A short story of conspiracy and mayhem by the author of Six Days of the Condor, reimagining the classic spy thriller in our post-9/11 world.
In this chilling short story, a CIA analyst codenamed Condor is caught in the grip of a conspiracy he can barely understand. When he finds something strange linked to a covert operation in Afghanistan, he makes the mistake of contacting his superiors. Soon after, a gunman attacks during an office coffee break, killing all but Condor. Alone and out of his depth, Condor chases the conspiracy while on the run, learning quickly that, though the Cold War may be over, espionage remains a dangerous game.
This heart-pounding spy story continues the adventures of Condor, James Grady’s unforgettable character immortalized by Robert Redford in the classic film Three Days of the Condor, and currently portrayed by Max Irons in the all-new TV series Condor.
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About the Author
After moving to Washington, DC, Grady worked for a syndicated columnist, investigating everything from espionage to drug trafficking. He quit after four years to focus on his own writing, and has spent the last three decades composing thrillers and screenplays. His body of work has won him France’s Grand Prix du Roman Noir, Italy’s Raymond Chandler Award, and Japan’s Baka-Misu literary prize. Grady’s most recent novel is Mad Dogs (2006). He and his wife live in a suburb of Washington, DC.
James Grady (b. 1949) is the author of screenplays, articles, and over a dozen critically acclaimed thrillers. Born in Shelby, Montana, Grady worked a variety of odd jobs, from hay bucker to gravedigger, before graduating from the University of Montana with a degree in journalism. In 1973, after years of acquiring rejection slips for short stories and poems, Grady sold his first novel: Six Days of the Condor, a sensational bestseller which was eventually adapted into a film starring Robert Redford. After moving to Washington, D.C. Grady worked for a syndicated columnist, investigating everything from espionage to drug trafficking. He quit after four years to focus on his own writing, and has spent the last three decades composing thrillers and screenplays. His body of work has won him France’s Grand Prix du Roman Noir, Italy’s Raymond Chandler Award, and Japan’s Baka-Misu literary prize. Grady’s most recent novel is Mad Dogs (2006). He and his wife live in a suburb of Washington, D.C.
Read an Excerpt
By James Grady
A MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 2011 James Grady
All rights reserved.
"Do you know who you are?" said steel-haired boss Richard Dray from behind his Washington, D.C., desk in a closed-door office that smelled of hot chocolate. Bifocals hung from a shoelace looped around Dray's neck.
The younger man on the other side of the desk that spring Monday morning said: "Aren't I the guy in my mirror?"
"No. You're Condor. Our new Condor. A South American assassination consortium and two previous shadow operatives for Uncle Sam had that code name."
"What happened to those other two guys?"
"One became a Watergate burglar. The other had ... odd luck."
"I can imagine."
"That's not your job."
"Sure it is," said Condor. "I'm a cyber spy. I troll the World Wide Web. If I find something hinky, I zap a report into our secret network. Mark Twain said history doesn't repeat itself, though it might rhyme. I try to imagine those rhymes."
"You imagine rhymes." Repeated. Rhetorical. Reproachful. Rebuking.
Condor shrugged: "It's a gift."
"A gift? From the CIA? Ha!"
"Ha?" said Condor.
"You think I trust the CIA? We held onto this open source cyber section here at Homeland Security because they lost out when we all got shoved under the Director of National Intelligence umbrella. Then last week, they dumped you here. Now I'm getting complaints about you using your Top Secret clearance to track a Pentagon mission called ..." Dray consulted his computer monitor: "... called Rising Thunder.
"Why are you stepping outside your job description?" asked his boss.
"I see our guys' faces," said Condor, as his imagination ran a movie of twelve Rising Thunder Delta Force commandos in a musty Pakistani barracks.
Condor became obsessed with the dozen American soldiers through video and photos in secret data streams he surfed. Twelve flesh and blood men, their destiny shaped by the CIA's discovery of an al Qaeda base infecting an Afghan village, a threat that with slam-dunk certainty fit every prediction, every electronic intercept from terrorist-friendly TV journalists to cell phone chatter in Malaysia. Condor knew every informant's whisper, every NSA satellite photo of bearded "villagers" carrying AK-47s.
