For years, the extralegal counterterrorist unit known as the Taskforce has worked in the shadows, anticipating and preventing attacks around the globe. Created to deal with a terrorist threat that shuns the civilized rule of law, it abandoned the same, operating outside of the US Constitution. Though wildly successful, it was rooted in a fear that the cure could be worse than the disease.
And now that fear has come home.
A Special Forces soldier is killed on an operation in Afghanistan, and complicit in the attack is a government official of an allied nation. While the US administration wants to forget the casualty, one Taskforce member will not. When he sets out to avenge his brother's death, his actions threaten to not only expose the Taskforce's activities, but also destroy a web of alliances against a greater evil. Pike Logan understands the desire, but also the danger. Brought in to eliminate the risk, he's now forced to choose between his friend and the administration he's sworn to protect, while unbeknownst to either of them, the soldier's death is only the beginning...
About the Author
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Also by Brad Taylor
About the Author
The box arrived at the front door like any other delivery. It had nothing on the outside detailing what it held. Nothing to show that what was inside was anything other than an online order. Just a FedEx label on brown cardboard. Maybe a fantasy kit inspired by Fifty Shades of Grey. Or maybe not. Treating this like every other delivery, the FedEx driver ringing the bell had no idea that what it contained were the final vestiges of a man who’d given his life fighting in a land far, far away. A land that most of America had forgotten, precisely because the sacrifices represented by the contents of the box allowed them to do so.
Putting on a plain oxford shirt, Guy George heard the bell and was surprised. He wasn’t expecting anyone, and he was more worried about a meeting he had to attend in forty-five minutes. A meeting he knew would be crucial to his future. He didn’t have time for someone selling Girl Scout cookies.
Tucking in his shirt, he padded to the front door in his socks, a little bewildered that someone would bother him here—in his condominium, behind the gate of security at the building’s entrance. He put his eye to the peephole, expecting to see a mother who lived in his tower, a child in tow, exploiting her ability to penetrate security to sell raffle tickets or something else. What he saw was a FedEx man, and he felt his stomach clench.
He knew what the man held. It had arrived days earlier than he expected, but he knew.
Usually, FedEx deliveries were dropped off downstairs, but he’d told the management of the tower he lived in that this box was special and that he would sign for it personally. It wasn’t outside of the ordinary, given his job. At least, given the job the management thought he held. There had been more than one box that came to his door, all having to be signed for personally. It came with the territory, so much so that he knew the FedEx man by name.
He opened the door and said, “Hey, Carl.”
“Got another one for you. You must have some pull. You’re the only apartment they let me up for.”
Guy smiled, feeling ill, and said, “Not really. That’s for me?”
“Yeah. I haven’t had a delivery for your roommate in over a year. He must be on the shit list.”
Carl grinned at his joke, and Guy felt like punching him for no reason whatsoever. It wasn’t Carl’s fault. He couldn’t possibly understand the sore he was poking with that statement, especially today. Truthfully, Guy should have moved out a year ago, precisely to prevent such questions, because Guy’s roommate was dead. Just like the man represented by the contents of the box Carl held.
Carl sensed a shift and said, “Welp, just sign here and it’s yours. Not nearly as heavy as some other stuff I’ve delivered.”
Guy thought about signing his brother’s name. Just as a memory. But didn’t.
Guy waved at Carl and shut the door, grasping the box in his hands as if it held a secret truth. He knew that was stupid. He’d done inventories for the very reasons this box held, more times than he wanted to remember. He just didn’t know, in this case, that the box did hold a truth, and it was dark.
He went back into the living room, glancing at the other bedroom. The empty one. He remembered inventorying everything in it as if he’d done it yesterday. The pictures and notes. The flotsam and jetsam accumulated in life that seemed like trash but took on a special meaning when the person they were attached to never returned.
Putting them all in a box like the one in his hands.
He placed the package reverently on the floor, then glanced at his watch, one eye on the cardboard as if it would do something. He was running out of time, and the boss didn’t take kindly to subordinates being late. But he might for this.
He pulled out an auto-opening knife from the inside of his waistband and flicked it, the black steel of the blade looking for something to bite, the weapon a stark contrast to his business-casual dress. He took a knee. He sliced the tape, the blade moving as easily as if it were touching air. He methodically went through every joint the tape touched, not pulling. Only slicing. Delaying the inevitable. Eventually, there was nothing left to cut.
He sat for a moment, then opened the box.
The first thing he saw was a sterile US Army bureaucratic inventory sheet detailing what was inside. He knew it wouldn’t be accurate, because he’d made a call. He set it aside and saw the MultiCam uniform. He pulled it out and took in the damage. The ragged tears and burned edges. The blood.
He squeezed his eyes shut, fighting for control, wondering if he’d made a mistake in his request.
His brother, Sergeant First Class Timothy George, had been killed in a mechanical ambush in Afghanistan. Hunting a new threat of the Islamic State infiltrating the area, he’d located the leader of the nascent movement and had gained a hard-fought concurrence for a unilateral US mission. Such things were no longer allowed in the Graveyard of Empires, but this threat had been deemed worthy. The Taliban was an Afghan Army mission, but this was something else.
And he’d died, along with most of his team.
When Guy heard of the casualties, he’d made some calls to friends in Special Operations. Telling them, first, not to mail the box to his parents. To mail it to him. And second, not to sterilize the contents. Give him everything.
Ordinarily, when a service member died, the inventory was conducted with one thing in mind: Protect the memory for a grieving family. Give the family everything they deserved, but remove anything that would be embarrassing. Porno magazines, unmailed letters of hatred, evidence of infidelity, or anything else that would cause the family grief was destroyed. First on the list was the uniform the deceased wore the night he died. That was usually burned.
But not this time. And Guy was regretting it.
He put the uniform aside and found his brother’s cell phone. The one Tim had used Apple iMessage to text while he’d been deployed. The same one he’d used to send a last message, talking about his final mission. No specifics, just that he was doing good work and taking it to the enemy.
Only the enemy took it to him.
Guy turned the phone on, surprised to see it had a charge. The screen appeared and he saw the Pandora app. He clicked on it, not wanting to, but wanting to. He found the channel his brother had talked about the night he died, telling him it was the perfect one for the warrior. Kidding him about how Guy’s music tastes had shifted since he’d left the Special Mission Unit. Ribbing Guy for no longer being in the fight.
But his brother didn’t know what Guy did now.
The app engaged and the music softly floated out. Guy shut it off, staring at the screen. Wondering if Pandora understood the significance of a music channel from beyond the grave, his brother working laboriously to thumbs-up and thumbs-down songs until he thought it was perfect.
He put the phone aside and pulled out an armband, not unlike what NFL quarterbacks wore detailing plays. About four inches long, with Velcro straps to cinch it to the forearm, it was the last target his brother had chased. A bit of history that nobody outside of Afghanistan should see.
Four pictures with Arabic names were under the plastic, followed by radio callsigns, medevac frequencies, and other coordination measures. Guy was surprised it had been included. He wanted the essence of his brother, but not what his brother was chasing. He understood operational security. Understood that his brother’s target wasn’t in the equation. Soldiers died all the time. Some valiantly, others because they happened to drive down the wrong road at the wrong time.
And then he found himself staring at the pictures on the armband. Thinking. Wondering.
