One of the freshest thrillers in recent years is this unique blend of Stephen Hunter meets Carl Hiassen
WANTED: Private firm seeks former military personnel for overseas assignment. Must be proficient in firearms and explosives. Experience in special operations a plus. Successful candidate must also play piano. $1.5K/day. Compensation package includes death benefits to next of kin.
John Harper is the most reluctant spy in the history of the craft. He's retired, quit, run in from the cold, traded in his gun for a Steinway baby grand, and settled comfortably into D.C., where the only dangers are jealous husbands and underdone hors d'oeuvres. But men who know how to handle Gershwin and a Glock are rare, and when a Panamanian resort hotel advertises for a piano player with lethal skills, the government sends Harper into the twisted company of American mercenaries, camera-shy Colombians, and a revolution set for New Year's Eve, when Harper is scheduled to play his farewell performance before the fireworks begin.
David Terrenoire's Beneath a Panamanian Moon brings long-overdue humor to an often grim genre while crafting a razor-sharp thriller that's fast, funny, and unforgettable. John Harper will stay with you long after you've closed the book on the final, explosive scene.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|File size:||378 KB|
About the Author
David Terrenoire lives in North Carolina with his wife and two dogs, who, like their owner, are of indeterminate breeding.
David Terrenoire lives in North Carolina with his wife and two dogs, who, like their owner, are of indeterminate breeding. He is the author of Beneath a Panamanian Moon.
Read an Excerpt
Beneath a Panamanian Moon
By David Terrenoire
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2005 David Terrenoire
All rights reserved.
The old man's never more entertaining than when he's pissed, which is most of the time.
"They searched me down to my goddamn socks in Beirut," he said. "Then I got wedged between a fat man and a gum snapper all the way to Munich." He sneezed. "And I think I picked up a bug from a sticky little bastard at Heathrow."
I watched him in the rearview as he wiped his nose, refolded his handkerchief, and tucked it away. That reminded me to reach across and pull the revolver, snug in its holster, from the glove compartment. I handed it back to the old man. He took a moment to empty the cylinder, work the action, reload, and then clip the piece to his hip.
Smith was one of the last guys on earth to pack a .38. A wheel gun, he called it. Once, when I asked him why, he said he'd never felt comfortable carrying a .45 cocked and locked. "I might shoot off something I'd miss," he said. "Besides, it's not the caliber of the gun, but the caliber of the man behind the gun."
Smith was full of sayings like that, like a fortune cookie with hair.
Settling back into the seat, the old man pulled a flask, took a drink, and then dropped the top on the floor. He disappeared as he snagged the cap, and when his bullet-shaped head reappeared in the mirror, he was as red as a ham.
He caught me. "What's so goddamn funny?"
"You hand a man a gun and then laugh? Not too smart, Harper."
He sniffled. "Damn season," he said. "Damn snow. Damn ice. Damn airplanes. Damn government cars." He glared at me in the mirror. "Sweet Christ, boy, turn up the goddamn heat and keep your eyes on the road."
"Cold as a hooker's heart," Smith said. He took another pull from the flask. "I don't know how you stand living here. Like a goddamn Rotary Club, up to its keister in glad-handing boyos with nothing on their minds but money and ass." He sniffled again and coughed.
"You know who I miss?" Without waiting for me to answer he said, "Reagan. The man had style. And the rumor is, his wife gave the best goddamn head in Hollywood. That's impressive, considering the competition, don't you think?" Smith pulled out the handkerchief again, coughed something wet into it, stared at that for a moment, and then tucked it back inside his suit.
"Son, you know what a dialogue is?"
"I say something then you say something back?"
"Just checking. Thought maybe you'd gone to sleep on me up there."
"Watching the road, Mr. Smith."
"Right." Smith settled back into the seat again and we let the rumble of government tires on federal asphalt fill the car.
Smith coughed again and said, "You picked him up? At the airport?"
"Yes, sir. This morning, right on schedule." I had done Smith this favor, knowing that he would try to talk me into something or out of something before the day was through, and I was working up the strength to say no.
"You bug him?"
"I'm retired, sir. You know that."
Smith coughed again. "That doesn't answer my question."
"Yes, sir. I did. One on his person and one in his bag."
"You didn't say who would be recording."
"That's right. I didn't say."
"But someone is recording him while he's here, right?"
"When I want to be interrogated, Harper, I'll see the wife."
