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Savage Son / (by Jack Carr, 2020) -

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Savage Son /   (by Jack Carr, 2020) -

Savage Son / (by Jack Carr, 2020) -

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The Terminal List /
True Believer /
Savage Son /
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: 267
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Savage Son / (by Jack Carr, 2020) -
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2020
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Jack Carr
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Ray Porter
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upper-intermediate
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13:16:09
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128 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Savage Son / :

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: Savage Son

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For Brad Thor, without whom this post-military chapter of my life would not be possible and, to those who run to the sound of the guns. Fortuna Favet Fortibus There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter. Ernest Hemingway PREFACE I WAS, AND REMAIN, a student of war and of the hunt. Experiences in combat and in the backcountry helped shape me into the citizen, husband, father, and writer I am today. The one has made me better at the other. I suspect it has always been this way. It is the feelings and emotions from those most primal of endeavors that form the foundation of Savage Son. I was first introduced to Richard Connells masterpiece, The Most Dangerous Game, in junior high school. Connell, a veteran of World War I, published his most celebrated short story in Colliers Weekly in 1924. Upon that initial reading, I was determined to one day write a modern thriller that paid tribute to this classic tale, exploring the dynamic between hunter and hunted. Providing for and defending my family and country are hardwired into my DNA. Perhaps that is why The Most Dangerous Game resonated with me at such an early age, or maybe those primal impulses are in all of us, which is why Richard Connells narrative continues to endure almost a century after it was first published. Fast-forward thirty years. As I prepared to leave the SEAL Teams, I laid out all my ideas for what was to become my first novel, The Terminal List. The plot for Savage Son was among several of the story lines I was contemplating as I decided how to introduce the world to James Reece. For that first outing, I knew my protagonist was not yet ready for what I had in store. I needed to develop him through a journey, first of revenge and then of redemption, before I could explore the dark side of man through the medium of the modern political thriller. Is James Reece a warrior, a hunter, a killer? Perhaps all three? Hunting and war are inexorably mixed. They share a common father. Death begets life, and in defense of oneself, ones family, ones tribe, or ones country, killing is often a part of the equation. Throughout most of human history, defeating an enemy in battle led to the survival of the tribe and the continuation of the bloodline. The same tools developed to defeat rivals in combat are analogous to those used in the quest for sustenance. Similar tactics are used to hunt both man and beast. Those who picked up a spear to defend the tribe were the same ones who used that spear to provide food for their families. The reason each and every one of us is alive today is the martial prowess and hunting abilities of our ancestors. Much as the hunter, deep in the backcountry, often thinks of his family by the hearth, so too the warrior on the distant battlefield longs for a homecoming. Similarly, when they return home, the hunter dreams of going back to the woods, just as the warrior yearns for battle. Is it the guilt of no longer being in the fight? Not standing shoulder to shoulder with brothers in arms? Or is it missing the sense of belonging that only comes from being part of a team that has spilt blood in war? Or is it something darker? Is it because of the kill? Is it because that is the only place one can truly feel alive? Martin Sheens line from Apocalypse Now, the movie my BUD/S class watched before going into Hell Week, rings true for those who have answered the call: When I was here, I wanted to be there. When I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle. Warriors can relate. On the battlefield, I witnessed the best and worst of humanity. I have been the hunter, building target packages and developing patterns of life on our targeted individuals, using disassociated human intelligence networks corroborated by technical means to ensure we were taking the right player off the board before launching on a mission to capture or kill them. And I have been the hunted, caught in an ambush in the Al-Rashid District of Baghdad at the height of the war. The Global War on Terror has ensured us ample practice, sharpening our skills in the hunting and killing of man. Direct action, special reconnaissance, counterinsurgency, unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, hostage rescue, counterterrorism, and counterproliferation of weapons of mass destruction are all crucial special operations mission sets, but it is manhunting that has become a primary focus of our operators and intelligence agencies over the past thirty years: Manuel Noriega, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, Ramzi Yousef, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, to say nothing of the less well known HVIs targeted and killed or captured over the years. At the time of this writing, Ayman al-Zawahiri remains at large but rest assured there are teams of men and women actively hunting him down. It is a specialty in which we have become quite proficient. My time in combat was but one chapter in my life. I am now an author. Though Ive passed the torch to the next generation, my time in uniform will always be a part of me; those memories, lessons, and reflections are now finding their way into the pages of my novels. One of the most intriguing passages in The Most Dangerous Game is this exchange between the protagonist, Sanger Rainsford, and the antagonist, General Zaroff, where the central theme