Even though he was late, Guy chose to walk the short distance to his office. Inside a building a block long, the only thing indicating what was within was a small brass plaque proclaiming Blaisdell Consulting. Behind those doors was anything but a consulting firm.
He could have driven, as his office building had an underground garage, but that would have taken just as long, if not longer, and he wanted the time to think.
He put in his earbuds and brought up his Pandora app, signing in as his brother. He’d managed to manipulate the login on his brother’s phone and now could listen to the channel on his own device. The music came through, and he began rehearsing his speech. The one he was going to use on his boss.
The meeting was supposed to be for coordination about some ridiculous award he was getting for his actions on a target in Dubrovnik, Croatia, but the request had been a little odd. The boss didn’t usually schedule premeetings for awardees in his office. Everyone knew the awards were bullshit anyway, given out to keep them competitive with their military peers. Men who weren’t buried in an organization so secret it didn’t even have a name.
Guy, like everyone he worked with, lived a dual life. While showing up at Blaisdell Consulting for his real work, he was also, ostensibly, one more military cog in one of Fort Myer’s motor pools, just off Arlington Cemetery in Washington, DC. Which, given he hadn’t served a day there, would be odd if you asked for a reference from the men and women who actually turned wrenches on Fort Myer. Stranger still, his rank was sergeant major. Not really cog material anymore, but he had to be sheep-dipped somewhere, and Fort Myer worked. To maintain the facade, his military records had to show progress, so every once in a while, he—like every other member of the Taskforce—was thrown the bone of an award.
None of the men gave a crap about them, and they understood that—while the Oversight Council presented them proudly—they were really used just to maintain the cover. But Colonel Kurt Hale, the commander of the Taskforce, understood this as well, which made the scheduled meeting odd.
Guy hit Arlington Boulevard in the shadow of the Iwo Jima memorial, the green carpet of Arlington directly behind, speckled with white dots. In the distance he saw a blip of brown against the green, upturned earth from a burial, and recognized it as Section 60, an area of Arlington he knew well. The Global War on Terrorism section. It was where his brother would earn his own pile of brown. The thought brought him up short.
He ignored the honking horns and speeding Washington lobbyists on Arlington Boulevard, all of whom drove by this national treasure every single day, completely oblivious to the sacrifices it held. He fixated on the piece of brown desecrating the expanse of green. He felt a darkness cloak him. A blackness blanketing his soul, and it was unsettling. He’d known many men who were killed in combat, but this was different. This was his blood.
He cranked the volume on his iPhone and began speed-walking down the sidewalk, rehearsing his speech.
Clearly irritated, Colonel Kurt Hale looked at his watch and said, “Where the hell is he?”
Johnny, Guy’s team leader, said, “He’s on the way. He just texted.”
Kurt shook his head. “This isn’t helping his case.”
Johnny said, “Sir, he got the box today. Just now. Give him a break.”
Kurt leaned back, taking in the words. “Bad timing. I don’t think it’s a discussion anymore. I no longer want to feel him out. I want him on ice, for at least a month. Get him involved in something operational, here in headquarters, but he’s not deploying with you.”
Axe, the second-in-command of the team, said, “Sir, wait a minute. We need him. We can’t deploy without a teammate. We run bare bones as it is. Just take a look when he gets here.”
Kurt said nothing. Johnny chimed in, “Sir, really, you can’t give him an award and then tell him he’s on ice. What signal is that sending?”
“Spare me. You and I both know how much this award means to him. Jack squat. I can’t have a guy on the edge. Especially where you’re going.”
George Wolffe, Kurt’s deputy commander and an old CIA hand, said, “We all know the stakes, but a blanket statement is a little much. We’ve all lost someone along the way, and we kept fighting. We aren’t talking about a Pike situation here. Let’s feel him out before making a decision.”
Johnny nodded in appreciation. Kurt scowled at his deputy and started to respond, when a shadow passed in the hallway. Guy leaned in, lightly knocking on the doorjamb.
He took in the audience and said, “Hey, sorry I’m late.”
Kurt saw the emotions flit across his face, recognizing who was in the room, and knew Guy understood this was more than a coordination meeting. He said, “Come on in, Guy. Have a seat.”
Guy did so, glancing at his team leader, then at his 2IC. “What’s up? I know this isn’t about some bullshit ceremony. If you thought I was going to embarrass the Taskforce, you wouldn’t have sent me to Croatia to begin with.”
Kurt said, “Yes. It isn’t about the ceremony. You’re due to deploy tomorrow with your team, but I’m not sure you should. Make no mistake, this is my call. The men in this room feel otherwise.”
He saw Guy relax, realizing it wasn’t an ambush.
Guy said, “I’m good. I can operate. I’m on my game.”
Despite what he’d said earlier, George Wolffe went into attack mode. “Good? You took Decoy’s death last year pretty damn hard. You hit the bottle. Don’t tell me you didn’t. You were on the edge then, and you barely pulled out. You’ve done solid work since then, but now you’ve had another sacrifice. There’s no shame in taking a break. None at all.”
Decoy was the name of Guy’s roommate who’d been killed in action on a mission in Istanbul. The death had been hard for everyone, but especially for Guy.
Guy said, “What do you want me to say? That my brother meant nothing? That I’m a robot? People die in combat all the time. Jesus. We’d have never left the Normandy beach if everyone who’d lost a friend was sidelined.”
Kurt said, “This isn’t Normandy, and you know it. We operate in a world without mistakes. Period. You fuck up, and you bring us all down. I need every man at one hundred percent.”
He flicked his head toward Johnny and Axe. “They seem to think you’re okay. I do not. I’m thinking you stay home for this one. Get your head on right. Axe said you weren’t even going to the memorial in Montana, which raises a concern with me.”
Guy said, “Sir, I can’t go to the memorial. All I’ll get is questions like ‘Weren’t you in the military?’ and ‘What do you do now?’ I don’t need to go back to respect my brother. That’s for my family. It has nothing to do with how I feel. Shit, why are you even giving me an award?”
Kurt said, “Don’t go there. You earned it, even if you don’t want it. Don’t make this into something else. This is Taskforce business, not Oversight Council.”
Guy flared. “Those fat fucks have no idea of the sacrifice. None. Fuck them.”
The words settled, the air now still. Guy shifted in his chair, but nobody else moved. Softly, Kurt said, “I think I could use you here in headquarters. Doing research. Our analysts are the best in the world, but they could use an Operator’s touch. Show them what they’re missing. Show them what to look for.”
To Kurt’s surprise, Guy leaned forward and said, “I could do that. If you let me research something specific.”
Kurt looked at George, wondering where this was going. He said, “What?”
Guy pulled out the operational armband and held it up. “This. These are the fucks that killed my brother. And I want them. They’re terrorists, and it is Taskforce business. Look, I know they aren’t something that’ll destroy democracy or cause the downfall of a country. They aren’t high enough as a threat for the usual Taskforce envelope—but they killed my brother. Let me find them.”
Axe leaned forward and took the armband, analyzing the targets on it.
Sensing buy-in of his stand-down order but wary of where it would lead, Kurt held up his hands and said, “Guy, come on. We don’t do overt actions in a war zone. Yeah, you can research them, but we aren’t going to hunt Taliban in Afghanistan.”
