by Mark Greaney


by Mark Greaney


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An African coup may force Josh Duffy to choose between his mission and his family in this intense thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Gray Man series.

Josh Duffy and his wife Nikki are both working for the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service providing protection for diplomats in the field. They've been sent to Ghana with a team of US embassy personnel who are there to highlight American commitment to the construction of a new dam. 

Since Ghana is a stable democracy, the Duffy children have come along for a short vacation. But stability proves to be fleeting when a Chinese plan to embarrass the US means the destruction of the dam. Now Josh and his protectees are on the run caught between a Chinese hit squad and a rebel army.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593436912
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/25/2024
Series: Armored , #2
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 5,141
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

About The Author
Mark Greaney has a degree in international relations and political science. In his research for the Armored novels and the Gray Man novels, including The Chaos Agent, Burner, Sierra Six, Relentless, One Minute Out, Mission Critical, Agent in Place, Gunmetal Gray, Back Blast, Dead Eye, Ballistic, On Target, and The Gray Man, he traveled to more than thirty-five countries and trained alongside military and law enforcement in the use of firearms, battlefield medicine, and close-range combative tactics. With Marine Lt. Col. Rip Rawlings, he wrote the New York Times bestseller Red Metal. He is also the author of the New York Times bestsellers Tom Clancy Support and Defend, Tom Clancy Full Force and Effect, Tom Clancy Commander in Chief, and Tom Clancy True Faith and Allegiance. With Tom Clancy, he coauthored Locked On, Threat Vector, and Command Authority.


Memphis, Tennessee

Date of Birth:


Read an Excerpt


Over one hundred twenty contractors employed by United Defense Services Group, a private military corporation based in the United Kingdom, lived and worked here at Forward Operating Base Blackbird on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Conditions weren't nearly as austere as some of the regular military FOBs in the area; the men at Blackbird enjoyed decent chow, a well-appointed outdoor gym, good Internet, and a team room with a massive projection TV, along with a collection of over three hundred DVDs.

And alcohol, under certain restrictions.

The big TV in the team room came alive at four p.m., and a crowd of men sat in front of it, all guys who were finished with their work and had no more missions scheduled for the rest of the day.

They'd cleaned their trucks, cleaned their weapons, and changed out of their gear, and now they lounged around the team room on cheap sofas or sat in camp chairs. A couple of the men smoked cigars. Beer or hard liquor was consumed by those who were officially off the clock, but others drank water and soda, knowing they could still be called out at any time on an in extremis op, even if no movement had been previously scheduled.

After a heated argument between the half dozen men who gave a shit, Blade Runner was chosen for the afternoon film, and the DVD was slipped into the machine.

A bearded man crossed the room in front of the crowd and pulled the blinds shut, removing a harsh glare from the screen, blocking out the scorching Middle Eastern summer's day outside.

The film began with an opening crawl of text that explained the Nexus phase of replicants created by Tyrell Corporation, but many of those in the large room continued their raucous conversations, to the displeasure of someone on a sofa at the front.

"Everybody shut the fuck up!"

"The movie hasn't even started yet, mate," a man with an Aussie accent shouted back.

"The hell it hasn't. Listen to that Vangelis score. That's what I'm here for!"

The chatter died down a little, but not much.

"Somebody turn off the damn light!" a different voice yelled out now, also from the front near the TV, and a young man in the back of the room got up from his padded nylon chair, walked barefoot to the light switch, and flipped off the overhead.

He returned to his seat, reached over to the drink fridge next to him, and pulled out a can of Red Bull. Taking a sip, he told himself he'd watch the show until Sean Young saved Harrison Ford by killing Leon, and then he'd go back to his hooch and call his girlfriend in Richmond, Virginia.

Out of all the men in the room, out of all the men working here at FOB Blackbird, in fact, Josh Duffy was the third youngest at twenty-six. But he was far from a newbie. After four years in the U.S. Army, he'd been hired as a high-threat civilian contractor providing security around the Middle East and North Africa, and now, after nearly eight uninterrupted years living in the sandbox, he was a seasoned veteran, despite his boyish looks.

The contractors in the room slowly simmered down as the film played, and Josh sat there alone sipping his drink. He wore a gray United Defense T-shirt and khaki cargo shorts, a light brown beard and mustache, and hair that hung almost to his neck.

His girlfriend liked his hair long, and in the nearly two months since he'd last seen her he'd been trying to grow it out for her approval upon his return to the States.

And that wasn't all he'd done that he hoped she'd approve of.