of the narrative is revealed: I wanted the ideal animal to hunt, explained the general. So I said, What are the attributes of an ideal quarry? And the answer was, of course, It must have courage, cunning, and, above all, it must be able to reason. But no animal can reason, objected Rainsford. My dear fellow, said the general, there is one that can. Savage Son explores the darkest impulses of the human psyche. Do they live in all of us, repressed by the comforts and technology of the day? Have we advanced beyond those more primal instincts and if so, who will provide for and defend the tribe? Civilized society tends to keep warriors at arms length, only turning to them in times of national emergency. Break glass in case of war. Weve been hunters and warriors for the majority of our existence. Only recently have we evolved, or possibly regressed, into beings with no connection to the land or the wild animals that inhabit it, while also outsourcing our duty to defend our families and our country. Whether this is a progression for our species remains to be seen. Will there come a day when our survival depends on those primordial abilities? I suspect so. It might not be tomorrow or the day after, but then again, it might. In either case, we would be wise to be ready, but right now, its time to turn the page and hunt. Jack Carr August 22, 2019 Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia A NOTE ON DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE REDACTIONS IN CERTAIN SECTIONS OF Savage Son, you will notice words and sentences blacked out. Just as with The Terminal List and True Believer, I submitted the manuscript to the Department of Defense Office of Pre-Publication and Security Review. What the government censors have redacted in my novels is surprising in that almost every word and sentence can be found in publicly available government documents and is part of the national discourse. Select information should remain classified, yet the current review process is inefficient and ineffective, wasting time and resources to redact information that is in no way harmful to national security. At issue is freedom. The First Amendment is at the core of our Bill of Rights. It is The First for a reason. It is a natural right. It is not a right given by government and therefore it cannot be taken away. The review process is all about control. As I wrote in the preface to The Terminal List: The consolidation of power at the federal level in the guise of public safety is a national trend and should be guarded against at all costs. This erosion of rights, however incremental, is the slow death of freedom. Enjoy your time in the pages of Savage Son. Try to ignore the blacked-out sections, or better yet, try to decipher what the government deems so secret. If you read closely, I bet you can figure it out. Jack Carr February 10, 2020 Park City, Utah PROLOGUE Medny Island, Bering Sea, Russia SHE WAS A STRONG one. Most humans would have given up by now, the deep snow quickly exhausting even the fittest among them. His snowshoes werent exactly sporting, but no one said this was supposed to be fair. His heart rate increased, and he had to take a break to catch his breath due to the steep incline. She had taken the toughest route on the island, directly toward the highest peak. This was a first. A feisty one. Still, the tracking was painfully easy in the waist-deep snow. He didnt speed after her; instead he relished the chase the way one would slowly enjoy a magnificent meal. No, that wasnt the correct comparison. This was more than that; this was carnal. The winds howled as he crested the first of a spine of ridges that ran toward the summit. His quarrys trail had crossed to the windward side where the gale had already begun to erase her tracks with blowing snow. Feisty and crafty. The winds had shifted and cold, moist air was now blowing down from the Bering Sea. He looked toward the rapidly disappearing trail and watched the white wall of fog envelop the high ground before him, feeling the elation of finally matching wits with a worthy adversary. Her jeans were soaked from the snow and her feet were numb inside her boots. She was post-holing through the deep white drifts, each and every step a physical challenge. She knew that to stop would mean death: death from hypothermia, death from those who hunted her. The pursuit had to be their game. Why else would they have let her go? She was on an island or at least a peninsula; she could see water on both sides of the treeless landscape. Down to the shore would be the easy route, but thats what they would expect. The coastline was a death trap. She pushed herself up as her leg muscles screamed from the exertion of high-stepping through the powder. An accomplished endurance athlete, she was used to pain. She was comfortable being uncomfortable. A native of Montana, she was also used to being cold and wet. God, I wish my brother were here. Hed know what to do, she thought, remembering their epic trail runs and how theyd cheer one another on at the jiu-jitsu academy. The desolate tundra landscape meant she was somewhere in the far north; Scandinavia or Alaska maybe. More likely, somewhere in Russia. The men who took her rarely spoke, but they stank of Turkish tobacco. Her fathers carpenter was an immigrant from Belarus; the odor of burnt leaf and sweat was one she remembered. If that was true, theyd flown her east. Whatever drugs theyd given her had worn off, and she had been fed surprisingly well. They must have wanted her strong. She looked to the sky and saw that weather was blowing in; fresh snow would cover her tracks and the dense fog would give her camouflage. She scrambled across the ridgeline toward the wind; she would make herself disappear. The whiteout lasted nearly two hours. The hunter made his way back to the base camp to wait it out by the crackling fireplace with a leather-bound copy of Meditations, by the great Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius. Sergei offered him a brandy but he passed, opting instead for hot tea. There would be plenty of time for celebration later; he wanted nothing in his veins that would dull the pleasure of what was to come. He savored the flavor of a tea smuggled in from China. He had acquired a taste for it on one of his postings, intrigued by the ritual, history, and a classification system to