Kurt saw Guy’s eyes gleam and knew he’d lanced a boil, the heat coming out like a fervent missionary. Guy wanted to believe. “They aren’t Taliban. Tim was hunting ISIS, and the fuckers in that target package aren’t Pashtun or Uzbek or anything else in Afghanistan. They’re Gulf Arabs, and they’re funding the fight. It’s right up our alley.”
Kurt glanced again at George, his plan of sidelining Guy now taking a different turn. George said, “Guy, okay, you want to use our assets for research, that’s fine. But understand we aren’t going after them. A couple of Arabs in Afghanistan doesn’t rise to our level. That’s an Afghanistan problem. A NATO problem. Not a Taskforce problem.”
Guy simply looked at him. George continued. “You understand that, right? Your brother was killed in combat, but we don’t react to that. We execute actions based on the national threat. Period. We aren’t in the vendetta business.”
Guy said, “I got that loud and clear. I understand. I’ll stand down for a spell and let these guys go have the fun.” He pointed at a wide-screen television behind Kurt’s head, tuned to cable news. “But that fat asshole had better be at my award ceremony.”
Kurt turned and saw Jonathan Billings, the secretary of state, exiting a building, followed by a scrum of men dressed in traditional Gulf attire.
He rotated back around and grinned. “Yeah, that ‘fat asshole’ will be there. He’s leaving Qatar tomorrow. He was doing something with investment in Greece. The ceremony isn’t for a week. I’ll make sure he’s here.”
Kurt should have reprimanded Guy for the slur, but Billings was an asshole. Out of the thirteen members in the Oversight Council—the only people read on to Taskforce activities in the entire US government—he was the single sticking point, constantly fighting any operation solely because he was afraid of the exposure. Afraid for his own skin, regardless of the deaths that were saved by Taskforce intervention.
In truth, Kurt understood the reticence. If Taskforce activities were exposed, it would make Watergate’s revelations look like they’d detailed shoplifting at the local 7-Eleven, but Billings constantly erred on the side of caution, preferring that the terrorist attack occur to prevent his own political demise. Kurt lived in the same world, and held the same fear of exposure, but despised Billings for his willingness to sacrifice American lives. It was a fine line, and as far as Kurt was concerned, Billings was always on the wrong side.
Kurt said, “So we’re good? You spend a spell here, and Johnny takes the team without you?”
Guy nodded and Axe said, “Holy shit. Look at the guy behind Billings.”
They turned, seeing a well-manicured Arab wearing traditional Gulf dress, a Rolex on his wrist and a blazing smile. Kurt said, “What about him?”
Axe held up the armband and pointed at a picture. “It’s this guy.”
Guy became agitated, leaning into the TV. He said, “It is him. He’s the one. I knew it wasn’t some fleabag Taliban hit. That guy killed my brother!”
Kurt said, “Hold on. Jesus. Calm down. That guy is Haider al-Attiya. His father is a bigwig with the Qatar Investment Authority. They have nothing to do with any attacks in Afghanistan. Billings is working with them on the Greek euro crisis. The kid is a rich Gulf Arab, with a silver spoon shoved up his ass.”
Guy said, “Look at him. Then look at the picture. It’s him.”
Kurt glanced at George, knowing he needed to stamp out wild conspiracy theories. George said, “Guy. Look at me. You’re giving me worry about your control. The man on TV is a respected member of the Qatari government. Don’t make this into something it’s not from a damn CNN clip. Don’t make me doubt you.”
Guy said nothing, still staring at the screen. Kurt leaned over and took the armband away from Axe. He said, “This man’s name is Abu Kamal.”
A wolf smile spread across Guy’s face. “Yeah, like he’d use his real name in Afghanistan. That’s him. And that’s his picture.”
Kurt balled up the armband and said, “Don’t go all Alex Jones on me here. Keep the conspiracies within the realm of the possible.”
Guy leaned back and said, “All right. Okay. I’m good with sitting out the deployment. I’ll stay and do a little help on the analytical side.”
Kurt said, “I think it would be better if you went home. For the memorial.”
“No. I already told you. Too painful. I’ll help out you guys here. Even if I can’t deploy. I’m good.”
Kurt sized him up, trying to see if Guy was really as even-keeled as he professed. He wasn’t sure, but honestly, it wasn’t like the man had threatened to go postal. And he was a Taskforce Operator. Handpicked by Kurt himself.
Kurt said, “Okay. Then it’s settled. You help on the analytical side and take some time off. But you’ll see the psychs here. No questions asked. You can tell them whatever you want, but you’re seeing them.”
He saw Guy bristle and leaned forward, speaking barely above a whisper. “Guy. Trust me. They can help. I’ve walked your path. Talk to them. I don’t need to lose an Operator over something that can be helped.”
Guy let the words settle, then nodded. Johnny exhaled, glad it was over. He clapped Guy on the back and said, “Hey, if there’s anything to the Qatar thing, Pike will find it. He drew the card for the James Bond mission.”
Guy looked confused, and Johnny snapped back in embarrassment, stealing a glance at Kurt. Speaking of compartmented missions was a nonstarter, and he just had. Kurt waved it off and said, “Pike’s investigating some ties between Brazil and Qatar. Nothing to do with this.”
Kurt saw a wicked grin slip out. Guy said, “Pike’s on it? Oh yeah, if there’s a connection, he’ll find it. That guy’s a trouble magnet.”
I caught a flicker of movement in the corner of my eye and froze. This was the time. I was sure of it. Slowly, ever so slowly, I turned my head, looking at our kitchen counter. Sure enough, I saw the enemy, crouched and eating a crumb. The damn bane of my existence. A mouse that had been terrorizing my house with turds and torn-open bread loafs.
I slowly swiveled my head to the front door, listening. I heard nothing. Jennifer had an irrational soft spot for “innocent” foragers, but she was probably a good five minutes behind me on our run. Five minutes to crush the skeevy life out of that damn spawn of Satan, dispose of the carcass where she wouldn’t find it, and then act like I was just doing postworkout stretching. Plenty of time.
My hands and arms rigidly held just as they had been when I heard the noise, I rotated my head back. Like I did on operations, I calculated the available options. The little bastard was on the left side of the sink. He could run right, in which case he’d fall into the stainless-steel basin. Good for me. He could run left, in which case he’d round a corner and hit the plethora of cookbooks Jennifer had stacked on the counter, get behind them, and be gone. Bad. I needed to push him right.
I shuffled ever so slowly. The Satan-mouse continued crunching on his find. I got closer. I leaned over to a drawer and slowly pulled it open. I glanced inside, looking for a weapon. I saw a small mallet. Apparently used for some type of cooking, it had spikes on one side and a flat head on the other. The spikes would do. I pulled it out slowly, like I was playing that old game Operation and afraid to touch the sides of the drawer.
The mouse continued where he was, oblivious.
I inched forward and caught a flash of movement to my right. A blur that jumped to the countertop on the other side of the sink. It was Knuckles, our mange-ridden cat. The same one who for some reason didn’t give a shit about mice, and another rescue by Jennifer when the cat was found digging in our trash can.
I stood with the mallet raised, not daring to breath. The cat began licking her paws. Glancing at me with disdain. I thought very hard about using the mallet on her. I hated the beast, and the feeling was mutual. I was convinced that the only reason the mouse lived was precisely because that damn cat was spiting me. She brought all manner of dead things to my door, but now, with a mouse looking her in the eye five feet away, she does nothing?
