The Hunters (Presidential Agent Series #3)

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Overview

The new Presidential Agent novel-now in paperback.

Two brutal murders and millions of missing dollars in the growing UN/Iraq oil-for-food scandal have led Charley Castillo and his team to Uruguay, where the man they seek is murdered right before their eyes. Those responsible have left just enough of a trail for Castillo to pick up the scent and follow it wherever it takes him-even if it's not exactly where he expected.

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Overview

The new Presidential Agent novel-now in paperback.

Two brutal murders and millions of missing dollars in the growing UN/Iraq oil-for-food scandal have led Charley Castillo and his team to Uruguay, where the man they seek is murdered right before their eyes. Those responsible have left just enough of a trail for Castillo to pick up the scent and follow it wherever it takes him-even if it's not exactly where he expected.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for the Presidential Agent novels:  "Punchy prose that connects like a right hook." -CHICAGO TRIBUNE  "Griffin is well on his way to a credible American James Bond franchise. It's slick as hell." -MONSTERS AND CRITICS
Publishers Weekly
Bestseller Griffin's ponderous third Presidential Agent novel picks up where the previous entry, The Hostage, left off, following U.S. Army Maj. Carlos "Charley" Castillo, a troubleshooter who takes orders directly from the president, as he fumbles about in South America and Europe. Castillo and his crew of specialists are trying to figure out who ordered the murder of American diplomat Jean-Paul Lorimer, who was shot to death in Uruguay while under suspicion of various international misdeeds, including a shady food-for-oil conspiracy in Iraq. Long stretches of dialogue and description come across more as showcases for Griffin's knowledge than as solid narrative, while Castillo and his cohorts never rise beyond their assigned roles. Fans will miss the more captivating heroes of Griffin's Brotherhood of War or the Corps series. Author tour. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This third entry in Griffin's exciting and timely "Presidential Agent" series begins literally minutes after the end of the previous novel, The Hostage, and again features the irreverent but highly capable Charley Castillo and all the other ensemble characters. The plot here focuses on the UN "oil for food" scandal and the murderers who will stop at nothing to protect themselves and their own national interests. Castillo is so busy chasing the bad guys that he almost forgets his girlfriend, who's recuperating in a hospital. Oops. Exhibiting a thorough knowledge of how the government and the military work (or don't work) and a detailed knowledge of multitudes of weapons systems, Griffin offers another novel that is fast-paced, exciting, and great fun to read. Griffin's loyal readers will hope that more will be coming soon. Recommended for all popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/06.]-Robert Conroy, Warren, MI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Griffin returns to chronicle the international adventures of heroic presidential special agent Charley Castillo (The Hostage, 2006). Too modest and too rich to be just another rampaging Ollie North, Major C.G. "Charley," polyglot love child of a German newspaper heiress and an even richer Texas aviator, has been charged by his doting president with the formation of a special-operations group answering only to the White House. The president wants Charley to clear up the mess left behind when he and his ragtag band of straight-shooting marines, honest CIA operatives, brainy Asian F.B.I. agents and their admiring Argentine opposite numbers located and almost snatched the perfidious high-level U.N. bureaucrat who absconded to rural Uruguay with 16 million dollars rightfully belonging to an international ring of oil-for-food swindlers. The snatch of the bureaucrat had been foiled by a black-clad gang of seemingly unidentifiable "Ninjas" armed with untraceable weapons, one of whom took out the bureaucrat even as Charley was reaching for him. The Ninjas were all wiped out, but the oil-for-food thieves want their money back and they want equally to eliminate anyone with clues about their identity, especially elderly Hungarian man-about-town and ace reporter Eric Kocian, a favorite of Charley's. Armed with the disputed 16 million bucks snatched from the late bureaucrat's secret accounts, girded with a promotion to Lt. Colonel and staffed with the best office administrator on the planet, Charley rounds up his troops and swears them into the new unit and off they fly in Charley's Gulfstream, back and forth from Argentina to Germany to Hungary to Texas to Argentina to Uruguay, accompanied on much ofthe trip by Kocian's huge and adorable Flemish sheepdog, until they at last clear up most of the mysteries, leaving just enough unsolved for a sequel. Notable mostly for the digs at a CIA agent remarkably similar to Valerie Plame.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780515143935
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/18/2007
  • Series: Presidential Agent Series, #3
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 832
  • Sales rank: 189,290
  • Product dimensions: 4.25 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 1.69 (d)

Meet the Author

W. E. B. Griffin
W. E. B. Griffin is also the author of the bestselling Corps, Brotherhood of War, Badge of Honor, Men at War, and Honor Bound series. He has been invested into the orders of St. George of the U.S. Armor Association and St. Andrew of the U.S. Army Aviation Association, and is a life member of the U.S. Special Operations Association; Gaston-Lee Post 5660, Veterans of Foreign Wars; China Post #1 in Exile of the American Legion; and the Police Chiefs Association of Southeast Pennsylvania, South New Jersey, and Delaware. He is an honorary life member of the U.S. Army Otter & Caribou Association, the U.S. Army Special Forces Association, the U.S. Marine Corps Raider Association, and the USMC Combat Correspondents Association.
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    1. Also Known As:
      William Edmund Butterworth III (real name); Alex Baldwin, Webb Beech, Walter E. Blake, Jack Dugan, John Kevin Dugan, Eden Hughes, James McDouglas, Allison Mitchell, Edmund O. Scholefield, Blakely St.
      W.E.B. Griffin
    2. Hometown:
      Coppell, Texas
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 10, 1929
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newark, New Jersey

Read an Excerpt

“W.E.B. Griffin is the best chronicler of the U.S. military ever to put pen to paper—and rates among the best storytellers in any genre.”

The Phoenix Gazette

Praise for

THE PRESIDENTIAL AGENT SERIES

THE HUNTERS

“EXCITING AND TIMELY . . . Griffin’s loyal readers will hope that more will be coming soon. Recommended.”

Library Journal

“Castillo novels offer timely plots and enough firepower to keep the action-adventure crowd happy.”

Booklist

THE HOSTAGE

“IS GRIFFIN OUR HOMER OR TACITUS? Those military experts wrote about real soldiers and what the world needs now is a real-life Charley Castillo, Griffin’s smart and efficient Department of Homeland Security agent . . . Told in Griffin’s trademark clean and compelling prose, studded with convincing insider details . . . Castillo and his team of tough and shrewd experts are just the kind of believable people we want in these situations. And if it takes a novelist like Griffin, who has honed his skills and weapons in five previous series, to bring them to life, at least their real counterparts will have some fictional role models to live up to.”

Publishers Weekly

“WILL APPEAL TO THRILLER READERS, especially Griffin’s many fans . . . [The Hostage has] fast pacing and [is relevant] to today’s events and headlines.”

Booklist

“Exciting and great fun.”

Library Journal

“The prolific, megaselling Griffin is well on his way to a credible American James Bond franchise. It’s slick as hell.”

——Monsters and Critics

BY ORDER OF THE PRESIDENT

“CUTTING- EDGE MILITARY MATERIAL . . . Those who love Griffin’s stories of past wars will take to this new series based on present and future conflicts.”

Publishers Weekly

“PLENTY OF ACTION, HIGH-LEVEL INTRIGUE, interesting characters, flip dialogue, romance, and a whole lot of drinking and other carrying on.”

Library Journal

W.E.B. GRIFFIN’S CLASSIC SERIES

HONOR BOUND

The high drama and real heroes of World War II . . .

“ROUSING . . . AN IMMENSELY ENTERTAINING ADVENTURE.”

Kirkus Reviews

“A TAUTLY WRITTEN STORY whose twists and turns will keep readers guessing until the last page.”

Publishers Weekly

“A SUPERIOR WAR STORY.”

Library Journal

BROTHERHOOD OF WAR

The series that launched W.E.B. Griffin’s phenomenal career . . .

“AN AMERICAN EPIC.”

—Tom Clancy

“FIRST-RATE. Griffin, a former soldier, skillfully sets the stage, melding credible characters, a good eye for detail, and colorful, gritty dialogue into a readable and entertaining story.”

The Washington Post Book World

“ABSORBING, salted- peanuts reading filled with detailed and fascinating descriptions of weapons, tactics, Green Beret training, Army life, and battle.”

The New York Times Book Review

“A MAJOR WORK . . . MAGNIFICENT . . . POWERFUL . . . If books about warriors and the women who love them were given medals for authenticity, insight, and honesty, Brotherhood of War would be covered with them.”

—William Bradford Huie

THE CORPS

The bestselling saga of the heroes we call Marines . . .

“GREAT READING. A superb job of mingling fact and fiction . . . [Griffin’s] characters come to life.”

The Sunday Oklahoman

“THIS MAN HAS REALLY DONE HIS HOMEWORK . . . I confess to impatiently awaiting the appearance of succeeding books in the series.”

The Washington Post

“ACTION- PACKED . . . DIFFICULT TO PUT DOWN.”

Marine Corps Gazette

BADGE OF HONOR

Griffin’s electrifying epic series of a big-city police force . . .

“DAMN EFFECTIVE . . . He captivates you with characters the way few authors can.”

—Tom Clancy

“TOUGH, AUTHENTIC . . . POLICE DRAMA AT ITS BEST . . . Readers will feel as if they’re part of the investigation, and the true- to- life characters will soon feel like old friends. Excellent reading.”

—Dale Brown

“A REAL WINNER.”

New York Daily News

MEN AT WAR

The legendary OSS—fighting a silent war of spies and assassins in the shadows of World War II . . .

“WRITTEN WITH A SPECIAL FLAIR for the military heart and mind.”

The Winfield (KS) Daily Courier

“SHREWD, SHARP, ROUSING ENTERTAINMENT.”

Kirkus Reviews

“RICH WITH WITTY BANTER and nail-biting undercover work.”

Entertainment Weekly

TITLES BY W.E.B. GRIFFIN

HONOR BOUND

BOOK I: HONOR BOUND

BOOK II: BLOOD AND HONOR

BOOK III: SECRET HONOR

BOOK IV: DEATH AND HONOR

(with William E. Butterworth IV)

BOOK V: THE HONOR OF SPIES

(with William E. Butterworth IV)

BOOK VI: VICTORY AND HONOR

(with William E. Butterworth IV)

BOOK VII: EMPIRE AND HONOR

(with William E. Butterworth IV)

BROTHERHOOD OF WAR

BOOK I: THE LIEUTENANTS

BOOK II: THE CAPTAINS

BOOK III: THE MAJORS

BOOK IV: THE COLONELS

BOOK V: THE BERETS

BOOK VI: THE GENERALS

BOOK VII: THE NEW BREED

BOOK VIII: THE AVIATORS

BOOK IX: SPECIAL OPS

THE CORPS

BOOK I: SEMPER FI

BOOK II: CALL TO ARMS

BOOK III: COUNTERATTACK

BOOK IV: BATTLEGROUND

BOOK V: LINE OF FIRE

BOOK VI: CLOSE COMBAT

BOOK VII: BEHIND THE LINES

BOOK VIII: IN DANGER’S PATH

BOOK IX: UNDER FIRE

BOOK X: RETREAT, HELL!

BADGE OF HONOR

BOOK I: MEN IN BLUE

BOOK II: SPECIAL OPERATIONS

BOOK III: THE VICTIM

BOOK IV: THE WITNESS

BOOK V: THE ASSASSIN

BOOK VI: THE MURDERERS

BOOK VII: THE INVESTIGATORS

BOOK VIII: FINAL JUSTICE

BOOK IX: THE TRAFFICKERS

(with William E. Butterworth IV)

BOOK X: THE VIGILANTES

(with William E. Butterworth IV)

BOOK XI: THE LAST WITNESS

(with William E. Butterworth IV)

MEN AT WAR

BOOK I: THE LAST HEROES

BOOK II: THE SECRET WARRIORS

BOOK III: THE SOLDIER SPIES

BOOK IV: THE FIGHTING AGENTS

BOOK V: THE SABOTEURS

(with William E. Butterworth IV)

BOOK VI: THE DOUBLE AGENTS

(with William E. Butterworth IV)

BOOK VII: THE SPYMASTERS

(with William E. Butterworth IV)

PRESIDENTIAL AGENT

BOOK I: BY ORDER OF THE PRESIDENT

BOOK II: THE HOSTAGE

BOOK III: THE HUNTERS

BOOK IV: THE SHOOTERS

BOOK V: BLACK OPS

BOOK VI: THE OUTLAWS

(with William E. Butterworth IV)

BOOK VII: COVERT WARRIORS

(with William E. Butterworth IV)

BOOK VIII: HAZARDOUS DUTY

(with William E. Butterworth IV)

THE
HUNTERS

W.E.B. GRIFFIN

26 July 1777

The necessity of procuring good intelligence is apparent and need not be further urged.

George Washington

General and Commander in Chief

The Continental Army

FOR THE LATE

WILLIAM E. COLBY

An OSS Jedburgh first lieutenant who became director of the Central Intelligence Agency

AARON BANK

An OSS Jedburgh first lieutenant who became a colonel and the father of Special Forces

WILLIAM R. CORSON

A legendary Marine intelligence officer whom the KGB hated more than any other U.S. Intelligence officer—and not only because he wrote the definitive work on them

FOR THE LIVING

BILLY WAUGH

A legendary Special Forces command sergeant major who retired and then went on to hunt down the infamous Carlos the Jackal.

Billy could have terminated Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s but could not get permission to do so. After fifty years in the business, Billy is still going after the bad guys.

