We laugh when it pops up in our inbox: the scam letter promising a windfall. We wonder: How does anybody fall for these things? But it is no laughing matter. It is one of the biggest organized crime rackets in the world, it is deadly - and State Department crisis manager Judd Ryker has fallen right into the middle of it.
The disappearance of a young American in London sends Ryker into the heart of a corruption scandal in Nigeria, at the same time his CIA agent wife Jessica finds herself chasing a Russian master criminal known as the Bear. Unknown to either of them, they are pulling at two ends of the same lethal thread, a staggeringly vicious enterprise of piracy, extortion, and murder.
The world is messy and dangerous, Jessica warns her husband.More dangerous than you know. But he is about to find out.
About the Author
Previously, Moss worked at the World Bank and the Economist Intelligence Unit, and taught at the London School of Economics and Georgetown University. He is the author of four nonfiction books on international affairs and the Judd Ryker thriller series, including The Golden Hour, Minute Zero, Ghosts of Havana, and The Shadow List. He lives in Maryland.
Read an Excerpt
Canary Wharf, Isle of Dogs, London
Friday, 9:11 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time
The American had been taught there was no such thing. Yet, looking up at fifty floors of glass and steel in the heart of London’s modern new financial district, that thought seemed ridiculous.
Back at NYU, one of his professors had told the old joke: Two economists are walking down the street when one spots a dollar bill on the ground. As he bends over, the other stops him. “Don’t bother,” he scolds. “If that money was real, someone would have already picked it up.”
Of course there was free money, the young man thought. He was surrounded by it. His friends in Manhattan were practically drowning in it. Hedge fund arbitrage was all about grabbing that opportunity, being the first one to seize it, never hesitating. It was about bending over and snatching up that cash, sometimes from a filthy sidewalk.
That bill waiting to be grabbed was not only real, it wasn’t a dollar. It was millions of them. It was big, fat fuck-you money. Hamptons-beach-house, G5-airplane, buy-your-own-private-island, hire-Jay-Z-to-play-your-birthday-party money. The only question on his mind: Would he finally have the balls?
The young man reached into the inside jacket pocket of his best navy-blue pin-striped banker’s suit and extracted a letter. The paper was a quality stock, thick and weighty. The letter exuded wealth and confidence. So, too, did the red-and-black crest in the upper corner above Global Allied Financial, One Canada Square, London E14 5AB, United Kingdom. He rubbed a finger across the embossed crest and then reread the letter, for the third time that day.
Mr. Jason Saunders, Esq.
Holden Harriman Quinn
419 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10154
Our firm has been designated by the Bank of England as probate agent for recovered funds from the Special Court for International Assets. In cases where the Court has identified unclaimed and improperly earned funds with no national jurisdiction, the Bank allocates said funds to an international consortium for management on behalf of the Court. Global Allied Financial has been allocated US$1,985,900,000 discovered in a Swiss branch of a British-registered bank that authorities have determined originate with the ruling family of the Republic of Syria.
At this point, the first time through, he’d nearly put the letter in the shredder. The long-lost bank account of a foreign dictator? Obviously a scam. How many of these had he gotten in the email and deleted without even opening? But he’d been a little desperate that morning. Still was. So he had kept reading.
As per Banking Regulation 34.7A, until the legal proceedings are concluded, these funds must be held on behalf of the Court by firms from at least two different sovereign jurisdictions. Global Allied Financial is the designee from the United Kingdom. We seek an urgent appointment to discuss whether Holden Harriman Quinn might apply as the designee from the United States of America. We are approaching you on the basis of your past experience with sensitive asset management, notably your record with Turkish treasury bills.
That was the phrase that had grabbed him. How had anyone known about the Turkish bond trades? That was a complete secret. On the other hand, it meant that someone really had written this letter specifically to him, not to a laundry list of random people. And what came next really caught his attention.
If selected by the Court, HHQ would share in the management fees and the up-front legal costs. Please note that, as per Banking Regulation 34.7B, no individual firm’s management fees may exceed 4.00% per year.
The American squinted at the digits on the paper and did the mental calculation again. Four percent of two billion equaled eighty million dollars. Every year. That was one colossal dollar bill just sitting there on the sidewalk. But was it possibly real?
Who ever heard of a four percent management fee? He didn’t know of anyone even getting the old hedge fund 2/20 model of two percent plus a performance bonus of one-fifth of profits. Most clients had squeezed commissions down to a fraction of one percent. But four percent? To manage funds on behalf of an international court? Fat fees and no actual client to complain? It was highway robbery. If it was real. And he desperately needed it to be real.