rival French wines in complexity. Leaning back in the comfortable leather chair, he took in his surroundings. Above the fireplace hung an impressive Anatolian stag hed taken in Turkey, a testament to both luck and perseverance. Next to it, a Tin Shan Argali sheep stared at him with lifeless eyes, a hard-won ram taken in the extreme altitudes of Tajikistan. The stone hearth was framed by a thick pair of Botswanan elephant tusks, each of which weighed in just under the mythical hundred-pound mark; hed walked at least that many miles in pursuit of them. Though he looked upon these trophies fondly, he saw them as relics of a past life similar to the medallions hed won in sports as a child. He had since moved on to more challenging and satisfying pursuits. He pulled a Dunhill from the pocket of his wool shirt and lit it with the gold S. T. Dupont lighter that had been a gift from his father. He slid his thumb across the engraved double-headed imperial eagle emblem of the SVR, Russias Foreign Intelligence Service; some vestiges of the czar had survived even communism. What to do about his father? Not now. Later. He sipped his tea and visualized his stalk. He had several hours of daylight left, and it was imperative that he find her before dark. She would never survive the night in these conditions. Steam rose from his boots as the wet snow evaporated from the heat of the fire. The weather would soon turn. This snow would have wiped clean her trail, especially since she was clever enough to have used the wind to her advantage. He called to Sergei to ready the dogs. He was about to teach her a lesson in fear. She had run out of elevation and was quickly running out of island. Her path had led beyond the exposed rolling tundra and into a set of jagged cliffs above the icy sea. The cold was all-consuming now and was beginning to sap her will to run, to survive. She was soaked from head to toe in a mixture of snow and sweat and was numb from the waist down. The agony in her feet had subsided, indicating that frostbite had set in. She rubbed her frozen hands together under her fleece jacket in a vain attempt to warm them. The biting wind was killing her so she moved to the lee side of the island and began to pick her way slowly down onto the sheer cliffs. She lost her footing once and slid fifty feet before she was able to arrest her fall on a small boulder. Part of her wanted to keep falling, to end it and deprive her pursuers the satisfaction of taking her life, but that was not in her constitution. That was not how she was raised. As she hung desperately from the gray cliff, her eyes found it, a small space under a rocky outcropping that would conceal her from prying eyes and protect her from the deadly wind. She slid the toe of her boot until it found a hold, her hand searching for anything that would give her purchase. Her fingers slipped into a rocky crease, and she began working her way across the cliff face toward her destination. Inch by inch, step by precarious step, she made it. The spot was scarcely large enough to hold her but it was better than being exposed. She pulled her knees to her chest and pulled her arms inside her jacket, working her head down inside the fleece. She was suddenly aware of her thirst, her exhaustion, her fear. For the first time in ages, she allowed herself to weep, her tears and sobbing transitioning into an animalistic roar as she recognized her crying for what it was; she was mourning her own death. The cloud ceiling rose, and the snow slowed to a light dust in the breeze. The man drove the snowmobile to the spot where hed left her tracks and signaled to Sergei to unload the hounds from the back of the six-wheel drive KAMAZ troop transport. Sergei looked longingly at the traditional bow of his people before leaving it in place and obeying his employer. Though the Koryak blood in his veins had been diluted over centuries by Cossack intervention, forced migration, and war, he still felt the pull of his native lands to the north. The two bearlike Caucasian shepherds leapt down from the vehicles cargo hold and began to test the air for the scent of their prey. Sergei had let them fill their nostrils with the scent from the womans scarf; there were almost no foreign scents here to confuse them. Each animal weighed over 150 pounds and stood almost thirty inches at the shoulder. These particular animals, both of the mountain breed variety, had been born of a fierce military bloodline that went back to the early days of the Soviet Union. They had been chosen for their determination, ferocity, and their taste for human flesh. He nodded to Sergei, who gave the dogs a whispered command. Their pissing, sniffing, and meandering ceased, and they took off up the grade with both men following on snowshoes. The beasts picked up the womans scent quickly and charged up the snowy incline, nearly pulling the hulking figure of Sergei along behind them. The animals led them near the summit of the islands highest peak before turning downhill and out of the wind. He admired her desire to survive. This was his prescription for the ennui that had plagued him as long as he could remember. His hand moved subconsciously to the crossbow strapped across his back to confirm that it was still there; they were getting close. Protected from the wind, it occurred to her how quiet it was. Her tears had lasted only a few minutes; it had felt good to get them out. Keep your nerve, little one, she remembered her father saying, his accent thick with the echoes of Rhodesia. That, she would. It was time to fight. She grabbed handfuls of the spongy dark soil and rubbed her clothing until it was the color of her surroundings. Digging into the tundra, her hand found something hard and smooth. She scraped furiously, and she ran her fingers across its length to find the edge. Then, using a small rock as a spade, she unearthed what turned out to be a bone, likely a piece of seal rib brought to this perch by a scavenging bird. It was ten inches long, curved, and had a jagged sharp edge where it had split from the rest of its length. She turned it in her hand; now she was armed. The silence was broken by the sound of barking dogs. This time the shiver that went up her spine was not from the cold. It didnt matter if the dogs could reach her, they would sniff her hiding place out; she was trapped. She peered over the