Rising Thunder was a surgical strike. Twelve American RT/Delta commandos would insert into the village via a stealth helicopter chopping through cold night, covertly slam the Al Qaeda command hut, wet work authorized, secure until a cavalry wave of Army Rangers helicoptered over the mountains' dawn horizon to liberate the rest of the village and harvest fanatic foes from amidst the innocents.
"I know what's there," Condor told boss Richard Dray that Monday morning. "I know they're GO in thirty-one hours. But I don't know what's bothering me."
"Doesn't matter. Rising Thunder is covered and you're not the blanket."
"If not me, who?"
"Who? You're Condor, not an owl. No more ... unauthorized imagining!"
"I'll do my best." Condor left his boss's private lair to walk out to the maze.
Condor looked around that second-floor cavern in a mixed business and residential neighborhood thirty-one blocks northwest of the National Zoo's tigers. Security engineers had bricked-over the cavern's windows to enclose a chessboard maze of cubicles. Jacobs Ladders atop each heart-high, green plastic partition rippled waves of blue electric bolts. Those electric bolts countered any snooping microwaves and made this second-story spy factory crackle like Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory.
Color printouts taped up inside Condor's cubicle made kaleidoscopic murals. Classified reports and home pages of terrorist Web sites hung beside downloaded scenes from movies like Fight Club, The Magnificent Seven, noir crime flicks from the preceding century that none of his coworkers knew, plus office favorites The Matrix and The Social Network. A color photo of 9/11's smoking World Trade Center clung to one green plastic partition beside the all-black New Yorker silhouette cover memorializing the twin towers. A cell phone snap of Condor maneuvering up a gym's climbing wall was his only personal photo.
Instead of going to his cubicle, Condor walked to the coffee machine where he thought no one would overhear him, snuck his cell phone out of his gray sports jacket.
The woman who answered his phone call said: "Now what?"
Condor whispered into his cell phone: "You've got to get me out of here!"
"I pulled strings to get you in there. One week, and you already want to leave! There's no coming back across the river. Not now. The politics—Are you in trouble?"
"Not again! Say it's not the same thing!"
"Like I told you ten days ago, something about that Afghan op ..."
"Bugs you. Your snooping on that triggered paranoids in our Firm. I had to promise you'd stop, that you were a smart trade to Homeland, that ..."
"Hey, this morning I almost figured out what's bothering me!" He smelled burnt coffee. If I'd texted her, I couldn't have heard her voice. "I just want to do my job."
"No. Do the job they want. I'm not your boss anymore."
"But you know me. And I'm not going to stop, so ... Where are you now?"
"In my car by the White House."
"Meet me. Twenty minutes. Where I spilled on you."
He heard the hum of traffic. Angry honks. Her mental wheels whirling.
"Come on, Renee," said Condor. "Help me figure this out."
Renee Lake sighed. "Give me twenty-five minutes."
Condor put his cell phone away. Saw none of the other five on-duty analysts watching. The boss's door was closed. Condor dumped the hot mud in the coffee machine's glass pot down the drain. He switched the machine off, swung it open. Pulled a red wire loose. Closed the machine. Flipped the power switch.
The power light stayed unlit.
He sighed guiltily but walked to an intercom on a wall, pushed the call button.
"Yes?" Boss Dray's voice boomed through the speaker.
"The coffee machine's dead," Condor told the intercom box. "I'm making a Starbucks run. Do you want a café mocha?"
A voice yelled from the maze of cubicles: "Not fair!"
The other five analysts popped their head above their green cubicle walls.
Juan loomed like a thoughtful NFL tackle: "We should all get to go."
The boss's disembodied voice boomed: "Non-task departures of personnel ..."
"Staff motivation meeting!" ad-libbed Sarita. Officially, the Jacobs Ladder electric surges were bio-benign, but Condor worried every time he saw static frame Sarita's beautiful Bombay face with a floating black fan of her electro-charged hair.
"No!" he yelled to the intercom box and his colleagues: "I want to go alone!"
The disembodied voice boomed: "It is inappropriate for a supervisor to request personal favors from subordinate personnel. No whipped cream."
The Beatles—two analysts with self-inflicted shaggy retro haircuts—high-fived through an electric blue bolt undulating up from the partition between their cubicles.