One of the contractors here at Blackbird used to work as a tattoo artist, and he'd inked a lot of the men around the team house. Josh had gone to him just a couple weeks earlier, and now on his left pectoral the young man wore a heart with the name "Nikki" across it, still slightly red and slightly raised.

He hadn't revealed this new addition to his body to his girlfriend yet; it was a major statement, after all, and not something to just whip out on a random FaceTime call.

But it wasn't like she didn't know how he felt. They'd gone engagement ring shopping in Europe on his last leave, and in Florence they found what she said was the perfect ring, if not for the high price tag.

Josh had applied some misdirection, agreeing that it was more than he could afford, but as soon as he put her on a plane back home to Virginia the next morning he raced back to the shop and bought the ring.

It was too expensive, in fact, but he didn't care. He'd give her the ring in three weeks on his next leave, and he was already working on his proposal.

He'd booked a table for two at the most romantic restaurant in Richmond-according to the Internet, anyway-and he'd spent time in his hooch over the past couple of weeks writing out what he wanted to say.

He was in the middle of reciting his proposal to himself while the movie played on, and only stopped when an African American sitting on a dirty vinyl couch just in front of him turned and said, "Yo, Duff, pass me a Miller Lite. Make sure it's cold."

Everybody here called Josh Duffy "Duff," and he doubted most people knew that it wasn't his real name.

Duff obliged the man's request, reaching into the fridge and pulling out a cold can of beer, then bringing it over.

"Thanks, kid."

"You bet."

Mike Gordon was Josh's team leader, but Duff had a tendency to do what people asked of him without complaint, even if they weren't his superiors.

Gordon cracked the can and brought it to his lips, but before he could take a sip, a booming voice with a South African accent yelled over the soundtrack of the movie.

"Got an in extremis to the airport! I need three volunteers to go with me."

Heads turned to a big man standing in the doorway. He was in his early forties, with a handlebar mustache, a camel-colored bush hat, and a lean, pitted, and tan face. He wore his armor loose over his body, the cummerbund of the load-bearing vest hanging down halfway to the floor.

"Not it!" a tall South African with dark curly hair said near the front of the room.

"Not it," Mike Gordon said, as well, and he started again to take a drink of his beer.

But the South African just said, "Caruth, Gordon, Duff. Let's go."

"You said you were looking for volunteers," Gordon complained.

"Yeah? Well, you just got voluntold. Picking up a couple of VIPs and dropping them at Fenty."

Duff knew this big South African. His name was Tremaine; his call sign was Condor. A senior section leader for United Defense, before that a major in the South African army, he'd been contracting around North Africa and the Middle East for the past five years or so. Duff had only been with this company for six months after moving over from another private military corporation, but in that time he'd conducted dozens of ops with Condor both here at J-Bad and on another contract down in Syria.

Condor was competent and highly intelligent, in Josh's estimation, but he was too sure of himself, too reckless, too dismissive of opinions other than his own.

In short, he was like a lot of senior contractors Josh had worked with over the past several years.

Gordon, Duff knew, neither liked nor trusted Tremaine. He'd had run-ins with him before and thought the senior contractor was shady, prone to deceit.

Duff, for his part, stayed out of it. Tremaine was his superior . . . Duff did what Tremaine told him to do.

Mike Gordon put his beer down on the table next to him, then stood reluctantly. The tall, curly-haired South African, Caruth, rose in the front of the room, let out another annoyed grunt, and began walking towards the door. "It's bleedin' Blade Runner, Condor."

"Back in ninety mikes," Condor replied. "We're taking the Askar, leaving the FOB at sixteen thirty. Move your asses!"

The other two men shanghaied for this hasty operation continued bitching, but Josh just rose, followed the big South African out the door, and hurried back to his hooch to gear up for a run outside the wire.

Less than ten minutes later, Josh Duffy arrived at the motor pool and made his way past the dozens of vehicles parked there, finally arriving at the Askar, a Turkish-made armored personnel carrier. The sun beat down on him, made all the more brutal by his full load-out. He wore a flameproof tunic, Kühl cargo pants, body armor, a ball cap, Vasque boots, Oakley sunglasses, a chest rack full of M4 magazines, and a utility belt holding a Glock 9-millimeter with extra mags for the pistol.

He carried his primary weapon in one hand and a go-bag in the other. The rifle was a Heckler & Koch 416, painted a faded green, brown, and camel camouflage and equipped with a three-power scope, a white light, and a laser.

The go-bag was full of food and water to last him seventy-two hours in the field, plus extra ammo and additional medical supplies that didn't fit in the IFAK, the individual first-aid kit that he wore on his load-bearing vest.