RENÉ J. DÉFOURNEAUX

A U.S. Army OSS second lieutenant attached to the British SOE who jumped into Occupied France alone and later became a legendary U.S. Army counterintelligence officer

JOHNNY REITZEL

An Army special operations officer who could have terminated the head terrorist of the seized cruise ship Achille Lauro but could not get permission to do so

RALPH PETERS

An Army intelligence officer who has written the best analysis of our war against terrorists and of our enemy that I have ever seen

AND FOR THE NEW BREED

MARC L.

A senior intelligence officer despite his youth who reminds me of Bill Colby more and more each day

FRANK L.

A legendary Defense Intelligence Agency officer who retired and now follows in Billy Waugh’s footsteps

OUR NATION OWES ALL OF THESE PATRIOTS A DEBT BEYOND REPAYMENT.

Table of Contents

I

[ONE]

Danubius Hotel Gellért

Szent Gellért tér 1

Budapest, Hungary

0035 1 August 2005

When he heard the ping of the bell announcing the arrival of an elevator in the lobby of the Gellért, Sándor Tor, who was the director of security for the Budapester Tages Zeitung, raised his eyes from a copy of the newspaper—so fresh from the presses that his fingers were stained with ink—to see who would be getting off.

He was not at all surprised to see that it was Eric Kocian, managing director and editor in chief of the newspaper. The first stop of the first Tages Zeitung delivery truck to leave the plant was the Gellért.

The old man must have been looking out his window again, Tor thought, waiting to see the truck arrive.

Tor was a burly fifty-two-year-old with a full head of curly black hair and a full mustache. He wore a dark blue single-breasted suit carefully tailored to conceal the Swiss SIGARMS P228 9mm semiautomatic pistol he carried in a high-ride hip holster.

He looked like a successful businessman with a very good tailor, but he paled beside Eric Kocian, who stepped off the elevator into the Gellért lobby wearing an off-white linen suit with a white shirt, a white tie held to the collar with a discreet gold pin, soft white leather slip-on shoes, a white panama hat—the wide brim rakishly up on the right and down on the left—and carrying a sturdy knurled cane with a brass handle in the shape of a well-bosomed female.

Kocian was accompanied by a large dog. The dog was shaped like a boxer, but he was at least a time and a half—perhaps twice—as large as a big boxer, and his coat was grayish black and tightly curled.

Kocian walked to a table in the center of the lobby where a stack of the Tages Zeitung had been placed, picked up a copy carefully—so as not to soil his well-manicured fingers—and examined the front page.

Then he folded the newspaper and extended it to the dog.

“You hold it awhile, Max,” he said. “Your tongue is already black.”

Then he turned and, resting both hands on the cane, carefully surveyed the lobby.

He found what he was looking for—Sándor Tor—sitting in an armchair in a dark corner of the lobby. Kocian pointed his cane at arm’s length at Tor, not unlike a cavalry officer leading a charge, and walked quickly toward him. The dog, newspaper in his mouth, never left Kocian’s side.

Six feet from Tor, Kocian stopped and, without lowering the cane, said, “Sándor, I distinctly remember telling you that I would not require your services anymore today and to go home.”

A lesser man would have been cowed. Sándor Tor was not. As a young man, he had done a hitch in the French Foreign Legion and subsequently had never been cowed by anyone or anything.

He pushed himself far enough out of the armchair to reach the dog’s head, scratched his ears, and said, “How goes it, Max?” Then he looked up at Kocian and said, “You have been known to change your mind, Úr Kocian.”

“This is not one of those rare occasions,” Kocian said. He let that sink in and then added: “But since you are already here, you might as well take us—on your way home—to the Franz Joséf Bridge.”

With that, Kocian turned on his heel and walked quickly to the entrance. Max trotted to keep up with him.

Tor got out of his chair as quickly as he could and started after him.

My God, he’s eighty-two!

As he walked, Tor took a cellular telephone from his shirt pocket, pushed an autodial button, and held the telephone to his ear.

“He’s on the way to the car,” he said without preliminary greeting. “He wants me to drop him at the Szabadság híd. Pick him up on the other side.”

The Szabadság híd, the Freedom Bridge, across the Danube River was a re-creation of the original 1899 bridge that had been destroyed—as had all the other bridges over the Danube—in the bitter fighting of World War II. It had been named after Franz Joséf, then king and emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was the first to be rebuilt, as close to the original as possible, and, when completed in 1946, had been renamed the Freedom Bridge.

Eric Kocian simply refused to accept the name change.

“If the communists were happy with that Freedom name, there’s obviously something wrong with it,” he had said more than once. “Franz Joséf may have been a sonofabitch, but, compared to the communists, he was a saint.”

•   •   •

There was a silver Mercedes-Benz S500 sitting just outside the door of the Gellért.

For a moment, Sándor Tor was afraid that the old man had grown impatient and decided to walk. Then there came a long blast on the horn.

Tor quickly trotted around the front of the car and got behind the wheel. Kocian was in the front passenger’s seat. Max, still with the newspaper in his mouth, was sitting up in the backseat.

“Where the hell have you been?” Kocian demanded.

“I had to take a leak.”

“You should have taken care of that earlier,” Kocian said.

•   •   •

It wasn’t far at all from the door of the Gellért to the bridge, but if Kocian had elected to walk he would have had to cross the road paralleling the Danube, down which traffic often flew.

The old man wasn’t concerned for himself, Tor knew, but for the dog. One of Max’s predecessors—there had been several, all the same breed, Bouvier des Flandres, all named Max—had been run over and killed on that highway.

It was a standard joke around the Gellért and the Budapester Tages Zeitung that the only thing the old man loved was his goddamned dog and that the only living thing that could possibly love the old man was his goddamned dog.

Sándor Tor knew better. Once, Tor had heard a pressman parrot the joke and had grabbed him by the neck, forced his head close to the gears of the running press, and promised the next time he heard him running his mouth he’d feed him to the press.

•   •   •

“Turn on the flashers when you stop,” Kocian ordered as the Mercedes approached the bridge, “and I’ll open the doors for Max and myself, thank you very much.”

“Yes, Úr Kocian.”

“And don’t hang around to see if Max and I can make it across the bridge without your assistance. Go home.”

“Yes, Úr Kocian.”

“And in the morning, be on time for once.”

“I will try, Úr Kocian.”

“Good night, Sándor. Sleep well.”

“Thank you, Úr Kocian.”

•   •   •

Tor watched in the right side rearview mirror as Kocian and the dog started across the bridge. Tor already had his cellular in his hand. He pressed the autodial button again.

Across the river, Ervin Rákosi’s cellular vibrated in his pocket, causing the wireless speaker bud in his ear to ring. He pushed one of the phone’s buttons—it did not matter which since he had programmed the device to answer calls whenever any part of the keypad was depressed—and heard Tor’s voice come through the earbud:

“They’re on the bridge.”

“Got him, Sándor.”

“He’ll be watching me, so I’ll have to go up the Vámház körút as far as Pipa before I can turn.”

“I told you I have him, Sándor.”

“Just do what I tell you to do. I’ll pick him up when he passes Sóház.”

“Any idea where he’s going?”

“Absolutely none.”

It was Eric Kocian’s custom to take Max for a walk before retiring, which usually meant they left the Gellért around half past twelve. Almost always, they walked across the bridge, and, almost always, they stopped in a café, bar, or restaurant for a little sustenance. Lately, they’d been going to the Képíró, a narrow restaurant/bar that offered good jazz, Jack Daniel’s Black Label whiskey, and a menu pleasing to Max, who was fond of hard sausage.

But that was no guarantee they’d be going there tonight, and if Sándor Tor had asked the old man where he was going the old man would either have told him it was none of his goddamned business or lied.

In fact, it was Sándor Tor’s business to know where the old man was and where he was going, and to keep him from harm. His orders to protect Eric Kocian—“Cost be damned, and, for God’s sake, don’t let the old man know he’s being protected”—had come from Generaldirektor Otto Görner of Gossinger Beteiligungsgesellschaft, G.m.b.H., the German holding company that owned, among a good deal else, half a dozen newspapers, including the Budapester Tages Zeitung.

•   •   •

When he came off the bridge, Tor saw Ervin Rákosi’s dark green Dodge Grand Caravan at the first intersection in a position from which Rákosi could see just about all of the bridge. He continued up the Vámház körút for two blocks and then made a right turn onto Pipa. He circled the block, on toward Sóház U, pulled to the curb behind a panel truck half a block from Vámház körút, and turned off the headlights.

Tor’s cellular buzzed.

“He’s almost at Sóház U,” Rákosi reported.

“I’m fifty meters from the intersection,” Tor’s voice said in Rákosi’s earbud.

Thirty seconds later, Eric Kocian and Max appeared, walking briskly up the steep incline.

One of these days, Tor thought, he’s going to do that and have a heart attack.

Tor reported: “He just went past. Follow him and see where he goes.”

Thirty seconds after that, the Dodge came slowly up Vámház körút.

Sixty seconds after that, Rákosi reported, “He’s turned onto Királyi Pál. It looks as if he is going to the Képíró.”

“Don’t follow him. Drive around the block and then down Képíró U.”

Tor backed away from the panel truck and then drove onto Vámház körút and turned right. When he drove past Királyi Pál, he saw Eric Kocian turning onto Képíró.

A moment later, Rákosi reported: “He went in.”

“Okay,” Tor ordered, “you find someplace to park where you can catch him when he comes out. I’ll park, and see if I can look into the restaurant.”

“Got it,” Rákosi said.

•   •   •

Tor found the darkened doorway—he had used it before—from which he could see into the Képíró restaurant.

Kocian was sitting at a small table between the bar and the door. A jazz quartet was set up between his table and the bar. There was a bottle of whiskey on the table and a bottle of soda water, and, as Tor watched, a waiter delivered a plate of food.

Sausage for both of them, Tor knew. Kielbasa for the old man and some kind of hard sausage for Max. Kocian cut a slice of the kielbasa for himself and put it in his mouth. Max laid a paw on the old man’s leg. Kocian sawed at the hard sausage until there was a thumb-sized piece on his fork. He extended the fork to Max, who delicately pulled off the treat. Kocian patted the dog’s head.

A procession of people—including three hookers, one at a time—entering and leaving the restaurant paused by Kocian’s chair and shook his hand or allowed him to kiss theirs. The more courageous of them patted Max’s head. Kocian always rose to his feet to accept the greetings of the hookers, but as long as Tor had been guarding him he had never taken one back to the Gellért with him.

In Vienna, he had an “old friend” who was sometimes in his apartment—most often, coming out of it—when Tor went to get him in the mornings. She was a buxom redhead in her late fifties. Kocian never talked about her and Tor never asked.

The band took a break and the bandleader came over to Kocian’s table, patted Max, and had a drink of Kocian’s Jack Daniel’s. When the break was over, the bandleader returned to his piano and Kocian resumed cutting the sausages—a piece for him and a piece for Max—as he listened to the music, often tapping his fingers on the table.

Tor knew that the old man usually stayed just over an hour and had gone into the restaurant a few minutes before one o’clock. So, glancing at his watch and seeing that it was ten minutes to two, he had just decided it was about time for the old man to leave when he saw him gesturing for the check.

Tor took out his cellular, pressed the autodial key, and said, “He’s just called for the check.”

“Let’s hope he goes home,” Rákosi replied.

“Amen,” Tor said. “You get in a position to watch him on the bridge. I’ll stay here and let you know which way he’s headed.”

“Done,” Rákosi said.

•   •   •

Eric Kocian and Max came out of the Képíró five minutes later and headed down the street toward Krályi Pál, strongly suggesting he was headed for home.

Tor watched him until he turned onto Királyi Pál, called Rákosi to report Kocian’s location, and then trotted to where he had parked the silver Mercedes.

He had just gotten into the car when Rákosi reported that the old man was about to get on the bridge.

He had driven no more than four minutes toward Vámház körút when his phone vibrated.

“Trouble,” Rákosi reported.

“On the way.”

Tor accelerated rapidly down the Vámház körút and was almost at the bridge when he saw that something was going on just about in the center of the bridge.

Max and the old man had a man down on the sidewalk and the man was beating at the animal’s head with a pistol.

Rákosi’s Dodge Grand Caravan was almost on them.

And then a car—a black or dark blue Mercedes that had been coming toward Sándor Tor—stopped and a man jumped out and, holding a pistol with two hands, fired at the old man and the dog.

Rákosi made a screaming U-turn, jumped out, and started firing at the Mercedes as it began to speed away.

“I’ll get the old man,” Sándor Tor said into his cellular. “You get the bastards in the Mercedes. Ram them if you have to.”

Rákosi didn’t reply, but Tor saw him jump back into the Dodge.

Tor pulled his Mercedes to the curb.

The old man was sitting down as if he had been knocked backward. Tor saw blood staining the shoulder of his white suit.

The man on the ground was still fighting Max, whose massive jaws were locked on his arm.

Tor jumped out of the Mercedes, taking his pistol from its holster as he moved.

He took aim at the man Max had down, then changed his mind. He went to the man and swung the pistol hard against the back of his head.

The man went limp.

Tor looked down the bridge and saw that both the attackers’ Mercedes and Rákosi’s Dodge had disappeared.

He punched another autodial button on his cellular, a number he wasn’t supposed to have.

“Inspector Lázár,” he announced. “Supervisor needs assistance. Shots fired on the Szabadság híd. One citizen down. Require ambulance.”

So far as Tor knew, there was no Inspector Lázár on the Budapest police force. But that would get an immediate response, he knew. Before he had gone to work for the Tages Zeitung, he had been Inspector Sándor Tor.

He went to the old man. The dog was whimpering. There was a bloody wound on his skull.

Christ, I only hit that bastard once and he was out. I saw him beating on Max’s head and Max never let loose.

That dog’s not whimpering because he’s in pain. He’s whimpering because he knows something is wrong with the old man.

