Severance Package
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Severance Package

4.3 12
by Duane Swierczynski, Dennis Calero

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Jamie DeBroux's boss has called a special meeting for all "key personnel" at 9:00 a.m. on a hot Saturday in August.

When Jamie arrives, the conference room is stocked with cookies and champagne. His boss smiles and tells his employees, "We're a cover for a branch of the intelligence community. And we're being shut down." Jamie's boss then tells everyone to


Jamie DeBroux's boss has called a special meeting for all "key personnel" at 9:00 a.m. on a hot Saturday in August.

When Jamie arrives, the conference room is stocked with cookies and champagne. His boss smiles and tells his employees, "We're a cover for a branch of the intelligence community. And we're being shut down." Jamie's boss then tells everyone to drink some champagne, and in a few seconds they'll fall asleep---for good. If they refuse, they'll be shot in the head.

Escape is not an option. Jamie's boss has shut down the elevators and rigged the fire towers with chemical bombs. Panic sets in, chaos erupts, and no one is sure whom to trust. Jamie quickly realizes that there's only one way he's ever going to see his family again: the hard way.

Severance Package shows author Duane Swierczynski at his thrilling best.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“[A] kinetic story, which never stops moving...turbocharged entertainment.” —Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times

“Swierczynski writes a brand of thriller whose pacing forces us to reexamine our casual use of the word breakneck...This is essentially one long action scene that begs for the next Tarantino to direct. But if that sounds like faint praise, it isn't: there are both enough cliche killers and comedy to make us raise two thumbs up. If you want your thrillers to be, well, thrilling, pop a big bowl of corn--you won't leave your seat until the end.” —Booklist

“The best word to describe Swierczynski's latest thriller is frenetic, and even that is likely an understatement.” —Library Journal

“Fans of crime fiction will find Swierczynski's latest offering to be a guilty pleasure of unparalleled magnitude. With pedal-to-the-metal pacing, characters who appear to be meek cubicle dwellers a la 'Office Space' but are really cold-blooded, black-ops killers, and enough gut-churning violence to make a Quentin Tarantino movie look like a Disney musical replete with singing candlesticks and teapots, the dark, twisted energy in this novel is palpable.” —The Chicago Tribune

“A hot shot of adrenaline straight to the neural plexus.” —Joe Schreiber, author of Chasing the Dead and Eat the Dark

Patrick Anderson
Just what is Swierczynski up to with this cornucopia of blood and betrayal? At the very least, he's written one of the most outrageously original spy thrillers I can remember…This dark satire…resembles Robert Littell's sardonic portraits of the CIA in The Defection of A.J. Lewinter and The Sisters. Swierczynski's first novel, The Wheelman, was an expert but conventional look at a bank robbery and its aftermath. There's nothing conventional about this novel, his third, and it places the author up there with Charlie Huston among the most interesting of the younger crime writers.
—The Washington Post
Marilyn Stasio
Few of the potential victims are the corporate wonks they appear to be, and some are more interesting than others, but characterization isn't the point of this turbocharged entertainment. Action is—via macabre bursts of violence dished out with extreme cruelty and astonishing cleverness.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

At the start of this violent and intense noir and espionage hybrid from Swierczynski (The Blonde), David Murphy, the CEO of a Philadelphia financial company, summons his seven staffers for an important Saturday meeting, where he informs them that the business is being shut down, and that unfortunately he has to kill them all. Every escape route from the 36th-floor office has been sealed off or rigged with lethal sarin gas. Suddenly, mousy Molly Lewis pulls out a gun and puts a slug in Murphy's head. The resulting chaos sets off a panicked scramble, as the reader gradually learns that the business is a front for a covert intelligence group called CI-6. Thousands of miles away in Scotland, two men monitor "Molly Lewis," who's actually a highly trained Polish operative named Ania Kuczun, as she performs her own private audition, which involves the systematic elimination of her co-workers using a truly imaginative array of methods. This action fest moves swiftly to its darkly satisfying conclusion. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

The best word to describe Swierczynski's (The Blonde) latest thriller is frenetic, and even that is likely an understatement. Jamie DeBroux is unhappy about being called in to work on a Saturday morning. But things get much worse when Jamie's boss tells him and his coworkers that he's called them into the office for the purpose of killing them all. While Jamie has served as media relations director for what he believed to be a financial services group, he's the only employee unaware that the company's a cover for an intelligence agency. Within minutes of that fateful Saturday meeting, two people are dead, and the remaining employees are left to square off against one of their own in an attempt to survive. Death and violence arrive in the first chapter and continue throughout; the graphic content is plentiful, mixed with an equal dose of black humor to lighten the tone. While not for everyone, this single-sitting thrill ride should find some readers in public libraries. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ7/07.]
—Craig Shufelt

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.54(w) x 8.12(h) x 0.75(d)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Severance Package

By Duane Swierczynski, Dennis Calero

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2008 Duane Swierczynski
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-2856-4



Pleasure doing business with you. — ANONYMOUS

His name was Paul Lewis ...

