This “gritty and intense” thriller novella by the acclaimed author and Black Ops veteran “draws you immediately into the action and doesn’t let go” (New York Times–bestselling author Marc Cameron).
The unthinkable has happened to operative Dan Morgan. Captured by the Russians and imprisoned in the Gulag, he is tortured by his cruelest, most sadistic enemy. But Morgan knows that every prisoner has a past—and every rival can be used.With the most unlikely of allies, Morgan hatches a plan. To save what’s important, he must risk everything. And that’s when the stakes go sky-high. Because even in the face of certain death, Dan Morgan keeps fighting.
“A ripping story!”—Meg Gardiner
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For Duty and Honor
A Dan Morgan Thriller Series
By LEO J. MALONEY
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Leo J. Maloney
All rights reserved.
The prisoner's body was a brick of exhaustion and pain.
Steel cuffs chafed against his raw wrists and ankles, the rough uniform scraping the burns and cuts that lined his arms and legs and pocked his torso. Even under the blackness of his hood, the prisoner smelled stale sweat mingled with his own breath: iron from the blood, acetone from the starvation. He could barely hold himself up against the jolting ride. All that was keeping him upright were the two thick guards at his sides boxing him in.
At the outset, hours ago at the landing strip, the guards were in high spirits, joking and jesting in Russian, which the prisoner could not follow. Whenever he couldn't hold himself up anymore and leaned into one of them or into the front seat, they would box the prisoner's head and laugh, forcing him to sit upright again.
But as they drew nearer to their destination, and the car's heating lost ground against the cold, the guards grew quiet, like there was something grim about the place even to them.
The prisoner swung forward as the jeep came to an abrupt stop, tires on gravel. The doors opened and the spaces on his sides opened as the men got out, leaving him exposed to the frigid Siberian air. Against this cold, the canvas uniform felt like nothing at all.
The guards unlocked the cuffs and yanked the prisoner out. Too tired to offer any resistance, he walked along, bare feet on the freezing stony ground. Someone pulled off his cowl. He was struck by a hurricane of light that made him so dizzy that he would have vomited, if there were anything in his stomach. It took a moment for the image to stop swimming and resolve itself into the barren landscape of rock and creeping brush lit by a sun low in the sky.
The Siberian tundra.
They prodded him forward. He trudged toward the brutalist conglomeration of buildings surrounded by tall mesh fences and barbed wire. Prison camp. Gulag.
The prisoner's trembling knee collapsed and he fell on the stony ground. A guard gave him a kick with a heavy, polished leather boot and pulled him to his feet.
They reached the top and entered the vakhta, the guardhouse. He passed through the first gate and was searched, rough hands prodding and poking at him. They then opened the second, leading him through, outside, into the yard. His gaze kept down, he saw guards' boots, and massive furry Caucasian shepherds, each taller than a full-grown man's waist. He didn't look up to see the bare concrete guard towers that overlooked the terrain for miles around or at the sharpshooters that occupied them.
He was pulled inside the nearest boxy building, walls painted with chipping murals of old Soviet propaganda, apple-cheeked youngsters over fields of grain and brave soldiers of the Red Army standing against the octopus of international capitalism. On the second floor, they knocked on a wooden door.
The guards opened the door, revealing an office with a vintage aristocratic desk. They pushed him onto the bare hardwood.
A man stood up with a creak of his chair. The prisoner watched as he approached, seeing from his vantage point only the wingtip oxfords and the hem of his pinstriped gabardine pants, walking around his desk, footsteps echoing in the concrete office.
"Da," a guard answered.
The man crouched, studying the prisoner's face. "You are one of General Suvorov's, are you not?" His voice was deep and filled with gravel and a heavy Russian accent.
The prisoner didn't respond — not that he needed to.
"You are tough, if he did not break you." He stood, brushing off unseen dust from his suit jacket. "And if he had broken you, you would be dead already. I am Nevsky, the warden. Welcome to my prison."
The prisoner looked up at last and saw a thickset jowly man, with a nose like a potato, bloodshot eyes, and the ruddy swollen face of an alcoholic.
"We have no official name, but we call it Pokoynit-skaya. Do you know what that means?"
The warden opened a cabinet and poured himself a glass of vodka.
"Charnel house. Because everyone in here is dead meat." He emitted a grotesque throaty laugh and tipped the glass into his mouth. "Stand up," he said, slamming the glass onto the side table. The prisoner couldn't muster the energy to. "I said stand up."
Oxford wingtips sunk into the prisoner's side. He doubled in pain, groaning.
Bracing himself on the desk, he staggered to his feet.
"You will learn to do as you are told here." He poured another glass of vodka. "Look out the window. What do you see?"
A broad barred window overlooked into the tundra, where it was too cold for any trees to grow. A vast bare expanse of low grasses, with mountains rising from the flatness far in the distance.
