that they could improve the lives of those who lived here. Things had, as they say, gone from bad to worse under President-for-Life Amer Bugunda.
As had happened so frequently in this part of the world, the freedom fighter in the heady days of collapsing empires had become today's tyrant; his rule had become as oppressive as any colonial power.
The problems of the country were only tangentially the reason the man was here.
Ahead, two militiamen lounged under the shade of a towering mahogany tree. In the last two days, these arbitrary posts had proliferated like mushrooms during the rainy season. The man was well aware of the reason and thankful he had been warned such roadblocks were likely.
As the priest pedaled the bike toward them, he used one hand to remove a tattered straw hat and wiped his brow with his forearm. His streaked blond hair, long for a priest, spoke of time spent in the sun, as did his tan skin. He had hoped to reach his destination before the worst of the day's soggy heat, which had already become a living monster, sucking the life from all it touched.
Dismounting, he submitted to a rough body search as well as an inspection of the small knapsack tied to the handlebars. They would find nothing of interest unless they looked closely at his feet. He was wearing not the cheap shoes common to clergy in the area but steel-toed, ankle-high waterproof boots, the sort issued to elite military units.
The boots might have raised suspicion among more alert or better-trained military, as would the man himself. Most priests here had spent the better part of their lives ministering to the needs of just one or two tribal villages. This one was young and muscular, with the physique of a man both well fed and free of the intestinal parasites endemic to the region. That meant he was a recent arrival, which, in turn, was unusual. Not even the most dedicated to God were eager to practice their ministry here these days.
Fortunately for the man in the clerical collar, these troops were neither well trained nor alert.
He simply smiled at the insults in broken English. He kept the expression in place when one of the men in uniform snatched the hat from his head and tossed it into the stinking sewer that ran parallel to the road.
"Colonial pig!" the soldier growled, using the epithet that included all white people here.
More eager to return to the shade than further torment or insults, the two militiamen waved him past. He toyed with the idea of retrieving the hat, considered the water in which it floated, and remounted.
Half a mile later, the road, no more than a trail, really, had narrowed to a point where he could have simultaneously have touched the dense bamboo groves on either side. He was well out of sight of the soldiers. He stopped, glancing around. It took him only a second to see it beside the path: a small flat rock on top of a larger one.
He dismounted again and lifted the bicycle off the dirt road and into what appeared to be a tangle of bamboo connected by impenetrable vines of strangler fig and the occasional hardwood that had spread its limbs to the sun before light-stealing bamboo had begun to sprout.
Off the road, he pushed the bike. By this point he could see a narrow path perpendicular to the road he had been traveling. He stooped to cover the bicycle with dead leaves. The rest of the trip would be on foot. If there were patrols, he only hoped he saw them first.
A few more paces brought him to a dead baobab tree across the track. He examined the ground carefully. Few insects or reptiles here did not bite or sting. He knelt, reaching inside a hole in the trunk. He produced two objects: One was a large package wrapped in waterproof canvas. The second was an oblong steel box about three feet in length.
He opened the larger one first. Inside was a camouflage shirt, pants, body-armor vest, and a smaller package that contained a compass; steel mirror; greasepaint in brown, green, and black; and a preprogrammed, handheld global positioning indicator of the type used by hikers. Propping the mirror against the log, he quickly applied the paint to his face until it resembled the mélange of colors around him. Standing, he stripped to his underwear, pulling on the clothing from the package. In the pants pockets he found a pair of cloth gloves, which he put aside for a moment while he opened the metal box.
Inside was a disassembled Heckler & Koch PSG1 rifle with scope.
He would have preferred the larger, more accurate Walther WA 2000, but the WA was intolerant of the rough treatment the H&K had likely received on its way here. Plus, ammo for the Walther was not always available. Still, the H&K 7.62 mm with its 815 mps muzzle velocity would do quite well. The 25-inch barrel and 8.1 kg weight were bulky, but the blowback mechanism was more reliable than the WA's recoil if he needed a second shot.
Most important, the Heckler & Koch was used by armies all over the world. It was untraceable to any particular country.
He assembled the weapon and checked the five-round magazine, then carefully put the scope in a pocket to be mounted later. Slipping through heavy growth presented too much of a risk of it being knocked askew or, worse, scratching the lens.
Reaching into the larger parcel, he withdrew a large, fine mesh net. Most of it was already filled with paper and plastic flora, copies of that common to the area. He would complete his sniper's blanket when he reached his destination.
One item was missing. He found it under the camouflage blanket: a knife. The hilt was a replica of a cavalry saber, with protective steel around the grip. The blade was ten inches long, no more than half an inch wide, with finely honed cutting edges on both sides. It was a weapon he had designed himself, its thin double edge perfect for stabbing or slashing without the risk of getting entangled in bone or entrails. He pulled it halfway out of its scabbard, satisfied himself the edge was razor sharp, and returned it to its case, which he stuck in his belt.