... and he didn't know he had seven minutes to live.

When he opened his eyes, his wife was already in the shower. Their bedroom shared a wall with their bathroom. He could hear the water pelt the tile full-blast. Paul thought about her in there. Naked. Soapy. Suds gliding over her nipples. Maybe he should step into the shower, surprise her. He hadn't brushed his teeth, but that was fine. They wouldn't have to kiss.

Then he remembered Molly's morning meeting. He glanced at the clock. 7:15. She had to be in early. So much for a reckless Saturday morning.

Paul sat up and ran his tongue around his mouth. Dry and pasty. He needed a Diet Coke, stat.

The central air had been running all night, so the living room was dark and cool. On top of the entertainment center sat the two DVDs they'd rented last night: two ultraviolent Bruce Willis thrillers. Surprisingly, they had been Molly's idea. She usually didn't like action movies. "But I have a crush on Bruce Willis," she'd said sweetly. "Oh you do, do you?" Paul replied, smiling. "What's he got that I don't?" His wife ran her fingernails down his chest and said, "A broken nose." That was the end of the DVD viewing for the evening, with about thirty minutes left to go on the first movie.

There were two boxes on the dining room table. One, Paul knew, was for Molly's boss. What, the man couldn't pick up his own mail? The second box was white cardboard and tied with string. Probably full of vanilla muffins or chocolate-filled cannoli, picked up from Reading Terminal Market on her way home last night. Molly was way too kind to those stuck-up jerks at the office, but Paul would never tell her different. That's just who Molly was.

Paul turned the corner and walked into the kitchen. For a second, he was worried that he'd left the Chinese food containers on the counter, and their leftover fried rice and lo mein and Seven Stars Around the Moon had spoiled. But Molly had taken care of it. The white-and-red containers were neatly stacked on the fridge shelves, right below the row of Diet Cokes — he'd been on regular Coke until Molly had pointed out how much sugar he was drinking every morning — and above a white Tupperware container with a blue lid and yellow note taped to it: FOR LUNCH ONLY!!! LOVE, MOLLY.

Oh, baby.

Paul lifted the edge of the lid, and the sweet aroma hit him in an instant. Molly's potato salad. His favorite.

She's made him potato salad, just for today.

God, he loved his wife.

Paul had grown up in a large Polish family — before it was Lewis, it was Lewinski, and boy was Paul glad they changed that name fifty years ago — so he ate the requisite Polish foods. His grandmother Stell was famous for a decidedly non-Polish dish: potato salad, which had accompanied every holiday meal since Paul was a baby. But Grandma Stell died when Paul was thirteen, and since then, nobody could replicate the potato salad. Not Paul's mother, or her sisters, or any second or third cousins. A few months after they started dating, Paul confided in Molly how much he missed Grandma Stell's potato salad. She said little, just smiled at him and listened, which is what she usually did. But inside, she had been thinking. And in the weeks that followed, Molly Finnerty — later to become Molly Lewis — did some research.

The following Easter, Molly presented her fiancé with a Tupperware container. Inside was a potato salad that defied imagination. It tasted just like Grandma Stell's, down to the sweetness of the mayonnaise and the sideways cut of the celery. This potato salad was a surprise hit among the Lewis family. Molly was cemented into their hearts, now and forever more.

Today she'd made it for him, apropos of nothing.

Paul reread the admonishment, FOR LUNCH ONLY!!! and smiled. Molly was grossed out whenever she woke up Christmas or Easter morning and caught her husband with a tablespoon inside the Tupperware container hours before company was due to arrive.

Ah, but today isn't a holiday, Paul thought. No company coming.

He fished a tablespoon out of the drawer behind him, then helped himself to a mouthful of the most delicious food known to man. The moment the special mayonnaise blend touched his taste buds, a narcotic-like rush flooded his bloodstream. It was a taste that reminded him how lucky he had it, being married to a woman like Molly.

A moment later, Paul started choking.