I returned to my prey, inching forward ever so slowly. The mouse crept left, taking the bread with it. I analyzed again. It was moving into the corner and wouldn’t escape unless it made the turn behind the cookbooks, although my strike would be exponentially lengthened. The corner was better than nothing.
I advanced, watching the little bastard nibbling away, feeling triumph in my veins. No more would I be awakened worrying about a burglar because of a noise. No more would I find small turds in my shoes.
The front bell rang, and I could hear the door open. I froze, watching the mouse. He didn’t move. I turned around and saw Knuckles, my second-in-command.
What the hell. He isn’t supposed to arrive for three more hours.
He started to talk and I hissed. He shut up, giving me a look of confusion. I pointed the mallet. He grinned.
I crept closer and closer, getting within striking distance. I raised my weapon, about to close the deal, and heard, “Pike! Don’t you dare!”
The damn spawn of Satan escaped behind the cookbooks and I turned, now trying to explain the mallet.
Breathing heavily, having just finished her run and entered the door my traitorous teammate had left open, Jennifer said, “Tell me you weren’t going to bash that defenseless animal. Tell me your word means something.”
I said, “My word is my bond. I would never do such a thing.”
Okay, actually I said, “I . . . uhhh . . . I . . . wasn’t going to hurt it.”
She said, “Pike! Really? We got the live traps. We talked about this.”
Yeah, we had. She’d made me buy these stupid traps that capture the mouse alive, so we could return it to the “wild”—read someone else’s house—and they didn’t work for shit. We might as well have put out strips of cardboard on the floor and wished for Peter Pan to show up. The damn mouse had been able to take out every bit of bait and had never been caught. And now it never would be.
Knuckles picked up our mangy cat and started cooing, “Hey, Knuckles, how ya been.”
Yes, our beast was named after my teammate. It was supposed to embarrass him, but it backfired. The cat loved him and still hated me.
Jennifer stood in the kitchen doorway and glowered at me. Which, of course, made me feel like a heel. As she knew. I threw the mallet on the counter and said, “The mouse is a health hazard.”
Jennifer, a hand on her hip, shook her head and said, “Really? That’s the best you can come up with?”
Knuckles broke free, jumping down. Knuckles the cat, that is. Knuckles the man said, “I don’t know what just happened here, but I’m pretty sure it falls in line with my proscription against teammates getting involved with each other.”
Jennifer smiled, held out her arms, and said, “Sorry. It’s Pike’s fault. He’s been trying to murder that poor thing forever.”
Knuckles grinned and embraced her, saying, “I’d whack that little bugger in the head too.”
Jennifer pulled out of the embrace and he backpedaled, “But it’d mean I don’t get to be the date. Remember, I’m the sensitive one.”
She smiled at him, then glared at me. I said, “I can be sensitive too. I can. But I don’t look like a fashion-model hippie. That’s why he’s the date.”
Which was true. Knuckles would fit in on a billboard for Abercrombie & Fitch. Flowing black hair, chiseled features, and chiseled abs. Whenever we went out, the number of women who threw themselves at him made me sick, because I knew, in his heart, he was a rodent-smashing knuckle dragger. But he was smart enough to play it off with Jennifer. And handsome enough to pull off our assigned mission.
Not that I’m saying I wasn’t.
The mission itself wasn’t dangerous, but it was going to be fun. We were detailed to check out a meeting between some Qatari interests and a shipping magnate from Brazil. Apparently, the Brazilian wanted to start mining a rare earth element called neodymium and was looking for investors, because a deposit had been found in his country. Neodymium was something that created very, very powerful magnets, which wouldn’t be a concern, except that such magnets were used in every single bit of modern technology in existence, from wind turbines to cell phones to hybrid cars. Currently, the major producer was China, which caused its own problems when they shut down production on a whim, but now the United States was wondering where Qatar was going by investing in the endeavor. Especially since we didn’t have a mine in our own country. We were dependent on foreign supply.
At the end of the day, it wasn’t a traditional Taskforce problem. We primarily dealt with terrorism. We targeted groups on the State Department’s official list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, but our missions had been bleeding out into other areas for a couple of years because of our skill. And our ability to remain anonymous.
Two things made the beltway in Washington soil their pants when a paramilitary covert action was proposed: One—could they do it? And two—would it leak? On both counts, the traditional intelligence and military architecture had been beat up over the years. The CIA, focused primarily on intelligence collection, didn’t have the in-house talent for the intricacies of kill or capture missions, and the DoD, focused primarily on overt combat operations with an enormous overhead bureaucracy, didn’t have the ability to keep such missions secret. Put together, they had the expertise and the security if they’d quit fighting among themselves like schoolkids. Which is where my organization came in.
Created after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, off the books for anyone looking, we’d been given the charter to take it to the terrorists, but with strict left and right limits. Now folks in the know were broadening those limits. Using us to get things done that weren’t exactly within our charter.
I didn’t mind, because I’d argued for the blending of intel and direct action since forever, but I’d be lying if this mission didn’t cause me concern. Not because of the mission but because of the ramifications. Like case law, this would start defining who we were, and who we were was only as strong as who we were.
Replace people like me with something less, and the damn thing would be out of control. I’d lived through enough scandals in Special Operations to know that we were all only one man away from disaster.
But that was someone else’s concern. For me, I got to take Knuckles and Jennifer to the Cayman Islands to attend a party. Literally dressed in formal wear, just like James Bond.
Jennifer said, “Can I go pack? Or are you going to try and kill the mouse?”
“Damn it,” I said, “I wasn’t going to harm him. Get packed and cleaned up. The plane leaves in four hours.”
She gave me her disapproving teacher stare, then disappeared into the bedroom. Knuckles moved to the fridge and popped a Coke. He said, “You really suck at this.”
The cat came close to my legs and I tried to flick it away. And missed. I said, “You’d better not suck on the mission. I’m not sending Jennifer in just to watch you get compromised.”
He rolled his eyes and took a swig. He said, “Whatever. You’re just pissed it’s me doing the mission.”
I grew indignant and said, “Don’t give me that. You guys go into that place, and it’s all you. She can’t fight her way out by herself.”
“Pike, I got it. I don’t think you do. This is a cakewalk for her.”
Which really aggravated me. We were going off on a tangent I hadn’t expected, and I should have just shut up. I didn’t. Any conversation about her always brought my back up. “What’s that mean? I know what she can do. I’m the one who trained her. I’m the one who brought her in. I just want to make sure you understand.”
“Understand what? That you don’t trust her on her own? That’s a switch.”
I floundered for a moment, because that’s not what I meant. I think. He said, “I saw the Decoy tape. I saw what she’s capable of.”
Decoy was a teammate who had been murdered on an operation right in front of Jennifer, shot by a Russian who was about six foot six. The bear of a man had then tried to kill her. And had failed. It had been caught on a surveillance camera and had become Taskforce lore, surreptitiously passed around the team rooms on a thumb drive. I’d seen it myself, right after it happened, and it was the human condition at the most basic level. Survival of the fittest. It wasn’t pretty, but in the end, only one person had stood back up. Jennifer.
