A modern Indiana Jones steals a relic of Alexander the Great in Blood of Alexander, the thrilling debut from Tom Wilde.
Jonathan Blake makes a living stealing antiquities—stealing them back, that is. A field agent for the Argo Foundation, a company that makes it their business to preserve humanity's history by liberating stolen artifacts from thieves and looters, Blake is used to dangerous assignments. But when he is forced by the US government into a deadly mission involving a missing Napoleonic standard, he finds himself in over his head.
Blake is pitted against Vanya, the head of a fanatical cult, who seeks a gilded bronze eagle that holds a vital clue to the lost tomb of Alexander the Great.
From ancient ruins in Afghanistan to the catacombs of Paris to a chateau high in the French Alps, Blake must unravel the secret truth of the final fate of Napoleon Bonaparte, the murder of Percy Bysshe Shelly, and the hidden remains of Alexander. And he must do it before Vanya's apocalyptic plans for humanity come to their deadly fruition.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|File size:||674 KB|
About the Author
TOM WILDE has worked as a government criminal investigator on cases that range from homicide to child abduction that have taken him across the United States as well as to Germany, Romania, and Mexico. Wilde is also qualified as an instructor in police firearms and weaponless defense training. He makes his home in Folsom, California.
Read an Excerpt
I’d spent the day in the place where the gods used to abide, staring for hours at one of the enormous, empty stone cradles where, nearly two thousand years ago, men carved the gigantic likeness of the Buddha out of the living rock. For hundreds of years, travelers along the Silk Road would come and see and be amazed. No one knows how long it took to create the magnificent images of the Light of the Universe. But it took only minutes for men to destroy them.
The mountainside was sun-bleached and wind-scoured, pockmarked with man-made caves that used to serve as homes for the refugees who were forced to live in them. I’d come to this largely forsaken part of the world along with a convoy of United Nations relief workers—until this morning, when I slipped away from the motorized caravan and kept out of sight until they had left for the return trip to Kabul. The local men and women paid me no attention as they went about the business of scratching out a living, save for the times they would keep their curious children, whose robes and clothes provided the only flecks of color against the timeworn landscape, from looking too long at the stranger near their village.
I stayed until nightfall near the place where a half-blind mullah and his illiterate henchmen had used tank shells and explosives to destroy a sacred and ancient marvel, all because they believed their god would have wanted it that way. At the time it was the best place I could be. The sight of the massive ugly scars where beauty once dwelt burned into my soul the reason I was here, and why I was going to meet with a man who would doubtless try to kill me.
When the moon crested the surrounding mountains and washed the desolate outskirts of Bamiyan in silver and sepia, I made my way to the lonely rendezvous point, wondering if I was going to freeze to death before I made my appointment. Finally, I spotted vehicle headlights cautiously bouncing along the dirt road. I shielded my eyes against the glare as I waited for the Land Rover to grind to a halt. The sound of the four doors opening was followed by the clicks and clacks of automatic rifles being brought to ready and a booming laugh I remembered all too well.
“Jonathan Blake! My good friend!”
“Yusef Mohammad,” I called in return, opening my arms in a gesture of greeting and to show that I was the only person around for miles that didn’t carry a firearm. The last time I had seen Yusef, he had been dressed in the Western-style suit of an Istanbul businessman, but tonight I saw that he’d donned the traditional headdress with army-style fatigues, complete with a pistol and gun belt as opposed to an automatic rifle, showing that he was in management. “What have you brought for me?” he asked.
“My friendship. And a large amount of money,” I replied.
Yusef stepped around to the front of his Land Rover while his three men scoured the roadside with flashlight beams. “I thought we’d agreed to meet alone,” I said. “What’s with the henchmen?”
Yusef stroked his beard with a pudgy hand. “Henchmen? What henchmen? These men are practically my family. I am quite certain that one of them will marry my sister one day. Now, will you take some tea?”
Yusef Mohammad was an opium smuggler, a small arms dealer, and a trafficker in anything valuable that he could lay his hands on, but he always respected tradition and hospitality. This meant he wouldn’t try to poison me until he’d gotten his money. Yusef and I had a history together in this part of the world. The first time we collided was when the Argo Foundation sent me to help smuggle out part of the Bactrian Hoard, a collection of two-thousand-year-old golden artifacts discovered in the 1970s and hidden away by the Afghanistan people in the wake of Russian invasions and the Taliban regime. My job was to see that the treasure didn’t fall into the wrong hands. I employed Yusef for his criminal expertise and told him that I’d need to get two shipments out of the country, and that I’d send the first shipment, of less valuable antiquities, as a test to make sure we could pull it off. Sure enough, the first shipment made it safely over the border into Pakistan, but the second one mysteriously vanished.