It felt like an impossibly large chunk of potato had lodged in his throat. Paul thought he could just cough once and everything would be okay, but it was weird — he was unable to draw any air. Panic replaced that warm-and-fuzzy potato salad feeling. He couldn't breathe or talk or yell. Paul's mouth flopped open, and half-chewed potato chunks tumbled out. What was going on? He hadn't even swallowed the first bite.

His knees slammed against the linoleum.

His hands flew to his throat.

Upstairs, Molly Lewis was finishing up in the shower. The warm water felt good on her back. Just one more strip of flesh to shave on her leg, then a rinse, and the shower would be over. She wondered if Paul was still sleeping.

Paul's legs kicked out wildly, as if he were running on an invisible treadmill knocked on its side. His trembling fingers scratched at the floor. No. This can't be it. Not this incredibly stupid way to die. Not Molly's potato salad.


Molly could save him.


Must stand up.

Reach the top of the stove, grab the silver teakettle, and start banging. Something to get her attention.


Gray spots spun wildly in Paul's vision. His palm adhered to the linoleum, and it was enough to pull him forward a few inches. Then his other palm, already damp with sweat. It slipped. Paul's nose slammed into the floor. Pain exploded across his face. He would have screamed if he could.

He had only one thought now:


Reach the kettle.

He'd given the kettle to Molly for Christmas two years ago. She loved tea and hot cocoa. He'd found it at a Kitchen Kapers downtown. It was her favorite store.


Molly turned off the hot water first, then the cold about two seconds later, relishing the blast of icy water at the end. Nothing felt better in August. She then turned the knob that would drain the water from the shower pipes into the tub. The excess splashed her feet.

She opened the curtain and reached around the wall for her towel. As her hand grasped the terry cloth, she thought she heard something.

Something ... clanging?

Paul slammed the teakettle on top of the stove one more time ... but that was it. He had been deprived of oxygen far too long. His muscles were starving. They required immediate and constant gratification — oxygen all the time. Greedy bastards.

After he fell, and rolled toward the sink, Paul tried pounding his fist into his upper chest, but it was a futile gesture. He didn't have the strength left.

A potato.

A little wedge of potato had caused his world to crash down around him.

Oh, Molly, he thought. Forgive me. Your life, changed forever because I was stupid enough to spoon some potato salad into my mouth on a Saturday morning. Your sweet potato salad, a mayonnaise-soaked symbol of all the kind things you've done for me over the years.

My sweet, sweet Molly.

The kitchen faded away.

The kitchen they'd redone a year ago, ripping out the old metal cabinets and replacing them with fresh-smelling sandalwood maple.

She'd picked them out. She liked the color.

Oh, Molly ...


Was that Molly in the doorway now, her beautiful red hair dripping wet, a white terry cloth towel wrapped around her body?

God, she was no hallucination. She was really standing there. Looking down at him, strapping jewelry to her wrists. Thick silver bracelets. Paul couldn't remember buying them for her. Where did they come from?


Why wasn't she trying to save him?

Couldn't she see him, choking, trembling, jolting, scratching, pleading, fading?

But Molly simply stared, with the strangest look on her face. That look would be the last thing Paul Lewis would ever see, and if there were an afterlife, it would be an image that would haunt him, even if his memories of earthly life were to be erased. Molly's face would still be there. Perplexing him. Who was this woman? Why did she make his soul ache?

So it was probably merciful that Paul didn't hear what his wife said as she looked down upon his writhing, dying body, "Well, this is ahead of schedule."



Executives owe it to the organization and to their fellow workers not to tolerate nonperforming individuals in important jobs.


His name was Jamie DeBroux ...

... and he had been up most of the night, tag-teaming with Andrea, marching back and forth into the tiny bedroom at the back of their apartment.

What hurt the most, after being awake so many hours, were his eyes. Jamie wore daily-wear contacts, but lately he hadn't bothered to take them out at night. Without them he was practically blind, and he was too new a father to risk changing a diaper or preparing a bottle of Similac with impaired vision. Bad enough they had to work in the dark, so Chase could learn the difference between night and day.



Sunlight this morning, which was turning out to be a blazingly hot Saturday in August. Their window air-conditioning unit was no match for it, and Jamie had to get dressed and head into the office. His eyes swam with tears.

Life with the baby was now:





Melting into each other.

Nobody told you that parenthood was like doing hallucinogenics. That you watched the life you knew melt away into a gray fuzz. Or if they did, you didn't believe them.

Jamie knew he shouldn't complain. Not after having a month off for paternity leave.

