From #1 New York Times–bestselling author Catherine Coulter, the explosive new addition to the remarkable thriller series featuring Nicholas Drummond and Mike Caine.
FBI agent Nicholas Drummond and his partner, Mike Caine, are deep into an investigation of COE—Celebrants of the Earth—a violent group known for widespread bombings of power grids and oil refineries across the country. While investigating a tip from a civilian who’s overheard about a possible bombing plot, the Bayway Refinery in New Jersey explodes. Nicholas and Mike race to the scene and barely escape being killed by a secondary device.
Returning to the civilian’s home to continue their interrogation, they discover the tipster—and the FBI team left to guard him—dead. While Nicholas calls in the assassinations, COE strikes again, this time launching a cyber-attack on several major oil companies and draining their financial and intellectual assets.
But COE has been infiltrated by a deep-cover counterterrorism agent named Vanessa Grace. A bomb-making expert, Vanessa must leave COE and join forces with Nicholas and Mike to stop the organization’s devious plan to assassinate the President. But there’s an assassin on the loose who could tip the scales in COE’s favor, and no one knows his ultimate target, or who has contracted his services.
Working with the CIA, the Secret Service, Mossad, MI-5, and even Savich and Sherlock, Nicholas and his team put their lives on the line to prevent another conflagration—and save the President.
About the Author
Catherine Coulter is the author of the New York Times–bestselling FBI thrillers The Cove, The Maze, The Target, The Edge, Riptide, Hemlock Bay, Eleventh Hour, Blindside, Blowout, Point Blank, Double Take, TailSpin, KnockOut, Whiplash, Split Second, Backfire, Bombshell, and Power Play. She is also the author, with J. T. Ellison, of the New York Times–bestselling The Final Cut and The Lost Key, international thrillers featuring Nicholas Drummond. Coulter lives in Sausalito, California.
J. T. Ellison is the bestselling author of twelve critically acclaimed novels, including What Lies Behind and When Shadows Fall, and her work has been published in more than twenty countries. Her novel The Cold Room won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original and Where All the Dead Lie was a RITA® Nominee for Best Romantic Suspense. She is also the coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers The Final Cut and The Lost Key. Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband.
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2015 Catherine Coulter
Knight to f3
Grangemouth Refinery, Scotland
Four Months Ago
Vanessa was crouched down, staring into the night, her muscles tense and cramping in the overnight chill. It was her first job with Matthew, her first bomb build especially for him. It would work, she knew it would, but deep down, she had doubts, and hated it. She shook her head, knowing she’d produce a lovely explosion for him as she watched for Ian and his boys. The Forth of Firth was to her left, salt and brine mingling with the sharp scent of unrefined oil.
The darkness was broken only by the lights of the refinery, always running, even after the sun went down. The lighted metal poles mingled with security lamps and boom lights to halo the bobbing headlamps on the workers’ helmets. The whole scene looked fantastical, a stage setting in an artificial gloom.
Vanessa looked at her watch. Five minutes to go. Ian was placing the bomb, and at his signal, she should be the one to detonate it, but not this time. Matthew told her he was going to be the one to blow up the night sky.
Well, let him, if it gave him a kick. Or was it this particular refinery? Even though it was her job, she smiled at him as she handed over the trigger. It didn’t matter, she knew her baby would work just fine.
Vanessa didn’t yet understand him, but it was early days. She recognized his genius, his facility with ideas and each step they had to consider before moving ahead with his selected target. She also knew his amazing bomb wasn’t yet perfected. If it was, surely he’d want to test it.
She looked at her watch again, said aloud to Matthew, “Where is Ian? He should be out by now. The security guard will circle back around in thirty seconds. He’s cutting it too close.”
Matthew Spenser, the Bishop, a moniker he’d been given by Ian a long time before, because, as Ian had explained to her, he’d learned that Matthew existed in a master’s chess realm that was always ten moves of everyone else, and so didn’t he deserve the name? Why not king, she wondered, but didn’t say anything. Matthew was tall, lean, and hyper, sharp as a poised knife, he liked to think. She felt the excitement coming off him in waves. He loved to score another win.
He said to Vanessa, “Ian’s never failed me. He’ll be along. He knows what he’s doing.”