“An ambulance is on the way, Úr Kocian,” Tor said.

“Sándor, I need a great favor.”

“Anything, Úr Kocian. I should not have let this happen.”

“What you should have done is gone home when I told you.”

“Do you want to lie down until the ambulance gets here?”

“Of course not. The first thing I want you to do is call Dr. Kincs, Max’s veterinarian, and tell him you’re bringing Max in for emergency treatment.”

“Of course. Just as soon as I get you to the hospital—”

“The Telki Private Hospital. Don’t let them take me to the goddamned Szent János Kórház. They’d never let Max stay with me there.”

“All gunshot victims are taken to Szent János Kórház,” Tor said.

“And you can’t fix that?”

“No, I can’t.”

“Jesus Christ, what are we paying you for?” the old man demanded and then ordered: “Help me to my feet.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Úr Kocian.”

“I didn’t ask for an opinion, goddamn you, Sándor! Do what you’re told! Get me the hell out of here before the police show up.”

The old man winced with pain as he tried to get to his feet.

A police car—a Volkswagen Jetta—came onto the bridge. It pulled up beside the silver Mercedes and a sergeant and the driver got out.

“What’s happened?” the sergeant demanded.

“That man and two others tried to rob Úr Kocian,” Tor said.

“Who are you?”

“Sándor Tor, director of security of the Tages Zeitung,” Sándor said as he reached down and pulled Eric Kocian erect.

“What are you doing?” the sergeant said.

“I’m taking Úr Kocian to the hospital.”

“An ambulance is on the way.”

“I can’t wait. Take that slime to the station and I’ll come there,” Tor said.

He half carried the old man to the Mercedes, hoping the sergeant was not going to give him trouble.

“I’ll meet you at the Szent János Kórház,” the sergeant said.

“Fine,” Tor said.

I’ll worry about that later.

The old man crawled into the backseat. Max got in and jumped on the seat and started to lick his face.

Sándor closed the door and then got behind the wheel.

“Take Max to Dr. Kincs first,” the old man ordered.

“You’re going to the hospital first. I’ll take care of Max.”

“Not one goddamned word of this is to get to Otto Görner, you understand?”

At that moment, Tor had just finished deciding that he would call Görner the moment the doctors started to work on the old man at the Telki Private Hospital.

“I’m not sure I can do that, Úr Kocian. He’ll have to know sometime.”

“I’ll call him as I soon as I can. I’ll tell him I fell down the stairs. Fell over Max and then down the stairs. He’ll believe that.”

“Why can’t I tell him?”

“Because he would immediately get in the way of me getting the bastards who did this to me.”

“You know who they are?”

“I’ve got a pretty good goddamned idea. They know I’ve been nosing around. They want to know how much I know about the oil-for-food outrage. Why do you think they tried to kidnap me?”

“Kidnap you?”

“The sonofabitch who came after me on the bridge had a hypodermic needle.”

“A hypodermic needle?” Tor parroted.

“It’s in my jacket pocket,” the old man said. “When we get to the hospital, take it and find out what it is.”

“They were going to drug you?”

“They only started shooting after Max and I grabbed the bastard on the bridge. Jesus Christ, Sándor, do you need a map? They were going to take me someplace to see what I know and where my evidence is. When they had that, then they were going to put me in the Danube.”

“Where is your evidence?”

“In my apartment.”

“Where in your apartment?”

“If I told you, then you’d know,” the old man said. “Someplace safe.”

“You don’t want to tell me?”

“No. Can’t you drive any faster? I’m getting a little woozy.”

A moment later, Sándor looked in the backseat.

The old man was unconscious. Max was standing over him, gently licking his face as if trying to wake him.

Sándor turned and looked forward again, and thought, Please, God, don’t let him die!

He pushed another autodial button on the cellular, praying it was the right one.

“Telki Private Hospital.”

“I’m bringing an injured man to the emergency room. Be waiting for me,” Tor ordered.

Five minutes later, he pulled the Mercedes up at the emergency entrance of the Telki Private Hospital. A gurney, a doctor, and a nurse were outside the door.

Tor helped the doctor get the old man on the gurney.

“He’s been shot,” the doctor announced.

“I know,” Tor said.

The doctor gave him a strange look, then started to push the gurney into the hospital.

Tor put his arm around the dog.

“You can’t go, Max,” he said.

Max strained to follow the gurney but allowed Tor to restrain him.

Tor looked at his watch. It was two twenty-five.

[TWO]

Estancia Shangri-La

Tacuarembó Province

República Oriental del Uruguay

2225 31 July 2005

At almost precisely that moment in real time—by the clock, it is five hours later in Budapest than it is in Uruguay—a U.S. Army Special Forces medic, Sergeant Robert Kensington, who had been kneeling over a stocky blond man in his forties and examining his wound, stood up and announced: “You’re going to be all right, Colonel. There’s some muscle damage that’s going to take some time to heal, and you’re going to hurt like hell for a long time every time you move—for that matter, breathe. I can take the bullet out now, if you’d like.”

“I think I’ll wait until I get to a hospital,” Colonel Alfredo Munz said.

Until very recently, Munz had been the director of SIDE, the Argentine organization that combines the functions of the American FBI and CIA.

There were three other men in the room, the study of the sprawling “big house” of Estancia Shangri-La. One of them—a somewhat squat, completely bald very black man of forty-six—was lying in a pool of his own blood near Colonel Munz, dead of 9mm bullet wounds to the mouth and forehead. He had been Dr. Jean-Paul Lorimer, an American who had been a United Nations diplomat stationed in Paris and who had taken some pains to establish a second identity for himself in Uruguay as Jean-Paul Bertrand, a Lebanese national and dealer in antiquities.

•   •   •

Eighteen days earlier, on July thirteenth, Dr. Jean-Paul Lorimer had gone missing in Paris. A week later, his sister, who was married to J. Winslow Masterson, the chief of mission of the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, had been kidnapped from the parking lot of a restaurant in San Isidro, an upscale Buenos Aires suburb.

The President of the United States, suspecting the kidnapping had something to do with international terrorism and wanting to know what was going on without that information having to be slowly filtered through State Department and intelligence channels, had sent to Buenos Aires a personal agent—an Army officer serving as executive assistant to the secretary of Homeland Security.

Major C. G. Castillo had arrived in Buenos Aires on July twenty-second. The next morning, El Coronel Alfredo Munz of SIDE informed the American ambassador that Mrs. Masterson had been found in a taxi on the riverfront, drugged and sitting beside the body of her husband, who had been shot before her eyes.

The President had been enraged. He telephoned Ambassador Juan Manuel Silvio to personally tell him that he was placing Major Castillo in charge of the investigation of the kidnapping and murder and of the protection of Mrs. Masterson and her children until they were safely returned to the United States.

When the Air Force Globemaster III carrying Masterson’s family and remains—and the remains of a Marine Guard sergeant, who had been murdered when driving a female Secret Service agent away from the Masterson residence—touched down at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi on July twenty-fifth, Air Force One and the President of the United States were waiting for it.

The President sent for Major Castillo. Just before he got off the Globemaster to go aboard Air Force One, Mrs. Masterson told Major Castillo that her kidnappers wanted to know where her brother was hiding and that they would kill her children if she didn’t tell them. They had murdered her husband to make the point the threat was serious. Mrs. Masterson told Castillo that she had absolutely no idea where Jean-Paul Lorimer was or why the kidnappers were after him.

When Castillo reported to the President aboard Air Force One, the President showed him the document he and Secretary of State Natalie Cohen had just made law:

TOP SECRET–PRESIDENTIAL

THE WHITE HOUSE, WASHINGTON, D.C.

DUPLICATION FORBIDDEN

COPY 2 OF 3 (SECRETARY COHEN)

JULY 25, 2005.

PRESIDENTIAL FINDING.

IT HAS BEEN FOUND THAT THE ASSASSINATION OF J. WINSLOW MASTERSON, DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION OF THE UNITED STATES EMBASSY IN BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA; THE ABDUCTION OF MR. MASTERSON’S WIFE, MRS. ELIZABETH LORIMER MASTERSON; THE ASSASSINATION OF SERGEANT ROGER MARKHAM, USMC; AND THE ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION OF SECRET SERVICE SPECIAL AGENT ELIZABETH T. SCHNEIDER INDICATES BEYOND ANY REASONABLE DOUBT THE EXISTENCE OF A CONTINUING PLOT OR PLOTS BY TERRORISTS, OR TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS, TO CAUSE SERIOUS DAMAGE TO THE INTERESTS OF THE UNITED STATES, ITS DIPLOMATIC OFFICERS, AND ITS CITIZENS, AND THAT THIS SITUATION CANNOT BE TOLERATED.

IT IS FURTHER FOUND THAT THE EFFORTS AND ACTIONS TAKEN AND TO BE TAKEN BY THE SEVERAL BRANCHES OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT TO DETECT AND APPREHEND THOSE INDIVIDUALS WHO COMMITTED THE TERRORIST ACTS PREVIOUSLY DESCRIBED, AND TO PREVENT SIMILAR SUCH ACTS IN THE FUTURE, ARE BEING AND WILL BE HAMPERED AND RENDERED LESS EFFECTIVE BY STRICT ADHERENCE TO APPLICABLE LAWS AND REGULATIONS.

IT IS THEREFORE FOUND THAT CLANDESTINE AND COVERT ACTION UNDER THE SOLE SUPERVISION OF THE PRESIDENT IS NECESSARY.

IT IS DIRECTED AND ORDERED THAT THERE IMMEDIATELY BE ESTABLISHED A CLANDESTINE AND COVERT ORGANIZATION WITH THE MISSION OF DETERMINING THE IDENTITY OF THE TERRORISTS INVOLVED IN THE ASSASSINATIONS, ABDUCTION, AND ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION PREVIOUSLY DESCRIBED AND TO RENDER THEM HARMLESS. AND TO PERFORM SUCH OTHER COVERT AND CLANDESTINE ACTIVITIES AS THE PRESIDENT MAY ELECT TO ASSIGN.

FOR PURPOSES OF CONCEALMENT, THE AFOREMENTIONED CLANDESTINE AND COVERT ORGANIZATION WILL BE KNOWN AS THE OFFICE OF ORGANIZATIONAL ANALYSIS, WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY. FUNDING WILL INITIALLY BE FROM DISCRETIONAL FUNDS OF THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT. THE MANNING OF THE ORGANIZATION WILL BE DECIDED BY THE PRESIDENT, ACTING ON THE ADVICE OF THE CHIEF, OFFICE OF ORGANIZATIONAL ANALYSIS.

MAJOR CARLOS G. CASTILLO, SPECIAL FORCES, U.S. ARMY, IS HEREWITH APPOINTED CHIEF, OFFICE OF ORGANIZATIONAL ANALYSIS, WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT.

SIGNED:

PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

WITNESS:

SECRETARY OF STATE

TOP SECRET—PRESIDENTIAL

No one anywhere had any idea why anyone was so determined to find Jean-Paul Lorimer and was perfectly willing to commit murder to do so. But it was obvious to Major Castillo that the best—indeed, the only—course of action was to find Jean-Paul Lorimer, and the place to do that was in Paris.

A CIA agent in Paris seemed to have some answers. He told Castillo he suspected that Lorimer was involved in the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal, which had just come to light. The CIA agent said he thought Lorimer had been the man who distributed the money involved. He also said he thought he knew where Jean-Paul Lorimer was: cut in small pieces in the river Seine.

Castillo had gone next to Otto Görner, the managing director of Gossinger Beteiligungsgesellschaft, G.m.b.H., in Fulda, Germany. He had a close relationship both with the holding company—which owned, among a good deal else, all the Tages Zeitung, or daily newspapers—and with Görner himself.

Görner told him that he agreed with the CIA agent, that Lorimer had some connection with the oil-for-food scandal, which he had also been looking into. He also pointed him to Budapest, where the editor in chief of the Budapester Tages Zeitung, Eric Kocian, had a list of names of people he strongly suspected were involved.

Kocian had never heard of Lorimer, but said there obviously had to be a “bag man,” and it could easily be a UN diplomat who could travel around Europe and the Near East without drawing attention to himself. If Lorimer was that man, those deeply involved in the scandal would want him dead and would be willing to kill to see him eliminated.

Kocian also said his information suggested that much of the oil-for-food money was going to South America. On condition that Castillo would not reveal either his name or the names on his list to any U.S. government agency, Kocian gave him a list of names of people who he thought—or knew—were involved and who were in South America, mainly in Argentina and Uruguay.

Castillo had gone back to South America, where he found that Lorimer’s name had not come up to any of the U.S. intelligence agencies operating there or to SIDE. But he had also learned that Uruguay was known as the “money-laundering capital of the Southern Cone.” So he went there.

The FBI agents in Montevideo, euphemistically called “legal attachés” of the embassy, had never heard of Lorimer either, but one of them, Special Agent David W. Yung, Jr., did say that he recognized a squat, bald, very black man in one of Castillo’s photos as being the Lebanese antiquities dealer Jean-Paul Bertrand, who owned an estancia called Shangri-La and was known to be there.

Yung was quickly informed that that in fact was a picture of Jean-Paul Lorimer.

The thing to do with Lorimer, Castillo then had decided, was to repatriate the missing diplomat—by force, if necessary—and he set up an operation to do that. He had just identified himself to Lorimer in Lorimer’s office at the estancia when the barrel of a Madsen submachine gun smashed the office window and sprayed the room, killing Lorimer and wounding El Coronel Munz. They had been attacked by six men, who were all killed in the next few minutes. None of them carried identification of any kind.