ledge in front of her boots and saw the waves hitting the rocks several hundred feet below. The barking was suddenly very close; she could see and hear small pebbles roll past her as her pursuers made their way down the steep incline. She took a deep breath, held it, and exhaled as she adjusted her grip on the makeshift dagger. For a minute the man thought that his prey had fallen to her death, but the dogs interest in the rocky face suggested otherwise. He slipped the sling over his head and readied his weapon. The long carbon fiber shaft of the arrow was resting perfectly in its rail, the thin braided cable holding the limbs kinetic energy at bay. He flipped up the caps on the scope and shouldered the modern rendition of the ancient tool to ensure that the lenses werent fogged from the cold. His quarry was at bay; now he just had to wait for her to flush. Sergei unclasped the brass hooks from the dogs thick collars, releasing them from the yoke of the leather lead. They lurched toward the cliff, then slowed their pace to tiny steps as they tested the ledge. Their deep-throated barks were nearly deafening. The lead animal looked to his master, wary of the terrain before him. Sergei gave a command and all doubt evaporated; the dogs began a controlled slide downward. An ordinary canine would have plummeted into the sea but these were sure-footed mountain animals, bred for this very task. She couldnt see them but the roar of their barks told her that they must be just outside her field of view, obscured by the wall of her stone prison. She pulled her left hand back into the sleeve of her jacket so that the material below the elbow hung empty. Terror; a snarling muzzle bearing wolflike teeth materialized before her. She flung her sleeve in its direction and the shepherd snatched it instinctively into his jaws. She pulled her hand from under her fleece and grabbed the beast by the collar as she plunged the seal bone into its neck. She screamed as she stabbed it over and over in unbridled rage, feeling the animals hot blood spray onto her hands and face. Switching her attention to the dogs lungs, she used all of her strength to pierce its armor of thick fur. Her first blow glanced off a rib but the second and third stabs found their way into the chest cavity. The dog jerked out of her grasp and stumbled in his retreat. His footing lost, he tumbled out of sight. Sergei shrieked as his finest hound plummeted into the Bering Sea, howling in agony. Ataka, he commanded to the younger male, his voice devoid of its usual strength, hesitant for the first time to send his dog to do its work. Whatever uncertainty the animal felt was put aside, obedience taking over. Growling, he charged into the fray. She scarcely had time to compose herself before the second dog came, all fur and fury. What this animal lacked in experience, he made up for in aggression. He ignored the matador sweep of the jacket sleeve and lunged for her throat. She pushed herself back as far as the mountain would let her, the dogs breath and musky coat heavy in the confined space. Saliva spurted across her face as the thunderous barking reverberated in her soul. She tucked her chin to her chest to protect her exposed neck and put her left arm across her face. Powerful jaws snapped onto her elbow, the canines teeth piercing her flesh down to the bone. She stabbed for the dogs flank and felt its hide give way as the seal bone found its home. This dog recognized the threat, shifting its attack to the arm that held the instrument of pain, tearing flesh and crushing through skin, bones, and tendons. The makeshift seal bone dagger dropped to the ground. Grasping a small rock with her free hand, she hit him again and again but he did not relent. Instead, he dragged her toward the opening, toward his waiting master. The dog outweighed her by thirty pounds, and her bloodied and beaten body was no match for her vicious antagonist. Her spirit, however, was anything but beaten. Keep your nerve. Knowing that she would be exposed in seconds, she whispered a quick prayer and grabbed the dogs collar with her right hand. The dogs actions were based on pure instinct, but she had the element of reason. Pulling him off balance, she bent at the knees and thrust forward with her feet toward the opening. Freedom. He had the scope to his eye now, ready to send his first arrow into her as soon as Sergeis hound pulled her clear. He would wound her first; no sense rushing to the climax. He disengaged the safety and put his gloved finger on the curved metal trigger of the Ravin. The scopes reticle danced, the inevitable result of blood, breathing, and adrenaline, but at this range, he would not miss. He would take her in the thigh, careful not to hit the femoral artery and give her a quick end. The animal had her. He could see its rear legs moving backward; the anticipation made him feel uniquely alive. He saw a glimpse of her filthy jacket before the dog changed position and stumbled. Then he gasped. The womans body flung headlong into the air, the animals jaws still locked on to her. The pair seemed to hang for a moment before crashing downward onto the jagged rocks four hundred feet below. The selfish bitch had robbed him of his kill. He dropped the crossbow in the snow and reached for a cigarette as he turned toward the lodge, commanding Sergei to retrieve the body as he stomped away. No matter. The woman was just bait. He was after bigger game; she would still serve her purpose. PART ONE THE TRAP One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted. Jos? Ortega y Gasset, Meditations on Hunting CHAPTER 1 Kumba Ranch, Flathead Valley, Montana Three months earlier JAMES REECE RODE IN the passenger seat of the 1997 Land Rover Defender 110 in silence, taking in the serene beauty of the landscape. The road cut through a thick stand of ponderosa pines that towered in every direction. His college friend and former Navy SEAL teammate Raife Hastings was driving the British SUV and wouldnt tell Reece the exact nature of their destination. Raifes family had owned the sprawling ranch since theyd emigrated from southern Africa in the 1980s, when he was in his early teens. What had begun as a small and humble cattle operation had grown into tens of thousands of acres of prime grazing land and pristine wilderness. The familys successes in the cattle and real estate