Assassin's Run: A David Slaton Novel

Assassin's Run: A David Slaton Novel

by Ward Larsen

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765391506
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 08/21/2018
Series: David Slaton Series , #4
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 142,952
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

WARD LARSEN is a USA Today bestselling author and four-time winner of the Florida Book Award. He has also been nominated for both the Macavity and Silver Falchion Awards. A former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, Larsen flew more than twenty missions in Operation Desert Storm. He has served as a federal law enforcement officer and is a trained aircraft accident investigator. His first thriller, The Perfect Assassin, is currently being adapted into a major motion picture by Amber Entertainment.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

It was just as well Pyotr Ivanovic didn't realize he was about to die. As a man who comprehensively enjoyed a good meal, his last on this earth would be free of any misgivings regarding his soon-to-be-issued digestif.

He glanced out the starboard window at a night-shrouded sea, the occasional breaker highlighted in dim moonlight. Lovely as the panorama was, it was far less compelling than what rested before him on the white-linened table. His new chef had outdone himself tonight. The steak before Ivanovic was a choice cut, thirty ounces of grain-fed beef flown in from Australia and seared to perfection. Against that, the potatoes Lyonnais were but an afterthought, the haricots verts no more than garnish. The bottle of Bordeaux, he allowed, did the steak justice, one of the best from his extensive shipboard collection. Thankfully, the new man had learned quickly. Ivanovic did not count calories. He courted them openly, throwing himself upon the culinary altar of any chef who could do them well. Tonight's meal, as it turned out, was more special than most. It was a celebration of sorts, marking the beginning of the most ambitious undertaking of his career.

Which made it very ambitious indeed.

The head of his security detail came through the salon door, bringing a gust of wind with him. October had arrived full force on the Tyrrhenian Sea, the opening volley of winter's campaign. Ivanovic looked up in annoyance, but he knew there was no use in berating the man — that was life at sea.

The ship was called Cassandra — ship because no vessel 190 feet long could be referred to as a boat, and Cassandra as a prod at his late mother. He still laughed inwardly at that: the ship had already been around the world once, while her namesake, as far as he knew, had never in her life traveled more than ten miles from the miserable Ukrainian village in which she'd been born.

The yacht had been built to his demanding specifications by a man who, if not the finest marine architect in Greece, was certainly the most expensive. The mahogany planking beneath his feet was inlaid with gold trim, and every fitting and furnishing was of the highest quality. Marble floors and columns predominated, so much weight that the poor architect had warned the boat might capsize. Another three million had allayed the man's worries, something to do with stabilizers and ballast to keep the ship upright, and causing Ivanovic to jest that her keel had been laid not in lead but gold. Ultimately, however, he had what he wanted — not a refuge for the odd vacation, but rather a stage, a platform from which all manner of business and pleasure might be consummated.

His thickset security chief padded across the salon. He was dressed in his usual ill-fitting suit, and his only visible accessory — sourced not from Gucci or Hermès, but rather Beretta — bulged obviously beneath a wrinkled lapel. The man handed over a communications printout. "This just arrived," he said in Russian.

Ivanovic took a ten-page printout in hand and removed his reading glasses from a pocket. "Is the loading complete?" he asked.

"Yes. The ship will sail shortly after midnight from Sebastopol."

Ivanovic skimmed the report, which contained an official manifest purporting what was being carried and where it was being taken. He chuckled at the creativity involved, and with some effort extracted the few truths. The destination was listed as Mumbai, which covered things nicely. Argos, a ship his new subsidiary had acquired only last month, was to leave Crimea for the Black Sea, then run a gentle slalom through the Bosporus Straits, followed by a left turn into open water. There she would disappear into the Mediterranean's river of commerce.

"Bring me any new updates," Ivanovic said dismissively.

His security man disappeared and he readdressed his steak, his eyes still scanning the paperwork page by page. He was remorseless in his attack, his hands sawing hunks of flesh and plugging them into his mouth. At the other end of the twelve-foot table a young woman sat ignored, but that was nothing new. It had long been Ivanovic's custom to work through dinner — he'd always felt he was at his best behind a good meal, his senses at their most heightened.

"You are not eating," he said distractedly, his eyes pinned on a cargo manifest.

Ursula, the new blonde from a tiny village in Siberia, twirled her fork through a salad.

"It is too much for me," she replied.

He measured a lewd reply, but the sport of it escaped him. He was already growing tired of this one. She was young and rail thin, eyes as blue and empty as a cloudless midday sky. She'd spent the day shopping on the island of Capri, now three miles off the starboard beam. Ivanovic had no doubt she'd spent every dollar of the ten thousand he'd allotted. What had to be a new dress clung like shrink wrap, and the bracelet flopping on one of her wrists looked like a diamond-studded handcuff.

"When will we leave for Saint-Tropez?" she asked.

Ivanovic ignored the question, sensing a bit of negotiating capital for later use in his suite.