•   •   •

The third man in Jean-Paul Lorimer’s office was dressed—as Sergeant Kensington was—in the black coveralls and other accoutrements worn by Delta Force operators when engaged in clandestine and covert operations. He was cradling in his arms a black bolt-action 7.62 × 51 sniper’s rifle, modified from a Remington Model 700. Had he not pushed his balaclava mask off his face, Corporal Lester Bradley, USMC, who was nineteen, would have looked far more like what comes to mind when the phrase Delta Force operator is heard.

With the mask off, it had just occurred to the fourth man in the room, he looks like a kid who has borrowed his big brother’s uniform to wear to the high school Halloween party.

He was immediately sorry for the thought.

The little sonofabitch can really shoot, as he just proved by saving my life.

The fourth man was Major (Promotable) Carlos G. Castillo, Special Forces, U.S. Army. He was thirty-six, a shade over six feet tall, and weighed one hundred ninety pounds. He had blue eyes and light brown hair. He was in a well-tailored dark blue suit.

He turned to Munz, who was looking a little pale from his wound.

“Your call, Alfredo,” Castillo said. “If Kensington says he can get the bullet out, he can. How are you going to explain the wound?”

“No offense,” Munz replied, “but that looks to me like a job for a surgeon.”

“Kensington has removed more bullets and other projectiles than most surgeons,” Castillo said. “Before he decided he’d rather shoot people than treat them for social disease, he was an A-Team medic. Which meant . . . what’s that line, Kensington?”

“That I was ‘Qualified to perform any medical procedure other than opening the cranial cavity,’” Kensington quoted. “I can numb that, give you a happy pill, clean it up, and get the bullet out. It would be better for you than waiting—the sooner you clean up a wound like that, the better—and that’d keep you from answering questions at a hospital. But what are you going to tell your wife?”

“Lie, Alfredo,” Castillo said. “Tell her you were shot by a jealous husband.”

“What she’s going to think is, I was cleaning my pistol and it went off, and I’m embarrassed,” Munz said. “But I’d rather deal with that than answer official questions. How long will I be out?”

“You won’t be out long, but you’ll be in la-la land for a couple of hours.”

Munz considered that for a moment, then said: “Okay, do it.”

“Well, let’s get you to your feet and onto something flat where there’s some light,” Kensington said. He looked at Castillo and the two of them got Munz to his feet.

“There’s a big table in the dining room that ought to work,” Kensington said. “It looks like everybody got here just in time for dinner. There’s a plate of good-looking roast beef on it. And a bottle of wine.”

“Okay on the beef,” Castillo said. “Nix on the wine. We have to figure out what to do next and get out of here.”

“Major, who the fuck are these bad guys?” Kensington asked.

“I really don’t know. Yung is searching the bodies to see what he can find out. I don’t even know what happened.”

“Well, they’re pros, whoever they are. Maybe Russians? Kranz was no amateur and they got him. With a fucking garrote. That means they had to (a) spot him and (b) sneak up on him. A lot of people have tried that on Seymour and never got away with it.”

“Spetsnaz?” Castillo said. “If this was anywhere in Europe, I’d say maybe, even probably. But here? I just don’t know. We’ll take the garrote and whatever else Yung comes up with and see if we can learn something.”

When they got to the dining room, Kensington held up Munz while Castillo moved to a sideboard the Chateaubriand, a sauce pitcher, a bread tray, and a bottle of Uruguayan Merlot. Then he set him down on the table.

“You going to need me—or Bradley—here?” Castillo asked.

“No, sir.”

“Come on, Bradley. We’ll find something to wrap Sergeant Kranz in.”

“Yes, sir.”

•   •   •

Sergeant First Class Seymour Kranz, a Delta Force communicator, who at five feet four and one hundred thirty pounds hadn’t been much over the height and weight minimums for the Army, was lying facedown where he had died.

A light-skinned African American wearing black Delta Force coveralls sat beside him, holding a Car-4 version of the M-16 rifle between his knees. Despite the uniform, Jack Britton was not a soldier but a special agent of the United States Secret Service.

“Anything, Jack?” Castillo asked.

Britton shook his head.

“It’s like a tomb out there,” he said. And then, “Is that what they call an unfortunate choice of words?”

He scrambled to his feet.

“Let’s get Seymour on the chopper,” Castillo said, as he squatted beside the corpse.

The garrote which had taken Sergeant Kranz’s life was still around his neck. Castillo tried to loosen it. It took some effort, but finally he got it off and then examined it carefully.

It was very much like the nylon, self-locking wire-and-cable binding devices enthusiastically adopted by the police as “plastic handcuffs.” But this device was blued stainless steel and it had handles. Once it was looped over a victim’s head and then tightened around the neck, there was no way the victim could get it off.

Castillo put the garrote in his suit jacket pocket.

“Okay, spread the sheets on the ground,” Castillo ordered. “You have the tape, right?”

“Yes, sir,” Corporal Bradley responded.

He laid the sheets, stripped from Jean-Paul Lorimer’s bed, on the ground. Castillo and Britton rolled Sergeant Kranz onto them. One of his eyes was open. Castillo gently closed it.

“Sorry, Seymour,” he said.

They rolled Kranz in the sheets and then trussed the package with black duct tape.

Then he squatted beside the body.

“Help me get him on my shoulder,” Castillo ordered.

“I’ll help you carry him,” Britton said.

“You and Bradley get him on my shoulder,” Castillo repeated. “I’ll carry him. He was my friend.”

“Yes, sir.”

Castillo grunted with the exertion of rising to his feet with Kranz on his shoulder, and, for a moment, he was afraid he was losing his balance and bitterly said, “Oh, shit!”

Bradley put his hands on Castillo’s hips and steadied him.

Castillo nodded his thanks and then started walking heavily toward where the helicopter was hidden, carrying the body of SFC Seymour Kranz over his shoulder.

[THREE]

Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Newbery

Buenos Aires, Argentina

2345 31 July 2005

When the Bell Ranger helicopter pilot called Jorge Newbery Ground Control, announced that he was at twenty-five hundred feet over the Unicenter Shopping Mall on the Route Panamericana on a VFR local flight from Pilar, and wanted permission to land as near as possible to the JetAire hangar, Ground Control immediately cleared the pilot to make a direct approach.

“You’re number one to land. There is no traffic in the area. Report when you are at five hundred feet over the threshold. Visibility unlimited. Winds are negligible.”

There is not much commercial late-night activity at Jorge Newbery, which is commonly thought of as Buenos Aires’s downtown airport. The airport is separated by only a highway from the river Plate and is no more than—traffic permitting—a ten-minute drive from downtown Buenos Aires. Very late at night, the tarmac in front of the terminal is crowded with the Boeing 737s of Aerolineas Argentinas, Austral, Pluna, and the other airlines that will, starting very early in the morning, take off for cities in Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil.

The informality of the radio exchange between the Bell Ranger and Newbery Ground Control would have driven an American FAA examiner to distraction, but in practical terms there was nothing wrong with it.

Ground Control had not bothered to identify the runway by number. There is only one, about seven thousand feet long. And since he had given the helicopter pilot permission to make a direct approach, and the winds were negligible, there wasn’t much chance the pilot would misunderstand where he was supposed to go.

“Newbery, Ranger Zero-Seven at five hundred over the threshold.”

“Zero-Seven, you are cleared to make a low-level transit of the field to the right, repeat right of the runway for landing at the JetAire hangar.”

“Muchas gracias.”

“Report when you land.”

“Will do.”

•   •   •

As the Bell Ranger came down the field, over the grass to the right of the runway, the doors of the JetAire hangar began to slide open.

A sleek, small, glistening white jet airplane—a Bombardier/Learjet 45XR with American markings—sat, nose out, behind one of the doors. It was connected to ground power and there were lights visible in both the cockpit and cabin.

Four men pushing a trundle bed, which would attach to the skids of the helicopter—the Ranger does not have wheels—and permit it to be rolled into the hangar, came out and waited for the helicopter to land.

•   •   •

“Newbery, Ranger Zero-Seven on the ground. Muchas gracias.

“You’re welcome. Have a nice time.”

“I’ll try.”

The Ground Control operator had assumed—not without reason—that the Bell Ranger was owned by a wealthy estanciero who had flown into the city for a night on the town. That happened three or more times every night. Sometimes the tarmac in front of JetAire was as crowded with private airplanes and helicopters as the terminal tarmac was with airliners.

•   •   •

As soon as the Ranger had been trundled into the hangar, the doors began to slide closed again.

Three men came down the Lear’s stair door and approached the helicopter as the pilot pushed the cockpit door open.

The larger of them was Fernando Lopez, Castillo’s cousin. He was a dark-skinned man in his midthirties, six feet two inches tall and weighing well over two hundred pounds.

Lopez saw something he didn’t like on Castillo’s face. “You okay, Gringo?”

Castillo nodded.

“Solez?” Fernando Lopez asked.

Ricardo Solez was a special agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration assigned to the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires. He had been drafted from the DEA by Castillo for the Estancia Shangri-La operation.

“He’s driving the Yukon back here,” Castillo said. “He’s all right.”

“I thought the kid was going to do that,” Lopez said.

“Bradley’s in there,” Castillo said, indicating the helicopter.

“How did it go, Charley?” Colonel Jacob Torine, USAF, a tall, slim redhead in a sports coat, asked.

“Not well,” Castillo replied. “Lorimer is dead. And Kranz bought the farm.”

“Oh, shit! What happened?”

“And Munz took a hit,” Castillo went on. He looked at the third man, who was slim, in his early forties, with shortly cropped thinning hair and wearing a light brown single-breasted suit.

“Well, hello, Howard,” he said, not kindly. “Your boss send you to see how badly I bent his chopper?”

Howard Kennedy had spent most of his adult life as an FBI agent. Two years before, he had abruptly abandoned his prestigious duties in the FBI’s Ethical Standards—read Internal Affairs—Division to go to work for Aleksandr Pevsner, a Russian national, who, it was alleged in warrants issued for his arrest by nearly a dozen countries, had committed an array of crimes ranging from being an international dealer in arms and drugs all the way down to murder.

“I came because he thought I might be useful,” Howard Kennedy said.

“What happened, Charley?” Colonel Torine asked again.

“There were some other people at the estancia. Six of them . . .”

“Who?” Kennedy said.

“. . . all dressed in black and armed with Madsens,” Castillo finished.

“Who were they?” Kennedy pursued.

“I wish to hell I knew,” Castillo said, and turned to Torine. “How soon can we go wheels up?”

“All I have to do is file the flight plan. It shouldn’t take long this time of night.”

“Howard, can you take care of Colonel Munz?” Castillo asked.

“Does he need a hospital?”

“The bullet’s out, and he’s been given antibiotics. Unless he develops an infection, no.”

“Who took the bullet out?” Kennedy asked.

Castillo ignored the question.

“Take him home, Howard. Right now, he’s still in la-la land, but that should wear off in no more than an hour. Then he’ll start to hurt.”

“Can he walk?”

Castillo nodded.

“I don’t like this,” Kennedy said.

“Howard, didn’t your mother ever tell you when you go somewhere uninvited, you’re likely to find something at the party you won’t like?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. And if I wasn’t here, what would you have done with Munz?”

“He gave me a number to call if something went wrong,” Castillo said. “I just want you to remember I didn’t have any idea you would be here.”

“Okay. So what?”

“Special Agent David W. Yung, Jr., of the FBI is in the chopper.”

“Oh, Jesus Christ!”

“I’m going to tell him that who was here when we got here is classified ‘Top Secret Presidential.’ I have no reason to believe that he will breach security regulations.”

“Then you are naïve.”

“Well, what do you want to do?” Castillo asked.

Kennedy looked at him for a moment, then walked quickly to the fuselage door and opened it.

“Well, how are you, David?” he said. “Long time no see.”

He put out his hand.

“I thought that was you, Howard,” Yung said.

“Glad to see me?”

“‘Surprised’ is the word that comes to mind.”

“I’m on the pariah list, but I don’t have leprosy,” Kennedy said, nodding at his still-extended hand. “We go way back, David.”

Yung looked at Kennedy’s extended hand.

“Yeah, we do,” he said and took it. “And I just realized I’m glad to see you.”

“That you saw him, Yung, is classified Top Secret Presidential,” Castillo said.

“That’s good,” Yung said. “That saves me from having to decide what to do now that I have seen him.”

“Do you mind if I interpret that to mean you wouldn’t have reported me even without Charley’s invoking the criminal code vis-à-vis unauthorized disclosure of classified information?”

“To tell you the truth, Howard, I don’t know what I would have done,” Yung said.

“Okay, Howard, get Colonel Munz out of here,” Castillo said.

“He’s unconscious,” Yung said.

“Probably asleep,” Castillo said. “Shake him and find out.”

El Coronel Alfredo Munz woke instantly when Yung touched his shoulder.

“Aha!” he said, cheerfully. “We have arrived. I must have dozed off.” He spotted Kennedy. “¡Hola, Howard!” he cried. “I didn’t know that you were going to be here.”

“Alfredo, can you walk?” Castillo asked.

“Certainly I can walk,” Munz said and tried to get out of his seat.

“That’ll be easier if you take the seat belt off,” Castillo said, then added: “Unfasten it for him, Yung.”

Yung did so. Munz got out of his seat and went through the door. He started to walk across the hangar floor, then felt a little woozy and staggered. He put his good arm out like the wing of an airplane, cried, “Wheee,” and started trotting in curves around the hangar.

Kennedy went quickly to him and steadied him.

“What we are going to tell my wife is that I shot myself when I was cleaning my pistol,” Munz confided to Kennedy. “And you are my witness. My wife says you have an honest face.”

Kennedy maneuvered Munz over to Castillo.

