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Authors: Paul Garrison

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For AMBER EDWARDS

and

LUCKY

Our “Present Friend”

PROLOGUE

Exfiltration

Last Year30°8' N, 9°30' ETunisian Border near Ghadamis395 Miles South of Tripoli

Checkpoint,” said Janson.

Two Toyota pickups, angled nose to nose a mile ahead. The narrow oiled road, a service track for a string of high-tension power lines, was banked six or eight feet above the rolling desert. A tracked combat vehicle and a trained driver might get around it. A stolen taxi with an amateur at the wheel didn't have a hope.

“Government or rebel?” asked Kincaid. She sat in back with a dented Leica slung from her neck.

Janson, sitting in front to calm the driver, scoped the pickups with an eight-power monocular lens. Civilians caught between loyalists and rebels clogged the roads to the border, so he had directed the taxi farther south through hot, windblown land edged by rock ridges and speckled with the pyramidal silhouettes of camels grazing on thin groundcover.

He steadied the instrument with two hands. “Black mercenaries… bullpup assault rifles… truck on the left is towing a Type 63 rocket launcher.”

Kincaid hid their rebel pass under the driver's seat and handed Janson government-issued business visas sponsored by a Tripoli importer of irrigation pumps for the Great Man-Made River Proj­ect Authority. Young and fit, she wore a scarf over her short brown hair, loose cargo pants, and a baggy, sweat-stained long-sleeved shirt. Her papers said she worked for the publicity department of the Infrastructure and Minerals unit of KBR. She sat still as ice.

Janson's visa named him a hydraulic engineering manager with the same unit. He was older than Kincaid, a nondescript man with iron-gray, close-cropped hair. Faint lines of scar tissue on his hands and face and a hint of bulk under his loose shirt suggested a career ladder that had started at the bottom as an oil-patch roughneck slogging through night school. He was as calm as the woman in the backseat, almost serene.

“We'll get through this fine,” he told the driver. “Just take it easy.”

It was clear to the driver that neither American understood the danger. African mercenaries were trigger-happy in the best of times. They'd be better off facing rebels who were anxious to look good on CNN. The government's foreign soldiers did not care what the world thought; their backs were to the wall, and for them it was win or die.

Worse, the officer commanding the checkpoint wore the insignia of the 32nd Brigade, the infamous Deterrent Battalion. He was not about to “join the people's struggle.” Not only did he enjoy elite status, he knew that rich rewards awaited the officer who captured the dictator's turncoat son. If the traitor was lucky enough to be caught by the rebels instead of the loyalists, they might preserve him as a hostage. The loyalists would kill him, and whoever delivered the traitor's head to his father would receive a medal and a villa in the best neighborhood.

The soldiers raised their rifles.

“Slow down,” said Janson. “Keep both hands on the wheel.” He laid his own hands in full view on the dashboard, papers under his left. Kincaid gripped the back of the driver's seat with hers.

The driver, a bare-headed man in his thirties dressed in fake designer jeans and a shabby white shirt—the costume of North Africa's disaffected hordes of overeducated underemployed—felt an overwhelming impulse to stomp on the accelerator and run down the soldiers. If he stopped, the best they could hope for was the mercenaries would rough them up and tear the car apart. God help the woman if the officer let them at her. Would it not be better to take a chance and put their fate in the hands of Allah?

“Slow down,” Janson repeated. “Do not provoke them.”

Everything he and Kincaid had encountered trying to cross the border—fear-crazed civilians, jumpy mercenaries, roving rebel units—indicated that the revolution had tumbled into chaos. No surprise after forty years of rule by a psychotic. But the fact that the loyalists were utterly distracted by a mad hunt to catch one foolish traitor took the cake.

The psychotic dictator, the self-named “Lion of the Desert,” had spawned eight sons. Four of them—the playboy, the Army commander, the family's oil-company director, and the transport minster—were national figures seen regularly on state TV and feted abroad in Rome and Paris. Another, who had become an obscure imam in a remote province, had disappeared behind a priestly beard; and the gay one who had fled to Milan hadn't been seen in years. The same was true of the youngest son, Yousef—“The Cub”—who had studied computer science in the United States.

The Cub's face was not familiar, his photograph never published. The best intelligence confirmed that he had won trust from his father that his brothers never had because he had modernized internal security to control cell-phone communication and Internet access. Twitter and Facebook were indulged at the Lion's pleasure. He could shut them down with a word.

Hope that Yousef would steer the old despot in enlightened directions had been shattered in the first bloody days of the revolt when the Lion vowed to fight to the death. The Army was fragmenting, his cabinet resigning, and murderous civil war was certain. The political standoff and the threat of NATO bombing had even some loyalists whispering for the old man's ouster.

Yousef had panicked, fearing prosecution for war crimes. Then Italy offered an out. Trying to stop the slaughter, and positioning herself as a savior of the oil-state's business elite, Italy promised asylum. Like everything else in the conflict, it had come too late. Before Yousef could surrender, the fighting turned chaotic. He was on the run, last seen in the oasis town of Ghadamis.

“Slow down!”Janson repeated, hard as a round racked into a chamber. The driver took his foot off the gas, convinced that if he tried to run the checkpoint, Janson would kill him before the soldiers could fire their rifles.

*  *  *

THE SOLDIERS GESTUREDthem out of the car. The Deterrent Battalion officer glanced at their papers. “Open the trunk.”

“No key,” said the driver.

“Shoot the lock.” The mercenaries aimed casually in the general direction of the lock, fired a dozen rounds, then aimed carefully as one stood to the side and tipped the lid up with the barrel of his rifle.

The trunk held a bullet-riddled spare tire and a bright green Libya national soccer bag. The officer opened it. His eyes widened. He plunged his hand inside and withdrew a banded stack of hundred-euro bills. “Is this yours?”

Janson said, “No. I had no idea it was in there. Perhaps you could take charge of it.”

The officer gestured, and a soldier sprayed the taxi's hood with a crescent of green paint. “Go. If you run into any more checkpoints, that will get you through. Sorry for the inconvenience. Tell the world you were treated decently.”

The officer cuffed the driver on the back of his head and kicked his leg, herding him back to the car. The driver stiffened at the insult. Janson shoved him behind the wheel. Kincaid called to the officer, “May I take your photograph, please?”

An engaging smile warmed her face. The officer squared his shoulders for her camera, wondering how he had missed at first glance that she was an unusually attractive woman.

Janson walked unhurriedly around the front of the taxi, climbed in, and said, “Drive. Before they change their mind.”

The driver stomped the accelerator and the old taxi rolled away.

*  *  *

THE GREEN SPRAY-PAINTpass and a hundred-euro bribe got them across the border.

Tunisian authorities, overwhelmed with refugees desperate for food, water, and shelter, waved them on to the airport. A twin-engine Embraer Legacy 650 landed. The long-haul executive jet was owned by Catspaw Associates—Janson's corporate-security consultant outfit of independent contractors linked 24/7 by Internet and secure phone into an ethereal amalgam of freelance researchers, IT specialists, and field agents.

Janson and Kincaid helped their pilots unload tents, blankets, and bottled water. Fifteen minutes after the plane touched down, its big Rolls-Royce engines hurled it back into the sky carrying Paul Janson, Jessica Kincaid, and the dictator's son Yousef dressed like an overeducated, underemployed North African taxi driver.

PART ONE

“Who Governs Here?”

ONE

Now, One Year Later5° S, 52°50' EIndian Ocean, 700 Miles off the East African CoastEn Route: Mahé, Seychelles Islands, to Mombasa, Kenya

The superyachtTarantulawas making eighteen knots between the Seychelles Islands and Mombasa. Built on a Kortenaer-class frigate's hull, she had a warship's profile—a high bow, a clean sweep to a low stern—and a strikingly graceful superstructure by Parisian designer Jacques Thomas, famous for resurrecting the fluid curves of the Art Nouveau in bent glass and carbon-fiber-reinforced epoxy. She was pointing west, burnished bright and shining by the sunset. Seen from a low-slung skiff racing flat out on a course to intercept,Tarantulaappeared to skim the surface of the Indian Ocean like a fiery dragonfly.

A crew of twenty men and women attended the fully automated ship, her middle-aged owner, Allen Adler, and Adler's guests. She carried two helicopters—each painted gold with Adler's initials emblazoned red on its tail boom—a ten-place Sikorsky S-76D on a pad amidships and a light-turbine five-place Bell Ranger on the foredeck. Two twenty-passenger high-speed tenders were cradled at the stern in a well deck, which was a bay that could be flooded in order to launch the boats. Also sharing the well deck was a fifty-three-foot blue-water sloop, an ocean-passage Nautor Swan that would make a millionaire proud.

Night was falling quickly, as it did so near the equator. Five of Adler's guests—a former fashion model, a retired United Nations diplomat and his wife, and a New York real estate agent and her husband—gathered for cocktails to watch the sun set from a forward lounge under the steering bridge.

The sixth, Allegra Helms, a thirty-year-old Italian countess with pale blue eyes and long blond hair, joined their host on the bridge itself—a spacious, glass-enclosed aerie with views in four directions of the darkening sea. Adler was trying to impress her by driving the yacht. To demolish his expectations of a hookup, she had packed an outfit that her mother would have bought from Valentino's resort collection—monastically simple high-waisted white linen yachting slacks with a boat-neck blouse—and an Hermès scarf, screen-printed with her family device in a pattern so minute that only a cousin or an ancient enemy would recognize it.

A round German stewardess in a short, tight skirt brought a tray of marinated shrimp and sea scallops. She returned with a Champagne bucket, opened a bottle of Cristal with quiet efficiency, and poured two glasses.

“That's all,” Adler said patting her behind. “Outta here. You too, Captain Billy,” he told the officer watching the instrument cluster that surrounded the auto-helm.

Allegra Helms was kicking herself for accepting a last-minute invitation from a man she had known only through a mutual acquaintance. Now she was trapped in the middle of the ocean on a boat full of boring strangers. She could dodge the other guests, but there was no escaping their host, who just would not shut up about his money and his fucking yacht.

“Biggest in the world—460 feet, 3,550 tons—and I had her teched-up so I can drive her with a smart-phone app.” Adler swigged Champagne, indicating with a nod that Allegra should help herself, and resumed his monologue with a joke she had heard twice at dinner the night they sailed. “I don't know what I'm paying the captain for.”

An alarm sounded a staccato chirp. Allegra saw the captain's eyes shoot to the radar monitor, and she noticed an orange dot flare briefly. Adler brushed past him and flipped a switch to mute the noise that was interrupting his delivery.

“I can run this baby from the middle of Kansas. Captain Billy, what am I paying you for?”

Allegra glanced at the captain, a sun-polished symphony of curly chestnut hair and Viking cheekbones—speaking of hookups, if she were considering one, which she was not. Not with her husband meeting her in Mombasa. And never, ever, when trapped on a boat.

“Youcouldrun her from the middle of Kansas,” Billy Titus answered with an affable smile as he fiddled the radar's controls. “You pay me so you don't have to.”

Allegra laughed.

Adler glared. “Fact is I pay him a bonus to save on fuel, and I fine him when he wastes it. Isn't that right, Captain Billy?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Go grab a bite. The countess and I will run the ship.”

“Keep an eye on the radar.”

“Get out of here.”

“I mean it, sir. If you see pirates before they get too close, we can cut in the turbines and get the heck away.”

“I guarantee you that no pirates will bother me. Go get something to eat and leave us alone. I'll call you back when I need you.”

“The hunting season just started, Mr. Adler. The monsoon's over, and the water is calm enough for small boats.”

“Go, goddammit!Now!”

Captain Titus took his time checking the radar once again, before he turned on his heel and left the bridge.

Alone with Allegra, Adler said, “My captain is a regular comedian.”

“Che buona figura.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means… He has a great image—handsome—and you could also count on him to do the right thing.”

“I don't get it.”

“It would be hard for you to understand. It means he's a gentleman.”

Adler heard the challenge and threw it back at her. “You saw me grab that girl's ass. You think there's something wrong with that?”

She turned her back on him and studied the radar screen, which showed an empty sea in every direction. Adler was more alert than she had thought, and she wondered idly whether he used his crudeness to confuse business rivals into underestimating him.

Adler said, “She'd be disappointed if I didn't grab her ass. She'd think I was mad at her.”

When Allegra still remained silent, Adler demanded, “What do you think?”

She was thinking about her husband, who was currently rooting around East Africa like a truffle pig on his incessant hunt for oil and gas concessions. It would be nice to have him around if Adler became any more of a pain.

“I think you remind me of my father.”

Adler's face hardened. “I'm not old enough to be your father. I'm forty-eight.”

He was fifty-eight, she knew for a fact—though remarkably fit and still handsome, with looks that would age well. She said, “My father gropes the servants too.”

“Oh yeah? What does your mother think of that?”

“We've never discussed it.”

Adler blinked. Then he switched tactics, though not his manner. “How much money does your husband make running American Synergy?”

“He doesn't run all of ASC. He's president of the Petroleum Division.”

“The Petroleum Division is their number-one profit center. What do they pay him to run it?”

“I haven't the vaguest idea.”

That stopped him again, though only a moment. “You don't care?”

“I'd rather feel young than rich.”

Adler winced, as she hoped he would. But it didn't shut him up. “How long do you think that will last?” he shot back.

“How can you guarantee that pirates won't attack us?”

“I cut a deal with Bashir Mohamed. Bashir's ‘king' of Somalia's pirates. He gave me a pass for protection. No one will attack my yacht.”