Still, it was strange to be going back on a Saturday morning, to a managers' meeting led by his boss, David Murphy. Last time he'd seen his boss was late June, at Jamie's awkward baby shower in the office. Nobody had brought gifts. Just money — ones and fives — stuffed into a card. David had provided an array of cold cuts and Pepperidge Farm cookies, which were the boss's favorite. Stuart ran to the soda machines for Cokes and Diet Cokes. Jamie gave him a few singles from the card to pay for them.

Being away from that place had been nice.

Very nice.

And now this "managers' meeting." Jamie had no idea what it could be about. He'd been gone for a month.

Never mind that Jamie wasn't a manager.

There was nothing to do about it now, though. What could he do? Change jobs and risk losing medical insurance for three months? Andrea had left her job in May, and with it went the other benefits package.

Besides, David wasn't so bad to work for. It was everybody else who drove him up the wall.

The problem wasn't hard to figure out. Jamie's job was "media relations director," which meant he had to explain to the rest of the world — or more specifically, certain trade publications — what Murphy, Knox & Associates did. Thing was, not even Jamie was entirely clear on what their company did. Not without it making his head hurt.

Everyone else, who did the real work of the company, formed a closed little society. They put up walls that were difficult, if not impossible, to breach. They were the driving force of the company. They were the Clique.

He was the staff word nerd.

Murphy, Knox & Associates was listed with Dun & Bradstreet as a "financial services office" that claimed annual sales of $516.6 million. The press releases Jamie wrote often dealt with new financial packages. The information would come straight from Amy Felton — sometimes Nichole Wise. Rarely did it come from David, though every press release had to pass through his office. Jamie would drop a hard copy into the black plastic bin on Molly's desk. A few hours later, the hard copy would be slid under Jamie's door. Sometimes, David didn't change a thing. Other times, David would rework Jamie's prose into an ungrammatical, stilted mess.

Jamie tried to talk him out of it — taking the liberty of rewriting David's rewrite, and presenting it to him with a memo explaining why he'd made certain changes.

He did that exactly once.

"Repeat after me," David had said.

Jamie smiled.

"I'm not joking. Repeat after me."

"Oh," Jamie said. "Um, repeat after you."

"I will not."

"I will not." God, this was humiliating.

"Rewrite David Murphy's work."

"Rewrite your work."

"David Murphy's work."

"Oh. David Murphy's work."

So yeah — David could be a tool every once in a while. But that was nothing compared with how the other Murphy, Knox employees treated him on a daily basis. It wasn't a lack of respect; that would imply there had been respect to begin with. To the Clique, Jamie was just the word nerd.

To be dismissed completely, unless you needed a press release.

Worst of all: Jamie could understand. At his former job, a reporting gig at a small daily in New Mexico, the editors and reporters were tight. They pretty much ignored the newspaper's controller — the bean-counting cyborg. What, invite him out for a beer after work? That would be like inviting Bin Laden home for turkey and cranberry sauce.

And now Jamie was the cyborg. The press release–writing Bin Laden. No wonder he wasn't exactly rushing back to the office this morning.

Somehow he pulled it together. The memory of Chase, sleeping, reminded him of why.

The air-conditioning quickly cooled the interior of Jamie's Subaru Forester. The vehicle was newly equipped with a Graco baby seat in the back. The hospital wouldn't let them leave without one; both of them had forgotten about it. He'd had to run to a Toys "R" Us in Port Richmond, then spent the better part of a humid July night trying to figure out how to strap the thing in.

He looked at Chase's seat in the rearview. Wondered if he was up yet.

Jamie reached into the front pocket of his leather bag. Grabbed his cell, flipped it open. Held down the 2 key. Their home number popped up.


No service.


Jamie tried it again, then looked for the bars. Nothing. In its place, the image of a telephone receiver with a red hash mark across it.

No service.

No service here — a few minutes from the heart of downtown Philadelphia?

Maybe David had canceled the free office cell phone perk since he'd left. But no, that couldn't be right. Jamie had used the phone yesterday, calling Andrea from CVS, asking if he had the right package of diapers for Chase.

Jamie pressed the button again. Still nothing. He'd have to call Andrea from work.

His name was Stuart McCrane ...

... and his Ford Focus was halfway up the white concrete ramp before he saw the sign. He hit the brakes and squinted his eyes to make sure he was seeing right. The Focus idled. It didn't like to idle, especially on such a steep incline. Stuart had to rev it to keep it in place.

Weekend rate: $26.50.


The Saturday-morning sun blazed off 1919 Market, a thirty-seven-story box of a building. You couldn't call it a skyscraper, not with Liberty One and Two just two blocks down the street. This was where Stuart reported for work, Monday through Fridays. He had no reason to know the garage rates. He almost never drove. The regional rails carried him from his rented house in Bala Cynwyd to Suburban Station, no problem, all for just a few bucks. But this was a Saturday. Trains ran much slower. And without much traffic downtown, it was faster to drive. Apparently, it was more expensive, too.