“Howard’ll take care of you now, Alfredo,” Castillo said. “Thanks for everything.”

“It was my great pleasure,” Munz said and bowed.

“I suppose we’ll be in touch, won’t we, Charley?” Kennedy asked.

Castillo nodded. “Tell your boss thanks, Howard.”

“I’ll do that,” Kennedy said and then started guiding Munz toward the rear of the hangar.

Castillo walked around the Ranger and opened the copilot’s door.

“Bradley, load the stuff—everything in the chopper that belongs to us—into the Lear and make sure there’s a seat where we can put Sergeant Kranz.”

“Yes, sir,” Corporal Lester Bradley said.

“I’ll give you a hand with the body,” Yung said.

“Just put him over my shoulder,” Castillo said. “I’ll carry him.”

•   •   •

Five minutes later, Jorge Newbery Ground Control cleared Lear Five-Oh-Seven-Five to the threshold of runway thirty-one.

[FOUR]

Office of the Commander in Chief

United States Central Command

MacDill Air Force Base

Tampa, Florida

1235 1 August 2005

There were several reasons that Command Sergeant Major Wesley Suggins was rarely in the commander in chief’s conference room when the twelve chairs around the long table were occupied by what he privately thought of as “the heavy brass.”

Or even when only three or four of them were occupied by what he privately thought of as “the light brass.”

He defined the heavy brass as general or flag officers whose personal flags carried three or more stars. It also included a few heavy civilians. The liaison officer between the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and CentCom was one of these. He was a member of what was known as the Executive Civil Service and held the grade therein of GS-18, which carried with it the assimilated grade within the military establishment of lieutenant general. The State Department, Central Intelligence Agency, and Federal Bureau of Investigation liaison officers each carried the Executive Civil Service grade of GS-16, which carried with it the assimilated grade of major general.

The light brass was brigadier generals, rear admirals (lower half), and GS-15 civilians and below.

The primary reason Command Sergeant Major Suggins almost never took a seat at the conference table was not, as most of the light and heavy brass believed, because he was an enlisted man and would be out of place in their exalted senior company.

The primary reason was that General Allan Naylor, the CentCom commander in chief, had decided that Command Sergeant Major Suggins had more important things to do than sit at the table for long periods with his mouth shut.

This was not to say General Naylor did not want Command Sergeant Major Suggins to know what transpired at the frequent conferences; quite the contrary. It was General Naylor’s habit after most conferences—there were at least four every day, including the twice-daily intelligence briefings—to motion Suggins into his office and solicit both his opinions of what had been discussed and his recommendations as to how an action decided upon could best be implemented.

That Command Sergeant Major Suggins was not physically present in the conference room did not mean he hadn’t heard what was being discussed. The room was equipped with a wide array of electronic devices, including a battery of microphones placed around it so that even the sound of a dropped pencil would be detected.

Sometimes the conferences were recorded. At all times, what the microphones heard was relayed to a single-earphone headset Suggins put on the moment the door to the conference room closed, the red light above the door began to flash, and the CONFERENCE IN PROGRESS DO NOT ENTER sign lit up.

It was commonly believed by those seeing Suggins wearing his headset that he was taking the opportunity, while a conference was in progress, to listen to the Dixieland recordings of Bob French’s Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, to which he was known to be quite addicted. Suggins did nothing to correct this erroneous belief.

About the most important thing Suggins did while not sitting at the conference table with his mouth shut was field General Naylor’s telephone calls. There were usually many, and almost all of them from people really important—or who believed they were really important—and who all believed they had the right to speak with General Naylor immediately.

Some of them Suggins deftly diverted with white lies: The general was jogging or indisposed, or speaking with the President or the secretary of Homeland Security or the secretary of Defense, and he would have the general return the call the moment he was free.

There were some callers, of course, that Suggins did not try to divert. These included, for example, the President of the United States; the secretaries of Defense, State, and Homeland Security; the director of National Intelligence; and Mrs. Elaine Naylor.

When one of these luminaries called, Suggins would turn to a laptop computer on the credenza behind his desk and quickly type, for example, if the caller were the secretary of Homeland Security, the Honorable Matthew Hall:

HALL?

The message would instantly appear on the screen of what was nearly universally—and not very fondly—known as the general’s IBB, meaning “Infernal Black Box.”

The IBB was in fact a laptop computer identical to Suggins’s. General Naylor always had it on the conference table in front of him, situated so that the screen would be visible to no one else.

The system was effective. Whoever had the floor in the conference room would not have to stop in midsentence as Naylor’s telephone rang or Command Sergeant Major Suggins came through the door.

Naylor could read the message and quickly type his reply:

CAN I CALL IN FIVE MINS?

Or:

PUT HIM THROUGH

Or:

CAN YOU TAKE A MESSAGE?

Et cetera.

•   •   •

The regularly scheduled afternoon intelligence briefing had been in session for about five minutes when one of the telephones on Command Sergeant Major Suggins’s desk rang.

“Office of the CINC. Suggins.”

“C in C” or “CINC” was often pronounced “sink.” And “Command Sergeant Major Suggins speaking, sir” wasted time.

“Jack Iverson, Wes,” the caller announced. “I’ve got an interesting in-flight advisory for your boss.”

Chief Master Sergeant Jack Iverson, USAF, was the senior noncommissioned officer of what was informally known as “the Air Force side of MacDill.” MacDill was an Air Force base. The United States Central Command was a “tenant” of MacDill Air Force Base.

“Shoot,” Suggins replied as he spun in his chair to the laptop on the credenza. His fingers flew on the keys as Iverson relayed the in-flight advisory message:

FOR CINC CENTCOM

CHARLEY URGENTLY REPEAT URGENTLY REQUESTS CINC CENTCOM PERSONALLY REPEAT PERSONALLY MEET LEAR FIVE-OH-SEVEN-FIVE ON ARRIVAL MACDILL. ETA 1255. TORINE COL USAF.

“Got it, Jack. Hang on a minute.”

“You’re not going to tell me what the hell it’s all about, Wes?”

“If I knew, I would. I don’t,” Suggins replied.

He pushed the key that would cause the message to appear on the screen of General Naylor’s IBB.

The reply came in a second:

•???????????????????????????

The translation of that was, “What the hell?”

A moment later, there was another reply:

OK

“Jack, reply that the CINC will do,” Suggins said. “And the CINC authorizes the landing of the civilian airplane, if that’s necessary. And for Christ’s sake, keep this quiet.”

“Why do I think you’re not telling me everything you know?”

“Because I’m not,” Suggins said. “Thanks, Jack.”

Then Suggins picked up the telephone and ordered that the CINC’s car be at the front door in five minutes.

[FIVE]

As the sleek white Bombardier/Learjet 45XR taxied up to the tarmac in front of Base Operations, General Allan Naylor could see the pilot. He knew him well. He was Major Carlos G. Castillo, U.S. Army. Naylor could also see who was sitting in the copilot’s seat. He knew him well, too. He was Colonel Jacob Torine, USAF.

That figures, General Naylor thought. A full goddamned Air Force colonel is flying copilot, and Charley—a lousy major—is in the pilot’s seat.

Naylor saw Castillo rise from the pilot’s seat and leave the cockpit. A moment later, the fuselage door began to unfold and in a moment Castillo appeared in the opening. He was in civilian clothing.

“Good afternoon, sir,” Castillo called, politely. “Would you come aboard, please, sir? Alone?”

Now he’s giving orders to a four-star general? Goddamn it!

“Wait here, please, Jack,” Naylor said to the lieutenant colonel, his aide-de-camp, standing beside him, and then walked to the Lear and climbed up the stairs.

“Thank you, sir,” Castillo said as Naylor entered the cabin.

“This had better be important, Charley.”

“I thought it was, sir.”

Naylor looked around the cabin. There were four men in it. One, Fernando M. Lopez, he knew well. The Lear belonged to one of the companies his family controlled.

The other three he did not know. One was an Asiatic, another a light-skinned African American, and the third looked like a high school kid.

“Who are these gentlemen, Charley?” Naylor asked.

“Special Agent Yung of the FBI, sir,” Castillo answered, “Special Agent Britton of the Secret Service and Corporal Lester Bradley. Bradley’s a Marine.”

“Good afternoon, sir,” Colonel Torine said from behind him.

“Hello, Jake,” Naylor said and shook his hand.

None of them look smug, as if they’ve just pulled off something clever. They all look uncomfortable. As if whatever crazy operation they launched went the wrong way?

“I’m waiting, Charley,” Naylor said.

Castillo pointed to the aisle at the rear of the cabin.

There was something there wrapped in what looked like sheets. And then Naylor knew what it was.

“Another body?” he asked, icily.

“Sir, those are the remains of Sergeant First Class Seymour Kranz,” Castillo said. “He was KIA last night.”

“What?”

“Garroted, sir,” Castillo said.

“Garroted?”

“Yes, sir.”

Castillo took the blue steel garrote from his pocket and extended it to Naylor.

“By who? Where?” Naylor blurted and then hurriedly added, as he pointed to Yung and Bradley: “Are these gentlemen privy to what happened? Or anything else?”

“They are aware of the Presidential Finding, sir. And they participated in the operation in which Kranz lost his life.”

“And what was the operation?”

“We located Mr. Lorimer, sir. We staged an operation to repatriate him. We were in the middle of it when we were bushwhacked.”

“By who?”

“I don’t know, sir. Mr. Lorimer was killed during the attack as well as Sergeant Kranz.”

“And the bushwhackers?”

“They were killed, sir.”

“Where did this happen?”

“In Uruguay, sir.”

“Uruguay?” Naylor asked, incredulously, and then verbalized what he was thinking. “The last thing I heard, you were in Europe. Hungary.”

“We were, sir. But we tracked down Lorimer in Uruguay.”

“And are the Uruguayan authorities already looking for you? Or will that come a little later?”

“So far as that aspect of the operation is concerned, sir, we came out clean.”

“You came out with two bodies? And you call that clean?”

“We left Mr. Lorimer’s body in Uruguay, sir,” Castillo said. “What I meant to say is that I don’t think we left anything behind that could tie the operation to us.”

“And why did you come here? Why did you bring the sergeant’s body here?”

“It was either here or Fort Bragg, sir—Washington was obviously out of the question—and we didn’t have enough fuel to make Pope Air Force Base. And you were here, sir.”

Naylor looked at him and thought, Good ol’ Uncle Allan will fix things, right?

“Sir,” Castillo added, “you are personally aware of my orders from the President. General McNab is not.”

What’s he doing, reading my mind?

And, dammit, he’s right. Bringing the sergeant’s body here was the right thing to do.

“When do you plan to go to Washington?”

“Just as soon as possible, sir. I’d be grateful if you would call Secretary Hall and tell him we’re en route.”

General Naylor looked for a long moment into Major Castillo’s eyes. Then he walked to the door.

“Colonel,” he called, “will you come in here, please?”

His aide-de-camp came quickly into the airplane.

“Colonel, you are advised that, from this moment, what you may see or hear is classified Top Secret Presidential.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Under that black plastic is the body of a sergeant . . .”

“Sergeant First Class Seymour Kranz,” Castillo interrupted.

“. . . who was killed,” Naylor went on, “during the execution of a covert and clandestine operation authorized by a Presidential Finding. The officer in charge of this covert and clandestine operation has brought the sergeant’s remains here for us to deal with. I confess I have no idea how to proceed with that.”

“Sir, what is the sergeant’s parent unit?” the lieutenant colonel asked Castillo.

Just in time, General Naylor stopped himself from saying the lieutenant colonel did not have to call Major Castillo “sir.”

“Kranz was Gray Fox, out of Delta Force,” Castillo answered.

“Sir, what about calling General McNab at Bragg? I suspect he has experience with a situation like this.”

Oh, I bet Scotty McNab has! I’ll bet this sort of thing is almost routine for good ol’ Scotty!

“The first thing to do is cordon off this area,” General Naylor said. “Then get an ambulance over here. Have the sergeant’s remains taken to the hospital. Get a flag . . . No, have the ambulance crew bring a flag with them. Cover the remains with the national colors before they are moved. Arrange for the sergeant’s remains to have a suitable escort from this moment. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Is that satisfactory to you, Major Castillo?”

“Yes, sir. Thank you very much.”

“Is there anything else you require?”

“No, sir.”

“Then I will attempt to get General McNab on a secure line,” Naylor said.

He walked to the door, then turned.

“If this needs to be said, I am sure that all of you did your duty as you understood it. And I don’t think I have to tell you how pleased I am that there was only the one casualty.”

He was out the door before anyone could reply.

II

[ONE]

The Oval Office

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C.

1825 1 August 2005

The President of the United States was behind his desk. Across the room, Ambassador Charles W. Montvale, the director of National Intelligence, was sitting next to Secretary of State Natalie Cohen on one of two facing couches. Secretary of Homeland Security Matthew Hall was on the other couch.

Major C. G. Castillo, who was in civilian clothing, was nonetheless standing before the President’s desk at a position close to at ease.

Or, Secretary Hall thought, like a kid standing in front of the headmaster’s desk, waiting for the ax to fall.

For the past ten minutes, Castillo had been delivering his report of what had happened since he had last seen the President—aboard Air Force One in Biloxi, Mississippi—when the President had issued the Presidential Finding that had sent him first to Europe and ultimately to Estancia Shangri-La.

“And so we landed at MacDill, Mr. President,” Castillo concluded, “where we turned over Sergeant Kranz’s remains to Central Command, and then we came here. I took everyone involved to my apartment and told them nothing was to be said to anyone about anything until I had made my report, and that they were to remain there until I got back to them.”