"The answer is nothing. I will not tell you my prison is impregnable. In fact, we have had breakouts. If they get past the fence, we take bets on who will hit him. But the few that get away, nature takes care of. We find them dead in the wasteland within a few days."
The warden grabbed the prisoner's arm, feeling his muscles. "Strong. That will not last." He slapped the prisoner hard on the buttocks. "This is your life will be. You will mine all day — and the days of the Arctic summer are long. You will be questioned, if the order comes. That will not be pleasant. But mostly, you will work." As he spoke, the warden circled the prisoner, who kept his eyes down. "You will waste away, and your mind will break." The warden came close to him and whispered in his ear, his rancid alcoholic breath filling the prisoner's nostrils. "And one day, you will die here, forgotten."
The prisoner's face contorted in fury. He lunged for the warden, who stepped back to avoid him. The prisoner stumbled under his own weakness and fell back to the ground.
Nevsky sat down and signed the prisoner's intake papers. "We are done here," he said. He squinted to read the type. "Show Daniel Morgan to his cell."CHAPTER 2
Two guards pulled Morgan on shuffling feet outside, back onto the cold-hardened earth, where the harsh wind whipped against his skin. They were in the yard now, a squarish space surrounded by various freestanding structures on all four sides, although he was too dazed to get any kind of clear picture of it. He thought he caught a whiff of something cooking and sheer instinct led him to turn toward its source. The guards yanked him, pulling him into another building, this one squat and single-storied. Like the others, it was built out of worn concrete and had heavy metal doors and thick bars on the windows, all covered in rust.
There were two more guards in there who stripped him of his tattered, bloody clothes and tossed them aside. They shoved him, naked, against a wall of chipped porcelain tiles and stood back as one opened a hose. He gasped as ice-cold water blasted him in the chest, sputtering when it hit his face. They tossed a rough moldy sponge and a cracked bar of caustic soap at his feet and hollered at him, pointing down at them. He bent and picked them up with shivering hands, running the sponge against skin reddened by the cold, his wounds smarting with the chemical burn as he scrubbed himself of weeks of dirt and blood and sweat. The pungent scent made his eyes water as he trembled and flinched from every new blast of frigid water.
When they were satisfied, they shut off the hose and tossed him a thin towel, which he fumbled and dropped on the wet tile floor. They laughed as he ran the now-sodden towel over his skin to get off whatever excess water he could manage. The guards then pulled him, still damp, to the next station, where they sat him down on a splintering stool. One of them turned on a clipper that was at least twenty years old and buzzed like a bumblebee the size of a poodle.
They started with the hair on his head, dense and black with wisps of gray at his temples, which fell on the tiles in thick tufts. They shaved his mustache, the machine tugging at his split lip so that it began to bleed again, and the beard that had grown in since his capture. They worked his way down his body, his hair — all his hair — falling about the feet of the stool. Once the guard finished Morgan's legs, he clicked off the machine. Another guard poured a white acrid-smelling delousing powder onto his head and back, clinging to his damp skin and raising a white cloud around him. The guards cackled at Morgan's ensuing coughing fit.
Finally, they handed him a folded-up jumpsuit to put on. It was tan canvas, rough and coarse against his skin, and provided little protection against the cold. After he put it on, they shoved a stinking coat in his hand and gave him cheap cloth shoes, which he pulled over his feet. They were, like his hands, numb from the cold. The guards got impatient at how long the operation was taking and boxed his ear for good measure. Morgan pulled on the coat, which at least offered cover from the wind.
From there he was escorted into the blockhouse. It was single-story and much larger than the building he had just left, with only tiny windows letting precious little light in. There were scratches on the wall, the writings and designs of prisoners with no one else to talk to, who wanted to leave their last mark on the world before disappearing, in an unmarked grave thousands of miles away from home, where those they left behind would never find their bodies, never know what happened to them.
They led him to a room where there were rows of bunks that looked more like shelves, each bed only two wooden boards held up by vertical beams. It smelled lived in, of sweat and piss and mildew. The guard pushed him inside, and he stumbled onto the bare concrete floor.
The guard shoved a blanket, woolen and reeking, into his hand and pointed him to a bare wooden bunk. His, Morgan guessed. Then he gave him a bent tin bowl. "This is your bowl," he said. "You have bowl, you get food. No bowl, no food."
"Where do I keep it?"
The man shrugged. Not his problem. The other men seemed to store them under their bunks, so Morgan put it on his.
"Rest," the guard said.
Morgan didn't need telling twice. He got onto his bunk and collapsed onto the wooden boards. They were hard and uncomfortable, but he was exhausted beyond caring. He pulled on the reeking blanket and slept, clutching the food bowl tight, and dreamed of home.CHAPTER 3
Alex Morgan reached upward into darkness and found a handhold in the jutting bricks. She pulled her weight up, finding a new foothold for her left foot. One, two. Easy does it.