I’d never watched the tape again, precisely because of my connection to her. The damn thing gave me nightmares. Which was probably unfair, and exactly what Knuckles was trying to tell me. Jennifer had earned her sleepless nights because of the action, tossing in the dark like a thousand other Operators from a thousand different hits. I had not, and was doing her a disservice by trying to protect her.
I said, “Just don’t let her get in trouble. This sounds like fun, but it might be dangerous. Sometimes even we get in over our heads. Treat her like you would me.”
Knuckles laughed and said, “So I should put a muzzle on her mouth?”
“No, damn it. You know what I mean.”
Knuckles gave me a long stare. I heard Jennifer moving around in the bedroom, throwing things into a suitcase. He said, “Pike, she’ll be fine.”
I said nothing else, just nodding. The moment passed and he said, “Anyway, it’s not going to matter. This is a boondoggle. What’s a Brazilian billionaire got to do with terrorism? Who cares if he’s talking to some guy from Qatar?”
Sharif al-Attiya watched the footage of the US secretary of state until he waved to the cameras and entered a car, Sharif’s son, Haider al-Attiya, closing the door. He clicked off the wide-screen and said, “He did pretty well.”
Sharif’s assistant, Tarek al-Attiya, nodded and said, “He’s learning.”
Assistant was a little bit of a misnomer. Tarek was more a confidant. Twenty years Sharif’s junior, he was not immediate family, but he was of the same tribe, and he was shrewd, in both the ways of money and the ways of politics. The latter skill was critical in the state of Qatar and had facilitated Sharif’s rise despite the lack of a royal name.
Neither man was a member of the al-Thani tribe, and thus not automatically provided access to the inner circle of the ruling party—but also not placed in the line of fire from the multiple coups and machinations that name brought. No, Sharif was happy to remain safe as a trusted member of the business development sector of the extremely wealthy Qatar Investment Authority.
Since 2005, the emir of Qatar, through the QIA, had been aggressively investing in diverse portfolios throughout the world, touching everything from European football teams to pumping millions of dollars into Washington, DC, real estate. They invested in infrastructure in France, owned the venerable Harrods department store in London, had a majority stake in Miramax films in Hollywood, and were partners in energy production in Greece. They ran under the radar for most of it, with the world recognizing only the name Al Jazeera, the television network founded and owned by the Qatari government. They were everywhere, having a stake in just about every major bank in the world and many other financial institutions—including an almost 10 percent stake in the London stock exchange—and Sharif’s job was to seek new investment opportunities.
A perfect cover for his true passion: defending Islam and spreading jihad.
Sharif stood, walking from behind his desk to the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the city of Doha, the cranes and metal buildings blooming like weeds, changing the skyline almost daily.
He said, “He’s learning, but not fast enough. That activity in Afghanistan was almost a debacle. He’s still naïve. Still wants to carry the gun instead of work behind the scenes.”
Tarek said, “Like his father used to be.”
Sharif’s face clouded. “Don’t confuse my journey to fight the Soviets with his. What I did was out of duty. He did it craving a sense of adventure.”
Soothingly, Tarek said, “Sharif. Sir. You are cut from the same cloth. He did what he did for the same reasons as you. Both reasons.”
“He was supposed to just deliver the money. Create a conduit to fund the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Sow the seeds of chaos. Not go fighting.”
“He had to get it out of his system. As did you.”
“He almost got killed! And he killed American Special Forces.”
“He showed the Islamic State he has mettle. They trust him now.”
Sharif grunted, saying nothing.
Tarek said, “Is killing the Americans so bad?”
Sharif turned and said, “Only if they can connect it to us. They have long memories. When I fought there, I was a part of a group that killed Spetsnaz. We cheered for a day, and then were hunted for a year. They caught some of us.”
His face grew distant, lost in an ugly memory.
Tarek said, “He’s home now. They all are. Let the Americans hunt. They won’t find anything.”
Sharif waved his hand and said, “The landscape here is not the same. They don’t need to kill us with an iron rod, like my men endured. They can kill us with a diplomatic démarche. Times change. The emir will throw us to the wolves if we are seen as helping the fighters.”
Qatar was a Sunni state that adhered to Sharia law. They followed a competing agenda of integrating into the greater world system while actively funneling help to the very jihadists who had sworn vengeance on that system. Whether it was to curry favor to protect themselves from the jihadists or simply because of inherent desire was anyone’s guess. Eventually, with the Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State, the issue had come to a head, with the Sunni states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, headed by Saudi Arabia, breaking ranks with Qatar, and the United States and the European Union starting to rumble, no longer willing to look the other way.
Under pressure, at first Qatar eschewed governmental backing, proclaiming their innocence while turning a blind eye to wealthy government members individually supporting various jihadist groups. Then, when evidence of the secret deals began to mount, they began taking overt action, the state system trumping jihadist fervor.
It was a fine line, and everyone on the world stage knew it. Qatar was still the closest state system that could penetrate into the world of the jihadi, having proven that by brokering the release of the captured US soldier Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban terrorists held in Guantánamo Bay, along with numerous ransom negotiations from a plethora of European countries for members held by various groups, but the world couldn’t abide a government that had such close ties to killers. At least overt ties. Because of it, Qatar had taken a strong and vocal hand against support.
Tarek glanced at his phone, reading a text message, and said, “He’s in the building. On the way up.”
Sharif nodded, caressing his neatly groomed beard. He said, “Should we continue?”
“Yes. You have the method. You send money all over the world, and Greece is the perfect place. Well, Istanbul would be better, but Greece is good enough. Stay out of Turkey. Too political. Greece is lying on the ground, bleeding. They need us, and we can use their banks.”
Sharif nodded and the door opened, allowing in his son, Haider, and two others. Sharif turned, a smile on his face, which faded to a scowl when he saw the entourage. He said, “Please, wait outside.”
Dressed in traditional Gulf attire, like Haider himself, both men nodded with downcast eyes and exited, closing the door behind them.
Sharif said, “What are they doing here?”
Haider, a tall, hawk-faced man with a neatly trimmed beard, said, “What do you mean? They’re with me. They’re my security.”
“You don’t need security here.” Sharif spat the word out with disdain.
Haider faltered and said, “They protected me in Afghanistan. They’re my friends. You’ve met them before. What’s wrong?”
Tarek glanced at Sharif and said, “Your father has concerns with them. They are bastards, yes? No father?”
Exasperated, Haider said, “Yes. Yes, you both know that. We’ve been friends for a long time. They have a father. He just chooses not to claim them. Sometimes I feel the same way.”
Sharif took that in without a ripple and said, “‘Friends from school’ does not get them into our business. Friends, you play football with after studies. You don’t invite them into your world.”
Haider said, “I trust them. Without them I would have died in Afghanistan. Father, you have Tarek. I have them.”
Sharif bristled and Tarek stepped between them, breaking the tension. He said, “Yes. He does. Let’s hope their counsel is as good as mine.”
Sharif chuckled, and Tarek continued. “So what did you learn today? Is the United States willing to support our investment in Greece? Will we get pushback?”
Now happy to inflate his meeting, Haider said, “No, not at all. The crisis in Greece has reached a boiling point, and the EU isn’t backing down. That leaves foreign investors to float them. The United States isn’t going to step in in an official capacity, but they don’t want to see the euro fall apart. They would love for us to invest, if only to stave off the inevitable.”