businesses had allowed them to expand their operations and they now owned properties throughout the state. Despite their hard-won wealth, Raifes father had ensured that the family never forgot their humble beginnings or took the opportunities afforded by their adopted homeland for granted. As a former Navy SEAL, Reece had recently proven himself particularly skillful at adapting; hed outwitted a national security apparatus set on killing him and then unraveled a plot that put the president of United States in the crosshairs. A man named Vic Rodriguez led the paramilitary branch of the Central Intelligence Agency as the director of the Special Activities Division. Hed then recruited Reece for the mission that had saved the presidents life and spared Ukraine from a chemical weapons attack. Vic recognized Reeces aptitude for aggressive problem solving and wanted to bring the frogman further into the fold. As a result, Reece was technically now a temporary contract employee of the CIAs paramilitary Ground Branch, though currently his only job was to recover from his recent surgery someplace where he could take a breath and reset. Unbeknownst to his new masters at Langley, he had a more personal reason for joining their ranks; two men needed to die. Reece lifted his ball cap and ran his fingers over his closely cropped hair. He hadnt had a haircut this short since BUD/S. They had shaved his head at Walter Reed and, though it was beginning to grow back, he still hadnt accustomed himself to the feeling. He gingerly touched the scar on his scalp with his fingertips, still amazed at how small it was. The procedure to remove his benign brain tumor had been a complete success. He was relieved that he wouldnt be required to undergo radiation or chemotherapy and was happy to be alive after all that hed been through over the past two years; there had been too much death. The 4x4 crunched over gravel as Raife accelerated up a set of dirt switchbacks that led over a ridge. These things were always underpowered, Reece commented with a straight face. The Land Rover/Land Cruiser debate was a near-constant source of entertainment for the two friends, neither of whom ever passed up an opportunity to criticize the others favorite vehicle. I should let you walk, was Raifes response. Raife stopped the old Defender as it leveled off at the top of the trail. The vista of the endless green trees leading to the massive alpine lake below was breathtaking, even for someone whod spent decades living on this land. Its beautiful. I thought you might like it. The view? No, your new home. What are you talking about? See that cabin down there by the lake? Yeah. Lucky for you, my dad and father-in-law are James Reece supporters. They had it fixed up for you. They thought you might want a quiet spot away from everything to recover. Its yours. Are you serious? Raife nodded, pleased. Its not every day one gets to surprise their best friend with a new house. I dont know what to say. Thanks would do it. Well thanks. You always wanted to live in Robins guest house. Raife smiled, referring to his fathers middle name and knowing his friend would get it. Im sure hell put you to work sooner or later and make you earn your keep so, if I were you, Id play sick for as long as possible. Good tip. Reach under the seat. Reece reached down and pulled out a SIG P320 X-Compact in a Black Point Tactical mini-wing holster. Mato thought that might come in handy, Raife said, referring to their former command master chief who now ran the training academy for SIG Sauer. Does everyone know Im back? Reece asked. You know this community, brother, Raife said with a smile. Were worse than old ladies in a sewing circle. Raife put the vehicle into low gear and let the engine rev as it slowly descended the grade that led toward the cabin. A circular crushed-stone driveway curved toward the home from the dirt road that ran past it. The wooden framed house had begun as a small pioneer cabin and that fa?ade had been preserved and incorporated into the newer, larger structure. The building suited its surroundings and was large without being ostentatious. Raife stopped in front of the homes broad front porch and the two former commandos stepped out of the vehicle. They wore jeans and faded T-shirts with holstered handguns that rode inside their waistbands. Reece wore his usual Salomon trail running shoes while Raifes Courtney boots were of a more traditional design, made from Cape buffalo hide and imported from his native Zimbabwe. In many ways, their choice of footwear typified their personalities. Though hed moved around a lot, Reece was a native Californian, always looking for the latest and greatest piece of gear that might give him an edge in terms of performance. Raife was the opposite, a traditionalist who preferred the feel and soul of an earlier time. If Reece was Kydex, nylon, and Kevlar, Raife was leather, brass, and walnut. The mens athletic physiques were obvious to the most casual observer, with broad, thick chests and powerful arms built by decades of intense physical training. Though their wardrobes were nearly identical and their builds similar, no one would mistake them for brothers. Reeces hair was dark with flecks of gray in his stubble. Raife was two inches taller than his friends six feet and his build was leaner, with broader shoulders and a narrower waist. His longish hair was a sun-streaked blond that hung from the back of his cap and nearly touched his collar. His eyes were an almost iridescent green that stood in contrast to his tanned face. A discolored scar swept the length of his cheek. Raife stopped short of stepping up onto the planked wooden porch and made a sweeping gesture for Reece to take the lead. The door was made of local Douglas fir and bore the scars of more than a centurys exposure to the elements. Reece pressed the refurbished iron latch and the solid door swung open easily on new hinges. The two-story open space was bathed in natural light thanks to the large windows on the wall opposite the front door. The floor was Montana slate, a mosaic of grays and browns that contrasted with the blond planks that paneled the walls. A stone fireplace rose toward the open fir rafters. Reeces throat went tight when he saw what hung above the hearth. Is that my dads bull? Indeed, it is. He passed away before we could ship him the mount. We