The letter had been waiting for Jason on his desk back in Manhattan one week earlier. He had just returned from forty--eight sleepless hours in Atlantic City that had cost him a small fortune: a $1,500 bar tab, $3,000 for a Kate Middleton look-alike hooker, and $85,000 at the blackjack table. Those losses were nothing, however, compared to his bad bets at the firm. He had doubled down on Italian treasury bills, and the red ink was now running above $25 million.
Instead of telling Harvey Holden or any of the other senior partners about his mistake, he had hired a limo to AC. Jason had told himself what he really needed was to let loose, clear his head, and come back to work with fresh ideas. The only way to save his skin was to generate some quick profits to cover up the Italian bond debacle. A weekend of drunken -debauchery was just what he needed to change his luck.
Jason had already earned himself unusual autonomy with-in the firm after his first Turkish bond trade. Three months earlier, Harvey Holden had come to him late one night, a tumbler of forty-year-old single malt scotch in his hand, with a tip to short Turkish treasury bills. Holden had also given him access to the firm’s internal black accounts. So Jason had followed orders and placed a huge bet against the future of Turkey. The very next day the chief of police in the capital, Ankara, and the CEO of one of the country’s major industrial conglomerates had been gunned down in a drive-by shooting. Bondholders had panicked, prices tanked, and HHQ made an absolute killing off of Jason’s trade.
The young associate received a promotion, a modest bo-nus, and extended authorization to keep trading on HHQ’s own accounts. He’d made several more successful wagers—quick profits on Ukrainian debt, oil futures, and Indonesian currency swaps—each time after receiving quiet instructions from Harvey Holden. But when Jason had on his own initiative bet big-time on Italian bonds, the gods of finance had conspired against him.
That’s when he’d fled to the casinos of Atlantic City to figure out a way to make the money back before anyone noticed. But Jason Saunders had returned to Manhattan with only a pounding headache, an empty wallet, and no plan for salvation.
And then there was the letter—like a death row pardon from the governor—waiting for him on his desk.
Enclosed is a confirmation letter from the Bank of England. Please contact me at your earliest convenience.
Even through the haze of an epic hangover, though, Jason had been wary. He’d googled Bank of England, Syria recovery, Special Court for International Assets, Global Allied Financial, A.W. Windsor—and it had all seemed to check out. The British financial authorities were indeed hunting for stolen Syrian assets that had been stashed in banks across the world. Global Allied Financial had a simple but elegant website, a prestigious London address, and a Mr. A.W. Windsor (MA Cantab) listed as its managing director.
And if this Windsor knew about his Turkish bond trades, then he must have done his homework. Or he wasexceedingly well connected. Either way, Jason decided it was worth calling in sick and making a quick trip to London. If the offer was real, he’d be the hero. If not, then there was no need for anyone at HHQ ever to know anything about it. And that’s what had brought him to Canary Wharf on an uncommonly sunny Friday morning.
Jason Saunders refolded the letter and tucked it back into his inside jacket pocket. He brushed both shoulders and adjusted his tie in the reflection of the front glass doors at One Canada Square. His heart rate jumped as he entered the lobby, a blend of adrenaline and subconscious anxiety. As instructed, Jason announced his arrival at the security desk, above which hung logos for the Bank of New York, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, the Financial Services Authority. The officer made a quick phone call, then handed the American a pass for the 48th floor.
As the elevator rocketed skyward, Jason’s mind returned to New York and to his first classroom at business school. He thought of NYU’s motto: Perstare et Praestare. Persevere and Excel. Never give up. Go get what you want. That was exactly what he was doing. In the face of adversity, he had to persist. He’d made a mistake with the Italian bond bets. But the only way to thrive was to learn from his errors and press ahead. It wasn’t the time for self-doubt. It was time to double down. That’s what powerful, successful people did.
The elevator dinged on arrival. Jason Saunders, twenty-six years old, aggressively single, a rising star at one of New York’s most profitable hedge funds, who had already bought a coal-black top-end Range Rover for six figures and had his eye on a three-bedroom loft in Chelsea that might run eight figures, strode with confidence toward the front door of Global Allied Financial. Yes, he would size up this British twit A.W. Windsor, whoever he was. He would sell HHQ, hook Windsor like he had that twelve-foot marlin in the Florida Keys last spring. And then haul the cash in. He would make rich profits for HHQ and a huge bonus for himself. Big fat fuck-you money. No one would ever remember a few lost Italian bonds.
As the elevator door opened, Jason straightened his jacket and adjusted his testicles. He yanked open the door, feeling a cold blast of air. A man with a square jaw at the reception desk looked up without surprise. “May I help you, sir?”