Sharif said, “Good. Good. So we can start inflating our accounts in Alpha Bank without fear of the United States protesting?”
“Yes, but that’s not the best news.”
Not hearing, Sharif said, “I want to start using those banks. I want to start transferring funds employing the usual mechanisms. Siphon off the same amount. Small enough to remain under the radar but large enough to do some good. As we did in London. As you’re going to do in the Cayman Islands. We need to get you there as well.”
Haider said, “Father, you didn’t hear the best part.”
Looking at a calendar, Sharif said, “We missed the visit to the Caymans because of the secretary of state’s visit, but you can go the week after next. After you solidify your Greek contacts.”
Haider said, “We didn’t miss the Cayman trip. I sent Ahmed.”
Sharif snapped back to Haider and said, “What?”
Haider ducked his head and said, “I sent Ahmed Mansoor. I told you I trust him.”
Sharif was flabbergasted. “The friend of those idiots outside? You sent him on a fact-finding trip? What on earth does he know about Cayman banks? What do any of them know about that?”
“He’s actually doing more than checking out the banks. Father, let me be my own man. I have learned much watching you. I’ve found an investment for the QIA. A real investment in Brazil. He’s investigating it for me. It’ll be worth it. An inroad into South America.”
Sharif felt the rage grow, squeezing the head of Tutankhamun on his desk, a gift from the former president of Egypt Mohamed Morsi. A supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. Now gone. Another failure.
Speaking slowly, he said, “You. Do. Not have the authority to do this. You have no authority.”
Haider stammered for a moment, then drew up. His voice not nearly as strong as his stance, he said, “You gave me the mission to the Caymans. I’ve made it more than just dithering with the banks. I have created an opportunity for an investment in Brazil.”
Sharif looked at Tarek, shaking his head, saying without words, See what I mean?
But he couldn’t bring himself to chastise his firstborn. He had five daughters, but only one son. Something he secretly cursed. What he wouldn’t give to have a brood of men to choose from. But he had only one.
He said, “Tell me about it.”
Haider did, and Sharif was mollified somewhat. He said, “Okay. Ahmed can continue, but he flies home immediately. No further contacts. He comes to me, personally. With you.”
Haider shifted again, agitated. Sharif said, “What now?”
“I told Ahmed he could take one of our boats to America. To Key West. For a vacation.”
The yachts owned by the QIA were legendary for their splendor, and they were all over the world, but they were restricted to those who had earned the right to use them. Sharif was astounded.
“You actually gave him access to one of our yachts? Even I can’t use them without . . . without . . . ever.”
Sharif tried to maintain control but was having difficulty. How to explain that slight? How to explain someone not of royal blood was taking a yacht to Key West from the Cayman Islands?
Haider said, “It was going to Miami anyway. He’s just riding. I didn’t order it to go. All I did was ask for a stop in Key West.”
Tarek stepped in and said, “Haider, you mentioned that we hadn’t heard the best part of your visit. Please, what was that?”
Sharif glared at his son, saying nothing. Haider, on shaky ground, hesitated. Tarek nodded. Haider said, “Jonathan Billings—the United States secretary of state—said they were holding peace talks with the Taliban. They’re holding a secret meeting, hoping for a ceasefire.”
Sharif heard the words, but didn’t believe them. “Peace meeting? Something we don’t know about? The Taliban have an office here, in Doha. The peace overtures happen here, in Doha.”
“Not according to Billings. He said the government of Afghanistan has worked a separate front, away from Qatar and away from the world. The Taliban wants to talk, but can’t do it on the world stage, with everyone looking at their every word.”
The thought was disquieting, because it meant the Taliban was willing to capitulate. Move away from the reason they existed: a Sharia state. It meant an end to fighting in Afghanistan, an end to the influence of Salifist thought. A country that would become exactly what he despised: another secular state.
It was the very reason he had sent his son to open up discussions with the nascent Islamic State in Afghanistan. He’d feared the Taliban peace overtures in Qatar, the fear solidifying when they’d opened up an official office with the support of the Qatar government.
Peace would free up the hated United States to focus on areas they’d been woefully misguided about, precisely because of their fixation with Afghanistan. Iraq, Syria, and Yemen were all viewed under the optic of Afghanistan. A peace there would embolden future incursions. Future engagements. And future successes.
He had fought the Soviets, but had no illusions about the United States. They were a different animal altogether. Naïve for sure, but not dumb.
“Why would Billings tell you this? If it’s to remain secret? He was supposed to be here solely for Greece.”
“I think it was his back-channel way to inform the emir. I think he believes I have the ear of the government, which, given your position, we do.”
“When is this happening?”
“I don’t know for sure. I do know he’ll tell me. He trusts me and wants to include Qatar behind the scenes.”
“Did you promise anything?”
“No, no. I demurred, neither confirming nor denying his thoughts.”
“And you now have contacts with ISIS in Afghanistan? You can infiltrate the meeting?”
Haider hesitated, then said, “Maybe. I don’t know.”
“You will. You’re the man Billings trusts, and your actions in Afghanistan have given you leverage with the Islamic State.”
Haider absorbed the newfound responsibility and looked as if he wished he hadn’t spoken.
Sharif continued. “When is Ahmed Mansoor going to the Caymans?”
Confused at the intensity of his father, Haider said, “He’s there now. The meeting is tonight. Why?”
“Because I can’t let that imbecile affect what you’ve just told me. We need to stop that peace overture. In the most violent way possible.”
The sea was fairly calm, but the boat was rolling enough to cause the view from my spotting scope to swing wildly due to the magnification level. I hit the stabilization feature, and the front patio and swimming pool of the “castle” came into crystal view, the setting sun backlighting it in a halo. I saw the security walking back and forth, then a glint of reflected light as one put some glass on us.
Satisfied with the angle, I flipped the switch sending the feed to a tablet I had mounted on a bench, right next to the dive package I wouldn’t use. Beside it hung a tuxedo and formal dress. I turned to Jennifer and said, “Frogman done yet? The guys are looking now. They need to see him.”
Jennifer smiled, dropped her swimsuit cover-up, and picked up a mask and snorkel. She said, “He’s having fun. We don’t need to bring him up. Let ’em see me instead.”
I adjusted the focus and said, “Yeah, I’m sure they’d rather have that view.”
She threw a towel at my head and left the cabin, going to the rear of the boat, where the dive platform was located. She made a show of prepping her mask, then slid into the water with a dive-marking buoy. Plying our cover for action.
We were currently anchored about four hundred meters off the eastern end of Grand Cayman, near Rum Point, and directly across from our target—a large stone house overlooking the ocean. It was rented for the party tonight by a ranking member of Grand Cayman’s Barclays Bank Trust Company, and it was a pretty impressive structure. Built on an outcropping of rock, it was made to look like a turreted castle with three floors, each complete with balconies, and had an infinity pool and two sunbathing areas terraced into the rock flowing away from the house, the lower one sitting right by the ocean’s edge.
Earlier, we’d done a reconnaissance from the road running by the house and I was surprised at the security that was in place for this party. The building was behind a fifteen-foot stone wall, with the gate manned by two goons. Inside, near the front door, was another checkpoint, and the landscaping consisted of a thick tangle of jungle-like growth. It was going to be damn near impossible to penetrate the place. At least from the landlubber side. The ocean was a different story, but in order to do anything from there, we had to lull the security into thinking we were innocuous. In this case, a charter boat out for a night dive.