“Colonel Torine, too?” the President of the United States asked. “And your cousin, too? How did they respond to your placing them in what amounts to house arrest?”

“Colonel Torine knows how things are done, sir. I didn’t order him . . . And Fernando, my cousin, understands the situation, sir.”

“And that’s about it, Castillo?” the President asked.

“Except for one thing, sir.”

“Which is?”

“Howard Kennedy was at Jorge Newbery when I landed there from the estancia. Mr. Yung saw him.”

“The FBI agent?”

“Who was there?” Ambassador Montvale asked.

“Howard Kennedy . . .” Castillo began.

“Who, it is alleged, is in the employ of Aleksandr Pevsner,” the President said, drily.

“The Russian mobster?” Montvale asked, incredulously.

Both Castillo and the President nodded.

“I’m missing something here,” Montvale said.

The President made a fill him in gesture with his hand to Castillo.

Secretaries Cohen and Hall, who knew the story, exchanged glances and quick smiles. Montvale wasn’t going to like this.

“Sir, we have sort of reached an accommodation with Mr. Pevsner,” Castillo began.

“‘We’?” Montvale interrupted. “Who’s ‘we’? You and who else? ‘Accommodation’? What kind of ‘accommodation’?”

“‘We’ is Major Castillo and your President, Charles. Let Charley finish, please,” the President said.

“He was very helpful in locating the stolen 727, Mr. Ambassador,” Castillo said.

•   •   •

An American-owned Boeing 727 had disappeared from Luanda, Angola, on 23 May 2005, and when what the President described as “our enormous and enormously expensive intelligence community” was unable to determine who had stolen it, or why, or where it was, the President had come close to losing his temper.

He had dispatched Castillo, who was then an executive assistant to the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to Angola, his orders being simply to find out what the CIA and the FBI and the DIA and the State Department—and all the other members of the intelligence community—had come to know about the stolen airplane, and when they had come to know it, and to report back personally to him.

Castillo had instead gone far beyond the scope of his orders. He not only learned who had stolen the aircraft—an obscure group of Somalian terrorists—and what they planned to do with it—crash it into the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia—but he also had located the 727 in Costa Rica, where it was about to take off for Philadelphia. Castillo had—with the aid of a Delta Force team from Fort Bragg—stolen the aircraft back from the terrorists and, with Colonel Jake Torine in the pilot’s seat, delivered it to MacDill Air Force Base.

This had endeared Castillo to the President but not to the CIA, the FBI, and the rest of the intelligence community, whose annoyance with him was directly proportional to the amount of egg the various directors felt they had on their faces.

•   •   •

“That’s the first time I heard that,” Montvale said.

“What part of ‘Let Charley finish’ didn’t you understand, Charles?”

“I beg your pardon, Mr. President,” Montvale said.

“Let me take it, Charley,” the President said. “Perhaps there will be fewer interruptions that way. In a nutshell, Charles, there is no legal action of any kind against this fellow underway in an American court. He made contact with Charley shortly after I gave Charley the job of finding out why no one else in our intelligence community could find it. He was very helpful. He wanted something in return.”

“I’ll bet,” Montvale said.

“Pevsner told Charley he thought the agency—which had quietly contracted for his services over the years—was trying to arrange his arrest by one of the countries that hold warrants for his arrest so that he could be locked up and his CIA contracts would not come to light. He went so far as to say he thought the agency would like to terminate him with extreme prejudice. Now, I know we don’t do that anymore, but the man was worried.

“As a small gesture of my appreciation, I authorized Charley to tell him that I had ordered the DCI and the director of the FBI—this is before you became director of National Intelligence—to cease all investigations they might have underway and to institute no new investigations without my specific permission. What Pevsner thought was happening was that the CIA was looking for him abroad and the FBI inside the United States. If they located him, they would either arrest him here on an Interpol warrant or furnish his location to one of the governments looking for him.

“Such stay-out-of-jail status to continue so long as Pevsner does not violate any law of the United States and with the unspoken understanding that he would continue to be helpful.”

“And has this chap continued to be helpful?” Montvale asked.

“He got me access to the helicopter I used to fly to Estancia Shangri-La,” Castillo said.

“He’s in Argentina?”

“I don’t know where Pevsner is at this moment,” Castillo said. “I ran into Howard Kennedy in Buenos Aires and he arranged for the helicopter.”

That’s not an outright lie. I just twisted the truth. For all I know, Alek might be in Punta del Este, Uruguay, not in Argentina.

“And Kennedy is?”

“A former FBI agent who now works for Pevsner,” the President said.

“And what was he doing in Argentina?”

“He accompanied a 767 loaded with objets d’art sent by the Saudi royal family from Riyadh for the King Fahd Islamic Cultural Center in Buenos Aires and took back to Riyadh a load of polo ponies and saddles and other polo accoutrements for the royal family,” Castillo said.

“The airplane no doubt owned by Pevsner?” Montvale asked.

“Probably, sir. I didn’t ask.”

“And this Kennedy fellow just turned over a helicopter to you because you asked him? Is that what you’re saying, Major Castillo?”

“I would bet that he did so with Mr. Pevsner’s permission, sir, but I didn’t ask about that, either.”

“I must say, Mr. President, that I find this whole situation amazing.”

“What is it they say, Charles, about politics making strange bedfellows?”

“I don’t understand why this Kennedy fellow was concerned that the FBI agent saw him,” Montvale said.

“Kennedy is obviously paranoid,” the President said. “He thinks the FBI is still looking for him, despite my specific orders that the search be called off, and that if they find him they will terminate him.”

“That’s absurd!”

“Oh, I agree. For one thing, terminating him would be illegal,” the President said.

“Why would they want to?”

“Well,” Castillo said, “Kennedy thinks—he was a senior agent in the Ethical Standards Division of the FBI before he left—it’s because he knows where all the FBI’s skeletons are buried.”

“Charley,” the President said, “correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t the secrecy provisions of the Finding extend to anything connected with what you were doing down there? I mean, even to who any of your people saw anywhere?”

“I made that point to Mr. Yung, sir.”

“Well, that should do it,” the President said. “But since the subject came up, Charles, why don’t you check with the CIA and the FBI to make sure they haven’t forgotten my specific orders? If they have, I’d really like to hear about it.”

“I can’t believe they would ignore any presidential order, Mr. President.”

“Check, Charles, please,” the President said.

“Yes, Mr. President.”

“Charley, I didn’t hear you say whether you found anything useful at this fellow’s estancia.”

“Sir, we found an address book, a coded address book. Agent Yung said it looks to him like a fairly simple code and that it should be breakable.”

“That’s underway?”

“No, sir. I came right here from the hotel, sir. And . . .”

“And what?”

“And frankly, sir, I thought it would be better to see if I still have a job, before going over to Fort Meade to—”

The President cut him off with a raised hand. “All you found at the estancia was this address book?”

“No, sir. We found written confirmation of what Agent Yung believed was the money Mr. Lorimer had in Uruguayan banks.”

“A good deal of money? More than he could reasonably have socked away for a rainy day?”

“Fifteen-point-seven million dollars, Mr. President.”

“What sort of evidence?” Ambassador Montvale asked. “Bankbooks? Certificates of deposit? What?”

The President flashed Montvale a very cold look, then looked at Castillo.

“Sir, what Mr. Lorimer did was in effect loan the banks the money. What we took from the safe . . . I have them with me.”

“You have what with you?” Montvale asked.

“Let me ask the questions, Charles, please,” the President said and made a Give me whatever you have gesture to Castillo with both hands.

Castillo somewhat awkwardly took a handful of colorfully printed documents from his briefcase and handed them to the President.

The President glanced at them, then said, “You’re the linguist, Charley. I have no idea what these say.”

“Sir, they’re certificates signed by officers of the banks involved, essentially stating that a payment-on-demand loan has been made by Mr. Lorimer to their bank and that the bank will honor—pay—these things, like checks, once Mr. Lorimer has endorsed them. Sort of like bearer bonds, Mr. President, but not exactly.”

“And these are unsigned?”

“Yes, sir. Right now they’re as good as an unsigned check,” Castillo said.

“And we have no idea where—specifically, I mean—Lorimer got all that money, do we?” the secretary of State asked.

“No, ma’am,” Castillo said. “I think—hell, I know—it’s oil-for-food proceeds, but I can’t prove it. What I was hoping was that we could tie it somehow to one of the names in the address book—assuming we can get that decoded—or to one or more of the names I got from another source.”

“What other source?” Ambassador Montvale asked.

“I’d rather not say, Mr. Ambassador,” Castillo said.

“I’m the director of National Intelligence,” Montvale said, icily.

“And I think Charley knows that,” the President said. “If he’d rather not say, I’m sure he has his reasons.” He paused. “Which are, Charley?”

“Sir, I promised I would not reveal the identity of that source or share what he gave me without his permission.”

“That’s absurd!” Montvale snapped.

“I was hoping to get his permission,” Castillo said. “Before I fucked up in Uruguay.”

“You did say ‘screwed up in Uruguay,’ didn’t you?” the President asked.

“I beg your pardon,” Castillo said. “I’m very sorry, Madam Secretary.”

“I’ve heard the word before, Charley,” Natalie Cohen said.

“Is that about it, Charley?” the President asked.

“Yes, sir. Except to say, Mr. President, how deeply I regret the loss of Sergeant Kranz and how deeply I regret having failed in the mission you assigned.”

The President did not immediately respond. He looked into Castillo’s eyes a moment as he considered that statement, then said, “How do you figure that you have failed, Charley?”

“Well, sir, the bottom line is that I am no closer to finding the people who murdered Mr. Masterson and Sergeant Markham and shot Agent Schneider than I was before I went looking for Mr. Lorimer. Mr. Lorimer is now dead and we’ll never know what he might have told us if I hadn’t botched his . . .”

Castillo’s voice trailed off as he tried to find the right word.

“Repatriation?” the President offered.

“Yes, sir. And now Sergeant Kranz is dead. I failed you, sir.”

“Charles,” the President said, “what about the long-term damage resulting from Major Castillo’s failure? Just off the top of your head?”

“Mr. President, I don’t see it as a failure,” Secretary Hall spoke up.

“The director of National Intelligence has the floor, Mr. Secretary. Pray let him continue,” the President said, coldly.

“Actually, Mr. President, neither do I,” Montvale said. “Actually, when I have a moment to think about it, quite the opposite.”

“You heard him,” the President pursued. “This man Lorimer is dead. We have no proof that Natalie can take to the UN that he was involved in the oil-for-food scandal or anything else. And Castillo himself admits that he’s no closer to finding out who killed Masterson and the sergeant than he ever was. Isn’t that failure?”

“Mr. President, if I may,” Montvale said, cautiously. “Let me point out what I think the major—and that small, valiant band of men he had with him—has accomplished.”

“What would that be?”

“If we accept the premise that Mr. Lorimer was involved in something sordid, and the proof of that, I submit, is that he sequestered some”—Montvale looked to Castillo for help—“how many million dollars?”

“Fifteen-point-seven, sir,” Castillo offered.

“. . . Some sixteen million U.S. dollars in Uruguay, and that parties unknown tracked him down to Uruguay and murdered him to keep him from talking. After they abducted Mrs. Masterson and later murdered her husband.”

“So what, Charles?” the President demanded.

“I don’t seem to be expressing myself very well, Mr. President,” Montvale said. “Let me put it this way: These people, whoever they are, now know we’re onto them. They have no idea what the major may have learned before he went to South America. They have no idea how much Lorimer may have told him before they were able to murder him. If they hoped to obtain the contents of Lorimer’s safe, they failed. And they don’t know what it did or did not contain, so they will presume the worst, and that it is now in our possession. Or, possibly worse, in the possession of parties unknown. They sent their assassins in to murder Lorimer and what we—what the major and his band—gave them in return were six dead assassins and an empty safe. And now that we know we’re onto them, God only knows how soon it will be before someone comes to us.”

“And rats on the rats, you mean?” the President asked.

“Yes, sir, that’s precisely what I mean. And I’m not talking only about identifying the Masterson murderers—I think it very likely that the major has already ‘rendered them harmless’—but the people who ordered the murders. The masterminds of the oil-for-food scandal, those who have profited from it. Sir, in my judgment the major has not failed. He has rendered the country a great service and is to be commended.”

“You ever hear, Charles, that great minds run in similar paths? I had just about come to the same conclusion. But one question, Charles, is what should we do about the sixteen million dollars in the banks in Uruguay? Tell the UN it’s there and let them worry about getting it back?”

“Actually, sir, I had an off the top of my head thought about that money. According to the major, all it takes is Lorimer’s signature on those documents, whatever they’re called, that the major brought back from the hideaway to have that money transferred anywhere.”

“But Lorimer’s dead,” the President said.

“They have some very talented people over in Langley, if the President gets my meaning.”

“You mean, forge a dead man’s signature and steal the money? For what purpose?”

“Mr. President, I admit that when I first learned what you were asking the major to do, I was something less than enthusiastic. But I was wrong and I admit it. A small unit like the major’s can obviously be very valuable in this new world war. And if sixteen million dollars were available to it—sixteen million untraceable dollars . . .”

“I take your point, Charles,” the President said. “But I’m going to ask you to stop thinking off the top of your head.”

“Sir?”

“The next thing you’re likely to suggest is that Charley—and that’s his name, Charles, not ‘the major’—move the Office of Organizational Analysis into the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. And that’s not going to happen. Charley works for me, period. Not open for comment.”

Secretary Hall had a sudden coughing spasm. His face grew red.

Ambassador Montvale did not seem to suspect that Secretary Hall might be concealing a hearty laugh.

“Natalie, do you have anything to say before I send Charley out of here to take, with my profound thanks, a little time off? After he lets everybody in his apartment go, of course.”

