Robert Ludlum's The Blackbriar Genesis416
Robert Ludlum's The Blackbriar Genesis416
A car explodes along a quiet Prague side street—among the dead is an undercover Treadstone agent. It's not unusual for such men to meet their fates on an operation, but in this case there's one catch. None of his superiors know what he was doing there.
Two Blackbriar operatives, Helen Jouvert and Donovan Wade, are sent to investigate. Their search for answers will take them deeper into the world of conspiracy and fake news than they ever expected.
Treadstone and Blackbriar may be two sides of the same coin, intelligence and counterintelligence, but they have one thing in common, answers can be the deadliest commodity of all.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Series:||A Blackbriar Novel , #1|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Robert Ludlum was the author of twenty-seven novels, each one a New York Times bestseller. There are more than 225 million of his books in print, and they have been translated into thirty-two languages. He is the author of the Jason Bourne series—The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum—among other novels. Mr. Ludlum passed away in March 2001.
Read an Excerpt
Four years ago
Assistant Deputy Secretary of State Edward Russell maintained a brisk pace as he hurried through Terminal 3 of the Cairo International Airport. He walked past the different stores, seeing flashes of books, overpriced food, and clothes. He wondered for a moment who in their right mind bought clothes at an airport, but seeing that every store was busy with customers, he just shook his head and continued toward the main station of the MiniMetro. Quite familiar with the airport, Russell didn't need a map to find the station, which was located between the freshly renovated Terminal 2 and the slightly older but much bigger Terminal 3. Looking past the bobbing and weaving heads of the other passengers walking in front of him, Russell spotted the red-and-white train symbol. He turned left at the next junction, with the instructions he'd been forced to memorize before leaving Washington playing in his mind over and over.
From Terminal 3, walk to the main MiniMetro station. Take the MiniMetro to Terminal 1, then use one of the terminal's public bathrooms before climbing back into the train to Terminal 3. From there, buy a local newspaper from the gift shop and go to the lobby of the Le Méridien hotel by crossing the pedestrian bridge. Someone will be waiting for you in the lobby.
Though he remembered every word, it failed to boost his confidence. Russell wasn't a spy, but he wasn't a fool, either. He knew he was being watched. He just didn't know by whom. All around him, arriving and departing passengers were hauling not only suitcases and travel bags filled to overflowing, but also teddy bears, pillows, and shopping bags stuffed with consumer goods. As large and nice as it was, Terminal 3 was packed with sweaty travelers, and their hurried footsteps, mixed with the sounds of crying babies, echoed up and down its structure. How anyone could find him in this crowd was a mystery. It seemed that every square inch of the terminal was occupied.
And it suffocated him.
To his left, a porter called out, offering to carry Russell's lone carry-on. Russell dismissed him with an impatient wave of the hand and reserved the same treatment for the two currency exchangers waiting on the MiniMetro platform.
No. He didn't want to exchange his US dollars or euros for Egyptian pounds.
No, he didn't need a taxi.
And no, he didn't want companionship.
Russell wormed his way around the well-dressed peddlers and battled for position as the bright red train arrived. He squeezed into the car, which was already packed. There was standing room only, but he didn't mind after the thirteen-hour flight.
He had much more important things to worry about.
Russell, who had cultivated and maintained a multitude of contacts throughout Egypt during his thirty-year career at the Department of State's Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, had been sent to Cairo as the US secretary of state's personal emissary. His job for the next forty-eight hours was to hold discreet talks with what remained of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership. Once Egypt's largest opposition movement, the Brotherhood's political wing had won a plurality of seats in Egypt's lower house in 2011 but had been pushed out by a coup d'état two years later. Following a brutal crackdown, many of the Brotherhood's leaders and thousands of its members were imprisoned or forced into exile. With the Muslim Brotherhood completely cut off from political and civic participation, the CIA had cautioned that the remaining influential members of the Brotherhood were about to splinter into different groups. Without a central leadership, the most radical factions of the Muslim Brotherhood would become much more difficult to track. Not only could this cause significant social unrest in the capital and fuel more terror attacks against government forces in North Sinai, it could jeopardize the fragile but improving relationship between Egypt and Israel.
With the current instability in Libya and Sudan, and the escalating crisis in Ethiopia, the United States government saw the rapprochement between Egypt and Israel as vital for its national interests in the region.
In an effort to truly understand the growing discomfort within the Muslim Brotherhood ranks, the secretary of state wanted a finger on its pulse. Russell was that finger. But there was a problem. With the Egyptian government having designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, the United States couldn't afford to be seen entertaining discussions with them. That meant Russell had to travel to Cairo unofficially and without the contingent of DSS special agents he would normally be entitled to for such a trip.
"But it doesn't mean you'll be alone, Edward," the secretary of state had told him when he had summoned Russell into his office. "A small team of private contractors led by a man named Oliver will be waiting for you in Cairo. They're very, very good at what they do. Follow their lead, and they'll keep you safe. Trust me on this."