“How can he guarantee other pirates won't attack?”

“They're afraid of him. He's organized them. Anyone gets independent, he turns them over to the UN's African Union Army, or the Combined Maritime Force. They include the Chinese and Russians, who play a lot rougher than the US and EU. Or he pays somebody to kill them. Piracy is the same as any business: you make money by controlling the market, and you control the market by clearing out independents.”

“What did you offer Bashir Mohamed in return?”

“You wouldn't believe me if I told you.”

At last, she thought, Adler was becoming interesting. Allegra smiled a smile that warmed her pale eyes. She ran her fingers through her hair. “You must tell me,” she said. A beguiling hint of an Italian accent lent music to her fluent English. “You've made an interesting story.”

“Do you know anything about New York?”

“I was sent to school there, as a girl.”

“Where?”

“Nightingale-Bamford.”

“OK. That explains a few things.”

“Like what?”

“You act less like a countess than a New York rich kid.”

“So what did you offer Bashir Mohamed?”

“I sit on the boards of private schools like Nightingale. Not theirs, but others. In exchange forTarantula's safe passage, Bashir Mohamed's firstborn son has a spot guaranteed in preschool. I swear that's the truth. That's all it took. He's dreaming preschool to prep school to Harvard.”

Allegra Helms laughed. “Well done, Mr. Adler.”

“I keep telling you, call me Allen.”

“Whatever you say, Allen.”

“Now you tell me something. Why'd you accept my invite to come on this cruise?”

“As I told you. I just finished a job in the Seychelles. I was ready to leave.”

“Appraising antiques?”

Tiring of his attitude, Allegra Helms answered with a dismissive gesture that reduced his lavish yacht to a commodity. “Men who've made money recently need to be assured that a copy of a Holbein portrait was painted by the master's protégé instead of a master forger.”

“Maybe I should hire you to vet my paintings.”

Allegra shrugged. In the tight-knit world of high art, it was known that Adler was advised by yes-women who spent baskets of his money on nothing particularly interesting. Surprise, surprise. “When you invited me, I thought my husband might join me in Mombasa for a little get-together. We've both been traveling, for a while.”

Adler laughed.

“What's funny?”

“I have never seen a ‘trial separation' that didn't work.”

Stung, and annoyed with herself that she had revealed too much to Adler, Allegra Helms said, “It wasn't exactly a separation—No, that's not true. Itisa trial separation, and it is working very well. I am very much looking forward to reuniting with my husband in Mombasa.” She could hardly believe her ears, but there, she had said it. Out loud and in front of a witness.

“You look surprised,” Adler said.

“I am,” she said with a smile and a shiver of happiness she had not felt in a long time. “But I shouldn't be surprised, should I? He is still the man I wanted ten years ago. He is handsome. He is decisive. And I like that he is self-made. It gives him a sureness that is deep because he earned it.”

“Amacher,like me,” Adler cracked. “I earned mine, too.”

It struck Allegra that in one way Adlerwaslike Kingsman—a man convinced that he deserved whatever he wantedbecausehe wanted it. That was a reminder not to go overboard hoping for more for their marriage than could happen on a short visit in Mombasa. But wasn't it still worth a try? And still worth hoping?

Adler said, “Why don't I pinch-hit for him till we get to Mombasa?”

“Why don't you try Monique,” she replied, pulling away. The striking Monique—a favorite Galliano model before Galliano wrecked his career—was an anxious brunette in her forties, nearly hysterical on the subject of her age, and in the market for a wealthy boyfriend if not a husband, Allegra had learned in the briefest of conversations the first night.

“I prefer countesses to fashion models,” Adler said, moving closer. “I checked out your family, you're the real deal.”

“Quite clearly,” said Allegra Helms, “you invited Monique along in case it didn't work out with me. It didn't and it never will. I am married. I'm going down below now. I'll send Monique up here.”

“You are a piece of work.” Adler's laughter was cut off by the astonishingly loud noise of a sustained burst of gunfire. The firing went on and on, the sound of the shots blurring like a jackhammer tearing up a street.

*  *  *

GREED MAKES MEN BRAVE,thought Maxammed, the pirates' captain.

Triple pay for the first to board the yacht: an immediate three million Somali shillings—one hundred American dollars—plus the promise of a Toyota 4Runner after the ransom was paid, sparked a vicious struggle between two clan brothers vying to climb the ladder they had propped against the low stern of the moving ship.

“Keep going!” Maxammed shouted. He was a tall, wiry Somali of thirty-five, with a high and broad forehead, strong white teeth, and light brown skin, and he leaped with practiced grace on the foredeck of a fiberglass skiff that was bouncing violently inTarantula's wake. He wore a flak vest, the only pirate so protected, and a bandolier of machine-gun bullets. The bandolier was for the shock effect. His weapon was a magazine-fed SAR 80 assault rifle with the stock chopped so he could wave it in one hand like a pistol.

“Go! Go! Go!”

Inshallah,they wouldn't shoot each other. He was undermanned already, with only twelve fighters and one of the first-time boys so seasick that he lay paralyzed in the bottom of the skiff, too exhausted to even retch the nonexistent contents of a stomach emptied days ago.

Maxammed saw a shotgun poke over the stern.“Gun!”

The pirate who had made it to the top of the ladder first froze. The sailor from the yacht who was pointing the shotgun, a Christian Filipino wearing a silver Jesus cross around his neck, froze also, too gentle to shoot his fellow man even when his life was in danger.

Maxammed triggered his SAR. The sailor tumbled off the boat. Maxammed led the rest of his crew up the ladder onto the yacht and sprinted forward to seize the steering bridge and disable satellite phones, radios, and emergency tracking beacons.


Page 2

His heavy vest and bandolier slowed him down. It had been a year since he had actually boarded a ship. He had advanced from lowly “action man” to managing from the shore, where the real profits lay in collecting the ransom. But this yacht was a special case.

His men—boys half his age and fired up on dreams of riches they could barely comprehend—raced ahead of him, up a stairway to the bridge. One of them let loose with a deafening burst of his AK-47.

Maxammed tore after them before they accidentally killed valuable hostages, or damaged equipment vital to running the yacht. Taking her was only a start. His battle to keep her had just begun.

The shooting stopped.

He heard women scream.

Bounding up the stairs past a window, he saw one of his men covering rich Europeans in a fancy lounge. He continued up a final flight to the bridge, swaggered into the sharp cold of the air conditioning, and drank in the huge, glassed-in command center. He could see out over the ocean in every direction and forward and back the full length of the yacht. There was a helicopter in front, and a bigger one in the middle—a magnificent Sikorsky—and a swimming pool sparkling like a blue gem.

Farole, his cadaverous second in command, was pointing his weapon at a middle-aged man and a striking blond woman. Maxammed had been shown their photographs, and he recognized his two most valuable hostages: the American who owned the yacht, and the rich Italian countess. Somali women were famous for their extraordinary beauty. There were truly none in Africa—none in the world—more beautiful. But this countess woman would give them a run for their money, even wide-eyed, pale, and trembling.

Maxammed gestured for Farole to move the hostages out of his way and strode over to the ship's instrument panels to shut down the GPS, radios, radar—any instrument that would send out signals that naval patrols could track. He knew what he was looking for, and it took only moments to unplug the ship from the world it came from. Then he put the engines on manual control and throttled them back so they could haul their skiff aboard.

The middle-aged American took Maxammed for the pirates' leader and turned on him, red-faced with anger. “Do you have any idea who you're fucking with?”

Having grown up in cities, Maxammed spoke several languages: Somali, Italian, and English; and originally from the coast, he could converse in Swahili when he had to deal with Arabs or East African mercenaries. English was his favorite, being riddled with puns and multiple meanings that were tailor-made for Somali wordplay. But he had the least occasion to speak it, so it took a moment for the meaning of the angry American's “who you're fucking with” to sink in. When it did, Maxammed grinned with pleasure.

“I amfuckingwith you. You areflirting. With death.”

“You're the one flirting with death!” the American shouted back. “I paid your pirate king for safe passage.”

“Meet the new king,” said Maxammed. “Bashir retired.”

“I spoke to him yesterday.”

“But not today.”

“I'll get him on the phone right now.” Adler pawed a satellite phone from its clip on his belt.

Maxammed leveled his SAR at the patch of skin between the American's eyebrows. “Not today.”

“You going to shoot your richest hostage?” the American shouted.

“I do not need all of you,” Maxammed replied. “If your insurance pays only ten percent of the price of your yacht, I will be the richest man in Somalia.”

The American raised his hands.

Maxammed shouted orders.

Two of his men herded the rich people he had seen below up to the bridge.

Maxammed looked them over carefully. There were two couples and a single woman. She was tall and dark-haired with arms and legs as thin as sticks. She was the French model. One of the couples was very old, the man frail, the woman hard-faced and haughty. They were the United Nations employees who had retired long ago—not rich, but related by marriage to the rich owner. The other couple was younger, in their fifties, and clutching hands. The woman's arms clanked with bracelets. A band of white skin on the man's suntanned wrist showed where his watch had been; a bulge in his trouser pocket indicated, Maxammed guessed, a hastily hidden gold Rolex.

All of them looked fearful. None would resist.

The rest of his men brought the crew at gunpoint.

Maxammed counted six guests and nineteen crew: chief engineer, first mate, bosun, cook and helpers, deckhands, stewardesses, and helicopter pilot.

“Where is the captain?”

No one spoke.

Maxammed searched their faces and selected the youngest crew member, a yellow-haired girl wearing a white stewardess costume with a short skirt that exposed her thighs. He pressed his gun to her forehead.

“Where is the captain?”

The girl began to weep. Tears streaked her blue eye makeup.

A middle-aged Chinese in a stained cook's uniform spoke for her. “Captain locked in safe room.”

“Where?”

“By engine room.”

“Does he have a satellite phone?”

The cook hesitated.

Maxammed said, “You have one second to save this girl's life.”

“Yes, he has a phone.”

Maxammed ordered Farole and two men below. “Tell the captain that I will shoot the stewardess if he does not come out. Hurry!”

They waited in silence, the crew exchanging glances, the guests staring at the deck as if afraid to meet one another's eyes. The blond beauty, Maxammed noticed, had withdrawn into herself, either frozen with fear or simply resigned. His men returned with the yacht's vigorous-looking American captain and handed Maxammed the sat phone.

“Who did you call?”

“Who do you think?”

“Tell him, for chrissakes!” shouted the owner. “You'll get us all killed.”

“I called the United States Navy.”

“Did you give them our position?”

“What do you think?” the captain asked sullenly.

“I think you put a lot of innocent people's lives at risk,” said Maxammed. He turned to Farole and ordered in Somali, “Load the captain and his crew into a tender. Take the boat's radios and wreck the motor.”

“You're letting them go?”

“We'll keep the rich people.”

“But the rest of them?”

“Too many to guard and feed. Plus, we'll look good on CNN.”

Farole grinned. “Humanitarians.”

“Besides, who would pay big money for crew?” Maxammed grinned back. The practical reasons were true, but there was more that he did not confide to Farole. This rich prize of a ship and wealthy hostages would make him a potent warlord in his strife-torn nation, more than just a pirate. A pirate who freed innocent workers and held on to the rich was a cut above—a Robin Hood, a man of consequence.

“Give them plenty of food and water, but don't forget to wreck the motors. By the time they're picked up, we'll be safe in Eyl.”

*  *  *

ALLENADLER WAITEDto make his move until the pirates got distracted launching the tender. Putting the tender in the water involved slowingTarantulato three knots, and opening the sea cocks to flood the well deck, then opening the stern port so the tender could drift out. It could all be done from the bridge, where the release controls were stationed by the big back window, if you knew what you were doing. To his surprise, they did. Sailors were sailors, he supposed, even stinking pirates. They turned on the work lamps, bathing the stern in light, and went at it as neatly as if Captain Billy were running the operation.

Adler edged toward the stairs.

What the pirates didn't know, what no one else on his ship knew, not even the captain, was thatTarantulahad in the bottom of her hull a one-man escape raft that could be launched under the ship in total secrecy and inflated on the surface. The raft carried food and water for a week, as well as a radio, GPS, and a sat phone. The reason no one knew was that there was no point in having a secret escape hatch if it wasn't a secret; otherwise the crew would be fighting to get inside it. He had rehearsed this move numerous times, sometimes for real, sometimes in his head. It was vital not to panic and to remember to lock doors and hatches behind him as he ran.

All the pirates and all his guests were watching the release of the tender in the work lights. The stern port opened. The boat started sliding out the back and into the water behind the ship. Adler ran.

Maxammed and Farole saw him reflected in the glass, whirled as one, striking on instinct as cats would claw at motion. Maxammed fired two shots before he realized the fool had nowhere to go. It was too late. Shatteringly loud in the confined space, they knocked Adler's legs out from under him. He skidded across the teak deck and crashed into the railing that surrounded the stairs.

“I hope you didn't kill him,” Maxammed said to Farole.

“We both shot him.”

“No, I pulled my gun up. Only you shot him.”

Farole shook his head, knowing that was not true. He changed the argument, saying, “But you said you didn't need him.”

“To frighten him, you idiot. He's the richest of all.”

“We still have the ship.”

“If the ship is worth half a billion dollars,” Maxammed asked scornfully, “how much is its owner worth? Pray you didn't kill him.”

Adler clutched the back of his thigh in both hands and tried to sit up. His face was slack with shock. He looked around the bridge, cast a disbelieving look at the pirates and hostages grouped at the aft windows. Then he sank back on the deck, still holding his leg.