He finished his steak, and with barely a pause the cook appeared with a massive crème brûlée in one hand and a torch in the other. In a flourish of culinary stagecraft, the cook lit his flame and soon had the topping caramelized into a crust that looked positively volcanic.

Ten minutes later, his great belly full, Ivanovic stepped out onto the wide aft deck, which doubled as a helipad, and prepared his customary cigar. Fighting a brisk wind, he managed to light it, and stood in survey of his surroundings. In the distance Capri rose from the sea, and a string of amber to the east outlined the Amalfi Coast.

Earlier today, viewing the harbor of Capri, he'd seen one other ship in Cassandra's league. Ivanovic had checked the ship's registry, and was surprised to find that it wasn't owned by a Russian, but rather a Greek. Probably that bastard marine architect, he mused. Twenty years ago it would have been a Saudi, before that a Brit. Today, however, across the Med, the competition was largely between the oligarchs. Men who wore their wealth as a badge in the face of invariably humble beginnings.

Ivanovic himself was a case in point. The son of a Ukrainian pig farmer, he had always known he was destined for more than his muck-booted elder. How much more had surprised even him. He'd walked out of the foothills of the Carpathians at fifteen, and within two years found himself in Moscow doing small favors for third-tier mobsters. In time, the grade of both his dealings and the crooks he associated with rose in parallel. And now the bar had risen one last time. To a point that could go no higher.

He heard footsteps behind him, and turned to see his security man again.

"Is there something new?" Ivanovic asked.

"No sir. I just wanted to mention ... I think it might be safer inside."

"You worry too much."

The security man, whose name was Pavel, and who was the closest thing Ivanovic had to a friend, nearly said something. Instead he stood down.

Ivanovic said, "They tell me Abramovich's new ship will be nearly a hundred meters."

Pavel shrugged. "I wouldn't know."

"A hundred meters. That's a very round number — someone should do it."

Pavel eyed Ivanovic's cigar, clearly calculating how much longer it had to burn. Ivanovic went to the starboard rail as a wayward cloud blotted out the moon. He pulled a long draw on his Cohiba, then flicked a bit of ash into the wind-driven water below.

* * *

From a distance, the sinewy young man looking through his scope saw a fragment of white-hot ash flutter down to the sea. The burning cigar itself was bright, like a beacon atop the rotund lighthouse that was Pyotr Ivanovic. He saw another man on deck, yet had no trouble distinguishing which of the two to target. The Ukrainian stood out in any crowd, his height and girth at the limits of human potential.

The shooter was still getting used to the new scope, a synthetic hybrid of optical and infrared imagery, and he was pleasantly surprised. Technology in armaments had never been a Russian strength — manufacturers there had long leaned toward simplicity and robustness. The picture before him was unusually sharp, if a bit undermagnified.

The story behind his equipment had been explained to him by a pair of engineers, this in itself a departure from long-held practices. They told him the scope was not a Russian design, but had in fact been "acquired" from America's leading edge research facility, the Sandia National Laboratories. This was nothing new. Russia had long ago stopped trying to keep pace with the West, realizing it was far more economical to let them do the expensive research, development, and testing, then simply steal the results. It had been going on for decades, going back to the Cold War. In those heady days, virtually every new American airplane was followed within a few years by a curiously similar Soviet twin. A time lag had been unavoidable then, Soviet developers forced to work largely from photographs, which necessitated considerable guesswork and reverse engineering. Now the internet age had simplified things greatly — today Russia simply hacked into computers and filched proven blueprints, shortening the "time to shelf" considerably.

The assassin checked the scope's calibration one last time, then verified the synchronization. It was the first time he'd used this system in the field — even his practice had been limited to tightly controlled simulations. The rifle was at least familiar, which gave a degree of confidence. Best of all, his level of personal risk on this mission was less than on any he'd ever undertaken.

A gust of wind brushed the shooter's cheek. On any other day it would have got his attention, but tonight he ignored it entirely. His finger began to press the trigger and his breathing slowed, the habits of eight years taking hold. It couldn't hurt. Finally, in what could only be termed a playful impulse, he jerked his finger through the final half inch of travel.

The big gun answered, bucking once and belching a tongue of flame. All as expected. The bulky suppressor helped, but there was no dampening the supersonic round. The killer resettled the scope for what seemed an interminable amount of time. He was almost ready to admit a miss when Ivanovic jerked violently.

He saw the Russian's head slam forward on a neck carrying its last neural transmissions to the limbs below. His massive body seemed to hesitate for a moment, like a felled tree deciding which way to drop. Then he cart-wheeled over the ship's rail and into the sea.

The splash was momentous.

It was all the confirmation the killer needed. Job done, he tidied up his gear, surveyed carefully his course of egress, and blended into the night.

