The first agent disappearance was a puzzle.
The second was a mystery.
The third was a conspiracy.
Intelligence operatives around the world are disappearing. When a missing American agent re-appears in Venezuela, Court Gentry, the Gray Man, is dispatched to bring him in, but a team of assassins has other ideas. Court escapes with his life and a vital piece of intelligence.
Meanwhile, CIA agent Zoya Zakharova is in Berlin. Her mission: to infiltrate a private intelligence firm with some alarming connections. The closer she gets to answers, the less likely she is to get out alive.
Court and Zoya are just two pieces on this international chessboard, and they're about to discover one undeniable truth—sometimes capturing a king requires sacrificing some pawns.
About the Author
Date of Birth:1967
Read an Excerpt
Templeton 3 Annex is almost impossible to find if you don't already know about it. Nestled deep in a sterile office park in an unincorporated stretch of Prince George's County, Maryland, just a few minutes south of Joint Base Andrews, the front door simply reads: Palmer Holdings, LLC.
But there was no Palmer, there were no holdings, and the office space behind the door housed no limited liability company.
Templeton 3 Annex is the bland code name for a clandestine medical facility run for personnel of CIA black operations, those deemed too covert for regular medical care, and not only was Templeton 3 physically hard to find, even deep within CIA operations, only a very few knew about it at all.
No one had ever come through the door to Palmer Holdings accidentally, but if someone had they would have been turned away by the pair of men in nondescript security guard uniforms sitting behind the desk. A well-trained eye might be curious as to why men so obviously young and fit would be working the security D-list here in an out-of-the-way office park, but a visitor would get no farther into the building without passing the pair-and the Heckler & Koch MP7 Personal Defense Weapons they kept out of sight but within reach.
But at four fifty a.m. on a rainy Tuesday in August, someone with the right credentials did come through the door, and he stepped up in front of the two guards. Though surprised by both the time of the visit and the identity of the visitor himself, they disengaged the electronic lock to a door, which the large man in the dripping raincoat passed through. Here he encountered another pair of guards sitting in a snack room guarding yet a third door. After an okay radioed by the lobby crew, the lunchroom team asked the visitor to put a hand on a scanner, and then, when the locks popped open, the men escorted the visitor down a wide staircase and into the basement of the four-story building.
A short hallway led to more security, and the men here didn't bother to hide their weapons. Submachine guns dangled from their necks as they stood up from the table by door number four and again examined the visitor's credentials, even though, after two other checks, it was simply pro forma.
The fourth door opened, and the early-morning visitor finally stepped inside the heart of Templeton 3.
Visitors from Langley were not a particularly uncommon occurrence, but a visitor at four fifty in the morning was, so the doctor working the graveyard shift here was startled to his feet. Eugene Cathey stood at his desk, computer monitors all around him, stiffening a little in an attempt to hide the fact he'd been caught dozing.
And when he recognized the big man in the wet raincoat, he only stiffened more. As far as Dr. Cathey knew, Matthew Hanley, deputy director for operations for the Central Intelligence Agency, had never been here in person.
For this reason, and also due to the time of day, Cathey immediately sensed trouble, and he wasn't wrong.
In lieu of any greeting, Hanley asked, "How's the patient?"
Dr. Cathey looked to his nurse, also now standing nearby, and she excused herself into another room.
"Stable, but certainly not ready for operational status," the doctor replied.
Hanley heaved a sigh, then looked towards a closed door across the darkened and sterile space. There was a small window in the door, and through it he could just make out a hospital room, dark inside save for the glow of a few electronic monitors.
Cathey cleared his throat and came around his desk, standing in front of it now. "He took a knife just below the clavicle. Deep. Somehow, the blade missed the subclavian artery, so he survived, but by the time he was brought here he couldn't operate his upper left extremity. We identified the problem: the knife damaged the nerves of the brachial plexus. They have since healed to a large extent, although he does have some residual numbness and tingling in his left hand."
"He's right-handed," Hanley said.
Cathey cocked his head, paused a moment, then continued. "We're confident the nerves will completely heal in time; they aren't the problem. The problem is, the knife wound below the patient's clavicle developed an infection. A small piece of the blade broke off in his collarbone and held on to the bacteria even after a course of heavy antibiotics. I had to go in and clean it out, which I did, but he's got sixteen fresh stitches, he's got the pain from the procedure, and he's still fighting the infection. It's likely in the bone, and it will take a lot of IV antibiotics to diminish it. He'll be fine, but he needs time."