The easiest way to accomplish the mission would have been for the Taskforce hacking cell to simply get us invitations, but they’d failed—which told me how invested this bank was in security. There were very few pieces of cyberspace that those guys couldn’t own. But security was a double-edged sword, a facet I hoped to exploit.
Without an invitation, we were left with two courses of action: Penetrate the house covertly while the party was going on, or magic ourselves into the house in formalwear. After looking at the security and the terrain, I’d opted for scenario two. After all, nobody checks an invitation once you’re inside the ball. Just ask the White House gate-crashers. With that decision made, we needed to work only on the magic component to get my team inside.
The hacking cell had managed to get us a floor plan and some historical data points on previous parties the bank had hosted—to include the interesting fact that Qatar had more than a 10 percent stake in Barclays International. All of the soirees had been at this location, habitually rented by the bank to entice foreign deposits in its system.
After studying the data, one tidbit stood out—a strange activity that occurred at every party: The host made guests give up their electronics. Cell phones, cameras, and anything else with a battery was confiscated, which was something the guests apparently preferred. Past events had included some high-profile celebrities, and I suppose selfies were verboten. Or maybe it was to prevent the digital existence of other shenanigans that went on.
It didn’t interfere with our mission, but it did present an opportunity. Having all the cell phones located in one spot was something I couldn’t pass up. Originally, I’d planned on simply getting Knuckles and Jennifer inside the party, with Knuckles wearing a recording device slaved to directional microphones built into the buttons on the sleeves and front of his tuxedo. Each mic was under his control, allowing him to turn one on and another off, depending on where the targets were located, thus preventing him from having to awkwardly rotate, trying to get audio.
Basically, he was a walking human bug.
With the cell phone confiscation information, I’d decided to expand the mission. While Knuckles wandered around gathering audio, I wanted to get Jennifer inside whatever area they used to store the electronics and have her copy the SIM cards of our target cell phones. It would be exponentially more information gleaned.
I heard a splash from the diving deck and saw Jennifer coming out of the water. I looked at the tablet, and sure enough, they were watching. I was also sure they weren’t watching because they thought we were some nefarious secret intelligence organization about to cause them harm. Not that I blamed them. I’d have done the same thing.
Because I’m a misanthrope.
She came in, wringing out her hair, and said, “Knuckles was right below me, exploring some old rowboat that sank. I told him to come up.”
I said, “I think we’re good. If he climbs the ladder with a tank on his back, they’ll fade away. Come here. Take a look.”
The sun was sinking below the horizon, and the first guests were arriving. I tapped the tablet and said, “I’ve been watching the posture, and they’re focused almost exclusively on the front, where the road is. There’re only a couple of guys on the deck, and they’re by the pool, up high.”
“Anything on the phones?”
Immediately zeroing in on her part of the mission.
I said, “Yeah. They’re taking the phones to a bedroom on the left. The one that’s a stand-alone.”
She leaned forward, looking at the screen but seeing nothing except a few early arrivers. She said, “The one with the sliding glass door? The bedroom that’s separated from the rest of the house?”
“Yeah. That one. Any ideas on how to get in?”
The building had seven bedrooms. Six were inside the house. One, the seventh, was accessed only by a sliding glass door on the left side of the compound, right in front of the infinity pool. I wasn’t too surprised, since it would be the single location they could store all the phones without worry of someone wandering in—especially with a man outside—but it did present a problem.
Jennifer tapped the screen, switching from the video feed and bringing up the 3-D floor plan the Taskforce had given us, rotating it until she found what she was looking for.
“Right there. If I can get to the top bedroom, I can scale down outside and enter through the bathroom. Nobody will expect that. No guards.”
“But how will you get to that bedroom? It’s the master at the top of a spiral staircase. I doubt it’ll be in use for the party.”
I heard a splash, then Knuckles shouted, “Give me a hand?”
I shouted back, “Screw you. Some of us are working. Glad you got a dive vacation.”
Jennifer laughed and went to the platform, helping him up and pulling his tank off of his back. She set it aside and Knuckles said, “Really? I’m preventing them from penetrating our elaborate cover, and you scoff?”
I said, “They smell the seaweed on you, and you can explain it. Jennifer told me you were just screwing off down there.”
He rubbed his hands through his ridiculously thick hair and said, “Diving is never screwing off. Helps to get my mind right.”
I said, “Okay, Frogman. Whatever.”
Jennifer switched back to the video feed and said, “Target. Target’s here.”
Knuckles quit drying off and came forward. He tried to pop me with the towel and I wrapped my hand around it, jerking him off-balance. Jennifer hissed, “Stop it. Look at the screen. Is that him?”
We immediately quit, feeling a little foolish. We both leaned into the monitor, seeing a well-groomed older man of about seventy, flanked by two women half his age. Well, maybe a quarter his age. And both were stunners, their clothes leaving little to the imagination.
Knuckles said, “Yep. The Brazilian. Now just waiting on the guy from Qatar.”
We watched security make them place their phones in a Faraday bag—a special pouch designed to prevent any electronic emissions either in or out—then seal it, tagging it with a number. Jennifer hit the image capture, and we had the number on the bag. The security man with the bag began to move outside of view, and Jennifer manipulated the tablet, panning the camera.
Knuckles said, “Wait. What are you doing? We know where they put the bags. Keep on the target.”
He tapped the screen, moving the scope back to the Brazilian. And the stunners.
I said, “Yeah. That would be best.”
Jennifer saw the reason for Knuckles’s call and slapped my shoulder.
She said, “Really? That’s what you want to see?”
I stepped back and said, “No, no. I was checking out the target. Knuckles, pan to the Faraday bag.”
He grinned and did so. Jennifer crossed her arms and gave me a hip bump, glaring.
The security man came out of the glass doors next to the infinity pool and took the bag to the same bedroom. The disconnected one.
I said, “Looks like that’s the target room. A little rough to get into.”
Jennifer panned the spotting scope back and we saw an influx of people, the host greeting each one. Within five minutes, a man came in, wearing a tuxedo and a sissy-looking groomed beard, flanked by two men with the same facial hair. They were Arabs, no doubt about it. Jennifer split the screen and brought up our Qatar target package, the image given to us from the Taskforce on the left of the screen, and the live action on the right.
I said, “That’s not him. No match.”
We waited until the unknowns had finished their Faraday transfer, the security man running a wand over each to make sure they weren’t hiding anything. He tagged the pouch, allowing us to get the number.
We continued, watching every guest who arrived, but our target from Qatar never entered. I now had a hard call. Abort? Or go ahead, with the other man the focus? In the no-fault world of the Taskforce, this was a definite abort. No way was the mission worth the risk. Nobody was going to die because of the meeting. No direct threats to the nation were involved. It was just a stupid expansion of our mission set by the Oversight Council.
On the other hand, when on earth would we get to do a movie-version James Bond mission? Never, that’s when. No way was I flying all the way to the Caymans, renting a dive boat and formalwear, just to walk away. That was simply a nonstarter.
We watched the last guest enter, the crowd now at about seventy people, and Jennifer said, “Okay, no target. Let’s contact the Taskforce and ask for guidance.” Like this was some super-secret sniper mission to assassinate a head of state.