As the train began to move, Russell could see a dull gray sky beyond the windows. It must have rained hard earlier because the drains adjoining the airport were flooded. The traffic around the terminals was backed up, thanks in part to the vehicles that were double- and even triple-parked curbside. In the background was a constant sounding of horns by frustrated drivers. Russell's eyes moved from left to right, searching for somebody who might be paying too much attention to him. None of the faces looked familiar.
It took Russell a little less than thirty minutes to reach the final step of the procedures he'd been asked to follow. He was midway through the 250-yard-long pedestrian bridge leading to the hotel lobby when a hand suddenly squeezed his elbow.
Russell froze, spooked.
"Don't stop walking, Mr. Russell. You're clear. Keep your distance, but follow me," a tall man dressed in dark slacks and matching zippered jacket said without stopping.
Russell's heart was pounding. Where had this man come from? He just appeared from seemingly nowhere. And, even more critical, who was he? The instructions had said that someone would be waiting for him in the lobby. There had been no mention of someone accosting him on the bridge leading to the hotel.
What was he supposed to do? The man's English was perfect, without a hint of an accent.
And he knows my name. It has to be Oliver.
Russell prayed that he was right.
Oliver Manton entered the hotel lobby and scratched his right ear, a gesture intended for his partner Trent, signaling that Russell was on his way.
"Good copy," Trent replied, his voice coming through the earbud deep in Manton's ear canal. "The SUV is at the door and ready to receive."
The lobby was spacious and elegant, with dark marble floors and a large reading area, but it lacked any real charm. The reception area was busy with the regular hum of arriving and departing guests, and Manton figured that, on a busy day, the check-in counter might be mistaken for a terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta. A quick look outside through one of the large floor-to-ceiling windows confirmed that the rain had stopped, but the dark, low-hanging clouds promised more very soon, which didn't help lighten Manton's bad mood. Another downpour would only worsen the drive out of the airport.
Moreover, in Manton's opinion, it didn't make much sense to have three Treadstone agents babysitting an assistant deputy secretary in Cairo. Manton had read the ops plan prepared by Treadstone Director Levi Shaw and understood why DSS special agents couldn't be involved. He was in agreement with Shaw as to why Russell needed to be protected.
That wasn't the problem.
What Manton couldn't wrap his head around was why Treadstone had been given the assignment in the first place. These kinds of duties were usually assigned to private military companies who specialized in close protection. Treadstone operatives were hardened assassins, not protectors.
Was escorting the assistant deputy secretary only a cover for a darker assignment? Having worked for Shaw for years, Manton wouldn't be surprised.
Manton grunted at the thought. Did it really matter? Whatever the real reason he and the other agents were in Cairo, they would do what they were told. Like they always did.
He had never worked with the other two operatives before, and he couldn't even remember the last time he had worked so closely with another agent, let alone two. Still, it was comforting to know he was operating alongside highly skilled individuals who had graduated-survived, really-the same brutal training he had.
Manton crossed the polished floor of the lobby and strode past Trent, who had taken position next to the concierge desk. Manton pushed through the brass-framed revolving door and headed toward the dark gray Audi Q7, his head on a swivel. The stench of gasoline fumes emanating from the idling vehicles parked curbside, mixed with the smell of jet fuel, assaulted his nose. The odor was so powerful that Manton could taste it.
When Edward Russell stepped out of the lobby twenty seconds later, followed ten steps behind by the second Treadstone agent, Manton gave the assistant deputy secretary of state a nod and opened the rear passenger door for the two men.
"You can leave your carry-on here, sir," Manton said. "I'll put it in the trunk for you."
Russell complied and climbed inside first, with Trent following seconds later. Manton closed the door, dropped the surprisingly heavy carry-on in the trunk next to a pair of duffel bags, and scanned the area one last time before sliding into the passenger seat of the SUV. The Audi surged forward and merged into traffic.
"We're going to the alternate safe house," Manton said to the driver.
Manton shifted in his seat so that he could look at the Treadstone agent seated behind him.
"Anyone in the lobby?" Manton asked.
"Can't be sure, but probably," Trent replied, pulling out two MP5 submachine guns and a bunch of spare magazines from a hard-sided Pelican case at his feet. "I'd say there's a fifty-fifty chance they made us."
The agent gave Manton an MP5 with three full magazines. Manton quickly inspected the magazines and inserted one into the submachine gun's well. Manton glanced at the side mirror. Aged vehicles in various states of repair swarmed all around their SUV, and it would only get worse the closer they got to the city center. On their right, an old, horribly beat-up white sedan accelerated past them. Manton tightened his grip on the MP5, but relaxed when he saw two young children seated in the rear. One of the kids looked at Manton and waved, a big smile on her face. Caught off guard, Manton tried to return the smile, but only managed a twitch of his lips.
He turned his attention to Russell and was surprised at the intensity with which the bureaucrat was staring back at him. Although Russell had almost jumped out of his socks when Manton had made initial contact with him on the bridge linking Terminal 3 and the Le MŽridien, he certainly didn't look scared now.