You'd think a cushy government job would come with free parking.

Then again, you'd think that a cushy government job wouldn't haul you in on a Saturday.


But really, he had no idea why he was being dragged in on a weekend morning. Stuff he did — erasing bank accounts, leaving your average wannabe jihadist with a useless ATM card in one hand, his dick in the other — could be done anywhere, really. He could do it at friggin' Starbucks. There was nothing more simple and yet nothing more satisfying. Maybe some guys got off on the idea of picking off towel-heads with a sniper rifle. Stuart loved doing it by tapping ENTER.

Guess he'd find out what this was about soon enough.

Stuart threw the Focus in reverse, gently lifted his foot off the brake. The car rolled back down the ramp. Another vehicle turned the corner sharply, ready to shoot up the ramp and, judging from its speed, over the Focus, if need be.

Brakes screamed. The Focus jolted to a stop, pressing Stuart back into his seat.

"Man," he said.

He slapped the steering wheel, then looked into the rearview.

It was a Subaru Tribeca. With a woman behind the wheel.

Stuart crouched down into his seat, checked the rearview again. Squinted.


Molly Lewis.


Excerpted from Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski, Dennis Calero. Copyright © 2008 Duane Swierczynski. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Duane Swierczynski is the author of The Blonde (St. Martin's Minotaur) and the writer for the monthly Marvel Comics series Cable. He was the editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia City Paper, and almost never wanted to kill his employees.

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Severance Package 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
With non-stop action and multi-dimensional characters, this novel is captivating, cover to cover. One of my favorites!
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STORE NOOKUSER More than 1 year ago
Anyone who has ever had an office job can relate to this action filled book.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I just completed an advance readers addition of Duane Swierczynski's Severance Package and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The plot of this story is strange and very engaging. Going to work everyday can be difficult, going to work on the weekend even worse, going to work on the weekend and then realizing that you've be summoned to your death is the worst. Fun action packed summer reading. Probably better thatn most of the summer movies.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Severance Package is pretty much pure violence. There's no plot or point to the story other then killing from every characters possible. Although the fight scenes (and just about every other scene as well) are not very engaging, possibly because such violence doesn't translate to paper as well as it does on the big screen. One of the reviews on the back of the book states that it has 'close-quarters Bourne-style mayhem,' but it's not anywhere near the level of the Bourne trilogy. It is also very predictable, especially the ending, and few of it's twists are at all surprising. Overall, if you like violent stories and are looking for something easy to read when you're bored, this book will be fine for that. It's not horrible, it's just not that good.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Philadelphia CEO David Murphy gathers his seven underlings to a weekend business meeting at the 36th floor office. Once they gather together, David informs the septet that he has shut down the firm and more important to them he must kill them. --- There is no escape as David has locked vacuum sealed tight all exits with some containing saran gas if opened and others just shut. All seven are stunned, but the least of them, Molly ¿mousy¿ Lewis pulls out a gun and shoots Murphy in the head. --- Across the ocean in Scotland, two operatives keep in touch with their agent inside the finance firm Ania Kuczun. What the other six fail to realize as Ania begins her assignment is that she is Molly and the company they worked for was a top secret covert operations, but lost their usefulness so each employee must be eliminated. --- This modern day, action packed espionage thriller salutes Agatha Christie¿s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE as the employees learn that their SEVERANCE PACKAGE is death. The story line is fast-paced from the moment that David informs his subordinate there is no escape as they must die and never slows down until the final death spin. --- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
Truly outstanding thriller, with some of the best written action in recent memory. The formula is easy: Take 'The Office', or any of the similar work place drama/comedy productions that have of late become so popular, and imagine them re-worked by Quentin Tarantino. So that, you know, Jim and Pam might be trying to kill each other as much as get the other in bed. The office dynamic is very authentic, while the violence and action are generally realistic, but highly stylized in a fashion similar to Kill Bill. The characters' personalities are very well fleshed out over a very quick paced, quick read novel- I couldn't put it down. If there was a four-and-a-half star option I may have ranked it there, as I felt there were a few questions unanswered. After reading the synopsis for his earlier novel 'The Blonde', I suspect I'll find some if not all of those answers there, even though the books aren't so much sequels or featuring the same characters. They simply seem connected by a very interesting plot thread I look forward to seeing more of. The light political commentary isn't bad either, nor heavy handed.