thought this would be a good spot for his elk. The families had become close when Reece and Raifes friendship blossomed at the University of Montana. Reeces father, Tom, had visited the ranch in the fall of 2000 when both Reece and Raife had already graduated from BUD/S and been assigned to SEAL Teams on opposite coasts. Tom Reece, himself a frogman veteran of Vietnam, had elk-hunted during the visit and had taken the six-by-six bull that hung in his sons new home. It had been the last time theyd hunted together. The 9/11 attacks struck the following year and Reece had spent the next decade and a half chasing Al Qaeda, ISIS, and their ilk to the far corners of the globe. Tom Reece had passed away suddenly and tragically while Reece was deployed to Iraq in 2003, killed in an apparent mugging in Buenos Aires, Argentina, while working for the CIA. A comfortable-looking nail-head leather sofa faced the fireplace and a tawny hair-on cow rug covered the stone floor, framing a sitting area. Reece noticed it bore the raised keloid scar of the Hastings family brand. Raife hung back a step as his friend toured his new home, humbled by the generosity shown to him by the Hastings family. There was a large kitchen with what looked to be the original cast iron stove, surrounded by modern appliances, a comfortable bedroom with a rustic pine-framed king-sized bed, a guest bedroom, bathrooms, and a loft area that was set up as an office. Nearly every room in the home had a view of the lake. I have one other thing to show you. Raife broke the silence and motioned toward the door that led outside from the kitchen. He descended the steps and strode toward a small barnlike structure. He pulled open the two large doors and stood aside wearing a rare grin. Inside the detached garage sat a perfectly restored 1988 FJ62 Toyota Land Cruiser, its bluish gunmetal gloss clear-coat paint gleaming under the rooms overhead LED lights. The vintage paint scheme contrasted tastefully with the flat black aluminum wheels, off-road bumpers, and roof rack. Reeces eyes widened at the sight of the custom off-road vehicle. Hed been forced to abandon his beloved Land Cruiser more than a year earlier as part of a one-man mission of vengeance that had left a trail of bodies that stretched from coast to coast. Since then, hed driven Land Cruisers while working anti-poaching patrols for Raifes uncle in Mozambique, but he hadnt had a vehicle to call his own. It comes with the house. You know Id never drive it so you may as well. Now I really dont know what to say. All of a sudden youre the quiet one? Raife joked, referring to Utilivu, a Shona nickname given to him by the trackers in Africa. Dont just stand there like a bloody idiot, hop in. Reece walked forward, as if he were approaching an extraterrestrial object. The door handle unlatched with a tactile and positive click; whoever had done the restoration work had done it exceptionally well. The dark interior combined utilitarian finishes and materials with style and comfort. The keys were in the ignition. The 376-cubic-inch, 430-horsepower General Motors LS3 V-8 roared to life instantly, its throaty growl tamed by an effective ceramic-coated exhaust system that allowed the vehicle to maintain a reasonable amount of stealth given its power. Not bad for a Japanese import, eh? Political correctness was not one of Raifes strengths. I love it. This ones from Thorn, Raife confessed, using the nickname for his father-in-law. Hes taken pity on you in your weakened state. Where did he find it? Dont you recognize her? Reece looked in the seats behind him and then back to his friend. Its yours. Ol Clint couldnt bring himself to destroy her when you left California. He held on to it just in case. When he found out you were alive, he reached out to Thorn through the Special Operations Association. Their Vietnam network is strong. Thorn had it shipped out here, but not before having it fixed up for you. This is a bit more than fixed up. This is a work of art! Glad you like it. ICON 4X4 did the restoration so it should actually make it to town unlike your stock original. I almost forgot, look behind the seat. Reece switched off the motor and looked over his shoulder. Hanging in a purpose-built Greyman tactical rack behind the seat was a Daniel Defense MK12 with a SilencerCo Omega suppressor and a Nightforce 1-8x24mm ATACR optic mounted on the receivers top rail. Trouble seems to find you. I figured it would be wise to have more than that nine-mil pea shooter in your holster. You were not wrong, my friend, Reece said with genuine sincerity. Make yourself at home and relax. The family is flying in tomorrow and Dad is throwing a big dinner party in your honor. It will be great to see everyone. Almost everyone. You remember my younger sister Hanna. Shes currently in Romania saving the world, but I think shes planning to come home for Christmas. It will be great to see her. And it gives me a few months to get into shape. As I remember, she was always doing those ultra-marathons. She won the Grand Traverse a couple years ago, so you have a lot of work to do. Thats no joke. Ive always wanted to do that. Crested Butte to Aspen, right? Thats right. Forty miles of ski-mountaineering over the Elk Mountain range. You have to have a partner for that one. Whod she race with? Me, Raife smiled. And, if they didnt remove your liver along with your brain tumor you might want to bring it, along with a spare. You know how my family is. If I find an extra, Ill be sure to bring it. Ill be at the shop if you need anything. Hey Raife, Reece called out as his friend walked toward his Land Rover. Yeah? You might want to check the oil in that Defender. Its been sitting there for a few minutes so it probably all leaked out. Raife turned and smiled to himself as he saluted his friend with his middle finger. CHAPTER 2 Bangui, Central African Republic ROMAN DOBRYNIN WAS NOT a man accustomed to waiting. Usually, just the opposite. People waited on him: subordinates, security personnel, even foreign dignitaries. He was the Russian presidents man in Africa, or at least in the Central African Republic. In his mid-fifties, he was a seasoned diplomat, having earned his stripes in the chaos that was Chechnya. He had proven himself to be an aggressive negotiator unafraid to threaten and then employ the darker arts of manipulation to achieve