Maxammed watched the rich people gather around him, the women holding hands to their mouths, the men staring wide-eyed. “Oh my God,” whispered one. “Look at the blood.”

There was so much blood on the deck that Adler appeared to be floating on it. He looked, Allegra Helms thought, like a swimmer doing the backstroke in a red pool. The New York woman whispered, “We have to stop the bleeding. It severed an artery. See how it's pumping?”

It was spurting rhythmically, the pulsing against his trousers as if a mouse trapped in the linen were trying to batter its way out.

“Tourniquet,” said the white-haired diplomat. “He needs a tourniquet.”

Maxammed shouldered them aside and knelt in the blood. He unbuckled Adler's belt, yanked it out of the loops, dragged his trousers down to his knees, shoved one end of his belt under his leg, pulled it above the ragged wound the bullet had furrowed in his flesh, slipped the tongue through the buckle, and pulled it tight.

The blood kept spurting. He couldn't hold the belt tightly enough.

“Use this,” said Allegra, handing over her scarf. Maxammed tied it around Alder's thigh and thrust his SAR in the loop and turned it like a lever, drawing the cloth so tightly that it bit into the flesh. At last the blood stopped spurting.

“Hold this here,” he told her.

She knelt beside him in the blood and held the gun in both hands. She fancied that she could feel Adler's heart beating through the steel. It felt very weak, and she was struck by her ignorance. She knew not even the most basic first aid, and she was helpless to save his life.

He opened his eyes and they locked on hers. She felt the beating slow. He tried to speak, and she leaned closer to hear. “Hey, Countess? Don't hate your father for groping the servants.”

In a moment of insight as sharp as it was unexpected, Allegra Helms realized it was probably the gentlest thing the man had ever said, and she whispered as intimately as pillow talk, “I don't hate him. He's just not my favorite relation.”

“Who's your favorite?”

“Cousin Adolfo. Since we were children.”

“Kissing cous—?” Adler's body convulsed. Allegra lost her grip on the tourniquet. She tried desperately to tighten it again. Then she saw that it didn't matter. Where his blood had spurted, it now just dripped.

“Oh my God,” said someone.

Allegra stood up and backed away. But she could not tear her eyes from Adler's face. The slackness had vanished. Dead, he looked more like himself: aggressive, and confident that he was invulnerable. She was truly afraid for the first time since the attack began. With Adler dead and Captain Billy sent away in the boat, she could not imagine anyone else on the yacht who could protect them.

The ridiculously imperious wife of the retired UN diplomat began to cry. Her husband patted her awkwardly on her shoulder. Hank and Susan, the New York couple, who were constantly holding hands, were gripping so tightly their fingers turned white. Poor Monique was biting her lips and shaking her head.

The pirate spoke. “This is your lesson. Do what I tell you. No one makes trouble. No one else dies.”

Allegra Helms stiffened. She had been afraid. She had felt useless. But suddenly she was outraged. “You didn't have to kill him.”

The pirate shouted back, “No more trouble, no more die.”

“Where could he run? You have his ship. He had no place to hide.”

“No more trouble, no more die,” Maxammed repeated. To Farole he said, “Punch in a course for Eyl.”

“Can't.”

“Why not? You said you have run ships.”

“I have run ships. But the instruments are all dead.”

“What about the radar?”

“Burned up, it seems,” said Farole, who had studied electrical engineering. “I bet the captain fried it with some kind of electric surge.”

“No radar?” Maxammed echoed, his heart sinking. The radar was vital. They could steer by compass, and even without a compass the fishermen among his crew could navigate home by the shape of the swells and the light in the sky. But they needed the radar to warn them of the Navy patrols.

“Where is that boat?” he asked angrily.

“Drifted away.”

“Find it.”


Page 3

“Why?”

“Run it down! Drown that devil captain.”

Farole laid a hand on Maxammed's arm. “My friend, we must get the ship to Eyl. We have no time for revenge.”

Maxammed's face was tight with rage, eyes bulging, lips stretched across his teeth. Farole prayed to God that he would come to his senses before he exploded like a volcano.

“Humanitarians, my friend. Remember?”

TWO

48°9' N, 103°37' WBakken OilfieldNorth Dakota, near Montana

Paul Janson steered a drunk out of the path of an ambulance racing from the Frack Up Bar & Grill's parking lot. Then he shouldered through a crowd of derrick hands, pipe wranglers, and rig mechanics who were cheering two men fighting in a cage made of chain-link fence.

The night was cold and the air stank of diesel exhaust from the trucks men left running to warm up in between bouts. A hundred-foot pillar of fire burning waste gas off a flare stack behind the bar lighted the cage bright as day.

The bigger fighter had blood dripping from his nose into his chest hair.

A bare-legged woman in a short down jacket circled the ring with a cardboard marking Round Two. Phones flashed as fans took her picture. When she stepped out and closed the gate, Janson asked, “Where's the sign-up sheet?”

“Nowhere. Dudes on law enforcement radar won't write their particulars. You want to fight, get in line.”

“Where's the line?”

“The end of it's that truck driver getting his head stomped by the dancing Chinaman. Cranked-up dude put three in the ambulance. Everyone else decided to call it a night.”

The “dancing Chinaman” was a rangy, six-foot-two Chinese-American bouncing in a frenzy on the balls of his feet. He had a head full of shaggy dreadlocks that he shook like a mop, and he was cranked up, indeed, his eyes yawning wide with crystal meth. But his body was rock hard, and he moved, Janson observed, with the lethal grace of a martial-arts sensei.

He was showboating, playing to the crowd. A blazing-fast backflip drew cheers when he bounced high off the canvas, turned over in the air, and landed on his feet in icy command. A second backflip landed him closer to the truck driver. The driver—inches taller and sixty pounds heavier—lunged, throwing skillful combinations.

The Chinese-American jabbed him twice in a heartbeat and bounced out of range, leaving a circle of cuts and bruised flesh around his eye. The truck driver lunged again, willing to take punishment to get close enough to bring his size and weight to bear. The Chinese-American swirled into another of his seemingly impossible backflips. This time he landed on one foot, off balance, it appeared, until his other foot rocketed up in a shoulder-high kick that dropped the trucker with a heel to his jaw.

The crowd whooped and whistled. Cell phones flashed. The bare-legged woman signaled her assistants to carry the loser out of the cage. The winner cursed the crowd, daring men to fight.

Paul Janson took off his windbreaker and stepped into the cage. The floor was slippery with blood.

The Chinese-American greeted him with a backflip and ran in circles, taunting Janson. “Gray dude? What you doing in here? Run away, old man.”

Janson spoke softly.

“What?Who are you? How thefuckyou know my name?” The meth made Denny Chin too impatient to wait for an answer. He jumped, levitated into another backflip, and ran circles around Janson, herding him into the middle of the cage. He flipped again, landed on one foot, and launched a kick.

Janson stepped close and hit him hard.

The dreadlocked fighter landed on his back. He tried to sit up. Janson dropped onto him. The man's neck was strong but not thick. A broad hand spanned both carotid arteries. When Chin stopped struggling, Janson hoisted him over his shoulder and carried him out of the cage.

The woman yelled, “Where you taking him?”

“Home.”

*  *  *

“ASCDON'T FUCK AROUND” was an oil-patch homage to American Synergy Corporation's management standards. There was nothing likeable about the arrogant sons of bitches, but no one worked harder or smarter than ASC's 68,000 employees.

In the dead of the night in Houston, Texas—1,800 miles south of the Bakken fields—seven men and two women to whom those 68,000 answered “sir,” and “ma'am,” quick-marched into a secure conference room atop the Silo, their round thirty-story bronze-glass headquarters tower beside the Sam Houston Tollway.

Night meetings didn't waste valuable daytime. And while the Manual of Employee Conduct cited no dress code for post-​midnightappearance, not one of the division presidents taking their seats at the rosewood table would have looked out of place at a Federal Reserve Board meeting or a funeral.

Kingsman Helms, the tall, handsome, thirty-eight-year-old president of the Petroleum Division, set the standard. His shirt was crisp, his gray windowpane suit pressed, his English bench-made cordovan wingtips polished to a “gentleman's buff.” A linen handkerchief raised three equal points from his breast pocket. A red necktie decorated with Petroleum Club of Houston sunbursts was knotted dead-center at his throat. Helms's Petroleum Division led in revenue and earnings, which made him the second wealthiest at the table, but he was just as hungry as his rivals for the power that eluded them all.

The wealthiest, their reclusive chief executive officer and board chairman Bruce Danforth—known to the tiny inner circle allowed in his presence as the Buddha—was rich beyond counting and doled out power with maddening calculation. For forty years, Danforth had hammered a conglomerate of Texas oil drillers, producers, pipelines, and refineries into a free-booting global enterprise that wielded more power than all but a few independent nations. He was pushing ninety now, and looked every year of it, with sunken cheeks, wrinkled brow, and hooded eyes. But those eyes were clear—blazing like twin high beams between a thick crown of snow-white hair and a vandyke beard still speckled with black. And his heart and his lungs seemed so strong that his division presidents feared he would never die.

The Buddha's hearing was acute, the sharpest in the room, and when his mind wandered, those he frightened most knew they had made the mistake of boring him. His voice was reedy yet commanded total attention, even when he opened a meeting with the credo everyone had heard a thousand times before.

“If you think oil money is easy money, you aren't making enough of it.”

  

Each division had sixty seconds to report what it was doing to make more of it. Kingsman Helms went last, the place of honor, though he was acutely aware that Douglas Case, American Synergy's president of Global Security—as rugged a man as Helms had ever seen in a wheelchair—was seated next to the Buddha. Supposedly, there was more room at the head of the table to park Case's wheelchair. But the chair on the Buddha's right had been Helms's chair before the Isle de Foree debacle—a recent defeat still seared in the Buddha's memory.

Hopes had run high when Helms's Petroleum Division scientists discovered the mother of all petroleum reserves in the deep waters off Isle de Foree. ASC had almost won control of the West African island nation by staging a coup. If they hadn't dropped the ball, the corporation would have had exclusive access to the “ground resources” of a Gulf of Guinea version of Saudi Arabia, minus the misery of Arab politics. There had been plenty of blame to go around both inside and outside the corporation. Kingsman Helms had dodged as much as he could, but the cold reality was staring across the table: before Isle de Foree, the Security Division hadn't even been allowed in the room. After, Doug Case—guardian against cyberattack, headstrong dictators, whistle-blowers, and rebel assaults on Nigerian offshore oilfields—sat beside the Buddha, with full division privileges.

The Buddha interrupted Helms halfway through his sixty seconds.

“Yes, yes, yes, but where have you been the last two weeks?”

“At undisclosed locations.” Helms smiled easily. Danforth knew full well he was working East Africa in general and Somalia in particular. But the old man loved his hocus-pocus spy talk, having staked a career in clandestine federal service, a normal man's lifetime ago, before turning his ambition to oil.

The Buddha did not return Helms's smile. “I mean closer to home, Kingsman. Where in hell—”

The phone in Helms's breast pocket rang behind the folds of his handkerchief.

Anger blazed in the Buddha's eyes. “The rule is no calls, but for life and death.”

Helms snatched up his phone. The assistant who was calling him, the matronly Kate Clark, whom he had poached from the top tier of Doug Case's own Global Security Division, knew the rules, and he trusted her judgment.

“What?”

What she said was so unexpected, so absolutely out of left field, that he could not breathe more than a single whispered word. “Pirates?”

None of the division presidents, not even Case, heard him.

But the bat-eared Buddha had, and, as Helms walked out of the meeting, Danforth beckoned him close and muttered, “Deal with it. Quickly. Before the goddamned Chinese eat your lunch.”

Helms hurried out the door and heard the old man raise his voice. “Meeting's over, everybody—Doug, you stay.”

Helms looked back. Doug Case was wheeling his chair closer to the old man, and Helms would have given a year of his life to hear what they were going to talk about.

*  *  *

DOUGLASCASE WAITEDuntil the last division president out closed the door behind her.

“May I ask what that was about?”

The Buddha ignored the question and stared at Case. Case dropped his gaze, tacitly admitting that he had crossed a forbidden line. He waited, staring at his lap. When at last the old man spoke, what he said came straight out of the blue.

“Earlier today, I had an interesting conversation with Yousef.”

Doug Case sat up straight, stunned with admiration. That the Buddha could continue bargaining with Yousef in Italy while he was consumed with ASC petroleum prospects in Somalia was a powerful reminder that no global oil corporation CEO in the world could work with more balls in the air. Of course, the Buddha and Yousef's family went way, way back.

American Synergy Corporation had done business with the dictator since before the Cub was born. The Buddha had enriched Yousef's father—and himself—underwriting infrastructure in good times and trading embargoed oil as the old man got crazier. When the so-called Arab Spring blew their cozy arrangement to hell, the Buddha had quietly, secretly, persuaded the Italian government to contract with Paul Janson's Catspaw Associates to exfiltrate Yousef before they hanged him from an oil rig.

The Italians had hoped to get credit for offering asylum that would end the fight. The Buddha had taken the longer view, convinced that Yousef was the one member of the family with the brains and ambition to take power back when the revolution fell apart.

“I admire Yousef,” said Case. “He's a patient planner, not a reactor. And he knows what he wants.”

The Buddha raised a cynical eyebrow. “Yousef wants what he thinks should be his inheritance—his own country afloat on oil. At the same time he feels the International Criminal Court breathing down his neck.”