Three minutes now. They couldn’t use comms; radio frequencies could set off the bomb.
She saw movement by the perimeter, and her adrenaline spiked. No, it wasn’t Ian. Where was he? She felt gut-wrenching fear that something had gone wrong, that he’d been caught. Or, almost as bad, that she’d messed up and the bomb was somehow defective, or the very worse, she’d been found out. No, she had to calm herself. Her beautiful, powerful Semtex bomb would work and Ian was a master at this, he’d get it set in place and get himself and their guys out of the plant. All would go well. She let out her breath. Since her prints were all over the bomb and Ian always wore gloves, the message would be clear and received. Her bosses would know it was her group who’d blown up Grangemouth.
Matthew squeezed her arm, gave her a quick smile. “Your first bomb for me.” She could only nod. He felt to her like he was ready to jump out of his skin, or his brain, maybe both, but she felt it too, this manic brew of emotions that roared through both of them. She wondered if in the aftermath of the explosion, he would try to get her into bed, to celebrate scoring this victory by scoring her. She’d hold him off, waiting, waiting, trying to judge if she would have to go the sex route to find out what she needed to know.
She took one last look at her watch. “We’re out of time.”
“Vanessa,” he whispered, “Look there.”
Ian was running across the field toward them, his now-empty backpack flying like wings behind him, a crazy smile stretched across his face, three of their men behind him.
She put in her earplugs.
Matthew was watching her as he stuffed in his own earplugs. Then, without a word, he grinned down at her and handed her back the trigger with a flourish. “Have at it, Vanessa, have at it.”
Why had he changed his mind? What did it prove? Had he planned to see if she’d lose her nerve, not be able to detonate the bomb? Well, it hardly mattered.
Vanessa looked up at him as she depressed the trigger, a button on her cell phone.
A fraction of a second later, she felt the explosion. It started in the soles of her feet, pounded up her legs as the ground began to shake and an earsplitting roar tore through the silence. The night sky became day.
The concussion knocked both of them backward. They landed hard, their breath knocked out of them. When Vanessa managed to pull air into her lungs, she scrambled to her hands and knees, facing the heat of the blaze raging in the refinery. It looked like a campfire on steroids. It was much stronger than she’d expected. She saw Ian and his men crouched down behind distant refinery trucks, did a quick headcount. Everyone was accounted for.
So fast, all of it, so fast. The bomb had done its job, and she’d been its builder. She’d proven herself, established herself once and for all. Now she would be on the in with Matthew Spenser, now he had to accept her into his inner circle. After all, she was the one who’d engineered this marvel for him, and he would know there were more marvels to come. He had to trust her now.
He was screaming something at her, his voice wild, filled with alarm.
She couldn’t hear him, pulled out her earplugs, but it didn’t help much. The bomb’s concussion had deafened her.
Then he leaped on her, rolling on top of her, slapping at her head.
“Your hair is on fire!”
Her hair was on fire? She knew she should be panicked, she should freak out, but she didn’t move, let him worry about it. Matthew jerked off his shirt and smothered her head in it.
When he pulled his shirt off her head, he stared down at her. “It’s only the ends of your hair. Are you all right?”
She stared up at him, smelling her burned hair, listening to the roaring flames, and she started to laugh. She rolled away from him and dropped her singed head to the scrubby, ancient land and laughed and laughed.
Matthew lay beside her, panting, watching her. He rolled up on one arm, raised his hand and fingered the ends of her burned hair. “Vanessa, are you all right?”
“Oh yes, I’m perfect,” and she laughed again.
Ian, his dark hair coated in ash, his men behind him, appeared to their left. “What a blast that was, Van! Wasn’t expecting it to roar like a dragon. What are you two waiting for? It’s time to go. Coppers will be here in a flash. Van, what’d you do to your hair? I told you never to stand so close, and look what you’ve done.”
Vanessa stood, ran a hand over the crispy ended of her hair, brushed the dirt from her jeans. She looked at the two men -- one dark, one light, both crazy like foxes, both grinning at her.
“Satisfied, Mr. Spenser?”
Matthew rose slowly, wiped off his hands on his jeans as she had, and smiled down at her. “Oh yes,” he said, his voice filled with pleasure. “I’m more than satisfied.” And he stared down at her, at her mouth, his eyes hot and manic.