“I was thinking about Ambassador Lorimer, sir. He’s ill and it will devastate him to learn what his son has been up to.”

Ambassador Philippe Lorimer, Jean-Paul Lorimer’s father, had retired from the Foreign Service of the United States after a lengthy and distinguished career after suffering a series of progressively more life-threatening heart attacks.

“Jesus, I hadn’t thought about that,” the President said. “Charley, what about it?”

“Sir, Mr. Lorimer is missing in Paris,” Charley said. “The man who died in Estancia Shangri-La was Jean-Paul Bertrand, a Lebanese. I don’t think anyone will be anxious to reveal who Bertrand really was. And I don’t think we have to or should.”

“What about his sister?” Natalie Cohen asked. “Should she be told?”

“I think so, yes,” Charley said. “I haven’t thought this through, but I have been thinking that the one thing I could tell Mrs. Masterson that would put her mind at rest about the threats to her children is that I know her brother is dead and, with his death, these bastards . . . excuse me . . . these bad guys have no more interest in her or her children.”

“And if she asks how you know, under what circumstances?” the President asked.

“That’s what I haven’t thought through, sir.”

“You don’t want to tell her what a despicable sonofabitch he was, is that it?”

“I suspect she knows, sir. But it’s classified Top Secret Presidential.”

“Would anyone have objections to my authorizing Charley to deal with the Masterson family in any way he determines best, including the divulgence of classified material?”

“Splendid idea, Mr. President,” Ambassador Montvale said.

“Do it soon, Charley. Please,” Natalie Cohen said.

“Yes, ma’am.”

The President stood up and came around the desk and offered Castillo his hand.

“Thank you, Charley. Good job. Go home and get some rest. And then think about where you can discreetly hide sixteen million dollars until you need it.”

[TWO]

Room 404

The Mayflower Hotel

1127 Connecticut Avenue NW

Washington, D.C.

2015 1 August 2005

When Major C. G. Castillo pushed open the door to his apartment—the hotel referred to room 404 as an “Executive Suite”; it consisted of a living room, a large bedroom, a small dining room, and a second bedroom—he found Colonel Jacob Torine sprawled on one of the couches watching The O’Reilly Factor on the FOX News Channel. Torine’s feet were on the coffee table and his right hand was wrapped around a Heineken beer bottle, which rested on his chest.

Corporal Lester Bradley, USMC, sat beside him, feet on the floor, holding a half-empty bottle of Coca-Cola. He was puffing on a large dark brown cigar.

Well, I may not get cashiered, Castillo thought. But if somebody sees him with that cigar, I’ll certainly be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

The obvious source of Bradley’s cigar, Fernando Lopez, sat puffing on its twin across a chessboard from Special Agent David W. Yung, Jr., of the FBI. Special Agent Jack Britton of the Secret Service watched them with amused interest; it looked to him as if the kid was clobbering Lopez.

Major H. Richard Miller, Jr., in civilian clothing, sat in an armchair. His left leg, heavily bandaged, rested on the coffee table. Miller and Castillo had been classmates and roommates at West Point. They had served together several times during their careers, most recently with the “Night Stalkers,” more formally known as the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

Everybody turned to look at Castillo.

“What happened to your cast?” Castillo asked, looking at Miller.

“They took pity on me and sawed it off. I am now down to two miles of rubberized gauze,” Miller said.

“And how’s the knee?”

“Time will tell,” Miller said, disgustedly, then asked, “Well, how did it go with the President?”

“Well, I don’t think we’ll all wind up in Alaska counting snowballs,” Castillo announced.

“You really didn’t think something like that was going to happen, did you, Charley?” Torine asked.

“Actually, I bear a message from the commander in chief,” Castillo said. “Quote, Good job. Thank you, End quote.”

“What did you expect, Charley?” Torine pursued.

“We lost Kranz and they blew Lorimer away before we could talk to him,” Castillo said. “How does that add up to a ‘good job’?”

“You found the sonofabitch,” Miller said. “And, in doing so, removed the threat to the Mastersons. That’s a good job, Charley. In my book or anybody else’s.”

“Can Britton and I go home now, Gringo?” Fernando asked. “To try to salvage what we can from the ashes of our marriages?”

“Is that all the President had to say?” Torine asked.

“Montvale was there,” Castillo said.

“And?”

“Hall and Natalie Cohen,” Castillo said.

“How effusive was the ambassador in his praise for our little undertaking?” Torine said.

Castillo chuckled. “Actually, he called you—us—‘the major and his small, valiant band of men.’”

“No kidding?” Torine said. “Well, I can live with that.”

“He actually tried to take us—the Office of Organizational Analysis—over.”

“Oh, shit!” Torine said.

“He didn’t get away with it,” Castillo said. “The President cut him off in midsentence.”

“Leaving us where?” Miller asked.

“We’re still in business,” Castillo said. “The President was very clear about that.” He looked at Miller. “Colonel Torine’s brought you up to speed on everything, right, Dick?”

Miller nodded.

“David, we have something with Lorimer’s signature on it, don’t we?” Castillo asked.

Yung nodded.

“Well, as soon as possible, take it over to Langley,” Castillo said. “That means right now. Something with Lorimer’s signature on it, and the bearer bonds or whatever the hell they’re called.”

“Why?” Yung asked.

“So the agency’s finest forgers can put Lorimer’s signature on the bearer bonds and we can grab the money. It’s now our operating budget.”

“Lovely idea,” Torine said. “Fifteen-point-seven million is a nice little operating budget. But what are you going to do when Montvale finds out about it? And he will.”

“Actually, it was his idea,” Castillo said. “Admittedly while he was still thinking he could bring us under his benevolent wing.”

“Where am I supposed to put it?” Yung said.

“Good question,” Castillo said.

“I’ve got an account in the Cayman Islands,” Yung said. “At the Liechtensteinische Landesbank.”

“You’ve got what?” Castillo asked, incredulously. “A pillar of the FBI, an expert in uncovering money laundering, and you’re hiding your own money from the IRS in the Liechtensteinische Landesbank in the Cayman Islands?”

Yung was not amused.

“It was an investigative tool, Major,” he said. “I opened the account both to see how that could be done and so that I could be kept abreast of any changes in their banking laws. As a depositor, I could ask questions that I could not ask otherwise.”

“That’s even better,” Castillo said, delightedly. “The FBI has money in the Liechtensteinische Landesbank in the Caymans. Is nothing sacred anymore?”

“What the hell is that?” Britton asked. “Lickten-what?”

“Liechtenstein is a little country—run by a prince—about twenty miles long and five miles wide between Switzerland and Austria,” Castillo said. “Landesbank means ‘state bank.’ The Liechtensteiners make their money growing cows and banking other people’s money.”

“Actually, the funds in the bank are mine,” Yung said. “Using my own money to open the account was easier than trying to get permission—and, of course, the money itself—from the FBI.”

“And how much of your own money are you sequestering in your Liechtensteinische Landesbank account?”

“Twenty-five hundred dollars.”

“How hard is it to open an account?” Castillo asked.

“Actually, it’s quite simple. All they ask is a reference from your home banker and a cashier’s check or a wire deposit. They won’t take cash deposits,” Yung answered.

“Well, then, that’s what we’ll do. But I want to get that money out of Uruguay before they find out Lorimer is dead.”

“Bertrand,” Yung corrected him. “The funds are in Bertrand’s name.”

“Okay. Bertrand,” Castillo said. “Are any questions going to be asked when your secret little account suddenly grows by fifteen-point-seven million?”

“I’m not sure I want to do that,” Yung said.

“Answer the question,” Castillo said. “Is that going to make waves?”

“No questions are ever asked and they have stricter bank secrecy laws than even Switzerland. But, for the obvious reasons, I am uncomfortable transferring Bertrand’s funds into my account.”

“Then why did you tell us about your account?” Torine asked with a tone of impatience in his voice.

“I was going to suggest that you look into opening an account there. What Castillo’s asking me to do is commit a felony. I’m an FBI agent, dammit!”

“Jesus H. Christ!” Torine said. “FBI rule number one: Always cover your ass. Right?”

“What I’m ordering you to do is carry out an order of the President of the United States,” Castillo said.

“I don’t believe you have the legal authority to give me an order. I’m in the FBI. I don’t work for you.”

Torine started to say something, then changed his mind and looked at Castillo.

Castillo said, “I suppose that’s true, that you don’t work for me. Right now, I guess your status is volunteer.”

“Major, I thought—still think—you were doing the right thing when you staged that operation to kidnap Lorimer from Estancia Shangri-La. That’s why I went with you. But that’s not going to go over well at the J. Edgar Hoover Building when they hear about it. The FBI is supposed to investigate kidnappings, not participate in them.”

“And you don’t want to endanger your FBI career any more than you already have?” Torine asked, sarcastically.

Yung considered that and then nodded.

“Yung,” Torine said, evenly, “if you’re even thinking of running over to the J. Edgar Hoover Building and repeating even one word of this conversation or one detail of the operation we have just been on into some sympathetic FBI inspector’s ear, I suggest you think again. That would constitute the divulgence of material classified Top Secret Presidential to persons not authorized access to such material. And that is a felony.”

Castillo added, “And that includes telling anybody you bumped into Howard Kennedy in Buenos Aires.”

Yung looked at him coldly.

“Let me be brutal,” Castillo said. “Supposing you went to the FBI and confessed all and it was decided for a number of reasons not to try you for unauthorized disclosure, are you really naïve enough to think you’d be welcomed back like the prodigal son? Or is it more likely that you’d spend the rest of your FBI career investigating parking ticket corruption in Sioux Falls, South Dakota?”

The look on Yung’s face showed that Castillo had struck home.

“Right now, the question seems to be that you don’t think I have the authority to give you orders. Is that right?”

“I don’t believe you have that legal authority,” Yung said.

“What if I got it? Would that change things?”

“How could you do that?”

Castillo sat down on the couch next to Corporal Lester Bradley and picked up the telephone. He punched in a number from memory.

“This is C. G. Castillo,” he announced a moment later. “Is Secretary Hall still with the President?

“Can you get him for me, please?

“Charley, sir. Sorry to interrupt.

“Yung would feel more comfortable dealing with that banking business we discussed earlier if he was assigned to the Office of Organizational Analysis and therefore under my orders. Is that going to be a problem?

“The sooner the better, sir. By the time the banks open in the morning. Tonight would be even better.

“He’ll be with Miller. Here in my apartment, sir.

“Yes, sir.”

There was a sixty-second period of silence.

“Yes, sir. Thank you very much, sir.

“No, sir. I’m going to go to Philadelphia and then to Biloxi. Maybe still tonight if there’s a way to get from Philadelphia to Biloxi. In any event, as soon as I can, sir.

“Yes, sir. I’ll let you and Secretary Cohen know how that went as soon as I can.

“Yes, sir, I will. Thank you very much, sir.”

Castillo put the handset back in the cradle and looked at Yung.

“Secretary Hall tells me the President has put in a call to the director of the FBI. When he gets him, or his deputy, he will order that you be placed on duty with the Office of Organizational Analysis. Either the director or his deputy will call you here and tell you that. That will place you under my orders. Any questions?”

Yung shook his head.

“Let me take this opportunity to welcome you to the Office of Organizational Analysis, Mr. Yung,” Castillo said, mock portentously. “We hope your career with us will last as long as the organization itself—in other words, maybe for the next two or three weeks.”

Torine laughed. Others chuckled.

A smile—small but unmistakable—crossed Yung’s lips.

“Just as soon as I can—within a day or two—I will open another account in the Liechtensteinische Landesbank,” Castillo said. “We’ll get the money out of your account as soon as possible.”

Yung nodded.

“You ever been to Langley, Yung?” Miller asked.

Yung shook his head.

“I’ll take you over there,” Miller said and then had a second thought: “Better yet, Charley, Tom McGuire knows his way around there better than I do.”

“You know where to find him?”

Miller nodded.

“Ask him to do that, please,” Castillo said. “How hard is it going to be to get Vic D’Allessando on the horn?”

Miller held out a cellular telephone. Castillo went and took it from him.

“Autodial seven,” Miller said.

“I don’t know when I’ll be able to get to Biloxi,” Castillo explained. “But I want to see Vic before I see the Mastersons.”

“It’ll probably be in the very wee hours when we get there,” Fernando said. “But if you go with me, I’ll bet you’ll get there sooner than if you went commercial.”

“I want to go to Philadelphia first,” Castillo said.

“So does Jack,” Fernando said. “Jack’s wife is with her mother in Philly. The planned itinerary is Reagan to Philly. Then, after you see your lady friend, Philly to Charleston, where we drop the colonel off. Then Charleston to San Antone. No problem to drop you off in Biloxi.”

“You’re going to Charleston by way of Philadelphia?” Castillo asked Torine. “You can’t catch a plane from here?”

“The oldest member of this small, valiant band of men,” Torine said, “having just returned from a tour of the world, is in no condition to pass through airport security, especially in possession of an Uzi and a case of untaxed brandy that I don’t want to have to try to explain.”

Castillo chuckled. “Untaxed brandy?”

“Fernando told me you had bought your grandmother a case of Argentine brandy at twelve bucks a bottle. I figured if it was good enough for your grandmother, it would be a suitable expression of my affection for my wife.”

“It’s really good brandy,” Castillo said. “And, best of all, it’s not French.”

“It’s a sad world, Charley, where boycotting the products of those who have screwed you interferes with your drinking habits, but that’s the way it is.”

Castillo chuckled.

“Okay, let’s get this show on the road. While I call D’Allessando, somebody call the doorman and have him get us a couple of cabs.”