"I'll go on ahead!" Condor hurried away from his five gathering colleagues. At the top of the stairs, his eyes filled with sunlight streaming into the first-floor entryway through the glass door that could withstand a burst from an AK-47.
Clumping down the stairs, he fumbled for his cell phone to call Renee.
Saw a mailman walking up the outside stairs toward the glass door.
Saw the leather pouch the blue-uniformed mailman clutched to his chest.
Condor opened the door.
"Thanks." The postal carrier stepped into the entryway. His nametag read Burt. The mailman put envelopes into the postal box that hid chemical sensors in its walls.
"And thanks again for pickin' me up yesterday in the rain. Most people never see us. It's like mailmen are invisible."
"I see ghosts." Condor anxiously fingered his cell phone.
"That's not the line from the movie."
"You work with what you got."
"True that," said the mailman. "Which reminds me ..."
Burt nodded toward the plaque mounted by the door buzzer.
"... Feenix Data Systems, Inc. What do you guys do?"
His fellow analysts maneuvered past Condor and the mailman—except for Juan, who stood still as a mountain, blocking the stairs up.
Condor diverted the mailman out to the stoop: "We work with what they give us."
"I hear you." The mailman walked to the next door.
"Let's go," said Juan, directing Condor to join their crew walking the other way.
"Nerds on parade!" joked Sarita as the six coworkers strolled up the sidewalk.
Condor sighed. Can't call to cancel now. "Not what I planned."
"Life happens." Sarita wrinkled her brow. "Is this about more than coffee?"
Sarita smelled like oranges. She set her eyes on Condor as he walked beside her. Asked the new guy, a single guy her age: "So what else did you have in mind?"
"Dudes!" interrupted the chubby analyst named Hershel. He wore classic black and white sneakers. "You won't believe what I popped onto last Friday!"
Juan lowered his voice: "We don't talk about work."
"Then what else can we talk about except movies?" said Hershel as they neared the neighborhood's Starbucks. "Everything else we can say is on Facebook!"
"Facebook is so over," said Sarita. "Unless you're trying to overthrow the government and, hey, people, we are the government."
"We're regular people," said the short Beatle as he held open the Starbucks door for his colleagues. "We got a lot to say."
"Nobody listens," said the tall Beatle as the secret agents entered Starbucks.
Condor scanned the coffee-scented chamber: No Renee. An old man in the corner nursed a cup of wake-up as he fed memories into a laptop. A Mommy and Me quartet devoured adult conversation while three mommies rolled strollers with sleeping babies back and forth. Mom number four rocked her baby in a shoulder snuggly while she texted in her way-too-smart phone. Steam hissed. Two green-aproned baristas worked behind the brown wooden counter. The sound system played Muddy Waters growling "Manish Boy" blues. The phone in Condor's pocket felt like a boulder.
"Order for me, OK?" he asked Juan. Condor hurried down a dead-end hall.
"You're supposed to need to go after coffee!" teased Hershel.
"Grow up," said Sarita.
Condor entered the men's room where all he heard through the closed door was Muddy Waters thumping blues. Condor grabbed his phone. Punched redial.
The bathroom sink glistened white. He saw himself in the mirror. Gray blazer, blue shirt, no tie, cell phone pressed to his ear as Muddy Waters proclaimed himself "a full grown man." Condor stared at his own mirrored reflection.
A stroller-rolling mom glanced at the Starbucks door as a man wearing a face-covering hoodie entered the ordinary coffee shop. His left hand pulled off the hood, freeing his optics and revealing his bald head as he thrust his right arm into the partially zipped garment. The mom thought: Hope he's not having a heart attack. She turned to her laughing friends. Didn't see that man's surgeon-gloved left hand lock the café door.
The bald man swung a silencer-equipped Uzi out from under his hoodie: Cough! The woman barista wore a new red earring as she fell. Cough! A heart shot knocked the male barista into the pastry case.
The bald man thumbed the Uzi to full auto and sprayed the huddle of just-beginning-to-realize coworkers. Juan. Hershel. Sarita. The Beatles. They all crashed in bloody heaps. Ejected brass shell casings tinkled on the coffee shop's floor. The old man in the corner ducked behind his laptop's screen. Cough! One bullet punched a hole through that plastic and crimson flecked the keyboard.
In the bathroom, Condor heard weird noises. What the hell?