“I heard he lit out from Sardinia. Is he back?”

Another question the old man would not answer. He stared Case down again.

“I promised Yousef that ASC will offer legitimacy, both in worldwide public relations and in lobbying Congress. Yousef promised to return the favor with access. And this time he will keep order—as he tried to for his psychotic fool of a father—with high-tech security and secret police to jail and assassinate the opposition.”

“You were right to rescue him.”

“Damn right. This time around Yousef will be in charge and no longer serving his idiot father. And I don't mind telling you, Doug, you were right about Paul Janson.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Doug Case's part in the rescue had been to convince the Buddha that no private operator was better qualified to snatch Yousef from chaos than Paul Janson. Janson's research was the best, his analytic skills the sharpest. Janson had taken the rescue job, despite misgivings about Yousef, because it had offered “white-hat” good-guy results. A swift end to the bloody civil war would not only save countless lives but would also keep the dictator's arsenal of shoulder-fired rockets and heavy machine guns out of the hands of the Sahara Desert jihadists who would turn them in a flash on Algeria and Mali.

“Janson will regret taking the job,” said the Buddha, in a voice suddenly harsh. “Can you still guarantee that he doesn't know who got it for him?”

“Guaranteed. Even if the Italians talked too much, they knew only middlemen. Neither you, nor me, nor ASC left any prints. Janson has no idea we set it up.”

“I was surprised at the time that he took it.”

“Optimism is Janson's Achilles' heel,” said Case.

Paul Janson had to have known that Yousef was no fool, known too that Yousef was even less a white hat. But hope for a good-guy outcome had caused him to underestimate Yousef's ambition.

THREE

47°55' N, 96°26' WUS Highway 2, EastboundNorth Dakota

Denny Chin woke up with the sun in his eyes. He was belted into the passenger seat of a four-by-four F-150 XL SuperCrew pickup headed east at seventy miles an hour. Paul Janson switched hands on the steering wheel to pass him a water bottle.

“Crank makes you thirsty.”

“No kidding.” Chin pulled long and hard and tossed the empty over his shoulder onto the crew seat. “Who the fuck are you?”

“What you called me in the cage.”

“Old man?”

Chin looked closer. He noticed traces of scar tissue that he should have registered the night before if he hadn't been buzzing the moon. He also should have noticed how the eyes managed to be simultaneously detached and alert. He told himself that the neutral iron-gray color of the dude's close-cropped hair had thrown him off.

“You're not old.”

“No kidding.”

Denny Chin stared at Janson. “Wait a minute.TheOld Man. You're the operator who runs the Phoenix rehab?”

“A whole bunch run Phoenix. I help pay for it.”

Janson passed him another bottle.

Denny Chin drank and placed the empty in his lap. “Guys in the program talk about you. Trying to figure you out.”

“They'll have the jump on me when they do.”

Janson covered the lie with a self-deprecating smile. The opposite was true. Paul Janson was a man who constantly reviewed his life in small ways. He had developed the regimen as a field officer tasked with “sanctioned” killings for the State Department's clandestine intelligence unit Consular Operations. The habit had earned him the title “The Machine,” and it had kept him alive and deadly longer than most assassins—no fatal “mistakes” or “accidents” triggered by guilt or confusion.

But awareness cost. Janson had awakened one morning unable to deny that for all his passion to serve his country, for all his hard-honed skill—and the layers and layers of detachment crucial to doing the job—his sanctioned killings were serial killings. Determined to redeem himself, he had founded Phoenix to help rehabilitate and restore to some semblance of normal life other operators crippled by dehumanizing service.

“If half I heard is true,” said Chin, “I'm lucky you didn't kill me last night.”

Janson reached to shake hands. “I studied your operations, Denny. You don't kill easy.”

Denny Chin stared at Paul Janson's hand but would not take it. “So what is this? You're trying to drag me back to rehab?”

“I can't force you. But I'll do my damnedest to talk you into it.”

“I can't go back.”

“There is nothing harder on Earth than trying to restore heart and mind and soul, Denny. But you've got what it takes to do it.”

“How?”

“You're special ops. You know the drill. Sometimes you have to be tougher than the situation.”

“Youknow that knowing the fucking drill and executing it are two different things.”

“Next time you decide to cut and run, dig down and find yourself so you can ask, ‘Why am I making this decision now? Am I really thinking this through? Or am I just too tired or low or scared to think straight?'”

Denny Chin hung his head. “I do not know if I'm worth the trouble.”

Chin had been a rising star before he was swallowed up in a DEA Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team operation conceived by bosses two thousand miles from the action. Janson said, “Denny, you served your country with everything you had. You questioned lousy orders on stupid missions, which makes you doubly worth the trouble.”

Chin's FAST Team had been snookered by local drug lords into accidentally slaughtering civilians. “The bosses put the screws to you. But field agents you served with swear you're worth the trouble. So does everyone at Phoenix.”

“Are you still in the game, or are you a full-time shrink?”

“I leave shrinking to the professionals.”

“Are you still in the game?”

“I do security consulting to fund Phoenix.”

“That must be a big outfit.”

“I don't do big. I don't trust more than two people in one swept room.”

“Two?”

“Me and a sniper.”

“Corporate security? How can two do the job?”

“We have specialists on call.” With its operators linked by the Internet, encrypted websites, and secure phones, and contracted on a job-by-job basis, Janson explained, succinctly—without giving up secrets—Catspaw Associates was essentially a virtual organization with no expensive physical installations to be maintained and few vulnerable employees to be defended. “From a bad-guy point of view, we don't exist—and you just had your last question.”

Chin said, “From what I've seen of Phoenix—docs, nurses, facilities—you must charge a ton to pay the bills.”

“Our clients can afford it.”

“So you're a mercenary?”

It was meant as an insult. Janson ignored it.

Chin took another shot. “So when you straighten out guys like me, we're supposed to re-up in your private army?”

Janson pinned him with the strangest gaze. Chin had always thought of cold eyes as empty, devoid of emotion. Janson's were not empty. They glistened with passion. The dude cared. But they were still the coldest eyes he had ever seen.

“If an operator returns to federal service, of course I'll tap him for intelligence. How he responds is up to him. Nobody owes Phoenix. Nobody owes me.”

“Bullshit. I would owe you the moon and the stars if you put my head straight.”

“Pay the next guy.”

“Yeah, but let's say a guywantedto join your private army.”

Janson's glance nearly broke Chin's heart. It told him that Phoenix would be there for him as long as he needed help, but it would be a long, hard slog to regain the edge—and trust—to be invited to repay the favor with fieldwork. Trying not to sound bitter, but knowing he did, Denny Chin said, “You mean guys break down, again, even doing ‘corporate security'?”

“None yet. We operate by rules we never need to lie about.”

“What rules?”

“No torture. No killing anyone who doesn't try to kill us. No civilians in the cross fire.”

“Fann-tass-tic. What do you call them, Janson Rules?”

“It's not a fantasy.”

“Not a fantasy? What the fuck is it? A dream?”

Janson surprised the shattered operator with a grin as optimistic as it was unexpected. “I have nothing against dreams.”

Denny Chin laughed and shook his dreadlocks. “Shit, man… How'd you get into the saving business?”

“Operator I served with dove off the roof of our Singapore embassy. Forgot he trained as a paratrooper. Landed about as good as you can.”

“How'd he make out?”`

“These days he runs global security for a global corporation.”

“Lucky dude.”

“From a wheelchair.”

“I meant getting saved by you.”

“All I did was make a place to save himself. The rest was up to him. Like it's up to you, Denny.”

Denny Chin closed his eyes.

Janson's cell broke the silence with an old-phone ringtone.

The caller ID surprised him. Kingsman Helms. What did the president of the petroleum division of the biggest oil company in the country want from an enemy?

“Excuse me,” he told Denny, pulling off the road. “I have to take this.”

He stopped the engine, took the keys, stepped out, and walked along the shoulder.

Sensing opportunity, he set the phone to Record and waited until the tenth ring to answer. “Hello.”

“Is that Paul Janson?”

Janson asked, “Am I supposed to believe I'm out of the doghouse for making American Synergy play fair in the Gulf of Guinea?”

“My wife is on that yacht.”

“What yacht?”

“Tarantula, that the pirates hijacked.”


Page 4

FOUR

37°42' N, 82° 47' WRed Creek, Kentucky

Cover was a solo sniper's only friend.

Jessica Kincaid lay motionless in the prone position, concealed in the fringes of a wooded ridge, with a secondhand copy ofThe Birds of Kentuckyopen beside her. A University of Kentucky camouflage hoodie with a Wildcats patch worn by half the people in the basketball-loving state and Vortex Viper HD 10 × 42 binoculars from Walmart completed the costume of a devoted bird-watcher on her day off. Laser-line trip wires guarded the trail behind her while she scoped a ramshackle country gas station six hundred meters down the hill.

A plumber's truck stopped beside the pumps.

Kincaid's target stepped out of the shadows of the repair bay, wiping his hands on a rag.

She had been trained in the art of solo hunting by an elderly Jordanian, a small, precise, devout man who had fought with the Northern Alliance against the Russians. He had worn a short, trim beard and thedishdashaArab robe and went barefoot in the Afghan cold. His jihad name—Abu Haqid, Father of Fury—never fit his pleasant demeanor, easy smile, and utterly calm eyes.

Abu Haqid had spent a patient week sorting out the talent. Twenty American recruits, the best from Special Operations, CIA, and Jessica Kincaid's own Cons Ops Lambda Team (masquerading as FBI), were hoping to graduate to solo work, which meant acquiring their own targets, covering their own backs. Five had made the first cut. Two lasted a month. A month after that, Abu Haqid led Jessica Kincaid on a long march into the Hindu Kush, where they stalked Taliban mullahs in the high passes.

Be ready for what you can't expect, he taught her.

It happened now. Her vision blurred. The target went soft. She lowered the glasses and raked the slope with her naked eye. A bird had flown between them, the same bird she had the book open to, a Northern Harrier—dark brown and white, striped wings and widespread tail shifting independently, scooping the air in slow, silent flight—its rock-still head and glaring black eyes fixed on the ground.

She reacquired.

He finished greeting the pickup driver, screwed open the gas tank, and grasped the hose. The man in the truck turned his head to call something, and he nodded. Kincaid hoped that a smile might brighten his face. Suddenly, someone was behind her, silent as an eclipse, close enough to slit her throat.

There was no point in even trying to turn around.

She was either dead or it was Paul Janson. That Janson was the only man in the world who could move up behind her made her no less pissed off at herself for getting caught.

“How'd you get behind me?”

“You'd be better focused if you'd brought a gun.”

“I didn't come to shoot him. I came to look at him.”

“Jess,” he said softly, “you're the bravest woman I know. Why can't you just walk down the hill and say, ‘Hi, Pop! Sorry I cleaned out the cash register when I was sixteen and ran away from home.'”

“I called him Daddy, not Pop.”

“I know. I called mine Pop.”

“I just wanted to see if he's OK.” Now she turned and looked.

  

He had a rifle in one big hand, and in the other a smart phone with ear buds dangling. For cover he wore frayed camo and a forage cap. In the unlikely event anyone gave him a second look, Janson looked “from around here,” as they said in Red Creek, on the outskirts of which was the gas station Kincaid had been watching so intently. He looked ordinary, innocuous, and smaller than he was—just another hunter putting deer meat on the table.

When Jessica Kincaid had served Consular Operations, Paul Janson had been the legendary “Machine.” But since teaming up with Paul Janson she rated him the “Invisible Man.” She herself was a skilled chameleon—ready to act the college student, the assembly-line worker, the banker, or the bartender—but she would have given anything she could name to be as unseeable and inconspicuous as Janson.

“What are you doing here?”

“You didn't answer your phone.”

He lowered himself quietly beside her and brushed her cheek with fingers that smelled of gun oil. “You OK?”

“I'm fine. What's up?”

“I need you.” He put a phone bud in his ear and slid the other into hers. “Listen to this.”

He passed her the phone. “Hit Play.”

A telephone conversation he had recorded repeated in their ears. “Is that Paul Janson?”

Kincaid bristled when she recognized the caller's voice. She despised and mistrusted Kingsman Helms. “What the hell doeshewant?”

Janson's reply had been a cold and unfriendly “Am I supposed to believe I'm out of the doghouse for forcing American Synergy to play fair in the Gulf of Guinea?”

“My wife is on that yacht.”

“What yacht?”

“Tarantula, that the pirates hijacked.”

Janson's voice softened. “I'm sorry, Kingsman. I saw the reports. They didn't say who was aboard except the currency trader who owned it. Have you heard from her?”

“No.”

“I am very sorry. If it's any consolation, Somali pirates are in it for the ransom. There's no profit in hurting her. They're not al-Qaeda, they're not religious, they're not political. All pirates want is the dough.”

“They haven't asked for ransom.”

“Give them time to settle down. They'll ask when they feel they're in a safe place.”

“It's been nearly a day.”

“They're not going to risk giving away their position with a sat phone call while they're still at sea.”

“I want you to rescue her.”

“Ransom first. Rescue is a last resort. When the odds turn so desperate that there's nothing to lose.”

“But the pirates are out of control. They already killed the owner.”

“He probably did something foolish. Let's hope it sobered everyone up.”

“I want you in position to rescue her.”

“Pirates are a Navy job. Call the SEALs.”

“The Navy takes months to launch a rescue.”