“There’s a big Yukon stationed at the National Geographic exit,” Miller said. “And since I’m not going anywhere, you can use that.”

“Great,” Castillo said.

“Sir, what about me?” Corporal Lester Bradley asked.

Castillo looked at him a long moment before replying.

“You better come with me, Bradley,” he said, finally.

“Sir, may I ask what I’m going to be doing?”

“You can ask, but I can’t tell you because I haven’t figured that out yet.”

[THREE]

The Belle Vista Casino and Resort

U.S. Highway 90 (“The Magic Mile”)

Biloxi, Mississippi

0405 2 August 2005

Inside the resort, as C. G. Castillo and Lester Bradley, in civilian clothing, approached the main entrance of the casino, a burly “host” came out from behind a small stand-up desk and not very politely asked Bradley how old he was and then, when told, shook his head and said he couldn’t go in.

“Wait right here, Bradley,” Castillo ordered. “I’ll be right out.”

“Yes, sir.”

Castillo entered the casino and walked past rows of slot machines, at which maybe a quarter of them sat gamblers, most of them middle-aged and elderly women. Beyond the slot machines was an arch with a flashing GAMING sign on it. Castillo walked under it and found himself in a huge area filled with tables for the playing of blackjack, craps, and roulette.

Perhaps a third of them were in use. He saw Vic D’Allessando’s totally bald head at one of the blackjack tables deep in the room. He walked toward the table and stopped six feet from it.

There was a sign on the table indicating the minimum bet was ten dollars. There were five stacks of chips in front of D’Allessando. He tapped them steadily with the fingers of his left hand as he watched the dealer deal.

Even if they were all ten-dollar chips—and they’re obviously not, since each stack is a different color, which means they’re worth even more—Vic is into this game big-time.

He watched a little longer, saw that Vic was playing two cards at a time, and then walked up behind him. D’Allessando sensed his presence and turned to see who was behind him. He gave no sign of recognition.

The dealer busted and passed out chips to both of the cards D’Allessando was playing.

“That’ll do it,” D’Allessando said, then slid a tip of two chips to the dealer and started to gather up the remainder of his chips. The dealer slid a rack to him.

“Thanks,” D’Allessando said and put the chips in the rack.

“Oh, goody,” Castillo said. “I brought you luck.”

D’Allessando snorted. He arranged the chips in the rack and stood up. He was a short man whose barrel chest and upper arms strained his shirt.

“Cashier’s over there,” D’Allessando said, indicating the direction with a nod of his head.

On his retirement from twenty-four years of service—twenty-two of it in Special Forces—CWO5 Victor D’Allessando had gone to work for the Special Operations Command as a Department of the Army civilian. Theoretically, he was a technical advisor to the commanding general of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg. What he actually did for the Special Operations Command was classified.

At the cashier’s window, a peroxide blonde in her fifties counted the chips, then asked if D’Allessando wanted his winnings as a check.

“Cash will do nicely, thank you,” D’Allessando said.

The peroxide blonde began to lay crisp new one-hundred-dollar bills in stacks, ten bills to a stack. There were four stacks. Then she started a fifth stack with fifties, twenties, a ten, and, finally, a five.

“Jesus Christ, Vic!” Castillo said. “You had a good night.”

D’Allessando grunted again, stuffed the money in the inside pocket of his lemon-colored sports coat, and started for the door. Castillo followed him.

D’Allessando made a Give it to me gesture to the host, who had refused to let Bradley into the casino. The host unlocked a small drawer in the stand-up desk and tried to discreetly hand D’Allessando a Colt General Officers model .45 ACP semiautomatic pistol. The discretion failed. D’Allessando hoisted the skirt of his sports coat and slipped the pistol into a skeleton holster over his right hip pocket.

“They won’t let you carry a weapon in there,” D’Allessando said. “I guess losers have been known to pop the dealers.”

Castillo chuckled. The host was not amused.

“Elevator’s over there,” D’Allessando said, again nodding to show the direction.

“I know.”

“Oh, yeah. Masterson said you’d been here.”

“You get to talk to him?” Castillo asked as they walked and Bradley followed.

“He’ll be here at eight for breakfast.”

When they reached the bank of elevators, D’Allessando took a plastic card key from his jacket pocket and swiped it through a reader. The elevator door opened. D’Allessando waved Castillo into it. Bradley started to get on.

“Sorry, my friend,” D’Allessando said, “this elevator is reserved for big-time losers.”

“He’s with me,” Castillo said.

D’Allessando shrugged and stepped out of the way.

When the door closed, Castillo said, “Bradley, this is Mr. D’Allessando. Vic, this is Corporal Lester Bradley. He’s a Marine.”

“You’re in bad company, kid,” D’Allessando said. “Watch yourself.”

“He’s a friend of mine, Vic.”

“Even worse.”

The elevator stopped and D’Allessando swiped the plastic key again. The door opened.

“Welcome to Penthouse C,” D’Allessando said.

“Wow!” Bradley exclaimed.

They were in an elegantly furnished suite of rooms. Two walls of the main room were plate glass, offering a view of what was now an intermittent stream of red lights going west on U.S. 90, white lights going east. In the daylight, the view would be of the sugar white sand beaches and emerald salt water of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“My sentiments exactly, Bradley,” Castillo said.

“You want a drink, Charley?” D’Allessando asked.

“At four o’clock in the morning?”

“It would not be your first drink at four in the morning,” D’Allessando said.

“True,” Castillo said. “What the hell, why not? There’s wine?”

“There’s a whole bin full of it behind the bar,” D’Allessando said.

“You want something to drink, Bradley?” Castillo asked.

“I’m a little hungry, sir,” Bradley said.

“So’m I,” Castillo said. “There’s round-the-clock room service, right, Vic?”

“Indeed.”

Castillo picked up the telephone and punched a button on the base.

“What kind of steak can I have at this unholy hour?” he said into the phone.

He was told.

“New York strip sounds fine.”

Castillo looked at Bradley, who smiled and nodded, and then at D’Allessando, who said, “Why not? I can think of it as breakfast. Get mine with eggs.”

“Three New York strips, medium rare. With fried eggs. Either home fries or French fries. And whatever else seems appropriate for two starving men and an old fat Italian who really shouldn’t be eating at all.”

D’Allessando gave him the finger as he hung up the phone.

“So tell me, Marine,” D’Allessando said to Bradley, “how did this evil man worm his way into your life?”

“He saved my life, Vic,” Castillo said.

D’Allessando looked at Bradley.

“Not to worry,” he said. “You’re a young man. In time, you’ll be forgiven.”

Castillo shook his head.

“You going to have a drink before or after you tell me what’s going on, Charley?”

“Yes,” Castillo said and went behind the bar in search of wine.

“If you promise not to tell your mother, Marine, you may also have a little taste,” D’Allessando said.

“Leave him alone, Vic,” Castillo said. “I wasn’t kidding when I said he’s a friend of mine.”

“You also said he saved your life,” D’Allessando said.

“He did.”

“And how—not to get into ‘Why in the name of all the saints?’—did he do that?”

“He took out two bad guys who were shooting submachine guns at me. With two head shots.”

“I have this very odd feeling that you’re not pulling my chain,” D’Allessando said. “Forgive me, son, if I say you do not look much like the ferocious jarhead of fame and legend.”

“Says the Special Operations poster boy,” Castillo said.

“You always have had a cruel streak in you, Carlos,” D’Allessando lisped as he put his hand on his hip.

Bradley chuckled.

“I have an idea, Charley,” D’Allessando said. “Take it from the top.”

Castillo held up a wineglass to Bradley.

“No, thank you, sir. Is there any beer?”

“Half a dozen kinds. Come over here and help yourself.”

“And while you’re doing that, Major Castillo is going to take it from the top.”

“Okay,” Castillo said. “Vic, this is Top Secret Presidential.”

“Okay,” D’Allessando said, now very seriously.

“You remember I told you here that Masterson had been whacked to make the point to his wife that these bastards were willing to kill to get to her brother?”

D’Allessando nodded. “The UN guy in Paris.”

Castillo nodded. “What I didn’t tell you is that there is a Presidential Finding, in which an organization called the Office of Organizational Analysis is founded—”

“C and c?” D’Allessando interrupted.

Castillo nodded.

“Covert and clandestine,” he went on, “and charged with, quote, rendering harmless, end quote, those responsible for whacking Masterson, Sergeant Markham, kidnapping Mrs. Masterson, and wounding Special Agent Schneider.”

“I figured there was something like that in the woodpile,” D’Allessando said. “Who’s running that?”

“I am.”

D’Allessando considered that and nodded, then asked, “And you found out who these people are, huh?”

“I don’t have a clue who they are.”

“You’re losing me, Charley.”

“I figured the best way to find these people was to find Lorimer first. So we went looking for him. We found him in Uruguay.”

“Uruguay?”

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 91 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2014

    Not up to par with previous books

    Having read several of Griffin's earlier books with enthusiasm I started reading this new series about Agent Castillo. This is the third in that series and it di not as well written as earlier books. Apart from the constant referring to all females as "Mr. so and so", I am offended by the primary character constantly saying "Jesus Christ!" in response to about every new development. As a Christian I disturbs me. Ironically Castillo say's "f*ck" in front of the President and female Secretary of State and apologizes to her for his language. Later on he says "Jesus Christ" in her presence and makes no similar apology.

    I won't be buying any more in this particular series.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 5, 2013

    Good Easy Reading

    All Griffin's books are easy reads with interesting characters. No rocket-science, just simple stories with simple morals at the end.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2012

    Dapplesong to Queens

    Can you say all the kits ages? I wanna know because Whitestar doesn't know what its are near apprenticehood and I was wondering. Thanksl

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2012

    Bearkit

    The black tomkit curled up beside his sister. +Beatkit+

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2012

    Willowkit

    She pads in looking for other kits. -Willowkit

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2012

    Not impressed!

    There were a lot of errors in this e-book. The editor must have been asleep. For example, thoughout the entire book, the author would use "Mr." instead of "Mrs.". It got to be very annoying. This same error was in the second book too. I originally wanted to read the entire presidential series, but not now, it's too frustrating. I'm going back to reading Clive Cussler!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2012

    Silverflow

    Is locked out!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2012

    The Nursery

    A large gorse bush interwoven with thorns provides a lot of shelter and protection. Here queens could feel safe that their precious kits would be safe. Here the queens and the kits of Horseclan will spend their days until the kits are 6 moons old. ~Informing Whitestar

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2012

    typical Griffin

    I have been a WEB Griffin reader for many years now. I have gotten used to his going back to parts of previous books. Maybe he gets paid by the word! The Hunters, however must have gone past an editor who assumed that the author got everything right. Griffin used the masculine Mr. no matter which character he is reffering to. I am only about one fourth through the book, and am finding it difficult. Is he talking about Mr. Masterson, or Mrs. Masterson? All names are preceeded by Mr. Hope raeders don't have as hard a time as I am

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  • Posted May 27, 2012

    Great read!

    Griffin at his best.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2012

    Another great one

    GRIFFIN HAS THE ABILITY TO GRAB YOUR ATTENTION IN THE VERY FIRST PAGE. AGAIN SAT TO YHE WEE HOURS OF THE READING THIS.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2012

    Highly Rcommended

    Great book for a snowy cold day! W.E.B. Griffen you wrote another great read!

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  • Posted January 26, 2011

    Enlightening

    Excellent characters with a good plot. Some very interesting twists & turns leading to an unexpected finish. A good chase with delightful character interaction. Leaves me purchasing the next book in the series so I can keep the story going a bit longer. Highly recommended.

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  • Posted September 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Griffin at his best

    The plot is fabulous and for a reader that has visited most locations in the book it's extremely accurate. C G Castillo is an excellent protagonist and 3 or 4 Castillos would help make the world a safer place.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2009

    What's going on?

    As I had not read any previous books in this series, it took quite a while to catch up to what was going on. When I did, the story was entertaining if a bit convenient where it came to everything working out for the main characters.

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  • Posted April 22, 2009

    Enjoyed this book, must read previous two books to really grasp the plot/store.

    Good reading

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  • Posted March 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    GRIFFIN SCORES AGAIN!!

    I have read and listended to previous GRIFFIN works and enjoy his style of writing and topics he chooses to write about. This one so tweaked my interest that I found that I just had to have the other three in the Presidential Agent series. Also I found myself wanting to sit down and listen to this until I was finished with the story. I am listening to a second one now and it as absorbing and enjoyable as this one. Being ex-milirary I love his use of the 24 hour clock and the day, date, location headings. I only wish I had found these books in order. I came into this with this one and it was like coming into the middle of great movie. Keep up the good work GRIFFIN I love military stories with a great plot.

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  • Posted March 19, 2009

    Lumping the Presential series together, it is a worthwile read.

    I have read the entire series the only problem I found is tht the cast of charters remains almost the same and only the situations change. Reading the entire set is really a labor of love.

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  • Posted February 17, 2009

    W.E.B. Griffin does it again. Fast paced and a real page turner!

    I hadn't read Hostage (the previous book in the series) in about 2 years, but within 5 minutes I was able to remember everything from HOSTAGE. WEB Griffin has created characters that have a authenticity to them so that you can remember them. This store starts where the previous book ended. Could Lt Col Castillo be the next Oliver North?<BR/><BR/>Well worth the time to read this series.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    The Hunters is another thrilling chapter in the long line of successes by Mr. Griffin.

    I have enjoyed every W.E.B. Griffin book I have read, which includes every series except the police series, which is next on my list. The Hunters is a fast-paced thriller that will not allow you to put the book down until you finish. The Hunters is one more exciting chapter in a long line of successes by Mr. Griffin. If you like military stories and current events, you will love this series and in particular The Hunters.

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