The bald man coughed a bullet into a mother's screaming mouth. Babies wailed. Muddy Waters growled. One mom shoved her stroller away—cough—as she sprawled across the table, knocking over paper cups of coffee to add to the liquid mess. The third stroller mom sprang like a lioness toward the killer and he coughed a red line across her white blouse.
The mom with the snuggly cupped her hands over her baby's head. "Please, no!"
In the bathroom, Condor heard the woman's plea as a warning of threat! Danger! Dropped his phone in his pocket and grabbed the only thing he could find to weaponize.
Baldy zeroed his Uzi on snuggly mom's forehead, pulled the trigger. Click.
Hope flickered in her eyes.
His left hand drew the 9mm Glock pistol holstered on his belt.
Motion erupted behind snuggly mom.
Condor charged from the bathroom, his arm cocked to throw what he'd grabbed. He saw lumpy clothes heaped on the floor. Saw a bald man holding two guns. Leapt over the counter toward cover as he threw—
A toilet paper roll, its white paper chain unspooling toward the startled killer.
Off her funeral pyre rose Sarita. Shoulder shot. Rib shot. Refusing death. She charged the bald man who dared presume to be her assassin.
Three targets distracted the bald killer:
The Indian bitch who—damn it!—wouldn't just die.
The flying-through-the-air dork who'd thrown a fucking roll of toilet paper.
Bam! A bullet drilled through Sarita's chest missing her lungs, heart, aorta and spine as it ripped from her back. Stumbling, she kept going.
Bam! Bam! Bullets zinged past Condor as he fell behind the counter.
Bam! Snuggly mom's left eye flowed like a red fountain.
The crazy shot-to-hell spy woman flopped toward the killer. He shoved her away with the empty Uzi, leveled his Glock at her face and Bam! A red dot blossomed right smack where American-born Sarita never thought to wear a caste mark.
Condor threw a giant cappuccino off the serving bar and hit the Glock.
Scalding liquid splashed the killer's face. Wincing closed his eyes.
Condor vaulted the counter, wrestled the killer for the Uzi and Glock.
The killer let Condor have both guns, grabbed his jacket lapels and windmilled Condor through the air with the tomo-nage foot-in-the-stomach judo throw.
Condor flew shoes-first into the Starbucks plate glass window.
Bustin' glass exploded him outside, inertia tumbled him to his feet, bounced him off a parked car, his cell phone flipping from his pocket—skidding into the sewer slit. Condor still clung to both guns. Looked through the shattered window. Saw the bald man clawing his pants leg up.
Condor threw the Uzi through the broken window and missed hitting the killer.
Got a pistol in my other hand! Bam! Condor blasted a Glock slug at the killer. The bullet ripped through the Starbuck's bathroom wall and shattered the mirror.
Condor heard a voice behind him yell: "... shoot!"
Whirl aim at murder sound/man with gun—Bam!
Middle of the street, a blue-shirted cop spun a pirouette—fell beside his cruiser.
Bam! A bullet zinged past Condor from inside the Starbucks and he ducked, ran in the opposite direction of the quickly parked police cruiser. Ran fast. Ran hard.
Ran knowing: The killer's shooting at me!
Ran knowing: I shot a cop!
He darted around the first corner—dress shop, card shop, blocks of houses.
"Aaaah!" screamed a woman with puffy dyed blond hair at man with a gun.
Condor waved his arms: "No! I'm the good guy!"
The woman screamed again as he ran.
Look back—nothing at the corner—but the killer must be coming! Condor stuck the pistol in his belt under his jacket, ran down an alley. Sirens wailed.
Four blocks later, he stood in the middle of a commercial strip. Sirens filled the blue sky cupping the upscale neighborhood. Pedestrians scanned the streets as Condor caught his breath. Grabbed for his cell phone—gone.
Retroville, read a pink neon sign over a store. A bell tinkled as Condor raced into that jumble of disco jackets, lava lamps, Elvis busts, rubber Halloween masks—JFK, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, the first Bush, the second Bush, Obama. No mask for President Gerald Ford who a Charles Manson-cult-follower named Squeaky tried to assassinate. In Retroville, a shop chick with tattoo sleeves leaned against the glass counter.
Excerpted from condor.net by James Grady. Copyright © 2011 James Grady. Excerpted by permission of A MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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