Read an Excerpt
Raine looked up from his beer as the bartender raised the volume of the TV.
The newscast showed rioting in the streets of Kabul, then a jump to another reporter atop a hotel roof looking down at a Baghdad filled with fires.
“The effect of the United States Armed Services complete withdrawal continues to destabilize the entire region. The violence now threatens to spread to neighboring states. Secretary of—”
“Turn that crap off, will ya, Eddie?”
The sound disappeared.
Raine picked up the near-empty shot glass next to his beer and drained it.
Funny, to sit here in this Red Hook dive appropriately named The Hook, just as his old man used to do when he retired to his old neighborhood in Brooklyn. His dad—a lifer in the Marines—was a man who had only one vision for his two sons.
Not just to enter military service.
Both would go into the Corps.
No question about it.
And Nicholas Raine didn’t even question the idea of following his brother Chris.
Ultimately, that meant following him to the never-ending training missions and covert ops that made up the constant war of the twenty-first century.
Then things changed.
Probably on the day his brother got caught by an IED. The grim reality of these forever wars hit him.
And worse, the old man died, his heart hitting him harder than any man would ever dare to. He hadn’t been well for a while, not after years of hard living and drinking and too much time on his hands. Chris’s death seemed to deal the final blow.
That attack didn’t kill the old man. But the chaotic Veterans Hospital in Bay Ridge didn’t have any miracles in its pouch to save the old sergeant.
Yet—he himself soldiered on.
It’s what he knew. What he could do. It had become . . . all that he was good at.
He tried to remind himself that his father believed in all this “serving God and country.” That “Semper Fi” was more than a gung-ho motto.
So he soldiered on. That is, until the order came to leave. Seemingly out of the blue, whole units and commands vanished overnight.
And now he bided his time here—holed up in a dingy one-bedroom in Red Hook, this bar his office—waiting to see if his country had any more need of him.
“Goddamned soldiers just gave the hell up anyway.”
Raine heard the words.
Said too loudly to just be a private comment. The customer in broadcast mode apparently.
Then again: “All those years, all our fuckin’ money, and then they just up and run? God—damn.”
The bartender, Eddie, shot Raine a glance. Not that they had spent these nights sharing their life histories.
Not that they were pals.
But like any good bartender, Eddie had antennae.
Eddie moved down to the end of the bar. To the customer with his loud opinions on the fighting men and women. On what happened and how they just left the area.
The implication: like cowards.
Raine turned to watch Eddie, seeing his head bob. Telling the guy, just barely audible, “C’mon, can that stuff, okay, Mikey?”
The guy on his stool looked down at Raine, putting pieces together.
“I’m entitled to my opinion. It’s my damn opinion. We went over there and then after decades, after freakin’ decades, we just leave? Tell ya, the troops, these new guys, they just couldn’t cut it.”
Raine was already off his stool.
Moving down the long wooden bar.
Monday night. So quiet. A few people shooting pool in the back, oblivious.
A couple sitting in a booth, talking, possibly taking note, thinking they should have selected a better spot for a romantic meeting.
As Raine got close, he sized up the guy.
A giant bowling ball of a head that melted into absolutely no neck, as if his skull had been glued to a barrel-chested body. Massive Popeye arms. Maybe a dockworker. Big powerful guy.
That would make this even better.
Raine didn’t say anything. After all, what was there to say?
Instead his right hand shot out like a projectile, targeting the man’s right hand as it closed around a beer glass.
Raine’s grip tightened on the man’s wrist and squeezed. The guy’s glass rolled free as Raine pressed the hand flat, now splayed against the sticky wood of the bar.
At the same time, his other hand went to just under the man’s chin. Because even though it didn’t look as though the man had a neck, of course he did. Sure. Buried somewhere in the jowly fat and muscle.
Raine’s fingers closed tight. The man now had two amazing sensations of pain coursing through him at the same time: the hand, which was being squeezed so hard it felt like it would pop off, and the agony from his throat.
The fat, drunken, self-appointed military historian couldn’t breathe; his eyes bulged out.
Finally, Raine spoke.
“Listen. If I ever hear you say a word criticizing our military—even a single word—then that hand you have there will become useless. And whether you will be able to speak—”
A little tightening of his grip on the man’s fat-covered throat.
“—that would be anybody’s guess.” He paused. “Got it?”