Andy Caruth and Mike Gordon showed up a minute later, both dressed similarly to Duff, and then Condor stepped out of a prefab building next to the motor pool with an M249 light machine gun on his shoulder, carrying a sheaf of paperwork in one hand and a cardboard whiskey carton in the other.

He put both items in the front passenger seat, then turned back to the three men standing around.

"We'll run buttoned up. Intel reports roaming Taliban in technicals, but IEDs continue to be the main threat. Big Army got hit about a klick from the airport yesterday. Just some potshots, no casualties, but let's stay inside the armor till we're at our destination."

Caruth took the wheel, Tremaine rode shotgun, and Gordon and Duff sat in back, leaving the third row empty for the two VIPs the South African had mentioned.

As they rolled out past the razor wire, the Hesco barriers, and the bomb-sniffing dogs, Josh automatically switched into full-on security contractor mode. He didn't think about Nikki, he didn't think about wedding rings or his future, he thought about his mission.

And Josh's mission was his sector. He looked out the rear passenger-side window, scanned buildings and rooftops, empty dirt- and rubble-covered fields, roadside kiosks and market stalls.

And he also checked the road itself. It was Condor's job in front of him to help Andy Caruth watch for roadside bombs, often disguised or simply buried, but Duff couldn't help but keep an eye out, as well.

He'd run over an IED once in Syria; no one had been seriously injured, but it had rattled him for days.

Duff much preferred an enemy he could see, an enemy he could kill.

J-Bad was a dangerous place, but Josh had been here for three months, and other than some indirect fire-mortars dropped on FOB Blackbird from a distance-he hadn't seen any real action here.

Each and every day he worked escort missions around the city, and bad shit had happened in town since he'd been here; it just hadn't happened to him.

Still, he remained completely focused, at least until ten minutes into the drive to the airport, when Condor abruptly changed the mission.

"Caruth, take the next right. We're going straight to Fenty."

FOB Fenty was the main U.S. military forward operating base in Jalalabad, a five-square-mile complex that had been here for over a decade.

Gordon spoke. "What about the airport?"

"Gents, we're on special assignment."

"What assignment?" Caruth asked.

Condor said, "The company has authorized me to pick up an allotment of rifles from weapons depot"-he looked down at the paperwork in his hand-"vault twelve. It's there on the west side of the FOB behind the pistol range."

"How many weapons?" Caruth asked.

"One-twenty AKs."

Gordon cocked his head now. "How we gonna fit one hundred twenty AKs in here with the VIPs?"

The South African sniffed, then said, "We aren't picking up at the airport. Just going to Fenty and then back."

"Then why'd you say-"

"This operation is clandestine, signed off on by the home office."

Duff and Gordon looked at each other. Neither of them was sure what was going on, but both of them had skeptical expressions on their faces.

Caruth asked, "What does United need the AKs for?"

"I mean," Gordon said, adding to Caruth's thought, "if they're AKs in a weapons depot at a U.S. FOB, they're probably the property of the U.S., confiscated from the enemy and then handed out to the ANP. Why would we be-"

Condor said, "United's starting a counternarcotics training center, off site from Blackbird. They're bringing in a cadre from our base in Kabul, hiring some ex-DEA guys, and pulling trainees out of the Afghan army. The U.S. is giving us guns for the center. It's a CIA operation, need-to-know type of deal, and you three now know all you need to know."

This explanation did not slow down the questions. Gordon asked, "How do we just go to a U.S. military base and pick up all these weps?"

"I sign for them. It's all set up." After a moment of silence he said, "Just watch."

Gordon looked to Duff and mouthed the word Bullshit.

Duff turned back to the window and continued watching for trouble, but he was starting to think that trouble was inside the vehicle.

They arrived at the front gate of the FOB, showed their DOD contractor badges to get on base, then drove for several minutes more before arriving at a weapons storage facility with a sign out front that read Vault 12.

Caruth stayed behind the wheel while Condor led Gordon and Josh through the harsh sunlight and into a dark and cavernous building.

Duffy noticed that Condor was carrying the carton of whiskey with him.

They made it to a check-in desk, and here an Army warrant officer in his thirties stood. Duff saw that his name tape read "Thacker," and he seemed to be expecting Tremaine. "Condor, good to see you. How's everything over at Blackbird?"

The South African looked around. "About the same as here, I expect."

"Doubt that," the warrant officer said, looking at the carton in the United senior officer's hand. "You've got booze over there."

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