When an internet video is released that shows the heads of state kneeling before the flag of the Protectors of Islam, the question of who abducted them and what they want is answered. The Islamic terrorists threaten that unless their demands are met within seventy-two hours, both men will be beheaded live on the internet. With each countrys intelligence agencies paralyzed by a lack of clues, Matt Moretti and his Chinese agent counterpart, Han Li, work outside their organizations bureaucracies to find the leaders. After they uncover a conspiracy focused on attaining a singular objective at any cost, Moretti and Li are arrested for interfering with the investigation. Now they must outrun the army, make sense of complex clues, and race to find the presidents before their abductors carry out their evil plan.
In this thrilling story of intrigue and murder, an American civilian intelligence officer and Chinese agent must do everything in their power to stop the beheading of two international leaders by Islamic terrorists.
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The construction project had taken three years, not because it was especially complicated but because it was a secret. In the end, only one man would know what had been built, and that knowledge would be passed on to his successor alone — and to each subsequent successor in the same manner — in a perpetual chain of knowledge.
The two hundred workers toiled night after night in the stifling humidity and bone-chilling cold of the changing seasons, working only after dark so that no one could witness their presence. None of those who labored through the backbreaking work were allowed to return to their villages when their daily tasks were complete. Instead, before dawn, they were taken out a secret exit and escorted to a nearby compound. There they were fed well and given drink, and on occasion women were brought in for their pleasure. The workers considered themselves fortunate that they didn't have to claw out a daily existence like so many others throughout their country. Each was recruited because of his particular skill, and each was made to understand that he could not return to his home for several years if he accepted the work that was being offered. Their mysterious employer promised, through the person recruiting them, that their families would receive their wages during this time and would be well cared for. As proof of the employer's sincerity, those who accepted the offer of work were given a pouch of gold as a bonus.
The payments and work continued for three years. Then the information that the project was complete worked its way up the supervisory chain of command, ultimately reaching the employer. The following day, the workers were told to stay in their compound because a party was to be held in their honor before they returned home. In the early afternoon, a great amount of drink and food was brought in, and everyone feasted until they could consume no more.
While his workers were celebrating, the employer inspected their work, just as he'd done daily for just over three years. He expressed his satisfaction that everything had been done correctly and that the completed project would protect him and his family in times of peril. He then instructed his assistant to make very generous payments to the families of those who had labored in this effort.
Later he ordered that everyone involved — the workers, the soldiers guarding them, the staff who had overseen the project, and even the assistant to whom he was speaking — be given poison with their meal. The face of the person receiving this command slowly changed from shocked disbelief to acceptance because the power of the person speaking with him was absolute. A secret was a secret only if no one knew about it, the employer went on to say.
Later that day, when the employer opened the wooden shutters in his quarters, he saw billowing smoke in the distance. He knew it was coming from the walled enclosure that housed the workers; he owned the entire hill on which their housing was situated, and there were no other structures in that area. When he could no longer see any smoke, he ordered a small group of his most trusted advisers to bury the bodies and erase any evidence of the workers' existence. He demanded silence from those who performed this task. No threat was needed, however, for all knew that anyone who broke that pledge would suffer the same fate as the dead men.
In time, the dense hillside bushes encroached on the fire-scarred compound and hid what had occurred there. Those who carried out the command to bury the bodies had not been told what those victims had done to deserve the punishment they received. But that was wholly unimportant. The emperor of China was the Son of Heaven, and his commands were considered sacred edicts to be followed even at the cost of one's life.
Kundek Temuujin was thirty-two years old, six feet five, and three hundred pounds of hard muscle. Born in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, a city at the edge of the Gobi Desert, he began working in a steel mill at the age of fourteen. Eight years ago, he caught the attention of Wang Lei, a Chinese industrialist who had been touring the factory. Impressed with his size and physique, the defense contractor had offered him a job as a bodyguard.
The giant Mongolian had no facial hair and a moon-shaped face that was twice the size of a normal person's. He shaved his head so close to the scalp that he was effectively bald. His permanent scowl told the story of someone who'd experienced none of the joys of life, only its tragedies, and anyone who looked at him instinctively cowered.
Kundek did not feel any regret for what he was about to do. He was a murderer, and that's exactly why he was here — to kill someone. He grabbed the woman lying on the floor and positioned her exactly where she should be, then placed the man next to her. Both he'd rendered unconscious with a single blow to the side of the head before binding their hands and feet with soft cloths and placing gags in their mouths. As he removed the .22 handgun from his pocket and pointed it at the helpless woman, she opened her eyes. He saw the horrified look on her face, which would soon be frozen and add to the credibility of the scene. Perfect. He pulled the trigger, and the woman's head slammed back against the hardwood floor with a dull thud.