Knight to f6
Bayonne, New Jersey
FBI Special Agent Michaela Caine drove the black Crown Vic with one hand, tucked a hand of loose hair back into her ponytail with the other, then shoved up her glasses.
It was late, and she was tired, ready to go home and crash. But no chance since they’d gotten a credible tip off the hot line. She looked over at her partner, Special Agent Nicholas Drummond, tapping on a laptop balanced on his knees, doing a background check on their tipster.
She said, “I’m praying with all my might we’re not on a wild-goose chase and this guy isn’t a thrill chaser.”
Nicholas looked up. “I’m inclined to think he isn’t. Ben said the man was convinced he had information on COE, and a possible bombing. At this point, I’m willing to listen to anyone, even if it means missing one of Nigel’s dinners. He called me earlier, said it was prime rib.”
Mike laughed. “Oh my, that sounds even better than the scrumptious three-day-old chicken salad sandwich I was planning to have at home.” She paused, then sighed. “We’ve been working this case for two weeks now, Nicholas, and gotten nowhere. I hate that. Several oil refineries out west and no leads. I only wish we could keep the frequent flier miles earned from flying all over the country. And what do we have? This group’s mission statement, over and over, the same thing: No more oil from terrorist countries or you will pay the price.
“And now, out of nowhere, this guy pops up in our own backyard with information on COE? On a possible bombing? Do you really think this Hodges character is for real?”
He looked over at her. “My gut is staring to agree with my brain and say yes. You know what else? I think it’s also about time that we have our turn at bat.”
Baseball metaphor from a Brit? No, he probably meant cricket. Were you at bat in cricket? She didn’t know. She grinned. Either way, he was right, it was their turn, and if Hodges was for real, it was possible they’d have a chance for a home run.
Nicholas looked back at his laptop. “Mr. Hodges appears solid, an accountant for a local Bayonne engineering firm. His wife died three years ago, breast cancer.”
She took a left into an older residential neighborhood, thick with trees and small well-manicured lawns. Mr. Richard Hodges’s house was on a quiet dead-end cul-de-sac backed up to the Hudson River. To Nicholas, the block looked like any other older development in a small eastern American town – Thirty-year-old New England style houses, comfortably settled in with their neighbors. Amazing how quiet it was, considering its proximity to Manhattan. He supposed the lapping water dampened the sound.
They saw the curtains twitch.
Nicholas closed his laptop. “I see we’re expected.”
Mike turned off the engine. “Okay, I’m thinking positively. I’m up at bat and Mr. Hodges is going to give me a perfect pitch.”
The door opened before they had a chance to ring the bell. A man dressed in jeans and a white polo shirt waved them in, closed the door quietly behind them, as if he didn’t want to wake someone. A habit from when his wife was ill?
The interior of Mr. Hodges’ house was neat, looked clean, but it smelled musty, somehow sterile, and Mike doubted there’d been another woman living here since his wife’s death. She didn’t see any photos or knick-knacks on any surface, only piles of newspapers and news magazines. The house, she realized, now housed a lonely man living off memories.
“Mr. Hodges? I’m Agent Caine, and this is Agent Drummond. We were told you have some information about the terrorist group known as Celebrants of Earth, or COE, and a possible bombing.”
Hodges was a smallish man, with a bald spot and a heavy five o’clock shadow. He looked solid, calm, no indication that he was an alarmist or a wild-hair. Maybe they had finally caught their break. She smelled bacon and toast, a single man’s dinner. She felt a punch of pain for him.
“It’s nice to meet you,” he said. “Thank you for coming. Shall we sit? Can I get you coffee? I have some already brewed.”
“We wouldn’t say no to a cup, sir. Thank you.”
He gestured toward the kitchen.
Mike and Nicholas took a seat at an ancient table with one leg shorter, held steady with a pile of magazines. Moments later, they both had mugs of coffee and a plate of chocolate mint Girl Scout cookies. Nicholas took one to be polite; they’d been floating around the office for the past few weeks and tasted like wax to him.
Nicholas sipped his coffee, then set the cup on the table. “So Mr. Hodges, tell us what you know.”
Hodges blinked at him. “You’re British? I didn’t know people from England could be in the FBI. Are you some sort of special case?”