his, and Mother Russias, strategic goals. Technically a senior policy advisor in Russias Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he was their de facto senior man in the CAR. His official title was National Security Advisor to the President of the Central African Republic. Russia was a power on the rise in Africa, and Dobrynin had counterparts in the Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, Eritrea, and Mozambique. With France all but abandoning its former colony, Russia and China were quick to fill the void; arms deals, security training assistance, regional negotiations, lumber, diamonds, oil, gold, cobalt, and most important for Russia, uranium. Russia had vaguely disguised its intentions on the international stage, citing its involvement in the region beginning in 1964. Strategically located in the heart of the Dark Continent, the Central African Republic was the ideal hub from which Russia could move troops into neighboring countries while exploiting and exporting their natural resources. Dobrynin was there to ensure it was Russia, not China, that would control both the natural resources of this landlocked nation and, more important, their votes at the United Nations. Though rich in raw materials, CAR was one of the ten poorest countries in the world. Its record of human rights violations including extrajudicial executions, torture, female genital mutilation, slavery, human trafficking, the sex trade, child labor, rape, and genocide made the country the perfect home for an outside power seeking to take advantage. It was a disenfranchised country ripe for exploitation. The call had come from the chief staff officer of the general director himself, which meant it was one of the few calls Dobrynin had to take. It was made clear that his guest was to be granted every professional courtesy and that he was coming in at the behest of the president. In Russia the lines between official, unofficial, and private blurred to the point of virtual invisibility. This visit had all the trappings of the latter. Dobrynin knew that as deputy director of Directorate S in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Aleksandr Zharkov could be coming to CAR for a variety of reasons. He also knew the Zharkov name and, much more than the call hed received from his own high command, that was reason alone to accommodate the intelligence officer. Dobrynin wanted to keep his head attached to his body. One did not offend a Pakhan in the Russian Bratva and expect to stay aboveground for long. Dobrynin watched the monstrous Antonov AN-225 circle the airfield and begin its final approach. He remained in his vehicle until the aircraft had touched down and taxied to the Russian-controlled side of the airport before disembarking the armored and air-conditioned Toyota Hilux. Straightening the tie on his Armani suit, he walked forward to meet his guest. Deputy Director Zharkov waited patiently as the aircraft hinged just behind the cockpit, pulling the entire nose of the massive plane skyward. It stopped when it reached ninety degrees, leaving the fuselage open to the elements. Most planes have cargo ramps in the aft but the AN-225 has just the opposite. The nose gear slowly lowered the open beast to the ground, a unique design feature that allowed the largest aircraft in the world to load a staggering amount of cargo. A blast of heat off the tarmac nearly took his breath away, a clear indicator that he was no longer in Moscow; its intensity carried the distinctive smell of conflict. His mind raced with possibilities. Scanning the tarmac, he saw a four-vehicle convoy of trucks surrounded by a perimeter of armed security. Spetsnaz. They had once been feared the world over as the premier special operations force of the former Soviet Union, based on what was touted as the toughest training ever devised by a modern military and because of their actions, the West would say atrocities, in Afghanistan in the 1980s. They had now been relegated to protection duties for those who wanted to be surrounded by the myth that was spetsnaz. A man in a crisp black suit walked toward him flanked by two men from his security detail carrying AKM rifles. Director Zharkov, I am Roman Dobrynin, the deputy director completed the sentence for him. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Thank you for taking the time to meet me. I am sure you have pressing matters that require your attention. I have heard glowing reports of your progress here as national security advisor, advancing Russias interest in the region. It is an honor to be of assistance, Dobrynin countered, his eyes moving up to the large airframe and then back to his visitor. Are you alone, Director Zharkov? Da, Zharkov confirmed with a wave of his hand, as if there were nothing odd about him being the single passenger on the heaviest airplane ever built. With a quarter-million kilograms of payload capacity, the plane had completed its fourteen-hour flight from Moscow to the middle of the African continent and successfully inserted the senior intelligence official into the heart of darkness. No security detail? Dobrynin asked, looking back to the plane. I prefer to travel light and without the trappings of my position that could draw undue attention. Zharkov was dressed comfortably in brown pants and a beige safari shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a canvas pack slung over his shoulder. Besides, with your clout and control in the area I knew you would have security arrangements taken care of. Of course, Director. Shall we? Dobrynin motioned toward the waiting vehicles, struggling to decipher if the directors words were a compliment, a warning, or simply condescending. Zharkov nodded. I understand you were briefed on my requests? Da, we will take you to the hotel now and tomorrow we will go to the mines. Zharkov took in the sights of the bustling city, politely listening to Dobrynin drone on about his most recent diplomatic victories. A five-thousand-man force of Russian military and contracted advisors were in the country training the CAR special operations forces on the finer points of counterinsurgency. Zharkov correctly assumed that meant a systematic campaign of terror aimed at keeping the dissidents in check and ensuring the current president remained in power and friendly to Russian interests in the country. At each stoplight, the