"How much time?"
"A few more weeks."
Hanley sighed again. Looked around at the machines and monitors and other equipment that lined the walls behind a small nurses' station. Several other hospital rooms ran down the hallway, but their doors were open and their lights off.
There was only one patient at Templeton 3.
Hanley said, "What if he doesn't get a few more weeks?"
"Why wouldn't he get-"
"If I take him out of here right now. What will happen?"
Dr. Cathey lifted his chin, a mild show of defiance. "In my professional opinion, your man will get very sick and die."
Hanley rubbed his wide face with a hand like a catcher's mitt. The doctor couldn't tell if he was worried or just annoyed. "How long until he gets sick, assuming the worst?"
And with that question it became clear to the doctor that the DDO wasn't concerned about the health of the man in the next room for any reason other than that he was impatient to get his asset back in the field.
Cathey did not hide his disdain now. "That requires speculation, and I don't-"
"I need you to speculate."
Cathey hesitated, then answered back with a twinge of anger. "Okay. You take him out of here, give him pills instead of the IV antibiotics. That will, maybe, suppress the infection somewhat, but it won't cure it. Within one week . . . two at the outside, he could be on his back, dangerously ill and in need of the nearest ICU."
Matt Hanley nodded, more to himself than to the doctor, then began moving for the door. "Plenty of time."
The doctor surprised both himself and the DDO by reaching out and taking Hanley by the arm. "I'm not sure I'm being clear enough about his condition."
The deputy director stopped. "I need him, Gene. I need him more than he needs to sit here. It's just as simple as that."
Cathey was emboldened by his anger. "Get someone else."
Hanley sighed again. "I did get someone else." He said nothing more, just let the comment hang in the low light, the sound drifting off over the noises of the computers and monitoring equipment outside the hospital room.
"Look," the doctor implored. "These assets. Your assets. You're running them too hard, not giving them enough time to recuperate after whatever the hell is done to them in the field." He continued, "You bring them in here broken, and you don't give me long enough to fix them. The woman last month. She wasn't cleared back into active status, but your people came and collected her anyway."
"I needed her. I need him," he said flatly. "He's tough. He'll be fine."
"Are you a medical doctor, Director Hanley?"
Hanley licked his lips, then ran a hand through his graying blond hair. "There's an old joke. A soccer player gets knocked unconscious in a game, the trainers drag him off the field and check him out when he comes to. The coach comes over, whispers to the trainer, asks if the player is okay. The trainer says, 'He can't remember his name.' The coach replies, 'Then tell him he's PelŽ, and put his ass back on the field.'"
Dr. Eugene Cathey just stared at the DDO.
Hanley clarified. "The point I'm making is this. If we tell the asset he's fine, he'll be fine."
"With apologies, Director Hanley, that's not how medicine works."
"Well, in this case, it's how American national security works." He looked back to the door. The matter was settled, and both men knew it. Hanley asked, "Is he awake now?"
"I don't know. But when he is awake, he just stares into space. There's a TV in there. Internet. But I haven't seen him do anything in nearly three weeks other than sit and gaze at the wall, listening to music on the radio. I have concerns about his psychological cond-"
"This guy doesn't need a shrink," Hanley replied flatly, and then under his breath he said, "It's too late for that." He started forward again; the doctor had let go of his arm, but he called out to the DDO as he walked away, one final attempt to fulfill his Hippocratic oath.
"You brought me into this to give you my unvarnished opinion."
Hanley stopped again. "No, I brought you into this to keep my assets operational. Look, doc, I don't do this shit because I'm an asshole. I do it because I have crucial work that needs doing. Now, will you let me take him or not?"
The doctor, deflated, walked back over to his desk and sat down. "You can do whatever you want, and I can't stop you."
Hanley continued towards the door. "Just wanted to double-check that you understood our relationship."
Matt Hanley stepped inside the small ward, finding a space even darker than the room he just left. The air was cool despite the fact that several machines whirred and hummed along the wall on either side of a bed.
The patient's eyes were open but glazed, and he lay back on his bed on top of the covers. He wore burgundy tracksuit bottoms with no shirt, and bandages were wrapped around his left shoulder and upper chest area.
A full beard, dark brown with just a few flecks of gray, hung from his face. His hair was nearly to his shoulders and messy.