The bug-eyed man nodded.
Raine released him and walked back to his stool.
The TV had been changed back to the Monday night game.
His shot glass had been filled.
But maybe he’d rather catch the game back in his apartment a few blocks away. Sitting here, tonight at any rate, had lost its appeal.
He slid off the stool, threw a few bucks on the bar, and walked outside.
A chilly fall night, and Raine zipped his jacket tight, collar up. He didn’t even see the black vehicle, engine idling, sitting outside The Hook. Didn’t register it as something out of the ordinary until a window rolled down and someone called out to him from the passenger seat.
Raine stopped and turned around, now noticing the limo-like vehicle. Not exactly the usual wheels found in this neighborhood.
He stood there while the passenger door opened and a man in a suit got out.
Raine saw that the man held a large envelope in one hand.
“Lieutenant, I have orders for you. Here.”
Raine laughed. “Orders. From whom? I’ve been told that it would be quite a while before my country needed me. In fact, I was banking on it.”
In answer, the man simply extended the envelope.
For a moment he didn’t take it. But in the end he was a soldier, a Marine, and when a man said “jump” . . .
He undid the clasp and took out a single piece of paper. The man from the black car helpfully pulled out a small flashlight and pointed it at the document.
He looked up at the man. “Says here . . . I’m supposed to get in the car—right now, all due speed—and go with you to Floyd Bennett Field where a plane is waiting. And that’s . . . it?”
The man said nothing.
“Not one for talking, hm?”
“Lieutenant, I’ve just been told to hand this to you and have you come with me. You can see that it is signed by General McWilliams. Everything is in—”
“I know. ‘In order.’ I don’t get it. Can I at least go back to my apartment, grab a bag, some things?”
The man shook his head. “No, Lieutenant. My orders are to see that you come directly. No stops, no bag.”
“Your orders? Who you with? NSA? CIA? Any of the A’s?”
Again the man said nothing.
“I’ll tell you one thing, whoever you are. It’s something my dad drilled into me. Reason I joined the Corps. Stayed in the Corps. And that thing is respect for orders, respect for command. That’s how you save lives. So this—”
Raine waved the sheet of paper.
“—actually means something to me. And if I’m supposed to—God knows why—go with you, then that’s what the hell we will do.”
Raine guessed he might still be amped by his bar scuffle.
In answer, the man opened the back door.
Raine got in, and with his escort sliding back in the passenger seat, the big black car pulled away from the front of the dive bar.
Out to a sleepy Flatbush Avenue.
It was getting late, so only a few places were now open as the dense area of Brooklyn gave way to open spaces near the Atlantic, places with tall grass, and what Raine thought had been the abandoned airfield named Floyd Bennett.
Been a while since he’d been out this way. Back then it was to Riis Park and sunny days at the beach. When Brooklyn was at its best.
At one time Raine knew there had been plans for housing to go up here, to transform the field—the historic airfield that once saw Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post fly away to smash world records—into a development.
But the economy, and then the history of the place, saved it. No money for development, but enough for a National Landmark designation that preserved many of the hangars and even kept a few airstrips in place. But nobody—military or commercial—used it.
Or so Raine thought.
They passed the Belt Parkway, to the beginning of the field. The fence on the side of the road showed the lack of attention. Weeds, debris. No money or nobody cared? Both probably.
“Why here?” Raine asked.
The driver didn’t say anything.
The escort did, though, turning around. “I don’t know, Lieutenant.”
Great help, that guy. Loaded with information.
He wished he hadn’t had that last beer. It would be nice to be totally clearheaded for whatever this thing turned out to be.
They stopped and turned at the entrance off Aviation Road. A pair of army soldiers stood guard, the wide gates swinging open just as the black car reached it, then quickly shutting behind them.
When they reached the runway, Raine leaned forward, looking for what he guessed would be a military transport. Instead, off at one end, he spotted the lights of a small jet.
As they got closer, Raine could see nothing military or commercial about it. Rather, it looked exactly like some fat cat’s private jet. A jet a businessman might use to run down to Palm Beach. Catch some rays in January. Play with the mistress. Rub in a rival’s face.
Not what he expected at all.
The driver pulled the car up to the side of the plane. On cue, the door of the plane opened, stairs gently tilting down to the tarmac.
The car stopped.
“Here we go, Lieutenant.”
The escort got out and Raine followed him.