Mike nodded, grinning. “Yes, sir, he is indeed a special case.”
Nicholas sat forward. “My mother was American. The story, sir, please.”
Mr. Hodges nodded. “I was at the Dominion Bar tonight, having a beer after work. There was a man there -- I don’t know his name, but I’ve seen him around before. He’s works at the Bayway refinery, doing what exactly, I don’t know. He’d obviously been drinking awhile, looked pretty drunk to me. He was shooting his mouth off, you know the kind of person, they get loud when they’ve had too much to drink and, well, lose all sense. I heard him tell his friend he was celebrating. He’d gotten a big payoff, a lot of money, and more to come, and he was going to retire and move to an island somewhere and have women in bikinis wait on him, and not take his wife and whiny kids with him.
“I thought that was a pretty crappy thing to say -- I lost my Miriam three years ago and I miss her every day -–and I didn’t want to listen to him so I tried to tune him out. But he was sitting in the booth directly behind my stool, and I couldn’t help but hear. His friend asked where the money came from, and he shushed him, and lowered his voice like drunks do, whispered real loud that he couldn’t tell, it was top secret. But something really big was going to go down, like what had happened to that oil refinery in Scotland a few months ago -- Grangemouth, he said.
“His friend asked if he was breaking the law, and he started to laugh, sounded like a hyena, so drunk he couldn’t keep it together. I paid for my drinks and left, but all the way home, I couldn’t help thinking about what he said. I knew this group COE claimed responsibility for the Scotland refinery bombing, they’d sent their statement to the news media, and it’s the same as the one they always use here in the U.S. And like I said, I knew this drunk guy worked at Bayway refinery. That’s why I called your FBI tip line. Thank you for taking me seriously. Do you think this is a real threat?”
Mike felt the surge of adrenaline to her toes. This was it, the break they’d been waiting for. Nicholas was right, this could be their home run.
She knew Nicholas felt the same, but his voice was cool and calm. “If you would, Mr. Hodges, please run through it again for us. Every word you remember the man saying.”
Hodges repeated everything twice more, remembered more at their questions, then gave them a description of the drunk man, and his friend. When they knew the well was dry, Nicholas stood, clapped Hodges on the shoulder, and shook his hand.
“Thank you, sir, for calling us. We’ll let you know.”
Hodges walked them back to the front door. “You think this is serious, don’t you? He wasn’t bragging, he knows something is going to happen?”
Nicholas said, “We’re certainly going to check it out. We’ll know soon enough if it’s serious when we find the guy. So keep thinking about everything you heard and saw, and if you would, please write it all down. Agent Caine and I will have a visit with the Dominion Bartender, see if she knows the customer’s name as well as his friend’s.” He handed Mr. Hodges a card. “Thank you, sir. Call us if you happen to remember anything else.”
“I sure hope nothing happens. It would be a real problem if they blew up Bayway like they did Grangemouth. What would it do? Raise our oil prices some more? Burn down houses? Make the air we breathe toxic for a year?”
“We’ll do our best to see it doesn’t happen, Mr. Hodges,” Mike said. “Good night, and thank you again.”
Mike had her cell to her ear before they got in the Crown Vic. “Ben, we’ve got real live bonafide lead on COE. You need to get a team of agents to Mr. Richard Hodges’s house, in Bayonne.” She gave him the address. “I’m also thinking it would be smart to get a sketch artist out here, too, in case we can’t get an I.D. on the drunk guy from the Dominion’s bartender. But the protection for him is the most important. Just a precaution, but it’d make me feel better.”
Ben was now as hyped as they were. “Come on, Mike, what did the guy tell you?”
“Not good, Ben, there may be a bombing at Bayway.”
Pawn to c4
Mike pulled in across from the Dominion Bar on Broadway in Bayonne, not five minutes from Mr. Hodge’s house.
Nicholas checked out the cozy-looking neighborhood bar, heard no wild yells, no blaring music. “Maybe they have food. A pizza would be good. I’m ready to chew my elbow.”
“If they don’t, there’s a pizza place next door that’s still got its lights on. We can get a slice.”
“A slice? You’re talking like a girl. I want a whole pie all to myself. I’ll bet you could eat a whole pie, too.”
