From Marseille to Islamabad at breakneck pace… it’s kill or be killed for Ryan Drake and his teamRyan Drake, once a decorated field operative, is now wanted for treason. On the run from the CIA’s corrupt Deputy Director Marcus Cain, he has spent the past six months in a remote French safehouse. Drake’s former life seems to be behind him, but the uneasy peace is shattered when Cain moves against him with startling force.
Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan is faltering in the wake of a devastating suicide attack. Cain though has a plan to find and destroy al-Qaeda’s top commanders. And nobody will stand in his way.
Backed into a corner, Drake turns to the deadly but unpredictable Anya – once Cain’s most promising agent, now his most bitter enemy. With tensions running high and their uneasy alliance threatening to tear itself apart, Drake’s hastily assembled team travels to Pakistan to intercept Cain.
With the fate of the War on Terror hanging in the balance, loyalties are tested and scores settled, as Drake embarks on the fight of his life. Only one side will survive…
Forward Operating Base Chapman, Afghanistan – 30 December 2009
It was a cold December afternoon in Khost province, the low winter sun already slanting down towards the clouds gathering on the western horizon. The small group of CIA intelligence operatives who had congregated in the centre of the lonely outpost pulled their jackets a little tighter as a chill wind whipped in from the desolate mountains to the north.
Intelligence analyst Abigail Page could think of about a thousand other places she would rather be at that moment, most of which involved tropical beaches and umbrella drinks, but she gave no thought to returning indoors. Not now. The events that were about to play out here in this isolated base at the edge of civilization could well change the course of the War on Terror forever. Here, today, they were about to make history.
Her radio earpiece crackled as a transmission sounded over the secure comms net. ‘Checkpoint Bravo. Principal is confirmed. He’s coming through.’
Page watched as the barrier at the base’s inner security checkpoint was raised, and a beaten-up red station wagon trundled beneath, threading its way through the concrete chicanes.
She could feel her heart stepping up a gear as the vehicle slowly approached the waiting group. Two men were just visible through the dust covered windshield. The driver was an Afghan man named Arghawan who served as the chief of external security for Camp Chapman. He was the only local they trusted to make such a dangerous trip all the way from the Pakistan border with a high profile asset on board.
His passenger was the one they had gathered here to receive. A 32-year-old doctor from Jordan, Humam al-Balawi had been a vocal al-Qaeda supporter until the Jordanian intelligence service caught up with him and turned him about a year ago. Their offer had been simple enough – become a double agent for the CIA, or we’ll throw you and your entire family in jail for the rest of your lives. Needless to say, al-Balawi had accepted.
Since then he’d been feeding the Jordanians and the Agency a steady stream of actionable intel, resulting in a number of confirmed al-Qaeda kills through drone strikes and targeted assaults.
He’d earned his stripes, but such minor victories were of little consequence compared with what he now claimed to have for them. The location of Ayman al-Zawahiri – the second most powerful commander in al-Qaeda, and Osama Bin
Laden’s right hand man. An asset whose capture could well result in the destruction of the terrorist network’s entire command structure.
It was easy to see now why so many of the Agency’s senior intelligence experts were on site for this meeting. Even a cursory glance at the assembled group read like a who’s who of the Agency’s anti-terrorist elite.
First up was Jennifer Matthews, the chief of the base, and a 20-year veteran of CIA field ops. She’d been tracking al-Qaeda since well before the 9/11 attacks, and was one of their foremost experts on the ground.
Hovering close to her was Don Livermore, the deputy chief of the Kabul station, and the Agency’s second highest ranking officer in Afghanistan. Livermore had been around since the dark days of the Cold War, and had managed agents everywhere from Eastern Europe to Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Also present was al-Balawi’s Jordanian handler. Page knew little of the man, though it was rumoured he was the cousin of King Abdullah II of Jordan. Even the royal family wanted a piece of this action, not that she could blame him. If al-Balawi did indeed hold intel that could lead to the destruction of al-Qaeda, he would want his name stamped all over it. This was a moment that could make or break careers.
Keeping her eyes on the approaching station wagon, Page raised the encrypted satellite phone to her ear. ‘He’s inside the perimeter,’ she reported, speaking in hushed tones. ‘Approaching now.’
A hundred and fifty miles away in a secure conference room at the US embassy in Kabul, CIA Station Chief Hayden Quinn leaned in closer to his laptop. Laid out before him was a grainy overhead video feed of Camp Chapman that was being beamed from a Predator drone orbiting the site of the meeting. The unmanned vehicle had been tracking al-Balawi’s vehicle all the way from Pakistan to ensure it wasn’t interfered with.
Quinn had desperately wanted to be there for the meeting himself, having pulled more strings and circumvented more protocols than he cared to remember to make this thing work. But having the Agency’s most senior commander and his deputy at the same forward operating base was a risk nobody was willing to take.
‘Roger that,’ he replied, connected to her via an encrypted satellite uplink. ‘How’s he look?’
‘Hard to say,’ she replied, trying to keep her tension from showing. What a dumb question. How does he look? She didn’t know the man, could barely see him
through the grimy windshield, and certainly wasn’t in a position to gauge his mood. ‘The car’s stopping now.’