Finally, he stuffed the vest into the hollow log. Too heavy and too hot. Besides, if he was in a situation where body armor would help, he would be dead soon anyway.
Although the bamboo gave some protection from the sun, it also cut off any breath of breeze. Moving deliberately, stopping every few feet to listen, he might as well have been hiking through a sauna. Thirst had replaced heat as the enemy of the moment. He had a military canteen almost full, filled with presumably nontoxic water that morning; but he had a long day ahead. Reaching in a pocket, he pulled out a hand full of salt tablets, dry swallowed two and continued on.
An hour later, he came upon a line of termite mounds, some higher than his head. Using these as cover, he moved from one to the next, pausing under a jackal-berry growing from one of the towers of dried soil. The tree's ample girth, perhaps sixteen or more feet, gave welcome shade where he paused long enough to make certain he was still alone and to check the GPS again. He glanced up at the white flowers above his head before putting the instrument away and moving on, careful to make as small a ripple in the sea of grass as possible.
When he reached a few ragged rows of sun-browned maize, he stopped. Beyond was a field waist-high weeds shared with stubby sprigs of millet, the source of the bitter beer that was the main beverage of the area. He listened to a symphony of insect buzzes, birdcalls, and sounds he could not identify before he heard it: human voices. They were both male and female, young and old, and didn't seem to move—the sounds of a village. At the same time, the faint breeze shifted, bringing him a whiff of charcoal and sweat with the faint undertone of untreated sewage, the smell of human habitation.
A few more steps and he heard women's voices approaching. He flattened himself among the spindly stalks of millet just as two statuesque women balancing water jars on their heads gracefully stepped across what would have been his extended path. Each wore bright prints and was bedecked in beads and necklaces of small bones. Their heads were shaved except for a single queue.
He waited, listening as their voices faded. Then, he stood and unrolled the loose mesh that was his sniper's blanket. Picking grass here, weeds there, the few empty spaces in its mesh were soon filled. Cradling the rifle in one arm, he pulled the material over him. Instantly, the heat blurred his vision. Ignoring his discomfort, he began to crawl.
After about fifteen minutes, he stopped and peered through the gaps in the foliage of his cover. Twenty or so mud-and-thatch huts formed a semicircle around a dirt square. In the middle of the open space, workmen were completing a platform. The men wore loincloths, along with necklaces, anklets, and armbands of bone and fur. A few wore headdresses of ostrich feathers, had painted faces, and carried long spears. Few Africans dressed in native costume in their day-today lives. Today was a special occasion where the normal cheap, imported blue jeans, mail-order dresses, and flip-flops had been temporarily put aside.
This was President-for-Life Bugunda's tribal village. He preferred its humble backdrop, which emphasized his native Shana heritage to the palatial presidential palace in the capital when making a speech he knew would be filmed or perhaps televised to the rest of the world.
The president was, by his own account, a humble man, was he not? A humble man who had removed the chain from his people's throat and set them free from the foot of the oppressor.
He was undeniably fond of metaphors. And today's would be a momentous speech indeed, if not the way the president intended.
For an instant, the sniper almost pitied whoever was in charge of the man's security detail. A building can be secured as tight as needed. But facing acres of open space with head-high grass?
The sniper rolled onto his back, affixed the scope, and returned to his stomach before he checked the scope's stability in its mount.
Ordinarily, the ravings of African dictators were ignored by Western civilization, the brutality of an Amin or Mugabe the source of amusing headlines somewhere in the inside pages of newspapers. Genocide? No threat to national security. Famine and plague? Quarantined by oceans.
Except where national security was involved.
Months ago, Bugunda had startled the world, or at least the world's intelligence communities. ECHELON had picked up a series of telephone transmissions between Bugunda and eastern Pakistan. Thinly coded, they had been quickly deciphered. Bugunda would shortly be hosting Al Mohammed Moustaph, al-Qaida's number-three man.
Although Bugunda was no threat outside his own borders, Moustaph was one of the world's most wanted men. Suspected of engineering train and subway bombings in Europe, an attempt to blow an international flight out of the air, and a mass shooting at a beach resort in Australia, the various rewards offered exceeded the gross national product of most third-world countries.
That was where the sniper became involved.CHAPTER 2
Ischia Ponte, Isola d'Ischia Bay of Naples Five Days Earlier
Brush in hand, Jason Peters stood in his villa's loggia before the easel, not quite content with the seascape he thought he'd finished. The jagged rocks of the coast were right; he could almost feel the spray. There was something not quite right with the color of the sea, though. Of course, that color changed hourly as the sun moved. A dark, almost black morning ocean became cerulean by noon, electric by sunset.
Perhaps the fishing boat needed to be painted out.
Perhaps acrylic was not the proper medium.
He bobbed his head as the mathematics of a Mozart concerto danced through the villa. Then he put down his brush and simply admired the same view he had enjoyed for the last three years. Half a mile away, the medieval Cathedral of the Assunta crowned a hill that dropped into the sea. He could also see the fifteenth-century causeway that joined the tiny hamlet to the larger island, a rugged bit of rock that jutted out of the water like some legendary sea monster about to devour a ship and its crew.