"What's your name?" Russell asked.
"Which PMC are you guys with?"
"Does it matter?" Manton replied.
"By the way, this is Patrick," Manton said, pointing to the driver. "And the big guy next to you is Trent."
Trent nodded at Russell, then turned his attention to Manton and asked, "You want me to grab the rest of the kit?"
Manton nodded. "Yeah. Why not? And get a vest for Mr. Russell, too."
"Hold on a second, will you? Did I miss something?" Russell asked. "What's with going to the alternate safe house and all the guns? Is something wrong?"
Manton realized he hadn't kept Russell in the loop about his thought process.
"Let me first apologize for the series of detours we imposed on you," he said. "But we needed to see if you were being followed or if someone was waiting for you at the terminal."
"I figured that much," Russell said. "So I'm clear?"
Russell's eyes widened in surprise. "What? On the bridge you told me I was-"
"I lied," Manton said, cutting him off. "I didn't want you to panic and start looking everywhere."
"Are... Are you sure?"
"Very. But I don't know who they are or what their intent is."
"I didn't see anyone. Is it possible you're-"
"I said I'm sure," Manton said, once again interrupting Russell.
The assistant deputy secretary of state was doing his best to maintain a straight face, but Manton could see the concern in the man's eyes. Russell's presence in Egypt and the meetings he was scheduled to lead were supposed to be kept under wraps. Now that the cat was out of the bag, decisions needed to be made.
"I don't know you, Oliver, but my boss told me you're good at what you do," Russell said after a moment. "So, what do you suggest I do?"
"It's up to you, sir. You can go back to DC, or we can try to fix this."
"Fix this? What does that even mean?"
"It means that we have numerous contingency plans for situations like this," Manton said with a hint of impatience.
"You don't need to bother yourself with that, Mr. Russell."
"Maybe, maybe not, but I'd like you to tell me anyway. If you don't mind?"
Manton did mind, but if giving the chatty bureaucrat a two-sentence answer would shut him up...
"I can go into the details later if you insist, but we're going to make a series of detours and stops on our way to the safe house. The second stop will be in an underground parking garage right off Tahrir Square, and this is where you, Trent, and I will switch vehicles."
"Okay. I assume the objective is to get to the alternate safe house unnoticed?"
"That's right. If we believe you're still under surveillance, or that the alternate safe house is compromised in any way, then we'll have no choice but to recommend you call off your meetings."
"I see. And what are the odds of that happening?" Russell asked.
"Hard to say without knowing how the opposition found out you were coming," Manton admitted. "Very few people outside this vehicle knew about your trip to Cairo. It's possible that the people who were waiting for you at the airport weren't hostiles, but members of the Muslim Brotherhood making sure you arrived okay. I think there's a fair chance you'll be able to carry on with your mission."
"You think?" the bureaucrat asked with a chuckle. "That's not very reassuring."
"Well, that's all I can offer you. There are no guarantees-"
Manton caught a bunch of flashes at the edge of his peripheral vision and turned his head toward their origin—the parking lot of a McDonald’s on El Nasr Road two hundred yards away.
Before Manton could scream a warning, the driver yelled “RPGs!” as he punched the gas and cranked the wheel right, aiming for the drainage ditch on the side of the road. Few men could have reacted as quickly to the threat as the driver did, but even he wasn’t fast enough. Manton saw several trails of smoke, and then the white sedan carrying the two kids flew into the air on a pillar of flame, a vicious explosion splitting the air. A millisecond later, a second projectile struck the pavement and detonated less than one meter from the left rear tire of the Audi, tilting the bulky SUV onto two wheels. The driver lost control and hit the ditch at an odd angle at almost fifty miles an hour. Manton’s heart lurched into his throat as the Audi took flight. The SUV flipped twice and landed upside down on the other side of the ditch with a sickening, metallic crunch.
Edward Russell opened his eyes, aware that his legs were higher than his head. He was completely disoriented. His ears were ringing and there was the distinct taste of blood in his mouth. His seat belt was digging into his chest, and there was a dull but prevalent pain in his back and left side. Trent, who had unfastened his seat belt to reach into the cargo area of the SUV, was lying in a heap on the Audi’s ceiling. His eyes were open, but his head was twisted at an obscene angle.
What the hell had just happened? The driver had yelled something Russell hadn’t entirely caught, then there was a formidable explosion. That was the last thing he remembered.
"Russell? Russell?" came Oliver’s insistent voice, his words like light piercing through thick fog.
"I’m here. I’m okay. Trent’s dead, I think."
"Stay there. I’m coming to you." Oliver opened his door and unbuckled his seat belt. Russell watched as Oliver ungraciously fell to the ceiling of the Audi and rolled out of the vehicle, an MP5 in hand.
Oliver hadn’t been out of the vehicle for more than a few seconds when a storm of bullets raked the side of the SUV. The engine began to hiss, and black smoke started filling the interior of the Audi.
Oh shit. They killed Oliver.
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