Bringing the dust-covered station wagon to a halt, the driver killed the engine. A moment of tense, fraught silence passed, broken only by the sighing of the winter wind. Page held her breath, knowing this was a crucial moment.
Then, just like that, the passenger door creaked open and a man stepped out. All eyes were on him in an instant, comparing him with the face they had memorized from his intelligence dossier. Medium height and build, even features, his still-youthful face mostly hidden behind a thick beard that hadn’t yet started to grey. He was dressed in a long, padded overcoat, no doubt to ward off the late December chill.
‘It’s him,’ Page confirmed over the encrypted line, unable to disguise her relief or her excitement. ‘He’s really here.’
Indeed, the sense of exultation and burgeoning elation amongst the gathering was almost palpable. At a nod from Matthews, the base commander, one of the private security contractors flanking the group moved forward to give al-Balawi a pat-down search.
He had been untouched thus far on Quinn’s orders, his unimpeded entry to Camp Chapman intended as a sign of respect and mutual trust, but even this goodwill gesture only extended so far, with some of the Agency’s top personnel only yards away. A simple frisking would ensure he hadn’t brought anything that could be used as a weapon.
Al-Balawi’s hands were thrust deep into the pockets of his overcoat and remained that way as the private security contractor approached. The man hadn’t drawn his weapon, but his hand hovered instinctively close to it.
‘Please raise your hands, sir,’ the operative instructed, speaking in an uncharacteristically deferential manner. He was under strict orders to treat the Jordanian double agent as an honoured guest.
Watching the man closely, Page caught something she hadn’t expected. A momentary flicker in his eyes, a sudden tension in his body as if he were readying himself for some great exertion. He raised his hands from his pockets as requested.
‘Oh fuck,’ Page gasped when she saw the plastic detonator in his left hand, a wire trailing back in through his sleeve.
She saw the operative go for his gun, saw his hands close around the weapon, then there was a sudden flash and the world around her was engulfed in darkness.
Quinn started in shock as the video feed suddenly turned pure white, the drone’s infra-red cameras temporarily blinded by an intense flash of light and heat in the centre of the compound.
‘What the fuck was that?’ he demanded, a sudden knot of fear and concern twisting his stomach. ‘Page, come in. What’s your situation?’
Slowly the image swam back into focus as the flash receded, revealing a scene of utter carnage and devastation in the centre of the small encampment. Fires burned in every corner of the screen, particularly around the shattered remnants of the car and the building that had been set aside for al-Balawi’s debriefing, while other thermal sources that conformed roughly to the shape of human bodies lay scattered around the area.
Some were less recognizable now.
‘Oh God,’ Quinn gasped, staring at the screen in horror. ‘Oh Christ, no.’
The base commander, the deputy chief of operations, the Jordanian liaison… nearly all of the Agency’s major players in Afghanistan had been on hand for that meeting, had been standing just yards away from the centre of the blast.
Realizing the satellite phone was still active, he leaned closer to the speaker. ‘Page, talk to me. Are you there? Page!’
Abigail Page couldn’t hear the tinny buzz of his voice through the damaged satellite phone lying several yards away. Her eardrums had been shattered by the concussive force of the blast.
Dizzy and confused, unsure what had happened, she opened her eyes and looked around. She was lying on her side some distance from where she’d last been standing, and couldn’t understand why she’d suddenly moved. But she could smell something in the air: smoke, burning fuel and melted plastic.
In some vaguely understood corner of her mind, the pieces seemed to come together. She remembered al-Balawi in the instant before the explosion, remembered seeing the flicker in his eyes, the trailing wire leading into his bulky overcoat.
A suicide bomber. He had betrayed their trust, using their eagerness, their desperation against them. Blowing himself up right in the heart of the base, with some of the Agency’s top brass just feet away.
That thought was enough to galvanize her.
You need to get up now, she told herself. There could be secondary explosions. The others might need your help. Get up and find out who’s hurt.
She tried to pull herself up, tried to move, but her body wouldn’t obey her commands. Her legs felt like lumps of lead, weighing her down but transmitting no sensation back to her brain. There was a moment of fright, of panic, then the realization that something warm and wet was spreading outwards from various points across her torso. It meant something, she knew, but her thoughts were growing hazy and confused.
Surprisingly, there was no pain. Or maybe there was, and she simply hadn’t recognized it yet. Her mind was dimming, like a flashlight slowly running out of power, and it was becoming hard just to keep her eyes open.
Someone else was lying on the ground near her, she realized then. A man. She recognized him as the Jordanian intelligence operative who had come to oversee the meeting. With an odd sense of detachment, she noted that his right arm was missing at the shoulder, ending in a torn mass of bloody flesh and jagged bone. His deep brown eyes stared lifelessly into space, seeing nothing.
The cousin of a king, she thought with an incongruous flash of humour as a gust of frozen wind swept across the devastated base, stirring the fire and smoke, and darkness encroached on her vision.
I’m going to die beside the cousin of a king.