Jason scanned the lobby. It was basic décor, a slight disappointment from the gaudy imperial Victorian motif he’d expected. This was Canary Wharf, after all, not the City of London, he reminded himself. He shrugged as the thought of free money flooded back into his brain.
“I’m Jason Saunders,” he announced. “I have an appointment with Mr.—”
The room erupted. The receptionist ducked behind the desk as silhouettes, men dressed in all black and their faces covered with black balaclavas, stormed in from all sides and rushed at Jason. Before he could even think, he was forced to his knees, his hands quickly and silently bound. Duct tape was slapped across his mouth and the end of a pistol was shoved into his cheek. He whipped his neck trying to see his attackers, just as a hood was slipped over his head. At that moment, everything in Jason Saunders’ world went completely dark.
Three Days Later
U.S. State Department Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
Monday, 8:25 a.m. Eastern Standard Time
Judd Ryker glared at the image his assistant Serena had just delivered.
“This just arrived from Mr. Parker’s office,” she said. “Came in overnight from across the river.” She nodded toward the Potomac, where the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters lay on the other side, about eight miles up.
Serena was dressed in her usual intense jet-black business suit that matched her personality. Even early on a rainy spring Monday morning, she was ready for battle. “What else can I get you, Dr. Ryker?”
“Nothing yet,” Judd said, his eyes glued to the picture. He stroked his chin and its two days’ worth of stubble. “Maybe more coffee?”
The high-resolution satellite photograph showed a tiny island, green water surrounding beige sand in the shape of a letter G. It reminded Judd of the barrier islands in the middle of the Stratego board, one of his favorite games as a kid. He had spent hours during the long Vermont winters devising the best configurations for the flag, the bombs, scouts, and all the different warriors of varying strength and special skills. And, of course, the most valuable and cunning piece: the spy. To an opponent, the spy in Stratego looked like every other piece. It could be anything. The spy destroyed everything it attacked, so long as it struck first. The spy was always beaten if caught by surprise. Every move was kill-- or-be-killed. The spy was the perfect mix of strength and vulnerability.
Judd had always preferred the challenge of arranging the Stratego pieces to playing the game itself. Finding the right balance between attack, defense, and especially deception before the fighting began. Even as a nine-year-old boy, Judd Ryker knew the game was usually won or lost before the first move. Pregame was everything.
What immediately struck Judd as odd about the island in the satellite photo were the unnaturally straight lines. The world was rarely straight. The long side of the G shape showed an airstrip, the lower curl an ideally placed seawall creating a safe harbor for naval ships in the protected center. The island was a perfectly efficient military outpost by no accident. The bottom corner of the photo was stamped with yesterday’s date, 07:25:05, and Rogue Reef-14, the latest in a series of man-made islands the Chinese government was constructing in the heart of the South China Sea.
The United States government was closely monitoring events in this part of the world. The South China Sea was surrounded by China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Each and every boundary was under territorial dispute. More than half of all global oil tanker shipments passed though these sea-lanes, making it five times busier than the Panama Canal. Half a billion people crammed along the coasts of the sea and its rich fishing grounds. If that weren’t enough trouble in one place, seismic data hinted at massive deposits of oil and gas in the seabed.
Adding to this combustible mix of people, wealth, and supertankers—each carrying two million barrels of oil through a narrow space—was the heavy presence of naval warships. Each of the bordering nations had deployed dozens of vessels, as had Japan, Australia, and Russia. The U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet also patrolled the region by air and by sea. And of course the U.S. government monitored it all from space. This dan-gerous cocktail had turned the South China Sea into the most crowded, strategic, and contested pressure cooker on the globe.
And Judd Ryker was supposed to come up with a plan in case it all blew up.
He was excited by the opportunity. It was true that the Crisis Reaction Unit, his special office known inside the building as S/CRU, had been created to spur the State Department to respond more quickly to international emergencies. But he was more than a little surprised that the South China Sea assignment had fallen to him. He wasn’t exactly the most popular person in the State Department.
Excerpted from "The Shadow List"
Copyright © 2017 Todd Moss.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Shadow List is the fourth book in the Judd Ryker series. This is the first book written by Todd Moss that I have read so I wasn't sure what to expect. What I found was a well written espionage thriller. While this is part of a series, it can be read as a standalone. There is some violence. The book blurb adequately describes the storyline so I'm not going to repeat all of that info here. Overall, this book is about Judd and his wife Jessica and their jobs unknowingly overlapping. As usual not everyone or everything is as it seems. While the storyline is somewhat predictable, there are enough twists and turns to keep you reading all the way to the end. I received a copy of the book from First To Read and chose to leave a review for other readers. I hope that the author continues to write more book in this series!