“That's why they're good at it. They go when they're ready.”

“There's no time!” Helms shouted. “Name your price, I'll pay it.”

Paul Janson's voice, always low-pitched and resonant, sank half an octave to a compelling rumble. “Listen to me, Kingsman. The SEALs have access from their base in Djibouti. Plus, they stole a page from the pirates' mothership book and got themselves a forward presence on their own mothership.”

  

A long silence ensued, broken at last by the sound of Helms taking a deep breath. “I love my wife,” he said. “I am begging you to help me.”

“This is pirates,” Janson repeated, gently but deliberately. “Pirates in a nation that has no effective government, no competent military, no control over its warring clans. It's either a US Navy rescue, or you pay the ransom.”

“Goddammit, Janson, I know we had our differences! I'm not pretending I liked you screwing us on Isle de Foree.”

“Someone had to.”

“But this isn't business. This is my wife. A mothership full of heavily armed SEALs scares the hell out of me. I am in terror of that split second when operators with guns burst into a small room. I don't want soldiers. I want the type of rescue you excel at—surgical.”

There was silence.

Kincaid looked sidelong at Janson. “Civilians love saying ‘surgical.'”

Janson did not meet her eye, which told her what was coming next.

“Ten a.m., day after tomorrow, ASC's New York office.”

“Not in the office,” said Helms.

“Chelsea Piers. Enter at Twenty-Third Street. There's a big photograph of theLusitaniaon the promenade nearest Pier Sixty. Wait there.”

“Can't we meet sooner?”

“‘Surgical' takes time. Let the pirates settle down. You get busy raising the ransom. Let me suss out who to pay it to.”

Janson took back his phone.

Kincaid asked, “Did you mean what you said about ransom?”

“Of course. When I got off the phone with Helms, I called Lloyd's.”

Catspaw and Lloyd's of London regularly exchanged information, and their contact had spoken freely. The underwriters who insured the yacht were willing to ransom it back. It offered the safest shot at freeing Allegra and the others. Janson had promised whatever help was needed.

“They've already been approached.”

“Too fast.”

“Affirmative. Lloyd's is not even fifty percent sure that the pirates who hit them for the ransom are the same pirates who took her. The situation is ripe for a rip-off.”

“OK, so why did you agree to meet Helms?”

“Poor Mrs. Helms doesn't deserve to be held hostage just for having lousy taste in husbands. And the foundation could use the dough.”

“She has lousy taste in yachts, too. What were they doing in pirate waters?”

“Being stupid, would be my guess,” said Janson. “And cocksure, according to all reports on the idiot who owned the yacht.”

They were still lying side by side on the pine needles. Kincaid propped up on one elbow and looked him in the face. “You're gunning for ASC.”

“First things first,” said Janson. “Get the hostages home safe.”

“We lost good men defending Isle de Foree.”

“I don't believe in vengeance.”

Kincaid shook her head fiercely. “The guys we lost were the best they come.”

Paul Janson said, “I would do anything to bring them back to life. But revenge won't do it. There is no revenge. Not on this Earth.”

“But…?” she asked.

Janson answered circumspectly. “When I first worked in intelligence, an operator's worst enemy was often his own government—bosses so sure of their mission they would sell him down the river for the cause, or their careers. That depth of arrogance marches lockstep with total power.

“These days, global corporations wield that power. ASC is stronger than most nations used to be, far more secretive, and totally unaccountable. ASC is doubly dangerous with its back to the wall.” He quoted his Catspaw Associates researchers from memory: “‘As big and powerful a global as it is, ASC is being squeezed out of every oil patch in the world by China. To remain on top twenty years down the road, ASC will have to conduct business ever more ruthlessly.'

“In other words, a rapacious global corporation that empowers itself by corrupting governments is growing desperate. ASC is like…” Janson was suddenly at a loss for words.

“Like a boa constrictor with rabies?” asked Kincaid.

Janson's eyes crinkled in an appreciative smile. He touched her cheek again. “You got it. The pirates have done us a huge favor. They pried open American Synergy's back door. It's an incredible opportunity to take down a company that corrupts everything it touches.”

“Why did Helms come to us? He hates us for Isle de Foree.”

“First thing I asked myself. Modesty aside, he won't do better than you and me. If I were in his position and I wantedyouback, I'd come to us too.”

“Why won't Helms meet in his office?” asked Kincaid.

“Corporation executives are pack animals. He can't risk rivals seeing him weakened by a personal problem.”

“His wife kidnapped is apersonalproblem?”

“The division presidents of ASC would stake their children to anthills to succeed the chairman—another reason Helms came to us instead of ASC's Global Security Division.”

Janson backed off the ridge and stood up when it concealed him from the gas station below. “Wave good-bye to Pop, we're going to work.”

*  *  *

THEY DROVE THEIRrented cars across the West Virginia line to Charleston. Janson had two tickets on the American flight to New York. “Where's the Embraer?” asked Kincaid.

“Minneapolis.”

“What's our plane doing in Minneapolis?”

“Recruiting logistics personnel from the forty thousand Somali-Americans who live in Minneapolis. Whether we ransom her or go in, we'll need friends on the ground.”

*  *  *

PAULJANSON CLOSEDhis eyes as the jetliner took flight and conjured in his mind the map of the Horn of Africa: Somalia's coast was desolate. For a thousand miles north from Mogadishu to the Gulf of Aden, ports and cities were few and widely scattered. Most of the infrastructure—docks, boats, roads, houses, drinking wells—had been destroyed when an earthquake on the far side of the Indian Ocean sent a monster tsunami thundering ashore in 2004. In the decade since, little had been rebuilt.

It was an easy place to hide, and a bear of a place to hunt. Distances to be covered required longer range than helicopters, which made Janson's preferred quick-in, quick-out tactics difficult if not impossible. No wonder the SEALs had gotten themselves a “mothership.” Like the pirates, they had to get near the job before they attacked.

“How do we get there?” asked Kincaid.

They were seated side by side in a near-empty business section. The nearest passenger was four rows behind them and the engines were loud, so it was safe to speak in low voices. By “there” she meant wherever the pirates ultimately stashed the captives. By “get there” she meant a quick-and-slick exfiltration like the rescue, a year earlier, of Yousef, the dictator's son.

Janson opened his eyes and looked at her. His were a gray shade of blue; hers, gray-green. He took her hand and kissed her mouth.

Kincaid planted her fingers behind his head to pull him closer.

“You didn't have to come all the way to Kentucky to collect me. But thanks…” She kissed him, exploring his mouth familiarly. At last she pulled back. “Hello and good-bye?”


Page 5

“'Fraid so.”

They put sex, if not love, on hold when they went operational.

“I'm stealing one more.” She tugged him hard against her. “Wow… OK… So how do we get there?”

Janson looked around the cabin, confirming it was still safe to talk. No one had moved closer and the flight attendant had vanished. He said, “There's fighting in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Yemen.”

“Gunrunners,” said Kincaid. Janson had a soft spot for arms traffickers who excelled at getting in and out of sticky places. He could tap weapons dealers he trusted for introductions.

“Making friends and customers,” said Janson.

“Any particular ones?”

“Where there's war in East Africa, there are Israelis.”

“Are you going to Tel Aviv?”

“I've got a call in to a guy in Zurich. Hoping he'll know who's busy on the ground.”

“We,” Kincaid said, meaning the United States, “have Special Forces in Somalia hunting al-Qaeda. Gotta stay off their scopes.”

“Affirmative.”

The last thing Paul Janson could afford was to entangle Catspaw Associates in chain-of-command red tape. If that ever happened, the broad and deep network of contacts and mutually helpful friendships that he was so painstakingly building would dissolve overnight. He and Kincaid had to go in on their own, and, most important, get out on their own, off everyone's scopes.

“Guy I know,” said Kincaid, “is beta testing a two-person hydrofoil water scooter for the Navy.”

She and Janson were constantly searching for inventions they could adapt to field use. Volunteering to trail-run cognitive-fingerprint keystroke-dynamics software for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency engineers, they now secured their laptops with DARPA's “fingertip passwords” distinguished by core rhythms in their typing that were probably uncrackable.

Janson was currently engaged in snagging an early look at a mini version of a hand-launched Switchblade “kamikaze” reconnaissance drone, and angling to try out a new ultra-lightweight night-vision goggle that employed GRIN gradient index polymer lens technology.

Kincaid's latest find, XG Sciences graphene woven fabric—thin, strong cloth of graphene oxide flakes, exfoliated graphene nanoplatelets, and carbon nanotube fibers developed to block electromagnetic interference and dissipate heat—was eleven times more bulletproof than Kevlar; a costume designer she was friendly with fashioned the graphene cloth into a burqa and kaffiyeh headdresses.

“How loud is that scooter?” Janson asked.

“Dead silent. It's electric. Major stealth. Foils make no wake and it's Kevlar and carbon fiber, so no radar signature.”

“Except for the motor and the battery. What range?”

“Sixty miles. It's really cool. You can remote it—make it come to you. It'll crack twenty-five knots, and the foils fold so you can fit it in a helicopter.”

“Happen to know any guys testing a silent helicopter with a two-thousand-mile range?”

“How about a helicopter off a ship?” Kincaid asked. She was not surprised when Janson answered with an unenthusiastic “Maybe.” Ships got complicated, and complicated took time. And Kingsman Helms was right about one thing: when the killing started from the get-go, there was no time to lose.

*  *  *

MONIQUETRUDEAU FLIPPED OUTwhen the pirate chief ordered his men to throw Allen Adler's body overboard.

Allegra Helms could not believe her ears. Of all the horrors to fear, who cared what happened to Adler's body? He was dead and they weren't, yet. But the model suddenly started screaming in piercing French.

“Don't do that! Don't do that!”

They were on the steering bridge. Maxammed had ordered them all to be kept there so he could see them always. Hank and Susan tried to calm her. Monique jerked away from them and shook her head in a frenzy.

“Don't do that. Don't do that.”

The pirates lugging the body out the door as their chief had ordered took no heed.

“You can't just throw him in the sea!” Monique screamed. “It is not humane.”

Allegra was the youngest of the hostages by far. But suddenly they all turned to her. “Countess Allegra,” shouted the imperious wife of the retired diplomat, “make her shut up before she gets us all killed.” And Susan, the real estate agent, cried, “Stop her for chrissakes!” Their husbands tried with no success to hush them.

As Allegra tried to calm Monique, Maxammed, who had been anxiously pacing the windows, raced toward them, raising his long pistol. “What is she saying?”

Allegra translated Monique's French into Italian. “She doesn't want you to throw the body overboard.”

“Is she his girlfriend?”

“No.”

“What does she care?”

“I don't know. I don't know her. I just met her,” she added, feeling like a coward for trying to disassociate herself from the poor woman.

“I know you just met her. But you speak French. Tell her to shut up.”

Allegra extended her hands pleadingly to the model. “He wants you to stop screaming. Please, Monique. You better stop before something happens.” But even as she tried to calm Monique, her mind locked on the pirate's words.I know you just met her. He hadn't attacked this yacht by accident, Allegra realized. He had known who was on board.

“They can put him in the refrigerator!” Monique shouted. Her eyes were wild.

“What does she say?”

Allegra tried to make her translation sound reasonable. “She suggests putting the body in the ship's refrigerator if you're concerned about it rotting so that later it could have a proper burial.”

“Tell her to shut up.”

Before Allegra could translate the pirate's command, the distraught woman ran after the pirates dragging the dead man. Maxammed moved like lightning to block her. Monique's long straw of a body stiffened with a righteous anger. Suddenly she was not afraid, not even hysterical. She drew herself up. Whether for dramatic effect or heartfelt emotion, Allegra thought, you could never tell with the French. The answer came as a shock. Disdainful as a proud Parisian insulted by a rude waiter, Monique slapped the tall pirate.

Maxammed hit her with his gun and blood spurted from her face.

FIVE

40°74' N, 74°00' WChelsea PiersNew York City

Paul Janson watched for chinks in Kingsman Helms's armor.

Pacing where Janson had told him to wait, Helms looked hopelessly out of place, a man in a fine suit spooked by crowds. People rushing to the Chelsea Piers Sports Center jostled him. He lurched into a power walker, got tangled in a dog leash, and recoiled from a herd of schoolchildren that teachers' aides were urging toward the skating rink. He also looked like an imperious executive whom few dared to make wait. Ignoring the arresting century-old photograph of the ocean linerLusitaniatowering above horse-drawn hotel coaches and hansom cabs, he glared irritably up and down the long corridor that connected the three piers and out at the slips where yachts for hire were tied.

But Kingsman Helms had been aloof and impatient long before his wife was kidnapped. Only when he failed to notice a beautiful woman stop and stare in open admiration at his wavy blond hair and startling blue eyes did Helms reveal that he was desperate, Janson concluded with cold satisfaction.

Janson was forty feet away, dressed in a corduroy blazer, T-shirt, and khakis—the image of an equity trader recently fired or a Chelsea gallery owner on his way to open shop—watching from the entrance to a bowling alley, where he just had bought breakfast for FBI Special Agent Walt Laughlin, a Phoenix “graduate.”

Laughlin, like Doug Case, was a Phoenix success story. He had returned to federal service, working for the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, and was now the prosecutor's number-one expert at extracting confessions to indict captured pirates. Laughlin had filled Janson in on the latest he knew about Somali pirates while pointing out the drop-off of attacks as ships improved their defenses and naval patrols got better at surveilling the vast Indian Ocean. As they parted, Janson asked who in the FBI conducted ransom negotiations.