"Yes, sir." I pulled around an SUV the size of a small family farm and gave the driver, a young woman on a cell phone, the evil eye, which she ignored.
"So you saw him, you talked to him?"
"Now, impress me with your powers of observation."
"I'm retired, sir."
"You said that."
"Just so you know. This is just a ride."
"So, you didn't see anything, huh? The guy was just a fucking vapor. Maybe you've gone soft, Harper. Maybe you should think about retiring."
"I am retired."
"Oh, right, you said that."
I'm embarrassed to admit that I wanted to show off for the old man. "He came in from Miami," I said, "which doesn't really tell me much, but it does narrow the airlines and embarkation points. From his accent I'd say he's originally from the Midwest, probably Chicago. His suit's off the rack. He wore a wedding ring, and a West Point class ring, the same year as yours, so I figure you were classmates."
I waited for a word of encouragement. Instead he growled, "It's not about me, boy."
"Yes, sir." Satisfied, I went on. "The Christmas tan means he either spends time under the lights or he's someplace warm."
"Which do you think?" Smith watched me in the mirror as I answered.
"The beach, sir. That's what I think."
"He wears eyeglasses and he had tan lines at his temples. You don't wear glasses on a tanning bed, sir." I gave it a pause. "But that's just a guess. As I said before, I'm retired."
Smith nodded. I let the glow distract me and I drifted across the lane. I jerked the car back, tossing my passenger across the rear seat.
"Goddamn, Harper, you're a fucking menace."
"Sorry, sir. Maybe you should buckle your seat belt."
He growled again.
I pulled into the right lane to let the faster cars zip by. It was past morning rush hour, but the highway was crowded, as it always is around Washington.
"Okay. So, besides the ring and the tan, what else did you see?"
"Well, since you two know each other —"
"He said that?"
"No, sir, I just figured you were classmates at the Point —"
"Anyone can buy a ring, Harper."
"So he wasn't a classmate?"
"I'm telling you not to assume anything or you'll end up wearing your ass for a hat," Smith said.
"Even though you're retired," he said.
I looked up into the rearview and thought I caught a small grin sneak across his lips. "But with all I saw, and you telling me to plant a bug on him, and the line of work you're in, I figure he might be the real thing."
"The real thing?"
"Like you, sir."
"You think I'm the real thing?"
"Yes, sir. I do."
Smith ran a hand over his face. The trip from wherever he'd been had tired him and I could tell he was losing interest in the game, his mind already on the meeting ahead. "Don't believe everything you hear about me, Harper."
"So what's your conclusion about our visitor?"
"His hands are soft, sir. Someone else does his humping for him. He works someplace warm, he came in from Miami, and looking at the flight schedules into Miami, I'd guess he came in from Honduras, but maybe not. He could have flown in yesterday and spent the night."
"Not bad," Smith grunted. "For someone who's retired." He shook the flask next to his ear, judging from the slosh how much he had left. He hit on the neck again and looked out the window.
The gray Potomac rolled by and across the river the top of the Jefferson Memorial gleamed as white as ice cream. When we crossed Memorial Bridge Smith asked, "What did he say when you didn't take him to the Pentagon?"
"He asked if we were heading into the city, sir. I told him we were."
"Uh-huh," he said, in that noncommittal way that tells me nothing.
I turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue.
"You're too young to remember, but Lafayette Park was once full of hippies telling us Uncle Ho was going to kick our ass."
"Yes, sir." I hoped he wasn't going to talk about Vietnam again. Smith could talk your ear off about his glory days. "And Uncle Ho did kick your ass," I said. "Sir."
Smith burned the back of my neck with his glare. "But Uncle Ho's dead now, isn't he?"
"Last I heard, sir."
Smith laughed. "And how's your new life working out, Harper? You and that piano, I bet you're up to your keister in congressional wives."
"I like my work, sir."
"I bet you do. Well, get it while you can, boy, because when you're as old as I am, the only thing you'll regret is the tail you didn't get. Trust me on that."
"What have we got in the park today? A couple bums," Smith said.
"It's the day before Christmas, sir," I said.
I knew Smith, and I knew he thought of time as just another element of battle, as real and weighted with consequence as hills and weather, but the calendar, except for the turning of seasons, always seemed to catch him by surprise. I often enjoyed reminding him of holidays and anniversaries, just to hear that genuine grunt of astonishment. It made Smith seem fallible.
I pulled up to the brick town house, got out and held the door while Smith unfolded from the rear seat.
"Thank you, Harper. This shouldn't be long."