My only regret was that I couldn’t see Yusef Mohammad’s face as he broke open the second crate, which he doubtless stole, only to find all the carefully packaged pieces of army tank parts, spent shell casings, and other worthless junk I’d packed instead. Ever since, the knowledge that Yusef would always try and double-cross me was one of the very few constants in my world.
I came up to the hood of the car while Yusef produced a thermos and plastic cups and poured for the two of us. His men stood back in a rough semicircle, ready to kill me when the social pleasantries were concluded.
The tea was sweet though tepid, and a welcome relief to my desert-parched throat. After I had my drink, Yusef rubbed his hands together in anticipation, the universal signal to commence business. “So, my good friend, about this money you have for me, is it American dollars, or euros? I am hoping for euros.”
I could see Yusef, underlit by the headlights, wince through his beard. “Gold? What are you, a barbarian? What am I to do with gold?”
I shrugged. “Best I could do at the time. I got ahold of a stash of pre-Apartheid Krugerrands. If it makes you feel better, last time I checked the world market prices, you’re getting over ten percent of what we agreed upon.”
“Ten percent, eh?” Yusef mused. He looked me up and down. “And just where is this treasure?”
“Close by. I’d like to see what I came for first.”
Yusef’s eyes flashed, then he remembered to smile. He opened his hands and performed a little bow. “As you wish.” I watched as he picked up the thermos and unscrewed the top, carefully removing a hollow cylinder of black plastic. Without making any sudden moves, I brought out a small but potent flashlight of my own and illuminated the hood of the vehicle. With a surprising bit of delicacy, Yusef slowly unrolled the plastic until it revealed the ancient curved birch-bark parchment that I had traveled over half the world to see.
I hardly dared to breathe as I beheld the nearly two-thousand-year-old artifact, as if afraid it would crumble into the dust of history before my eyes. Through the chilled, dry air came a faint scent of something that evoked ashes and old incense. In recent past years, other such scrolls had been unearthed from their hiding places and smuggled out of Afghanistan. Since their discovery they’d been dubbed “The Dead Sea Scrolls of Buddhism,” and every fragment was a fragile pearl beyond price. The blood beat in my ears as I matched the faded letters with the photograph Yusef had sent along with a letter inquiring if I wanted to purchase this “little scrap of paper,” or should he just blow his nose with it?
I suddenly realized that Yusef had been clearing his throat for my attention. “So,” he said finally. “If you are satisfied?”
I was. The experts back at the Argo Foundation had analyzed the writing on the photograph, and I’d memorized the pattern of the characters before leaving New York. I’d personally handled scrolls of this nature before, but never one so old and valuable. I just nodded and carefully rewrapped the scroll, taking great pains not to stress the delicate material. “Was this piece the only one you found?” I asked.
He nodded. “Yes. The man I got it from convinced me he was not hiding any more. Now, as for my money?”
I slipped the parchment into a stainless steel container brought along for the occasion and placed it into a secured pouch on my thigh. When it was safely packed away I pushed the button on the little remote transmitter I kept out of sight in my pocket. There was a sound like a cricket chirping and off the road to the south a blinking red light appeared, all of which caused Yusef’s men to noisily swing their weapons around looking for something to shoot.
Yusef himself gave out a high-pitched shriek as he dropped himself down to a near fetal position. When he realized he wasn’t about to meet his demise, he slowly stood up with murder in his eyes. “Ha,” he said hollowly. “A joke.”
I tried to look innocent. “What? I didn’t want to lose all that gold in the dark, did I?”
Yusef kept his glowering expression aimed at me while he hissed some commands at his men. Two of the gunmen ran off across the rock-strewn ground toward the blinking beacon while the third came up and placed himself between his employer/future brother-in-law and me. I noticed the way he kept his ghutra wrapped around his face, concealing everything but his eyes—a certain sign he was expecting to perform some dark deeds tonight. Without taking his eyes from his two running errand boys, Yusef asked, “So, how were you planning to leave here?”
“Me? I was just going to fly away.”
“Truly?” Yusef scanned the star-filled sky. “By the way, how did you manage to get gold into this country?”
“Easy. I put it into boxes marked ‘rocket-propelled grenades.’”
“Another joke,” Yusef said flatly.
“Well, come on. I don’t ask you how you smuggle all that opium, do I?” I knew by now Yusef’s men would be digging up the box I had placed off the road, and I decided it was time to put the cards on the table. “You’re not planning on letting me leave here, are you?”
He had the grace to sigh and pretend to be sad. “No, my friend. I am certain that it was you who caused me to lose my arms shipment outside of Istanbul after you got your precious Babylonian trinkets last year. I lost money on that deal. Besides, if you think this scroll is valuable, then others will too. A good merchant can sell something once, but a great one can sell the same item many times over.” From out of the darkness, I heard one of Yusef’s men gleefully shout, “Peroozi!” That was my signal to turn my head away, shut my eyes, and hit the second button on my remote transmitter.