I looked at Knuckles and read the same feeling I had. I said, “You good with this?”
He grinned. “Are you kidding?”
Jennifer looked back and forth between us and said, “We don’t have our target. We’ve met abort criteria.”
I said, “Nope. That sissy-boy in the beard is the target. You’re going in. All we need to do is wait an hour or two to let them get juiced.”
Three hours later, on the other side of our boat, shielded from the castle, I slowly lowered Jennifer into the small rubber Zodiac. Already in, Knuckles helped to keep her from falling overboard. Something necessary, given the dress she was wearing.
A black, formfitting top with long sleeves, the dress was actually a Lycra bodysuit. The long, flowing skirt was simply applied to her waist by Velcro, allowing her to remove the skirt and operate unencumbered. At the small of her back was a waterproof pouch, making the skirt look like it had a bustle. In her left hand was a pair of high heels.
Knuckles stabilized her waist and I let go of her hand, saying, “Looks like the Taskforce is going to get their money’s worth from those shoes.”
She sat on the bench in the middle of the small rubber craft and smiled, saying, “My favorite piece of Taskforce kit.”
She’d had to dress up once before, on a mission in Kenya six months ago, and had gone hog wild buying an outfit on the Taskforce’s dime, including a ridiculously expensive pair of high heels called Jimmy Choos. I couldn’t believe how much they cost—and neither could the bean counters when we returned. But it was a successful mission, so the boss, Kurt Hale, had shushed them and allowed Jennifer to keep the shoes. Up until now, they’d held a special place in our closet, gathering dust.
I climbed down the ladder and took my position in the rear of the Zodiac. I was nothing but the infil-exfil platform for this mission. I said, “Comms check.”
First Knuckles talked, then Jennifer answered. I couldn’t hear either one, because they were wearing microscopic earbuds that slaved through Bluetooth to small transmitters hidden in their clothing.
Ordinarily, we communicated through a proprietary earpiece that worked encrypted through the cell network with our special Taskforce phones. Looking like an ordinary cell phone Bluetooth, they usually blended in fine, but since the host of this party confiscated all cell phones, running around with that in their ears would look a little silly. We’d opted for a covert communication system, which had far less power. It would allow Jennifer to talk to Knuckles, but I wouldn’t be able to hear anything on the dive boat.
Satisfied, Knuckles looked at me and nodded. Dressed in his tuxedo, his hair in surf-boy disarray, he really did look like something from an Abercrombie & Fitch poster. I chuckled.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In a heavy-duty fight in Afghanistan, Guy George’s brother, Sgt. First Class Timothy George, is killed. It turns out that Guy’s brother was searching out terrorists but did not anticipate that they would get to him first or why. Guy receives the material remains of his brother and his entire perspective changes when he finds the pictures of four of the men who were the objects of his brother’s search. Guy realizes these were the men who directly or indirectly are responsible for his brother’s death, and Guy’s rage is palpable even to the reader. Guy belongs to a Task Force that is off the record but approved by a Committee of upper echelon government players, including the President. The Task Force includes Pike Logan, a friend and brother, no not by blood but by the bonds formed to protect and honor each member of the Team. After talking it over with his Team, Guy realizes that his brother is just another casualty and the American government couldn’t care less. Indeed at a meeting of this Committee, the players on Guy’s Team realize a very harsh reality, several realities in fact. Greece is collapsing and the rescue of the Euro is paramount to worrying about a fallen soldier! In fact, there are political machinations occurring, including betrayal by an American Senator. No spoilers here but no one anticipates that Guy is about to go rogue and an Arab business owner, needed and used but not connected to Arab royalty, tied to his government will go to any length to guarantee their mission which is far from innocent. Will he succeed or be denounced and perhaps assassinated himself should he meet failure. The threats and dangers are vividly obvious! Into the mix come Guy’s teammates who are trying to stop him and at the same time halt two other missions that may become globally destructive very, very soon. The pace in this complex plot is relentless, the violence is mind-blowing in its ferocity, and the world of terrorism and assassination is starkly depicted in this all-too-real scenario. The hunter become the hunted and vice versa. Get ready for a great read that will keep you up hours past your bedtime and compel you to seek out the other novels of this very talented, skilled writer. Nicely done, indeed, Brad Taylor and highly recommended novel!
"The Forgotten Soldier" by Brad Taylor will be published December 29, 2015 so it'll make a great New Year's book. I've read several of Mr. Taylor's Pike Logan series and I have loved them all. Normally, a mystery/thriller based in military jargon isn't my thing but I find all the authentic information in Taylor's books to be fascinating. I previously reviewed "Insider Threat" and "No Fortunate Son" by Taylor and each time I pick up one of his thrillers I'm mesmerized by the sheer amount of knowledge this former Lieutenant Colonel who is a twenty-one year veteran of the U.S. Army Infantry and Special Forces imparts in his books. I love learning when I read but first and foremost, I want the novel to be fun and good. Brad Taylor never misses that mark. Guy George is determined to seek revenge against the men who killed his special forces brother. When he figures out who his brother was tracking on his last mission, it gives Guy information to do some tracking of his own. The military doesn't want Guy following the leads he has to find his brother's killer because of who Guy is. He is a member of a clandestine group called the Taskforce. These specially trained operatives work under the radar as a counterterrorist unit to anticipate attacks around the world and prevent threats to the United States. By seeking revenge, Guy is putting the secret of the Taskforce in jeopardy. When Guy "goes rogue" Pike Logan is sent to bring him back into the fold and prevent an international incident as Guy goes after government officials of allied nations who may be complicit in his brother's death. Logan is split in his loyalties to his friend and the administration he's sworn to protect. As I said above, I really love Brad Taylor's thrillers and this was no exception. I found myself starting to understand (even in just a small way) the intricacies of political infighting and international relationships. I am not a political animal but I do like not feeling stupid if I'm listening to a discussion about political things. By reading this book I find myself feeling a little less stupid. Taylor is such a good writer that he makes ingesting complex information as easy as eating lemon meringue pie. And who doesn't like pie? This is certainly a five out of five star read. Even if this genre isn't usually your thing, I still recommend you trying it. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
Great novel... the end was a bit lame... Guy should have lived and honored..... with a twist.. Pike is great Thank you Brad
And leaves you wanting more. Every new novel in this series makes you anxious for the next. I keep expecti g it to run out of storyline, and it just keeps on giving. I love the attention to detail. A GREAT read!
Love his work. The only issue is that I read them to fast.
Just finished this novel, and it's my favorite Pike Logan novel so far. Starting with the after-effects of The Insider Threat, it deals with the team's reactions to recent events. The plot is spot on with current world events; collapse of the Greek economy, Muslim immigration in Scandinavia, and very interesting to add a different player, Qatar, that you don't usually find on the chessboard. The moral conscience line is even more blurred - ok, obliterated in some parts, by the actions and reactions of the protagonist, Guy. The team's response rings true. Love the addition of the newbie, Veep. Excited to see how his character develops in the future.
Pike Logan's back...and awesome! This heart-stopping book is pure Taskforce action. If you have read Mr. Taylor's short story e-book prequel, "The Recruit", you will have a base from which some of the characters in this latest thriller are taken. I say this after reading every one of his Taskforce books, but this one is the best yet!
I give it a three star ^_^