To Hanley's surprise, a radio somewhere in the room played what he took to be country music.
Both men's eyes met.
Hanley said, "You look good, Court."
CIA contract killer Courtland Gentry, code name Violator, blinked slowly now, his first sign of life. Softly he replied, "I'll bet."
Hanley looked around for the source of the music. The radio was across the windowless room on a wire shelf. "You like country?"
"That's not country. That's Drive-By Truckers. That's rock."
Hanley shrugged. "Sounds like country. You mind turning it off?"
Court produced a small remote that had been hidden in the bedsheets, and the music stopped.
"How are you feeling?"
Court turned away from the older man and stared at the wall. "Like I got stabbed in the chest with a knife."
Hanley pulled a rolling chair over and sat down on Court's left. He grinned suddenly; his voice boomed now, and it rang with levity. "It was your shoulder, kid. Just below your collarbone. Don't make a meal of it."
Gentry didn't smile. "Right."
"Dr. Cathey tells me you're just about healed up."
Gentry's languid eyes turned back to Hanley; they stared the deputy director down but gave away no malice. "Cool," was his only reply.
He wasn't buying what Hanley was selling; that much was clear.
"You feel like talking?" Hanley asked, and Court shrugged his good shoulder.
"Is this about Los Angeles?"
Court had done a job in LA a few weeks prior. Hanley had been furious about the way things had ended up, but he'd needed his best man on another operation, so he let it slide and extracted him from Southern California, intent on throwing Court back into the field immediately.
But on the transcontinental flight back to the East Coast, the doctor on board called the DDO and told him Gentry's injuries were too grave to send him anywhere but to an ICU.
So Hanley had scrapped his plan to use Gentry, and he sent Zack Hightower down to Venezuela instead.
"No, this isn't about LA," Hanley replied. "In fact, how about we never bring that shit up again? Might be good for our long-term relationship."
"Suits me," Court said, his head sinking back into the pillow. He closed his eyes.
Hanley's loud voice was out of place in the small, quiet room. "Here's the deal, kid. Not gonna sugarcoat it. I need you, and I need you yesterday."
Court's eyes opened back up, and he looked down at himself on the bed. "You need . . . me?"
"Yep. In Caracas. Zack was down there, working an op, and he got rolled up."
Court sat up now, wincing with the pain in his shoulder as he did so. "Federal police?"
"They've got him in El Helicoide, a detention facility run by the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service."
"Spooks. Shit." Court reached to a rolling bedside table next to him and lifted a plastic cup of water, took a slow sip, then asked, "How'd he get rolled?"
"We aren't certain."
"You aren't certain, or you don't have a clue?"
Hanley didn't pause for long before saying, "We don't have a clue."
"And . . . what? You want me to just pop down there and liberate him?"
"Negative." Hanley shrugged. "We'll get Zack out, eventually. He's tough, he'll be fine. Hell, he'll be playing poker with the warden in a month." With another dismissive heave of his shoulders, he added, "He's not the priority right now."
Court put the water down. He understood. "The mission he failed. You're sending me out on that."
"Zack has been doing this bullshit for a long time, Matt. I doubt he screwed up."
"We're trying to determine where the fault was. But we don't have time to work that out now."
"So, you're sending me in without knowing if there is a compromise?"
"We change up the op. You insert differently than Zack, you make your own plan, do your own thing. Look, this needs to be done, and it needs to be done now."
"What's the mission?"
"Personnel extraction of a noncompliant actor."
"So . . . kidnapping."
"Whatever," Hanley said, sweeping his hand through the air. "An American national, in Caracas. We need him here for questioning."
Hanley sighed a little. It was his go-to whenever Court frustrated him. He wanted his men to salute and move out, not to ask questions. Still, he said, "The target is Clark Drummond. You know who that is?"
Court cocked his head a little. "The NSA big shot who died last year?"
Matt Hanley shook his head. "No, the NSA big shot who didn't die last year. An officer working at Caracas station saw him three and a half weeks back in La Castellana neighborhood. Just stumbled upon him in the street walking out of a bank. Our man lost Drummond in the crowd but was sure it was him. We sent case officers out all over La Castellana looking for him, but one by one they were rolled up by SEBIN on trumped-up charges and quietly deported. I told Caracas station to spare their remaining case officers, and I sent in Zack instead."