cars were swarmed by children, arms outstretched, their faces hopeful for a coin or a piece of candy. Traffic was at its usual stop-and-go, broken-down vehicles impeding their progress as scooters buzzed past like the swarms of insects that infested the nearby jungle. It was a country on its last breaths. Just outside the hotel, a small convoy of taxis lingered, each flying a small Russian flag on the front bumper, waiting eagerly for the opportunity to ferry guests to and from the airport. At the approach of the convoy, the Hotel Ledgers guarded gates opened, and the depravity of the streets was left in the dust. The driveway curved up to the entrance, and the outside world was forgotten. Old-world opulence, no doubt a vestige of the French colonial days, permeated every aspect of Banguis finest hotel; abundant marble and ornate tapestry were accented by rich African wood polished to perfection, its gold inlay reflecting the late afternoon light. My men will show you to your room. I trust you will find your accommodations acceptable. Will dinner in two hours be convenient? That will be fine, thank you, Zharkov nodded politely and proceeded to the elevator to the penthouse suite, two spetsnaz and one bellhop in tow. As they arrived at the double suite doors, his new security halted him on the outside. Just a moment, sir. Open it, one commanded the bellhop. They entered the six-thousand-square-foot suite guns raised, then performed a sweep of every corner before pronouncing it safe to enter. Zharkov walked in and was not surprised to see two young girls who couldnt have been more than fifteen in thin white linen dresses standing obediently by the king-size bed. This was Africa. He eyeballed their lean, underfed bodies, dark skin a sensual contrast to their scant dresses. A bottle of vintage 1987 Dom P?rignon and fresh strawberries covered with chocolate were set at the table. He set his pack down and poured a glass of the cold sparkling wine, savoring the taste, and glanced at the agenda sitting on the table. He looked back to the girls and was tempted, watching them shift nervously, fear radiating from their not-yet-vacant eyes. They still held a glimmer of hope. He shook his head toward the door, Ukhady, he said. Von, the Russian said again, more firmly when they remained motionless. Not knowing a word of Russian, the girls stood there unsure of what to do. Zharkov pointed to the door. Out! he said, this time in English, pointing at the door. Understanding the international language of tone and gesture, the two girls made their way slowly past him, still unsure of what they should do and beginning to worry they had somehow upset the man they had been told to obey and pleasure. Opening the door for them, he told his new security detail he did not want to be interrupted until dinner. Hed been through enough prostitutes in this part of the world in his younger days and he needed to stay healthy; his mind was on his mission. CHAPTER 3 Akyan Hotel, Saint Petersburg, Russia TO IVAN ZHARKOV, INFORMATION was everything. It had been information, and his willingness to exploit it at all costs, that had led to his position of power in the Bratva, the Brotherhood, known to the rest of the world as the Russian mafia. His consolidation of St. Petersburgs Tambov Gang was the result of well-timed intelligence, brought to him by his eldest son, Aleksandr. Some even thought that, through Aleksandr, Ivan may have organized the arrests in Spain that took out the powerful gangs former leadership, though no one dared whisper such a thing. Ivan was the Vor v Zakone. No one, not even the government in Moscow, would cross him. It was Ivans lust for information that persuaded him to send an emissary to Argentina, where a CIA officer was offering him valuable intelligence. That job fell to Dimitry Mashkov, a trusted bratok who had interrogated enough Chechens during his days as a paratrooper in the 104th Guards Airborne Regiment to know when a man was lying. If he could break a fanatical Muslim, stay alive in Kresty Prison, and take out members of the rival Solntsevskaya Gang, he was confident he could discern if some American desk officer was the genuine article. Dimitry spent three days interrogating the American in a Cordoba farmhouse and was convinced he was being truthful. Such an asset would be invaluable to Zharkovs operations. The trick was getting him from Argentina to Russia, which meant airports and customs officials. Via his son, Aleksandr, the elder Zharkov had the appropriate influence to provide the man with a clean passport, but he would still have to traverse a series of international airports. These days, ever-present surveillance cameras using facial recognition technology made clandestine travel problematic. Luckily, Zharkovs friends in the South American drug trade were the best in the world when it came to moving contraband; they ultimately provided the solution. The former spy was moved overland from his Argentine hideout to Caracas, where the failing government was ripe with corruption. For a staggeringly low sum, he was shepherded through the airports already lax security and loaded onto a Havana flight without incident. From Jos? Mart? in Cuba, it was a direct flight to Moscow on an Aeroflot SU-151, an unremarkable event for a man carrying a legitimate passport of the Russian Federation. Aleksandr was able to smooth things over at Sheremetyevo, one of Moscows four international airports, and the man had been delivered to Ivan just a few hours and a quick domestic flight later. The CIA man was now parked in a hotel suite, waiting impatiently for what was, effectively, a job interview. Oliver Grey looked at his watch, the iconic dive instrument that had influenced a thousand knockoffs. The stainless steel case and bracelet were worn and scored by a hard lifetimes worth of use, though they had accrued before Grey took possession. The acrylic crystal was burnished by time and the bezel and face were faded from months in the sun, a standing testament to the original owners vocation. Behind the battered exterior, though, the hands of the precision Swiss instrument swept on unscathed. He knew that the watch was a Rolex Submariner, and that its former owner was the late Thomas Reece. What he did not know was that Tom Reece purchased it on R

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