He was right about that. “Bartender first, then stomachs.”
Inside, the Dominion Bar was all dark wood, dim lights, and a long varnished copper bar with wine bottles lined up on shelves along the mirrored wall. There were twenty stools, and six booths. It was a place for local couples on dates, or people stopping in after work before heading home, or for widowed men to feel comfortable to have human contact, and Nicholas wondered, did the drunk live in the neighborhood?
Mike read his mind. “Mr. Hodges said he’d seen the guy before, which means he’s a regular. Since this place isn’t a dive, I can’t imagine he’s a low-on-the-food chain roughneck. Probably he’s at least a supervisor at Bayway, otherwise he wouldn’t fit in here.”
They walked through the large room, checking out the few remaining Monday night customers. Mike checked everyone out. “I don’t see any guy here who remotely fits Mr. Hodges’s description. Or the guy’s friend.”
Mike showed her creds to the Dominion Bartender, a tiny woman who looked like a middle-aged Peter Pan. She was wiping down the bar, humming an old Elton John under her breath. Over a healthy right breast was a nametag: May Anne.
She introduced both herself and Nicholas.
They saw instant alarm. “What’s the matter? I didn’t do anything, I promise. I own this place and I’ve never had any health violations, ever, and --”
“No,” Mike said over her. “We simply need information. Do you know a Mr. Richard Hodges?”
“Dicker? Well, yes, of course I do. He comes in most every night. He always has the house merlot, tells me how his day went, asks me how I’m doing, and then goes home to bacon sandwiches. It’s a shame about his wife, she was such a nice lady. Listen, I know Dicker wouldn’t have done anything, really --”
Nicholas lightly laid his hand on her arm. “No, Mr. Hodges is fine, he’s in no trouble. He was here earlier tonight?”
“Yes, he was. Is he okay? Has something happened to him?”
“No, no, he’s fine, May Anne. We need your help. Now, we need to know if you remember a man who was sitting right behind Mr. Hodges, in a booth, a very drunk man. Tall, on the thin side, greyish hair, middle aged --”
“Oh, yeah, that’s our local idiot, Larry Reeves.” May Anne rolled her eyes. “God sent him to punish me, I know it. He doesn’t even live in the neighborhood, but he comes here maybe twice, three times a week. He’s always pushing the limits on the weekends, drives me nuts. I was about to cut him off tonight when his friend took him out to drive him to Bayway, that’s where he works. It was odd, though, because I’ve never known Larry to get that drunk before his shift and here he is a night supervisor. Why? What’s the fool done?”
Nicholas’s heart revved. “You said he was going on shift?”
“Yes, he’s third shift, a supervisor, like I told you. But you know, I think his friend had to take him home first, to shower and sober up. No way he could show up in that condition.”
Mike leaned over the bar. “Do you know his friend’s name?”
“Can’t say I do, he’s fairly new to the bar. Does he live in the neighborhood? I can ask Clem, he’s back cleaning up in the kitchen. He knows everything about everybody.” May Anne turned, and called out, “Clem, please come out a minute. I need you!”
The floor started to shake, rippling in waves, like an earthquake, and a muffled roar filled the bar. Nicholas’s mind registered explosion before he hit the floor, pulling Mike beneath him. He yelled, “Everyone get down!”
Bottles shimmied and dropped, glasses and bottles skidded off tables and crashed to the floor to shatter, spewing glass everywhere. The windows flexed and burst, sending shards of glass hurtling through the air. May Anne was grabbing bottles as they toppled, but it was a lost cause. The few customers were yelling, diving for cover, hands over their heads. Nicholas felt a shard of glass slice into the back of his hand. He realized Mike was struggling to get out from under him.
The shuddering stopped.
“Get off me, Nicholas, get off. What blew up?” But she knew it had to be the Bayway refinery, as Nicholas did.
He rolled off her, yelled, “Is everyone okay?”
People started to stand, all of them clearly shaken. May Anne came out from behind the bar to help brush off her customers, soothing them as best as she could. As Mike and Nicholas ran out of the bar, she heard May Anne yell, “Everyone, calm down. You’re all okay. I’ve got insurance! Drinks are on the house!”