The magnesium-laced explosive I had set up between the gold stash and the road blew up with a lightning-bright flash, guaranteed to blind anyone looking in that direction. I kept my eyes shut while I rolled to the ground and took Yusef’s remaining man off his feet at the knees, dropping him to his back with a satisfying thump. Working blind, I slid my hands up his arms; my left one clamped a hold on his trapezius to paralyze his right arm while my free hand found his trigger finger. I shoved his rifle toward the front of the Land Rover and squeezed off a short burst, slamming high-velocity rounds into the engine block and radiator, and was rewarded with hearing a steam-hot hissing sound. I finished him off with a left-hand chop into his carotid sinus, grabbed the forestock of his rifle, and shot off the rest of the magazine out toward the stars, well over the heads of the remaining thugs. Then I got to my feet and ran like hell down the road.
I didn’t get five paces away before the idiots behind me opened up with full automatic fire. Instinctively, they were shooting at the source of the blinding explosion, forgetting the fact that they were aiming at their own people and vehicle beyond. Over the shuddering din of the gunshots, I could hear Yusef screaming at them. Pure music to my ears. Only I didn’t have the time to enjoy it; I was coming to the really crazy part of my escape plan.
I had to risk using my flashlight, sweeping the ground until I spotted the small rock cairn I’d set up by the side of the road. I ran up to the camouflaged cover where I’d hidden my ticket out. I hadn’t lied when I told Yusef I was going to fly out of here. I tore off the tarp where I’d concealed the engine backpack of my powered paraglider, the half parachute, half backpack propeller contraption that I was now betting my life upon. The whole unit fit inside an oversized duffel bag that I’d lugged to the arranged meeting spot outside Bamiyan the night before. The adrenaline surge I’d been running on helped me hoist the eighty-pound motor unit onto my back, but at the same time made my fingers tremble while locking the quick-release straps to my arms and legs. It didn’t help to hear Yusef getting his men back under control. Through the clear desert air I could hear the telltale sounds of automatic weapons being reloaded.
I hit the engine starter and took off running away from Yusef and his goons. The lines connected to the parachute snapped taut as the propeller motor roared to life with a sound that seemed to travel over half the world. I dragged the parawing until it caught the air, and I was suddenly in a waking nightmare of running as hard as I could while the parawing grabbed air and slowed me down as the pops and whines of high-velocity bullets whipped through the space around me.
Finally, after struggling through a small eternity in hell, I felt the lines of the chute pull upward and my running feet left the earth once, twice, and then with a throat-clutching moment when my legs dropped and dragged over the rough ground, I was yanked into the air. I opened the throttle full up and took to the star-filled sky like a puppet on a string.
The vibrating roar of the engine filled my head as I left the cold, dusty ground behind me, and all my fear blew out of my body through an uncontrollable fit of laughter—just as it always does in times such as these when I’m surprised to find myself still alive despite my own best efforts.
For now all I had to do was get some distance between me and the men who wanted to kill me, without splattering myself against the jagged, snowcapped Hindu Kush mountains, then take my flying contraption down to the eastbound road, going low and slow until I’d covered the ten miles or so to where a truck with my fellow Argo Foundation compatriots was waiting, and then a leisurely but bumpy ride back to Kabul. With any luck, anyone hearing the whine of my engine would mistake it for a military remote-piloted drone and get under cover as I sailed overhead.
As I flew over the moon-washed rock and scrub tree desert under a blanket of countless Afghan stars, I was happy. Not only because I’d just managed to pull off a coup that left all involved still alive, but mostly because at this time I had no idea how much trouble that damn dried-up piece of parchment was going to cause me.
Copyright © 2014 by Tom Wilde
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The description of this book grabbed me immediately - I loved the Indiana Jones movies (except the last one, I mean, really, aliens?) it also reminded me a little of The DaVinci Code. Overall, this was an enjoyable debut novel. Jonathan Blake was very likeable. He came from a pretty rough place and was given an amazing opportunity to reinvent himself. Some of his actions may not be exactly legal, but I guess you can justify that by saying it's for a good cause, although I did question why his skill set and training seemed to exceed James Bond's. It seemed a little extreme for his line of work, but it was fun to read. Caitlin was an interesting character, but I was a little disappointed that she turned into the 'damsel in distress' and she and Jonathan seemed to develop a relationship pretty suddenly. It was also frustrating that all the female characters were described as beautiful and "blessed with subtle perfection" . Just a tad unrealistic, but maybe male readers could better appreciate this. The ending lead me to believe this may become a series and I would be interested in reading more of Jonathan Blake. The pacing was great, the action sequences were the right length and frequency, and there were several twists along the way. If you enjoy thrillers with action and some history thrown in, this is your book. This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.
The hero is different, I liked how his character was written. It would be great if there could be another book.
Worth the time to read
Would love to read more of Blake.
Love a good hero that can do all the things us mortals can't do. But what is a good hero without the nasty villains.
Keep them coming!