"I'll wait, sir."
Inside the car, I adjusted the volume on the radio. I heard someone say, "Major Snelling, he's here."
"How's he look?" I recognized the voice of the man I'd picked up at Dulles.
"Like he's eaten snakes for breakfast."
Snelling laughed. The rustling of mic on fabric followed, a door opened, another door, and then his greeting, as big and as unproductive as summer thunder. "Jim, it's damn good to see you. Called the wife yet?"
"I was hoping this would be a pleasure trip," Smith said.
Snelling laughed, too loud and too long.
"So, what's up? Why call me in from the field?" Smith hated aimless chitchat, which made him a great soldier, I guessed, but I couldn't imagine it was a good thing in a spy. But then, he was a different kind of spy.
I heard the smack of papers land on a tabletop. "We have a situation," Snelling said.
There was silence. I assumed Smith was reading whatever Snelling had tossed his way. After a moment Smith said, "I know both of them. This one's good. That Silver Star should have been a Medal of Honor, and would have been under another commanding officer. The other one, I'm glad the son of a bitch is out of the service. He got good men killed for no good reason."
"He's in Panama."
"Really? Great. Nice place for him to die. Maybe something painful."
"He's managing a resort hotel."
Snelling laughed. "On the outside. But the place is crawling with mercs."
"So what do we know about the place?"
"We think the hotel is the headquarters for a new private military corporation, a PMC."
"They're popping up all over the globe, offering so much money for the right skills that it's getting tough keeping the special ops guys in uniform. But what's in Panama?"
"They're training bodyguards and security forces for wealthy Latin American families. That's what we know."
"But recently we had a boy come home in a bag."
"From Panama? Jesus Christ, he die from the clap?"
I heard the scrape of a chair. I looked up from the car and saw a man standing in the third-floor window. It was Snelling, looking down. I hoped he didn't recognize me. He said, "It's a mess down there, Jim. You know things are bad in Colombia."
"Yeah, I know."
"With the rebels kidnapping an oil man every goddamn week, the drug war blossoming into a shooting war, and the normal fucked-up politics of the place, we don't need a band of well-armed adrenaline junkies stirring shit up."
"What with all the terrorist threats, the Canal's got to be a real sphincter tuck for the administration."
"Roger that. All it would take is a good C-4 charge against one of the locks and we've got nothing but a big goddamn mud bowl."
"So how does this tie in with the hotel?"
"We don't know. And we'd like to know. Jim, you remember a boy named Winstead?"
"John Winstead? Yeah. I served with him in the Balkans. Boy's a great shot up close, not much for long distances. Perfect for the jungle. Why? He looking for a job?"
"He was the boy in the bag."
There was a very long stretch of silence. When Smith did speak it was barely loud enough to be picked up. "I didn't want to hear that," he said.
"He was killed with his own shotgun. What's that sound like to you?"
"He wouldn't let an enemy get close enough," Smith said. "So I'd look real hard at his friends."
"That's what we thought."
"I liked that boy. What can I do?"
"This whole crew is on a long leash. We need you to find out what's up so we can rein the bastards in. There's chatter on some of the South American lines about something big coming on New Year's, but we don't know what and we don't know where. We think it might be Panama. We'd like to rule these guys out if we can, friend or foe."
"That only gives us eight days. Why not call on some old friends in the area? I'm sure we have a few down there who still have teeth."
"We're working that end," Snelling said, "but we need an independent source. Someone on the ground."
"So you don't trust our old Latin American friends."
"I didn't say that."
"But you want the place shut down?"
"I didn't say that, either. All we want is information. Then maybe with a change in management we can turn this op to our advantage."
I heard Smith light another cigarette. It was his way of stalling, giving himself time to think. "Is Langley behind this?"
"They swear they're not, Jim, and we're inclined to believe them."
"And you want someone from my crew, someone who's outside the normal channels."
"Do you want someone to gather intelligence," Smith said, "or someone proficient in wet work?"
There was a long pause.
"I need to know," said Smith.
"Intelligence is what we need. We're on the other thing."
"I'm flattered, but why my network?"
"You have someone who's been contacted by this PMC."
A private military corporation was a relatively new example of American entrepreneurial spirit. In places all over the globe, PMCs were marketing themselves as experts in security. Their personnel were drawn, usually through a personal recommendation, from the ranks of former special ops or psy ops military. Back in the day, you could become a mercenary just by answering an ad in a magazine. Now, you needed a solid résumé and references. Corporations had taken over guns for hire.