His view was not entirely for aesthetic purposes. With the high, rocky coast, the only approach to his villa was by that path and the single road that came up the hill to his front gate. There had been a time when he had first come here that security was more important than scenery.
A loud snore was audible over the music, disrupting his artistic thought. Turning, he saw the large dog sprawled across the tiles of the floor. It was difficult to even look at Pangloss without smiling. Part German shepherd, part collie, part whatever had been available to a promiscuous kinsman, the animal personified the description "mutt." He also had been the only friend Jason had had for a very long time, a time from the death of his wife until Maria ...
The dog awoke suddenly, lifting his head, and whined softly.
"Yeah, I miss her too," Jason said, kneeling to take the big furry head in both hands. "But she had to go to Hawaii to observe the eruption of that volcano. You understand?"
A long tongue polished a black button nose before the animal gave a sound that could have been a sneeze or a snort. With Pangloss, one was never quite certain what was going on.
"I'll take that as a 'yes.'"
Having assented, the dog stretched, extending shaggy legs in a move that, had it been made by a woman, might have been sexy. Well, maybe not exactly sexy, Jason thought, but it did somehow remind him of Maria waking from the afternoon nap indigenous to the island and all of Italy.
Maria. God, but he missed her.
Whenever she was not actively pursuing her profession as a volcanologist, she had shared Jason's villa and the dog's affection. An eruption somewhere on the globe—Indonesia, the Italian mainland, or northwestern America—meant days of absence. Worse, boredom.
Jason had gotten used to living alone before she came into his life. He had actually enjoyed having only Pangloss's company for days on end. The peaceful serenity of obscure islands had appealed to him since his life had undergone a violent change over a decade ago. He could paint without interruption and had no social obligations to waste his time. He also could keep fully apprised of who came and went, an unfortunate necessity of his former employment.
Maria had changed all that. It was well and fine that he lived what most would consider a dull life while she was in it. But when she was gone ...?
He sighed, turning back to the easel and reaching to pick up the brush. She was all the excitement he needed when she was there. When she was gone, memories of past adventures seemed sweet indeed. He had lived up to his promise of retirement, but that pledge might be hard to keep if the opportunity arose, the chance ...
His BlackBerry beeped and he frowned, hands on hips.
There were no phones in the house, no landlines, anyway. Jason detested them. Always ringing at inconvenient times, bringing news he either didn't want to hear or didn't care about. There was no need on the island anyway. It wasn't as if he had to call ahead for a dinner reservation at either of the two trattoria. If he showed up, they were glad to see him. If he needed to speak to his housekeeper or one of her cousins, grandchildren, or in-laws who comprised his staff when they were off duty, he got on a bicycle and rode to their nearby house.
Since Maria's arrival and subsequent business trips, he had agreed to the BlackBerry. She was the only one who had his e-mail address. Her infrequent messages lessened the burden of her absences.
No doubt it was Maria e-mailing. What the hell time was it in Hawaii, anyway?
Excerpted from Hot Ice by Gregg Loomis. Copyright © 2013 Gregg Loomis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Gregg Loomis is an American author of thrillers. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, he spent his youth traveling the world, and has worked as a commercial pilot, a racecar driver, and a lawyer specializing in commercial litigation. He published his first novel, the bayou thrillerVoodoo Fury, in 1991. His greatest success came in 2005, when The Pegasus Secret introduced the world to lawyer Lang Reilly; Loomis charted that character’s globetrotting adventures through five more novels, including The Coptic Secret (2009) and The Cathar Secret (2011). With Gates of Hades (2007), Loomis began a new series centered on Jason Peters, an international operative working for NARCOM, a private corporation that does what the CIA cannot. Hot Ice (2013) is the second Jason Peters novel. Loomis now writes and practices law in Atlanta.
Gregg Loomis is an American author of thrillers. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, he spent his youth traveling the world, and has worked as a commercial pilot, a racecar driver, and a lawyer specializing in commercial litigation. He published his first novel, the bayou thriller Voodoo Fury, in 1991. His greatest success came in 2005, when The Pegasus Secret introduced the world to lawyer Lang Reilly; Loomis charted that character’s globetrotting adventures through five more novels, including The Coptic Secret (2009) and The Cathar Secret (2011). With Gates of Hades (2007), Loomis began a new series centered on Jason Peters, an international operative working for NARCOM, a private corporation that does what the CIA cannot. The second Jason Peters novel, Hot Ice, came out in 2013. Loomis now writes and practices law in Atlanta.
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"Hot Ice" is said to be a mystery and a thriller. It is neither. It's an interesting story involving a "private operator" who is supposed to be defending the USA from a massive conspiracy. I didn't think the conspiracy was massive, it seemed more farcical to me. I'd like to give this book 2-1/2 stars because it was fun to read but at no time was I surprised by the plot nor was there any mystery because we know all along who is involved. A fun read.