Having regained consciousness after hearing the gunshot, the Mongolian's next victim was frantically trying to wiggle away, but Kundek grabbed him by his shirt collar and dragged him back. He held the man with one hand while, with the other, he wiped the .22 handgun with a handkerchief to remove his prints. Then he put the weapon in the palm of the man's hand, forced the man's finger onto the trigger, and then wrapped his own enormous hand around both. The man bucked and gyrated wildly, trying to get away, but the Mongolian outweighed him by a buck and a half. He placed a tree-trunk-sized knee onto his victim's chest to hold him down. Moving the gun to the man's head, he positioned it exactly where it needed to be and forced the man to pull the trigger. Blood and brains blew out the back of the skull, and he released his grip and let the gun fall to the floor. He quickly untied and ungagged both bodies, then left through the back door before anyone came to investigate the gunshots.
Bone tired, David McAlister ran his hand over his bald head and down his day-old stubble. It was two in the morning. He knew he'd have more stamina if he lost forty-five pounds off his five-foot-eight frame, but the habits that had gotten him there over the past year were unlikely to change. When his now ex-wife had taken everything in the divorce and the judge had ordered a huge chunk of David's paycheck to be paid for alimony and child support, there had been nothing to look forward to except drinking and eating.
Everyone else had long since left the office, and with any luck, he'd be going home shortly. He'd spent the past eight hours documenting in intricate detail what he believed would prove to be the discovery of the century. Now all he needed to do was email the home office in London, inform them of what he had uncovered, and include images for the corporate naysayers who would otherwise try to stab him in the back.
Earlier David had thought about telling his fellow engineers before they left for the day, but he had decided against it. They'd want to jump on the bandwagon and take any credit they could for his hard work, his intuition — and, yes, his good luck. But they'd just have to find another way to climb the corporate ladder. He wasn't sharing this with anyone. He felt a momentary twinge of guilt that his Mongolian assistant, Zaya Batbayar, wouldn't get credit, even though Zaya had found the entrance. That fact, of course, would be missing from his report. If anyone learned that David wasn't the discoverer, he'd lose the limelight and the promotion that was sure to follow. The irony was that the peasant Zaya didn't even work for him. He was assigned to David by Sovereign Industries, which was under contract to structurally and facially restore the Forbidden City to its original grandeur. Sovereign Industries owned the building in which David worked; his company was merely a subcontractor.
Earlier in the day, David had approached Zaya and made him a deal — $1,000 for a written statement that David McAlister had made the discovery. Fortunately, the interpreter cared more about putting food on the family table than recognition, which would get him nothing more than a pat on the back. Once David put cash in the man's hand, there had been a rapid readjustment of Zaya's memory.
As David began typing an email to the president of the company, he detailed what had been found. He knew he'd piss off the several layers of management above him that he was bypassing with this breach of protocol, but he didn't care. Given half the chance, each of them would have done the same. His hands were flying across the keyboard, and he was at the point of explaining how his years of engineering experience had enabled him to piece together the clues that had led to this discovery, when he heard a metallic click. It was the sound the front door always made when the cipher lock released. He was sure he'd locked it after the last of his coworkers left for the day — but with so much on his mind, maybe not.
Standing, David looked across the sea of cubicles, hoping to get a glimpse of whoever had entered the office. "Hello," he yelled. No one responded. Perhaps whoever had entered had gone to the other side of the building and couldn't hear him. Or maybe he was just imagining things. He told himself to calm down. After all, he was on the thirtieth floor. Even if someone slipped past the security guard in the lobby, two codes were required to enter after hours — one for the building's elevator and another for the office. Only company employees and Sovereign's security manager had both.
Still, David had an unsettled feeling. Compounding his unease was the eerie glow of the full moon shining through the floor-to-ceiling windows, with the tinted glass dimming its brightness to such an extent that part of the office was cloaked in darkness. He was getting spooked. He wanted to turn on the overhead lights, but they were inoperative from ten o'clock in the evening until six in the morning. Management had jumped on the government's energy conservation bandwagon and placed timers on the lights. Out of the corner of his eye, David thought he saw movement.
But when he turned in that direction, there was only darkness. He was beginning to get more than a little freaked out. "Hello," he said again, this time cupping his hands around his mouth to better project his voice. But no one replied. He hoped he'd get a response from a cleaning person, or one of his coworkers who couldn't sleep and had decided to come in at this insane hour. Turning off the desk light, he dropped to his knees and crawled to the opposite side of the office, using the surrounding five-foot-high cubicle walls for cover and the thick pile carpet to mask the sound of his movement. When he reached the copy machine, which was in the farthest and darkest corner, he put his back to the wall and looked toward the moonlit windows. Sooner or later, he believed, the person who'd entered the office would pass in front of him.