I had been hit on twice by PMCs, one recently, but the thought of sleeping in mud and eating animals I normally see in zoos held absolutely no interest for me. I'd turned down both without a second thought.
"And this op of mine, what happened when the PMC made its offer?"
"Said he wasn't interested." I heard rustling papers. Snelling said, "This is one of yours?"
Smith was silent for a moment and I knew he was looking at the papers. And then he laughed. "This is priceless," he said. "Just fucking priceless."
A D.C. cop tapped my window and I just about jumped out of my skin. The cop, a look of deep, existential boredom on his face, spun his hand in a lazy loop, telling me either to roll down my window or that he'd mastered a few very small rope tricks. I took a guess and rolled down the window. "Yes, Officer?"
"You can't park here," he said.
"I'm waiting for my boss." I reached into my jacket, slowly, not wanting to spook him, and pulled out my White House credentials. They were phony, of course, but there wasn't a cop in the city that could tell them from the real thing, even side by side.
The cop looked at the ID, and then my face, matching the photo to the flesh. "Who's your boss?"
"I'm sorry, Officer, but that's classified."
Right away I knew it was the wrong thing to say. Some cops actually get off on that secret stuff. They want to think they're strapping on a firearm every morning and stepping into a city peopled with Sidney Greenstreets and Mata Haris. But a lot of cops resent it, too, because it makes them feel locked out of the big game, and it's tough to figure which ones will play along and which ones won't until you pull it on them.
This one had never heard of Sidney Greenstreet. "Sir, if you don't move your vehicle I'm going to have it towed."
I didn't want him calling me in. This particular identity was good but, like congressional integrity, it was a mile wide and an inch deep. So I thanked him, rolled around the block, cursing the traffic. Once back in range I heard Smith say, "What happens if things get rough?"
"Can your boy handle himself?"
Smith snorted. "In a roomful of chicas, maybe."
It was suddenly very hot inside the car. I cracked a window.
"Listen, we'll expedite whatever needs to be done," Snelling said. "The administration is committed to democracy in Latin America, but if the president sees anything even remotely resembling a wild-hair freelance militia, even if most of them are all-American, he'll send in the marines to cut some heads."
"Déjà vu, huh, Snelling?"
Snelling muttered something I couldn't make out. Then he said, "I appreciate this, Jim, I do."
"Yeah. Can I go back to work now?"
"Why don't you take a few days, go see Mildred. It's Christmas, Jim."
"I can't, Mack. I don't have time."
"At least let me buy you dinner."
"Thanks, but I've got plans."
After a short silence, Snelling said, "Okay. But keep in touch, Jim, and let me know. I've got one of my own on the ground who can watch your boy's back, just in case. He's not so good at intel, but there's nobody better if things break ugly."
Excerpted from Beneath a Panamanian Moon by David Terrenoire. Copyright © 2005 David Terrenoire. 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
GREAT book! Need MORE from this author!
Avoid this book - unless you're a modestly-accomplished, unathletic & far from warlike middle-aged man, with fantasies of emerging from ordinariness, rising to the challenges of a life of action, suddenly acquiring a crew if smokehouse buddies who, inexplicably, proceed to die for you, and navigating the relentless sexual demands of a racial & national chocolate-box assortment of romantic, parentless - and oddly brainless - 18-to-24-year-old beauties. Keeping the protagonist in the dark as to the nature, not just the details, of the plot he is sent to avert, far from creating an atmosphere of danger and suspense, merely serves to confuse the reader while allowing the author to paper over his plot's many holes, and its outright vagaries - events that just happen, for no apparent reason - except perhaps because they give this vivid prose-smith, but thoroughly incompetent novelist, an excuse for a set-piece of incident, or often mere description. The author should abandon the novel - much less the espionage thriller - and consider taking up travel writing instead. He could probably write a guidebook that would inspire a major fad for vacationing in Panama - though I'd pity the tourist who took it literally. The "humor" might, at a very long shot, appeal to the hypothetical reader described above. I laugh so hard at books that it's been remarked on more times than I can count; this one never even had me crack a smile. TL;DR: implausible, incoherent, & boring: a waste of money & time. Can I get a refund?
A lot of unnecessary negative liberty taken about the country and people. Sure miss Mrs Pollifax ...Dorothy Gilmore. The action was fast paced but wished more research done as to the places where it took place.
Plot was ok, writing was excellent