They rushed outside to hear car alarms, loud and piercing, and people shouting, pouring out of their homes, out of the pizza parlor. Glass littered the sidewalks. Nicholas jerked open the driver’s side, shouted, “We can help, Mike, hurry. You drive.”
But they both knew they were too late, too late.
She was turning the ignition when their cells began to ring. She floored the Vic down the street as Nicholas answered his. It was their boss, Milo Zachery.
“Sir, is it the Bayway refinery?”
“Yes, a huge explosion. No reports in yet so I don’t have any idea how bad it is. Where are you and Agent Caine?”
“We’re nearby, sir, we’ll be on site in five minutes. Listen, we met with a man who tipped the hot line.” Nicholas told him about Larry Reeves, gave Zachery the description Hodges had given them, found Reeve’s home address on his laptop, and read it off to Zachery. “Sir, we need agents to be on the lookout for him. There’s little doubt he’s involved in the bombing.”
“Got it,” Zachery said. “Report back as soon as you can. And don’t do anything stupid, that means heroic, either of you. Catch these guys.”
“Will do, sir.”
Mike drove fast over the Bayonne Bridge, past Newark Airport into Elizabethtown. They saw flames and black smoke visible from the tip of the island, lighting up the night sky like a huge torch. As they neared the refinery, they saw broken glass all over the sidewalks and streets, dozens of people crowded outside, staring toward the refinery. The flames made it bright as day.
It had taken Mike less than ten minutes to get to the refinery, and they spoke once, the whole way. Mike said, “You know it’s COE, has to be.”
“Of course it was. Up until now, it’s been small stuff, refineries away from where people live, small, all of them, and the grids haven’t impacted too many people either. But now they’ve upped the ante. This is a big leap, Mike. They’re now saying they can cause us grave hurt.”
Nicholas and Mike had taken over from a small task force that had gotten nowhere. They hadn’t gotten anywhere, either. Until now. And they hadn’t been in time. Even with Hodge’s tip, their home run break, they hadn’t been in time.
Why had COE suddenly upped the ante? Why Bayway, a huge splashy target? They had to know there were people working in the refinery and that meant injuries and deaths. Why had they suddenly become bona fide terrorists?
Nicholas stared at the swelling orange flames that were turning the air acrid and bitter, the thick billowing black smoke scorching the very air they sucked into their lungs.
This was going to be bad.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for THE LOST KEY
“This engaging and suspenseful thriller will entertain readers with impossible nail-biting situations that are resolved by ingenious means. . . . James Bond fans and readers who like heart-stopping action, cutting-edge science, and technology puzzles are bound to reserve this title.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“Fast-moving technothriller that proves the collaboration of Coulter and Ellison to be a serendipitous one.” —Booklist
“A thriller packed with nonstop action, real-life name-dropping and enough cutting-edge science to make you wonder how much of it could be true.”
“Catherine Coulter never disappoints. . . . Nonstop action with enough realism to keep you thinking and scare the daylights out of you at the same time. . . . The Lost Key will expand your mind and imagination as it takes you on a thrill ride worthy of two such great writers.” —Suspense Magazine
“The authors’ sophisticated third-person narration smoothly propels the action to the exciting climax.” —Publishers Weekly
“A terrific follow-up to Coulter and Ellison’s previous novel, The Final Cut. The authors juggle marvelous action with stellar character development and intriguing history to spin another great tale. Both are excellent writers, but together, they are in another league.”—Associated Press
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Great book! Couldn't put it down. Coulter and Ellison make a great team.
Read all day to finish this book. When's the next one coming out?
Drags in the middle. Typos. And worst of all a belly full of the author's right wing opinions of Middle East politics.
No words. Totally, absolutely loved it. Thank you
Another thriller from the Coulter/Ellison writing team, would be interesting to see how they fashion their stories together!
Great read as always!!!
I love Catherine Coulter's book. If she wrote it, I will read and love It!
I had trouble putting it down. You will love the relationship between Mike and Nicolas. Can't wait to read the next one.
Great writing,great plot.,great read!
Absolutely loved it. Very hard to put down.
Lots of twists and turns kept the pages turning. Very exciting!
As usual this was another great Catherine Coulter FIB book!
I'm definitely hooked on the series!
Sent to archives.
Very exciting and do enjoy Nicholas. Great idea bringing him in to the FBT series.