But after having clawed his way back from chaotic despair, Laughlin was now a straight-arrow, by-the-book company man who would not compromise the FBI out of gratitude to Janson for saving him. “The United States government does not pay ransom,” he answered staunchly. “‘Not one cent for tribute,' we told the Barbary pirates two hundred years ago. ‘Nada,' we tell Somali pirates today.”

Janson did not volunteer to Laughlin that he had already spoken with Lloyd's of London and that Lloyd's was already negotiating with a Somali who had represented pirates in previous hijackings. Nor did he mention that Lloyd's was afraid of getting taken for a ride on this one.

“No one,” he said, “shuts every door.”

“Oh yeah? A federal judge just sentenced a Somali-American negotiator named Mohammad Shibin to life for piracy and hostage-taking. Shibin was no angel, but he was negotiating ransoms—which is going to make other negotiators change careers.”

“Understood. But this is the wife of a leading petroleum executive. So if you happen to hear of any officials ‘unofficially' involved, could you put me in touch?”

Laughlin looked him in the eye. “Paul, you saved my life, but—”

“It's not tit for tat,” Janson interrupted. “You don't owe me that way. You pay back the next guy who needs something. All you owemeis to decide whether the job I'm doing is the right job to do. If, in your opinion, it is, then I will accept your help.”

“I don't mean to sound weaselly. But I would need deniability.”

“Deniability is a fantasy,” said Janson. “No blame, no game. If you're not a player, you're not calling shots.”

“I'm not calling the shots. I'm just a donkey doing his job. If someone else captures pirates, I'll get them indicted. You're a freelancer, Paul. If I were to expose our ransom guy to a freelance operator, I need cover.”

“You'll have it. What's ransom running these days?”

“Five million for a ship and crew. Half million for an individual. But when you're negotiating, you first have to lower expectations. They get big numbers in their heads, based on a whole ship. Don't forget, the pirates have Google like everybody else. The lady is rich. They'll know her value. So in her case, sky's the limit. Plus you gotta factor in the fifteen percent al-Shabaab militia tax, if they're operating on al-Shabaab turf.”

“Shrinking turf,” said Janson. “Al-Shabaab have lost their bases in Mogadishu and Kismayo.”

“Fifteen or twenty thousand heavily armed boys who've known nothing but war since they were born don't vanish overnight. When they lose the towns and cities, they retreat to the bush. If the armies of the African Union Mission in Somalia drive them out of the south, they'll head north, where your lady is.”

The special agent took Janson's arm in a gesture of friendship and urgency. “Paul, if I were you, I wouldn't take the job. You'll be butting heads with amateurs who have nothing to lose.”

“Amateurs?”

“A third of the pirates who put to sea never make it back alive. They can't find a victim, or they sink in a storm, or they run out of fuel and drift till they die. Who takes two-to-one odds they'll survive except desperate amateurs?… Hang on.”

Laughlin reached for his phone and turned away. Janson watched Helms pace until Laughlin pocketed his phone.

“Here's another reason to reconsider. Rumor that's usually right says the pirates who seizedTarantulaare led by a scumbag named Maxammed. His last hijacking ended in three dead hostages. They call him Mad Max, as in ‘When in doubt, shoot.'”

“At least he's not an amateur.”

Expression opaque, the FBI agent extended his hand. “Good luck. Don't believe what you read in the papers about the new parliament and their new president. Somalia is still a mess—suicide bombings, assassinations, criminal gangs, drug running, shooting journalists, graft, and corruption. You know why? Because bad people love failed states.”

“All the more reason to back the good people,” said Janson.

With a brusque nod, Agent Laughlin turned left, downtown, to the Federal Courthouse. Janson turned right, glided through the pedestrian scrum, and appeared suddenly before Kingsman Helms, blocking his path with a pleasant smile.

“Sorry I'm late.”

Jessica Kincaid appeared just as suddenly from the other direction, a sweatshirt draped over her shoulders and a handbag under her arm. Her hair was slicked back from a sweaty workout as if she lived in the neighborhood and showered at home. Like other young women walking by in yoga pants, she could have left her kids with the nanny, or perhaps she was just waking up from a late-night restaurant shift. Janson saw that she was on edge, her eyes hyperactive, not loving his choice for the meet with its myriad walkways crowded with civilians and the dense pack of cars in the shadowy parking lots under the pier shed.

Janson took Helms's elbow. “Let's walk.”

He steered him outdoors into the morning light. The pier thrust west two hundred meters into the Hudson River. There was a narrow walk between the two-story pier shed and the slip. The parking-garage doors were open to the breeze. The slip was filled with charter yachts and dinner boats moored alongside. Kincaid trailed, watching the cars and the boats.

“My wife's family is pressuring the Italian government,” Helms said. “They have influence.”

“To do what?”

“Enlist the military. What's your opinion of Italian Special Forces?”

“They invented underwater commando tactics, back in the day. But they're not SEALs. I'll say it again, pirates are either a US Navy job, or you pay the ransom.”

“It's too late for ransom. They killed the yacht's owner.”

Janson said, “We've learned that Mr. Adler was a hothead used to getting his own way. He made his pile taking huge risks trading currency. Hotheaded gamblers used to getting their way make fatal mistakes when they fall in with the wrong crowd.” He kept the “Mad Max” Maxammed rumor to himself.

Helms shook his head impatiently, clearly uninterested in Adler beyond what his death augured for his wife's safety. “You continue to fail to understand my point. I have seen you both in action. I know what I'm asking for. The best.”

Janson raised his eyebrows and cast Kincaid a look as if he were asking,How do we get out of this?Kincaid was frowning at the dinner cruise boatBateaux Celestial,where busboys and waiters setting tables for lunch could be seen only murkily through a smoked glass canopy.

“You're not qualified to judge the best,” Janson said bluntly. “But if you're hell-bent on going the private-enterprise route instead of using your considerable clout to engage the Navy, why not hire the president of your Global Security Division?”

“Doug Case? He's in a wheelchair.”

Janson stopped walking. He held on to Helms's arm, which stopped him abruptly. “You say you've seen us in action, Kingsman. You have no idea what you've seen.Ihave seen Doug Case in action. And Iamqualified to judge the best. Even in a wheelchair Doug can outfight and outsmart any pirate on the Indian Ocean. And he's got the contacts in East Africa, where ASC is exploring for oil, are you not?”

“Damned straight we are. The East African rift is one of the last great oil and natural-gas deposits on the planet.”

Janson shot an unreadable glance in Kincaid's direction. “‘Rift' is the operative word,” he said, and quoted from the Catspaw reports he had commissioned to prep for meeting Helms.

“There are currently three Somalias: Somaliland—a functioning state in the north; Puntland—a semifunctioning, clan-dominated state in the middle; and southern Somalia—a chaotic region supposedly governed by Mogadishu, the capital city, where the situation is fluid to say the least. Today they build a new hotel, tomorrow somebody blows it up. They write a constitution to elect a parliament. Then clan elders whose warlords savaged the country for twenty years buy votes to elect the parliament. And the parliament appoints the president. Shall I go on?”

“At least you're not pretending you don't know your way around Africa.”

Paul Janson tightened his grip on the executive's elbow and resumed walking. Africa was where he had killed his first man, when Kingsman Helms was in seventh grade.

“The new parliament is defended, sort of, by Somali forces, but still largely by AMISOM—African Union Mission to Somalia—Ugandan soldiers, mostly, who are still fighting hard-line Islamist al-Shabaab rebels for control of the countryside. Meanwhile, Kenyans invade from the west, and Ethiopia attacks from the north. If you're having trouble keeping track, think of it this way: Mogadishu still can't control itself, much less Puntland—where the pirates took your wife.”

“I know all this,” said Helms.

“Then you know to let ASC Security field your rescue team. Why not keep it in your family?”

Helms said, “I can't trust Doug Case. We're fighting for the same job.”

That answered that question: the Isle de Foree trouncing had upended the gang that ran ASC, and Doug Case had pulled alongside Kingsman Helms in the perpetual race to take over when the fabled Buddha finally fell dead on his desk. While security was not ordinarily on the corporate leadership ladder, American Synergy was no ordinary corporation. The Buddha, its CEO, was a former spy who had retired from Consular Operations many years before Janson served, and its extraordinarily autonomous divisions were commanded by outsized men and women who would be more at home in a Somali clan war than most holders of master's of business administration degrees. Janson recalled Doug Case describing the division presidents' committee as a viper's nest, with Helms the head viper. Janson glanced back at Kincaid, who regularly reminded him that Doug Case had fangs too.

“Is Doug Buddha's latest fair-haired boy?”

“I just admitted as much,” said Helms. “Let's stick to the subject of rescuing my wife.”

Jessica Kincaid forged alongside and settled cold eyes on Helms. “You may want us. But Doug Case is president of ASC Security. Who's going to write our check?”

Helms smiled. “I am president of the Petroleum Division, Ms. Kincaid. I write my own checks. In fact, I carry a loose one in my wallet for emergencies.” He drew an Hermès wallet from his inside breast pocket, extracted a gold pen and a blank check, and placed the check on the back of the wallet. The breeze plucked the paper. Kincaid stepped closer to hold it down with her fingers. Helms wrote “Catspaw Associates, LLC” and the date.

“How much?”

Janson supposed that Helms's limit was five million. He would have to ask the Buddha to clear higher amounts. Demanding seven or eight million dollars would make Helms—and the Buddha—believe that Janson really didn't want the job. But before he could say eight million, Kincaid surprised him. Either Jess still didn't want the job, or she was reading Helms better than he was.

“Ten million,” she said. “Expenses paid weekly.”

“Same price,” Janson added, “whether we fight her out or buy her out with your ransom money.”

Helms wrote numbers and words, signed the check, and handed it over, startling Janson almost as much as the next word out of Kincaid's mouth.

“Sniper!”


Page 6

SIX

Paul Janson kicked Kingsman Helms's feet out from under him and knocked the executive to the pavement. A bullet passed through the space Helms had occupied and smacked through the window behind him. Kincaid pointed toward a cigarette boat thundering past, four hundred meters out on the river, and they both hit the deck. A slug twanged off the railing.

“Helms, don't move!” Janson shouted. To Kincaid, he said, “Strollers behind us.”

Janson sprinted toward the south corner of the pier shed, keeping below the partial shelter of the railing. Kincaid raced for the north corner.

The “strollers”—the sniper's finish team—rounded the corners with Glocks in hand and Bluetooth clips on their ears. They were wearing suits, masquerading as fit, young traders up at Chelsea Piers for a spinning class—except that traders didn't leave their floor at nine in the morning, and traders' tailors did not forget to remove the manufacturer's label from the sleeves of new suits, a curious lapse by a professional kill team.

The Bluetooths meant that the sniper was directing them via cell phone.

Both took deliberate aim at Kingsman Helms, who was sprawled on the pavement equidistant between them. Neither saw an immediate threat in a small woman wearing yoga gear and an older man in a corduroy jacket. Kill the target, then the witnesses.

Kincaid slid a carbon-fiber blade from the bottom of her bag.

Janson was farther from his man. He went straight at him. The assassin noticed the rush and wheeled his weapon. Janson went airborne, low as a base runner sliding into second, boots-first into the stroller's leading leg, and shattered his ankle.

Few men could have kept his grip on his weapon, but this one did, even as he crumbled to the pavement with a gasp of pain. Janson closed both hands on his wrist and smashed the hand holding the gun against the building. The stroller's fingers splayed open. Janson caught the Glock, banged it twice against the man's temple, and swept the walkway for his backup.

Thunder on the Hudson River behind him told him that the cigarette boat was racing to the rescue, closing fast on the pier. Janson braced the Glock on the railing, waited until the boat was within thirty meters, and fired repeatedly, aiming for the silhouette of the driver behind the windshield. The bullets starred the glass but didn't penetrate. The sniper stood up, aiming his rifle. Janson fired again.

The boat jinked sharply left. Janson's shot missed, but came close enough to make the sniper duck. The boat had to slew away before it struck the pier. The turn exposed the driver and the sniper. Janson fired again. The driver clutched his arm. The sniper grabbed the wheel and the boat turned tail toward the middle of the river.

A shout behind Janson whipped his head toward Kincaid. Blood was gushing from the second stroller's face, and blood was streaming from his hand. He too had dropped his gun, but despite his pain and shock had thrown the much lighter Kincaid fifteen feet to the edge of the pier and halfway over the railing. Before she could untangle herself, he bolted around the corner. By the time Janson got there, he was racing down the walkway and headed for the nearest door to the parking garage.

Kincaid scooped up the gun and started after him.

The sniper on the river fired again, covering the stroller's retreat.

“Down!” said Janson, and he and Kincaid hit the deck, again. Chasing the stroller would get civilians killed. They slithered toward the center of the pier, where Helms was flat on the paved deck watching in wide-eyed disbelief.

“Were they trying to shoot me?”

“Who were they?”

“How would I know?”

Paul Janson dialed 911.

“Pier Sixty,” he told the dispatcher. “Chelsea Piers. Sniper on a cigarette boat bearing south at fifty knots. One gunman in the parking garage, bleeding from the face. One gunman secured at the river end of the pier with a broken leg.”

Jessica Kincaid dropped her carbon-fiber blade into the river and dialed a former close-combat student who was a captain in the New York Police Department.