CHAPTER 2

Compared to the launch of her dead owner a thousand miles away, the departure of Argos from the docks of Sebastopol caused barely a ripple. She was a Russian-flagged vessel, a 312-foot carrier of general cargo. The ship's hull was weathered and her fixtures dated, but there was not a hint of slackness in her rigging, nor any chatter in the hum of her engine. Nearing the end of an unremarkable service life, she'd spent years hauling fertilizer to Syria, a surprisingly profitable niche until civil war brought agricultural production there to a grinding halt. Shifting to more reliable trade, Argos had found steady if marginally profitable work running dry goods and machinery between Black Sea ports and the more sedate corners of the Middle East.

The ship's recent transfer of ownership had little apparent effect on her operation. Most of the crew had stayed on in a tight job market, including her skipper, a thickset Armenian named Amad Zakaryan. As sea captains went, Zakaryan was a decent sort, with a reputation as a competent if conservative master who held deep familiarity with the routes he plied. Argos was his second command, this for a man who'd been running the Black Sea since he was a teen. He'd started out pulling dock lines and scraping rust, working his way up to master over the course of three decades. In that time he'd seen great change in the merchant marine industry, much of it for the better.

The changes he saw tonight, however, were not to his liking.

Argos maneuvered up the deepest channel in the Port of Sebastopol, a weaving passage through ebony water that did justice to the adjacent sea's name. On display to starboard, as if lined up for inspection, were bits and pieces of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. It was the smallest of that nation's naval commands, comprised largely of ships that were castoffs from the frontline cold water fleets. The docks had grown marginally busier since the annexation of Crimea, and from the wing of the bridge Zakaryan watched the hulking shadow of a destroyer slide past in the pier's yellow-sulfur lights. Being intimately familiar with the harbor, he knew this particular warship hadn't seen open water in five years. Of course he knew why. For an economically struggling Russia, unable to fund major repairs, more of her navy was falling each day to little more than placeholder status. Like mortgaged hotels on a Monopoly board, eye-catching but valueless.

Soon the last wharves slid past, and the channel opened up to greet the black void ahead. Zakaryan issued an order to raise the speed, but he remained on the catwalk. He half turned his head to address the man standing behind him.

"I should know what we are carrying," the captain said. It was the third time he'd posed the question, and while he didn't expect an answer, he thought the business of getting under way might be his last rightful chance to ask.

The man standing by the rail, who wore heavy cargo pants and a thick sweater, gave a classically Slavic shrug. His name was Ivan, or so he said, and his accent was unmistakably Russian. A Russian named Ivan. That had been the captain's first thought when they'd met yesterday afternoon. God help us had been his second.

There had been little interface when he'd first come aboard. Zakaryan had shown the man to his quarters on the upper deck, followed by a cautious exchange as they stood watching the deck crane lift a series of pallets aboard — none of them was particularly large, but they were obviously heavy based on the creaking of the cables and the efforts of the men on the guidelines. That was when the captain had first asked what they were carrying. The second query came around midnight, after Zakaryan had signed what was clearly a dubious cargo manifest — not unheard-of in these parts. Neither query had gotten a response. Now, with the ship plowing toward open water, it seemed his last chance.

"What if we experience a fire in the hold?" Zakaryan pressed. "My men must know what they are dealing with."

"Don't let your boat catch fire," said Ivan. His hair was close-cropped, his manner blunt, and a pair of squinting eyes gave nothing away.

"What speed should we make?"

"We are in no hurry We need to breach the Suez six days from now."

Breach, Zakaryan thought, as if we're blasting through a door. To Ivan's name and nationality, he added a third descriptor: army. It did not bode well.

Indeed, the captain's orders for this voyage were unique in all his years at sea. When it came to matters of storms, mechanical problems, or trouble with the crew, Zakaryan would be in charge. When it came to anything else — where they were going, what they were carrying, and when they would arrive — a Russian soldier named Ivan was in command. Every crewman's cell phone had been secured in a locker under his bunk, and even the two-way radios were off limits, to be used only in Ivan's presence. In Zakaryan's experience, it was an unprecedented surrender of authority, but there had been little choice. The ship's new ownership group, which went by the hazy name of MIR Enterprises, was represented by a man named Romanov who had made clear that if Zakaryan didn't comply, a replacement skipper could easily be found. He'd heard such threats before from owners, yet something told him this new group would go through with it. Whatever cargo they were plying, it wasn't going to be left stacked on a pier for the honor of one journeyman sea captain.

Zakaryan tried a different tack with his new co-commander. "I checked the arrival schedule in Mumbai," he said, referring to their ostensible destination. "The port administration there has no record of our sailing — they won't be expecting us."

"Good."

Zakaryan waited, but nothing else came. Frustrated, he stepped to the forward rail and looked out across a dead-calm sea.

"Do not worry, Captain. All will become clear. In two weeks you will be back in Sebastopol with a very nice bonus."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Assassin's Run"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Ward Larsen.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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