The warm summer wind lashed against her at this exposed height. One upward gust pulled off her black knitted cap, leaving her short hair whipping against her head. She followed its progress against the light of the streets below as the wind carried it away.
Then she looked down.
Mistake. Big mistake. She grew dizzy and weak and felt her grip slipping. She slapped her face with her free hand.
This is no time to lose your nerve.
She closed her eyes, using the sting on her cheek to center herself, and kept on going. One, two. One, two.
Not that she had too much to worry about. She had a slim body and strong arms and legs, and she left everyone else in the dust back at the training camp when it came to climbing. Height aside, this was routine for her.
Alex climbed one more floor and looked to the right at the balcony on level with her. Was this it? She counted from the top. Yes. Twenty-second floor. This was it.
She edged along the jutting bricks the few feet to the balcony and reached out to grab the railing. She stepped onto the ledge and then swung over, breathing a sigh of relief as her feet landed on solid ground.
She was so startled she leapt off the ground. If she had been on the other side of the railing, she'd have fallen off the building.
Diana Bloch, in a maroon silk robe, stood up from a deck chair. "I'd just like you to be aware that one of our snipers had you in his crosshairs by the time you reached the third floor." She opened the French doors into the apartment and stood aside for Alex to walk through. "Come in. I have chamomile tea steeping for you in the kitchen."
"Thanks," Alex mumbled, entering the apartment, "but I don't drink tea."
The place was bigger than any apartment Alex had ever seen in the city. She looked back out past the balcony at a breathtaking night view of the bay. Being the head of Zeta Division came with its perks. The interior was obsessively clean and decorated within an inch of its life to look like a design catalog.
Even here in her own home, Diana Bloch was a facade, a front.
"I think you could do with some calming down."
"Sure." Alex rubbed her triceps, sore from the climb. "Whatever." She followed Bloch into the kitchen, where a steaming mug was waiting for her, the string of a tea bag hanging off the side. Bloch pulled it out, letting the excess liquid drip back into the mug before placing the bag in the trash.
Bloch dropped in four cubes and stirred. "This was quite unnecessary. You could have severely hurt yourself, or died. We've already invested much in your training. It would have been a serious loss."
"I wanted to see you," said Alex. "And you kept stonewalling me." She sipped at the tea. Too hot.
"You are supposed to be in training. Skipping out was quite a feat, by the way. It seems you've got your fellow recruits atwitter, wondering how you did it."
"Bloch, where is my father?"
Bloch's face took on a pained expression. "Come into the living room," she said. She sat down at a white leather Barcelona chair and motioned for Alex to sit across from her. "We don't know where he is. But we're doing everything we can to find him."
"Tell me what happened."
"You know I can't divulge details of the mission. But he was caught while on assignment."
"Does it matter?"
"Where?" Alex's tone took on a hard edge.
Bloch seemed to consider whether to chew her out. She could pull rank at any moment. But instead, she said, "In Moscow. Does that make it better? Does that lessen your pain?"
Alex bit her lip and scowled in anger. "After everything he's done for the organization. You could move heaven and earth to find him, if you wanted to."
"There are limits on what we can feasibly do. Your father knew the risks going in, as you will when it's your turn to go out into the field. But we are doing what we can —"
Bloch's eyes went cold. "I'll be the judge of that."
"I'll go on my own if I have to."
"That's not a good idea, Alex."
"I didn't ask."
Bloch stood from her seat and dropped ice cubes tinkling into a glass. Then she uncorked a bottle of whiskey and poured. "I know you think you're ready. Your help has been valuable to us in the past, and you'll make a hell of an operative someday. But you're still green. If you go out on your own, I'm afraid you won't survive."
"Are you going to stop me?"
"No. I'm not."
"Then I think we've said all we have to say to each other."
"I suppose," said Bloch. She unlocked the front door and held it open for Alex. "Why don't you take the elevator down?"CHAPTER 4
Morgan woke to the bark of a guard yelling at him in Russian. His immediate reflex was to punch the man's lights out, but he was still too tired. So instead he lay disoriented until the guard, impatient, wrested the bent bowl from Morgan's hands and tossed it down the sleeping quarters. It tumbled, clattering, toward the door.
The message was clear enough.
Morgan stood, shaky from the interrupted sleep but also renewed, if only a little. How long had he been out? The sun was still in the sky, still low, but that meant little out here. The sun was always low. And the wind, even in summer, carried a chill.
He picked up his bowl and went outside into the yard. Men were filing in from the double gates that led outside the camp. The whole procession was hairless like him, although none so recently shaved, so that stubble was already growing in on their scalps and faces. They were shuffling, exhausted from a day of forced labor at the mine. All were skinny, their overalls and coats hanging loosely from their bodies. Their faces were pale, with deep dark bags under their eyes.
Excerpted from For Duty and Honor by LEO J. MALONEY. Copyright © 2016 Leo J. Maloney. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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