A roving NYPD Emergency Service Unit drawn by the gunfire responded in two minutes. A police launch arrived in five, and within ten minutes of the last shot fired a hundred cops had swarmed into the Chelsea Piers complex. Kincaid's student, a raven-haired beauty in a dark-blue Counterterrorism Bureau polo shirt, arrived on a motorcycle.

*  *  *

THE SNIPER ATTACKcost Janson and Kincaid twelve precious hours as they cooperated with the cops who were piecing together what had happened. Nine o'clock at night found them still pretending patience in a conference room on the sixth floor of One Police Plaza, where Kingsman Helms sat flanked by lawyers from the venerable white-shoe firm Dagget, Staples & Hitchcock.

Janson thanked the gods for Kincaid's former student. Without the counterterrorism officer's clout, it would have been worse. She even got them permission to use their phones so that they could use much of the long day to continue gathering intelligence on the Somali pirates.

Catspaw Associates contractors had of course shifted into high gear. No contractor was required to drop another client in mid-course, but the pay was top and the work intriguing, and they tended to gather quickly.

A Somali-American college student had been hired on to translate. A kid recently paroled from jail had been recruited to explain the pirate culture of his distant homeland and compile a list of pirate cell-phone numbers. The best get was a Somali-American real estate mogul who found properties for emigrating Somali businessmen. He was setting Janson up with introductions to movers and shakers in Mogadishu.

Janson and Kincaid had to clear one more hurdle to get out of police headquarters and on their way to Somalia: Deputy Commissioner Eddie Thomas, a Brooklyn-born former gold-shield detective, who stood five-feet-six in a 54 Short sharkskin suit. Thomas had cock-of-the-walk looks that Kincaid's former student found interesting, judging by her acquisitive expression. When he finally looked up from his underlings' reports stacked on the table in front of him, his black eyes glittered like anthracite.

“Do I get this straight? The cigarette boat was abandoned in St. George on Staten Island, minus the sniper and crew. The gunman who witnesses saw bleeding profusely from a fall he apparently suffered while escaping has not shown up in any emergency rooms. The other gunman, who broke his leg somehow, is identified as Sabastiano Bardellino, an assassin who works for the Camorra, the Naples mafia, which explains why Mr. Bardellino has not uttered a word and he never will, even if he was sentenced to life in prison, which he won't be because the only crime we can charge him with is waving a pistol in public, which is not the most unusual occurrence in our city, and he never fired it.”

Deputy Commissioner Thomas paused to stare at Kingsman Helms and the lawyers. He glanced at Janson and Kincaid, and his lips tightened. He looked down at the reports in front of him. “In regards to the sniper's target, Mr. Helms denies any knowledge of who would want to assassinate him, and he pleads complete ignorance about the Camorra, knowledge of which would not fall within the purview of a Texas oil company executive, it has been pointed out repeatedly to me by Mr. Helms's counselors. So mistaken identity seems as plausible as any other suggestion I've heard today. And Mr. uh, Janson, here, did not bring with him the Glock that he fired in panic, shall we say, at the cigarette boat, but merely snatched it from Mr. Bardellino to protect his companion, Ms… um, Kincaid, and subsequently dropped it in a similar panic into the river, where Marine Unit divers recovered it along with numerous other discarded firearms and knives, including this carbon-fiber blade of the sort that does not show up in metal detectors.”

Commissioner Thomas picked the blade up, held it to the light, and smiled thinly at Kincaid. “In other words, all asses are covered.”

“Thank you, Commissioner,” chorused the lawyers.

*  *  *

ONPEARLSTREEToutside a back door, Kingsman Helms broke loose from his lawyers.

“Janson, can I assume that you are at least preparing to rescue Allegra in case ransom negotiations fall through?”

“We're on our way.”

“Where?”

“First stop, Hamburg.”

“Germany? What's in Germany?”

“The shipyard that built theTarantula.”

Helms started to ask another question.

Janson cut him off. “What are you doing to ensure your safety?”

“It was mistaken identity. They thought I was somebody else.”

“I'd lay low if I were you. Your HQ in Houston is a fortress. You'll be safe there.”

Helms said, “Actually, I'm leaving for Africa on a company Gulfstream. ASC gives me bodyguards when I travel. The best.”

“Will you be in Somalia?” asked Kincaid.

“My work takes me all over East Africa.”

She asked, “Does it strike you as a funny coincidence that your wife was pirated to Somalia while you're working there?”

“Rotten luck, not coincidence. Allegra was finishing appraising a collection in the Seychelles and we planned to meet in Mombasa. The yacht was spur of the moment. Allegra was introduced to the owner in Victoria. He happened to be sailing to Mombasa and she decided to catch a ride.”

“Did you plan to meet him?”

“I assumed we would take him to dinner in Mombasa. You know, as a thank-you—Janson, I have to know exactly what your next move is.”

Janson said, “Your wife is camera shy. I want you to e-mail me any photographs you have in which she is not wearing sunglasses. I've got tons of schoolgirl photos, but nothing that shows her face since she was a teenager.”

*  *  *

“IAM BAFFLED,” he told Jessica Kincaid in the car racing to West­chesterAirport. Ten thirty at night, midweek, their driver was weaving through homebound theatre and restaurant traffic. “Italian hit men try to take out our client. Makes no sense.”

“The guy was definitely aiming at Helms,” Kincaid agreed.

“And when the strollers came around the corner, they were aiming for Helms. Why would Camorra hit men try to kill Kingsman Helms?”

Their driver passed the airport terminal, continued on to a chain-link fence, and stopped at a security speakerphone. “Eight Two Two Romeo Echo.”

“Do you buy Allegra on that particular yacht being coincidence?”

“Sounds like one. Funny thing, though,” mused Janson as the gate slid open, “speaking of coincidences.”

“Yeah?”

“Somalia was an Italian colony.”

“What, eighty years ago?”

“Mussolini's Africa Orientale Italiana.”

Kincaid said, “Hooking Helms to Mussolini is mighty far-fetched.”

She was not surprised when Janson turned very serious. “When options run out, survivors have far-fetched standing by.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Jess.” Paul Janson grabbed her hand and squeezed hard. “Operators who ignore far-fetched get killed. Operators who dismiss options get killed.”

“OK, Paul.”

“When in doubt, remember London.”

“I remember Amsterdam.” Her Lambda sniper team had been assigned to kill a rogue agent who had betrayed Consular Operations. The rogue had not been easy to kill. He had turned the London operation on its ear, and her into a first-class football clod.

And when she finally had him in her sights, in Amsterdam, the Machine had taught her a whole new definition of far-fetched: Paul Janson had convinced her that he was not a rogue agent; Cons Ops had betrayedhim; and Jessica Kincaid had come within a nanosecond of letting the bosses trick her into killing the wrong man.

“I'm alive today,” said Janson, “because as young and dumb as you were back then, you opened your eyes to far-fetched.”

“Thanks for the history lesson, Old-Timer.”

“Let's see if Mussolini's waiting on the plane.”

SEVEN

Catspaw's fourteen-passenger Embraer 650 stood by itself in the dark at the edge of the runways, which were speckled with blue, yellow, and green taxi and runway lights. Janson had had most of the seats removed to upgrade the big silver jet with a full galley, study, a sleeping area, dressing room, and shower. With fuel capacity for a four-thousand-mile transoceanic range and broadband satellite data links, they could go anywhere in the world on short notice and arrive fed, rested, geared up, and informed.

“Ready when you are, boss,” Lynn Novicki, their senior pilot greeted them at the top of the retractable stairs, which entered the ship right behind the cockpit. “Have you guys eaten?”

“Police Department takeout. What's that I smell? Cumin and cinnamon and ginger.”

“Camel burgers on flatbread. Sarah found a Minneapolis grocery to feed the Somalis something they'd like.” First Officer Sarah Peterson was in the right-hand cockpit seat, talking to the tower.

“We'll take off in thirty minutes.”

Three tall, thin men with light-brown skin and prominent brows rose eagerly when Janson and Kincaid stepped into the forward cabin. The student and the parolee were young. Isse, the student, was dressed in a white shirt and jeans. Ahmed, the parolee, sported a black “Somali Coast Guard” T-shirt with a skull and crossed AK-47s. The real estate mogul was in his forties and wore a pricy blue suit and a bright-yellow tie.

Catspaw had vetted all three. Salah Hassan, a wealthy businessman with his feet in many seas, was the best source. The kids, no one was sure about: Ahmed's jail time had been for selling khat—a Somali stimulant that was illegal in Minnesota—on a business scale larger than dealing to friends. Isse, whose parents were professionals, had lived a sheltered suburban life. Janson extended his hand. “Paul, Mr. Hassan. Thank you coming along on such short notice.”

“If we knew what cooks your pilots are, we'd have come sooner.”

“Awesome burger,” said Ahmed.

“My first ever,” said Isse.

Janson introduced Kincaid. “Jess, my colleague.”

Kincaid had streamed a video about Somali customs on her phone while stuck at police headquarters. She knew to offer the peace greeting,Assalamu alaikum,but not shake hands with the men.

Janson said, “We will fly you gentlemen to Mogadishu by commercial airline after debriefing you in New York, but I wanted a moment with you first. I'm assuming you're comfortable flying into Mogadishu?”

“Things are better,” said Hassan. “I was there only last month. I would not dub the city ‘restored to former splendor,' but it is possible to do business.”

“Isse and Ahmed, you were born in America. Isse, do you speak fluent Somali?”

Isse nodded.

“Fluent enough to translate?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you, Ahmed,” he said to the parolee. “You can translate Somali too?”

“No prob. My parents spoke it all the time.”

“I understand that you have a clansman who used to be a pirate.”

“Saakin. My cousin. My father's cousin actually. He's younger than my father, but older than me. Major pirate. One of the first. Made a ton of dough.”

“Any idea what induced Saakin to reform?”

Ahmed grinned. “He lost his taste for it when he got shot.” His grin faded. “Now he's kind of hobbling around on a walker.”

“What can he do for us?”

“He has everybody's cell-phone numbers.”

“Don't they change them?”

“Every day. But he stays friends.”

Janson looked skeptical. Ahmed explained, “He brings them stuff they need.”

“Got it.” Cousin Saakin was acting as supply sergeant. “Ahmed, what do pirates want?”

“Money.”

“For what?”

“To buy khat, SUVs, and wives,” said Ahmed.

“What's their religion?”

“SUVs and wives and getting high chewing khat leaves.”

Janson grinned back at him. “And the same goes for politics?”

“You got it.”

“No,” interrupted Isse. “Ahmed's T-shirt is not a joke to everyone. A lot of them are trying to protect Somali fishing waters from foreign trawlers that wreck the seabed and kill all the fish.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said Ahmed. “Until they start chewing khat. Then it's talk, talk, talk. And wife, wife, wife.”

“It's more complicated,” said the student. “They have a mission.”

“Heroes?” scoffed the parolee. “Laugh out loud. They're criminals.”

“What were you in jail for?”

“I got caught learning entrepreneurship,” Ahmed answered with another open grin. “But at least I'm bringing home business skills that'll help Somalia a lot more than ramming ‘missions' down people's throats.”

“Missions?”

They were raising their voices, which Janson did not take seriously, recalling that throughout Africa, Somalis were as famous as Nigerians for high-decibel debate.

“What does ‘missions' mean?” Isse shouted.

“Al-Shabaab—pray like we say or we'll kill you.”

“There is more to al-Shabaab. They are about respecting Islam.”

Ahmed laughed. “Islam should be more than bitching about being dissed.”

“Al-Shabaab demands respect.”

“Somalis don't need that shit.”

Isse balled his fists. “Islam is not—”

Janson stepped between them, impermeable as a cinder-block wall. “Isse, do you have pirates in your family?”

The student said, “My father is a doctor, my mom's a nurse. One of my grandfathers was a cleric, the other was a pharmacist.”

“I can see how you'd be short of pirates in your immediate family, but what about clansmen and cousins?”

“I know what you're saying, sir. But it's not like all Somalis are pirates.”

“Let me put it this way,” Janson said patiently. “Who are you connected to in Mogadishu who could help us ransom this lady who was kidnapped by pirates?”

Isse looked alarmed. “I thought you needed a translator. I mean, I just don't know any pirates.”

Kincaid stepped closer. “Do you know anyone in the government?”

“Sure. Ministry of Health people. They stay with my parents when they come here.”

“What about clerics? Any of your grandfather's colleagues?”

“I never met him. He was killed before I was born—But I really want to help you.”

Janson said, “I appreciate that. Jess, why don't you give Isse and Ahmed a tour of the cockpit? Jess is a pilot too,” he explained to Isse and Ahmed.

Ahmed bounded eagerly after her. Isse followed, looking anxious.

Janson exchanged grown-man smiles with the real estate agent.

“Mr. Hassan, do I understand correctly that you have maintained your business contacts in Mogadishu?”

Salah Hassan's smile grew enormous. “There's a saying in real estate: the broker knows everything in town before it happens. Since my clients are from Somalia, I'm up to date intwotowns: Minneapolis and Mogadishu. Knowing who is up and who is down, who chooses to emigrate, who has to run for it, that's how I know to have my agents scout a home or a factory or a shop before they arrive.”

“In Mogadishu? Who's up? Who's down?”

“Home Boy Gutaale. He's nicknamed Home Boy for ‘He who came home.' Gutaale prospered abroad, here in America, with a heating-oil business. But instead of just hanging out in a dollar country, Gutaale went back home and put himself on the line—long before things started calming down. Gutaale is much admired by the wealthy expatriate Somalis who control Somali business from abroad. It's in their economic interest that Gutaale imposes stability.”