David stared at the windows for a full ten minutes, saw no one, and started to wonder if his imagination had gotten the better of him. Maybe he hadn't heard anyone. The noise could have been something as simple as a change in air pressure initiated by the building's air-conditioning system. Maybe that, in turn, had caused the door to move and pull against the lock. He chided himself for acting like a child and fearing the bogeyman. If he could gut it out for another fifteen minutes, he'd finish the email and be out of here.
Just as he started to return to his cubicle, David saw an enormous man, dressed entirely in black, cross the room three feet in front of him. Fortunately, despite being startled, he maintained his crouch and didn't move or make a sound. If he had, he'd have been face-to-face with an intruder who was at least six foot five and had to weigh several hundred pounds. David remained deathly still, held his breath, and followed the man with his eyes, avoiding any head movement that might draw attention. When the man passed beyond his peripheral vision, he slowly let out his breath. His hands and knees were shaking, and adrenaline was coursing through his body to such an extent that he thought his heart would explode. The office wasn't particularly large, so it was only a matter of time until he was discovered. The intruder clearly knew he was there, since he'd stupidly announced his presence — twice. He guessed that the giant was after corporate secrets, since it made little sense to break into an engineering firm just to ransack a few desks. David needed to call the security guard in the lobby and have him arrest the intruder. In fact, recalling the man's size, he'd tell the guard to send several security personnel and bring a Taser.
The nearest phone was in a cubicle twenty feet away. Moving slowly, David crawled into the eight-by-eight-foot space without making even the smallest sound. He pulled the wireless phone, at the corner of the desk, off its receptacle and dialed *20, which would connect him with the guard in the lobby. As he was waiting for security to answer, he heard a noise coming from the vicinity of the copy machine. He quickly slid underneath the desk and pulled the chair in front of him. There was no answer from security. What a time for a bathroom break. David waited another minute, then redialed. The same result. He needed to get out of there.
Crawling from his hiding place, he hunched down as low as he could and duckwalked toward the office entrance, making sure to keep his head below the top of the cubicles. With the thick carpet absorbing his footsteps, he was confident the intruder didn't hear him. When he reached the lobby, he stood and pushed the door release button.
At that exact moment, a freight train hit David from behind. At least that's what it felt like. He was thrown across the lobby, landing so hard on his stomach that he nearly blacked out. As he started to regain his senses, powerful hands grabbed him by the shoulders and effortlessly lifted him off the floor. David found himself standing with his back to the intruder, an enormous forearm wrapped around his neck while a hand pushed his head forward so that he couldn't breathe. He tried to resist, repeatedly kicking the intruder in the shins as hard as he could to try to force him to release his stranglehold. Never flinching, the man maintained his viselike grip. David felt himself losing consciousness, and soon he collapsed motionless in the man's arms.
Kundek slung the engineer over his shoulder and carried him back to the cubicle where he'd been working, then lowered him into his chair. He removed a pair of latex gloves, a note, and a .22 handgun from his own pants pocket. Placing the engineer's hand around the grip of the gun and putting his finger on the trigger, just as he'd done with Batbayar, he pulled McAlister's finger back. The bullet entered the engineer's right temple and bounced around inside his cranium until it ran out of speed. Kundek let go of the body and changed gloves, since the ones he had been wearing were now covered with gunpowder residue.
Looking at the computer screen, he saw what David McAlister had been typing and erased it. He then searched through the computer files, looking for anything else he might need to purge. He found several photographs, downloaded them onto a flash drive he'd brought with him, then erased the folder they were in. Forty minutes after entering the building, he took the elevator down to the parking garage, walked out a side door, and was gone.CHAPTER 2
Wang Lei sat behind his desk and listened to Kundek's descriptions of the killings. At five foot two inches tall, with a thin physique that displayed no body fat, the diminutive owner of Sovereign Industries didn't fit the mental image one might form of the most powerful and ruthless industrialist in China. Approaching sixty, he made sure his hair, which he kept short and combed straight back, remained black and that his face appeared young, thanks to Botox, periodic surgery, and his avoidance of the sun. He recognized that his vainness was well known and frequently made fun of behind his back, but he also knew that no one would ever dare comment about it to his face. Those few people who were indiscreet enough to do so no longer resided with the living. As usual, Kundek had carried out his assignment perfectly.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Abductions"
Copyright © 2018 Alan Refkin.
Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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