“How would Home Boy do that?”

“You could call him a warlord. Very, very good at it. He is a mythic figure, secular, not religious, allied by blood and marriage to many clans. Ordinary people love him too. He's got the common touch. Wears a bushy red beard people see a mile away. And also, he's pushing the old dream of Greater Somalia, which they all love him for.”

“The empire?” asked Janson.

“Believe it. Five hundred years ago the king of Soomaaliweyn ruled the Horn of Africa from Mombasa all the way to the Red Sea. Home Boy reminds the world's most infamous failed state of our prouder history. People have begun to call him the George Washington of Soomaaliweyn.”

“Won't Kenya and Ethiopia object?” Janson asked drily, thinking that there was nothing like a war with the neighbors to pull a nation together.

Hassan replied with a dismissive shrug, “Did your George Washington give a hoot for British objections?”

“Have you ever met Gutaale?”

“He spoke at one of our fund-raisers. Haven't seen him since he went back and that was years ago.”

“But I understood you're back and forth from Mog. Never bumped into him there?”

Hassan smiled. He straightened his necktie. He cast an appreciative eye over the Embraer's luxurious interior. Then he shook his head. “Our stations changed, shall we say? Realtors tend not to bump into warlords.”

“Unless they're looking for a safe retreat abroad.”

“Gutaale is not looking for safety.”

“Who else is up?”

“The radical wingnut Mullah Abdullah al-Amriki—‘The American.' Muslim cleric. You can see him rapping in al-Shabaab videos on YouTube. He wears a long beard and rants against Western oppression. Abdullah, of course, means ‘slave of God.' But he's also called ‘Thumper.'”

“Thumper?”

“He has a habit of pounding his chest when he raps.Thump.Thump.Thump. Here's the crazy thing: his parents emigrated to Maine when he was a teenager and he spent a couple of miserable years in an American high school. For some reason microwave ovens really annoy him. His raps are always bitching that Somalia doesn't have any microwaves. Like I say, the Thumper is a wingnut.”

“But you say he's up?”

“Believe it. He is a hell of a fund-raiser for al-Shabaab, and he commands their foreign fighters.Inshallah,a CIA Predator takes him out or the pirates shoot him.”

“Why would pirates shoot him?”

“Abdullah al-Amriki declared piracyharam—religiously forbidden. Ordinary citizens thank him for that. They hate swaggering gangsters taking over their villages, roaring around their streets in SUVs. Needless to say, the pirates are not amused.”

“Which pirate would hit him?”

“Whoever stops chewing khat long enough to concentrate. I expected ‘King' Bashir would gun him down. Bashir had set up a sort of pirate ‘stock exchange' in Puntland. By kicking in seed money to get a cut of the ransom, you could invest in hijacking without getting your feet wet. Bashir also organized a pirate coalition in response to the foreign navy pressure.”

“Bashir sounds like a comer.”

“He was. But I just heard a rumor that Bashir is out of business. And I can assure you in Somalia, most rumors are true.”

“Who will replace him?” asked Janson. “Mad Max?”

Hassan raised an eyebrow. “You should be in real estate, Paul.”

“What's the word on Max?”

“Maxammed belongs to the same subclan as President Mohamed Adam.”

“That ought to give him a long leg up.”

Hassan shook his head. “President Adam is known as ‘Raage,' which means ‘he who delayed at birth.' In other words, he is very cautious.”

Janson said, “I don't suppose President Adam can protect Mad Max hundreds of miles up the coast in Puntland?”

“Even if he could, Adam can't risk any appearance of extending government protection to a pirate. He's just been appointed by the new parliament, which puts him on very thin ice. President Adam will be way too busy trying to convince Somalia that he can become a visionary national leader.”

“Why is Max called Mad Max?” asked Janson, expecting something more precise from Hassan than Special Agent Laughlin's “When in doubt, shoot.”

Salah Hassan delivered a roundabout answer in wistful tones. “Among the joys of my country—almost equal to her most beautiful women, and right up there with proud herdsman, amazingly resilient farmers, tenacious businessmen, lovely beaches yearning for rich tourists, and her once-glorious cities—is her custom of giving people nicknames. Everyone gets a nickname and most are dead-on accurate.”

“What precisely do people mean when they call him Mad Max?”

“Mad Max is volatile as jet fuel and vicious as a scorpion. But, having said that, I would also say that considering his connections and the atmosphere of leadership he observed growing up in his family, Mad Max's ambitions are more ambitious than ‘khat and SUVs.' Is it he who hijacked the yacht?”

“Could be,” said Janson, and changed the subject. “Who else is up?”

“The Italian.”

More nicknames. “What does ‘Italian' mean? Another outsider?”

Hassan shrugged. “A new player surfaced in Mogadishu recently. I've heard of no one who has seen his face or knows his true name. Talk is he's raising a private army—maybe one of the private security companies in Dubai is working for him. He has money—vast resources.”

“Where does he get his money?” Janson asked. “Who's backing him?”

“I don't know. But there are rumors he will take over Mogadishu or all of the south or maybe even the whole country.”

“If no one has seen him or heard his name, how do they know he's there?”

“People have disappeared. Key people. Supporters of President Adam. Supporters of the AMISOM, the African Union's army. People who might help stabilize the country. People who might ask for help from the Ethiopians or the Kenyans or the UN. Even al-Shabaab allies.” Hassan grinned. “The Italian appears to be an equal-opportunity assassin.”


Page 7

“Don't you find it hard to believe that no one in Mogadishu has even seen this new player?”

“Are you aware, Paul, that Mogadishu is a very large city?”

“I recall a beautiful city the first time I saw it.”

Hassan looked surprised. “You must have been very young when you were there.”

“Very young,” Janson admitted. “I was passing through.” Shedding identities on his way to South Africa. Or, as his controllers had put it: sanding your edges. “I remember palm trees and white stucco and beautiful women and elegant streets. You could imagine people strolling in the evenings, like thepasseggiatain Italy.” The truth was, bombings and firefights had begun pocking holes in the stucco, and the rebel factions attacking the dictator's regime had cleared the streets. But it had been possible to imagine what was being lost.

Hassan said, “It is more crowded than ever. Two million people are packed into Mogadishu. Hundreds of thousands are newcomers. Many are fleeing famine and war. But some smell opportunity. Global corporations want our oil and gas. Government agents scheme to shift East Africa's balance of power. Mercenaries want to fight. All have reason to operate undercover in Somalia.”

Janson was more interested in how the “Italian” might connect to the pirates who held Allegra Helms. It was harder and harder to believe that assassins from Naples had pegged shots at Kingsman Helms by mistake.

“You say that Somali nicknames are always accurate. Does that mean he is actually from Italy?”

“We have a long history with Italy. Italians tried to colonize us. Italians modernized farming in the river valleys. What remains of our city architecture is Italian. And to this day we love marinara sauce on our ‘basta.'” He grinned, again. “We eat much more ‘basta' than camel burgers.”

“What's your best guess? Is the ‘Italian' actually from Italy?” Janson pressed.

“Perhaps the ‘Italian' is Italian. Perhaps he only is ‘Italian-like.'”

“What would be ‘Italian-like'?”

“Having a strong desire to own Somalia.”

Paul Janson stood up and offered his hand. “Thank you, Mr. Hassan.” He had learned all he could. It was time to get off the ground and work the phones. “When we meet in Mogadishu, feel free to bring along friends as knowledgeable as you are. They will be compensated.”

“May I ask you what you want from the youngsters, Isse and Ahmed?”

“Same thing I want from you. Information and contacts in the event we can't simply ransom the hostages.”

“So we are your contingency you pray you won't need?”

Janson said, “I was taught to never depend on options that I hoped I would think up at the last minute.”

As they shook hands, Janson drew the Somali close and asked in a low voice with a nod toward the cockpit, “What do you think of young Isse?”

“The hope of tomorrow. Educated Somali youth who come home will save our country.”

*  *  *

JANSON HANDED OUT“shanzhai”counterfeit smart phones, a type commonly purchased by young budget-conscious Third World businesspeople. “Numbers to reach us are programmed in.”

“Direct?” asked Ahmed.

“They'll get you to people who can get to us. Use it like any mobile. You can store new contacts, set up your e-mail. But here's the thing: there's a panic Delete app if you get in trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“Use the panic button if you're afraid you're caught by people who might endanger your contacts. You can protect your friends and yourself by deleting everything potentially incriminating with one swipe. Contacts, e-mails, texts, GPS history, everything. Watch.”

He called up the app and held his finger over a red button that appeared on the screen.

“Touch and hold for two full seconds. Once it's wiped, you can say you just bought a new phone and haven't loaded it up, yet. Where'd you buy it? On the street. See, it's a counterfeit…”

The Somalis looked sobered by the thought. He said, “Ninety-nine out of a hundred you won't need it. But it's there; you'll be safe from everyone except Apple's patent-infringement detectives.”

That got smiles. Janson gave Kincaid the nod. She walked Hassan and Ahmed down the boarding stairs.

Isse hung back. “Paul, could I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“Should I maybe try to make contact with Abdullah al-Amriki?”

“Thecleric? What for?”

“To ask if al-Amriki might help if we need help rescuing the woman.”

Janson said, “He hates Americans. Why would he help?”

“He hates pirates, too. He declared piratesharam.”

“So I'm told. But he's tight with al-Shabaab.”

“But al-Shabaab is getting their asses kicked.”

“And you're thinking al-Amriki may need new friends.”

The boy answered earnestly, “He may want to be part of a new government. He wouldn't be the first fighter to beat his sword into a plow. Right?”

“All right, keep your ears open. He's hiding in the bush, but he'll have agents in Mog.”

“Maybe I should try to find him,” Isse ventured.

“No!”

“I wouldn't mind trying. I mean, he doesn't hate all Americans. Only ones who disrespect Muslims.”

“Stay away from him,” Janson said firmly.

“Why, if he would help?”

Janson slung an arm around the kid's shoulder. “Isse, I appreciate your wanting to help. But Abdullah al-Amriki is hiding in a war zone. I do not want you to happen to be shaking his hand when AMISOM tanks open fire. What I want you to do, in addition to standing by to translate, is this: First thing, when you get to Mog, call on your parents' friends at the Ministry of Health. You will be most helpful to me if you make government contacts.”

“Yeah, but they won't know pirates.”

“You don't know that. Doctors meet everyone.”

“I guess.”

“I want every door open,” Janson said. “Do you understand me? The more friends we make, the more options we have.”

*  *  *

TARANTULARAN FORthe Puntland Coast, trailing a creamy wake.

Her cruising diesels were straining flat out, but the fastest they could drive the yacht was a frighteningly slow twenty knots while a frantic Maxammed and Boyah, his engineer, tried every trick they knew to start the high-speed turbines. Somehow, they concluded, the captain who had sabotaged the radar had also disabled the turbines. Only at dawn did they finally discover what the devil had done.

The fortified safe room that contained the circuit breakers he had manipulated to zap the electronics with a power surge was also astride the fuel lines that fed the high-speed turbines. Hidden behind a false cabinet were valves. Sabotage had been a simple matter of shutting them. Laughing with relief, they opened the valves and fired up the turbines.Tarantula's speed leapt to thirty knots and her propellers churned the Indian Ocean white as snow.

EIGHT

43°31' N, 67°35' W42,000 Feet Above the Gulf of Maine

We're on our way. Thank everyone who got us the Somalis. Hassan was a good catch.”

Paul Janson's Embraer was soaring through the night on a northeasterly course, bound for Hamburg, with a refueling stop in Newfoundland, and he was checking in with Quintisha Upchurch, who was Catspaw and Phoenix's general operations manager. He instructed her to continue posting research reports to the cloud so he could read them on the fly and asked, “Any calls?”

The moment he had gone operational, calls to his regular cell and sat phone numbers were rerouted directly to her. Quintisha and Quintisha alone could find him anywhere in the world, night or day.

“The most interesting is from Mr. Douglas Case of ASC,” she answered in a honey-toned, musical voice. “Mr. Case asked if you could return his call when you have a moment.”

“Well, well, well.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

They went through the other messages—impatient queries from Helms, FBI agent Laughlin reporting he'd have something soon, and confirmation of their appointment at the Hamburg shipyard.

“Any word on Denny Chin?”

“Dr. Novicki reports he's settling in.” The Phoenix doctor was their pilot Lynn's husband.

“Any other ‘unauthorized self-checkouts' I should know about?”

Quintisha replied that none of the Phoenix rehabilitation homes reported any patients lighting out for parts unknown. “But I did get a disturbing call from Daniel.”

“The kid in Corsica.” Former SEAL intelligence officer who had made an impressive comeback from an IED head injury. “Is he still OK?”

“Yes. I don't have to bother you with it just now, as it doesn't concern a Phoenix patient.”

“Go ahead.”

“Daniel caught wind of something in Sardinia.” The island lay just across the narrow Strait of Bonifacio from Corsica, where Daniel ran a dive shop. “Yousef is gone.”

“You're kidding.”

Last they had heard, the dictator's son whom Janson and Kincaid had rescued last year had ended up in a villa on Sardinia.

“When?”

“Daniel doesn't know. He only found out by accident from some tourists who rented the villa. Apparently it had been empty for a while.”

As Janson got off the line and started to dial Case, he caught Kincaid's eye. She was wearing her headset and was repeating words in Somali. Janson mouthed,“Guess who wants me to call him back.”

“Doug Case,” she said aloud. She pulled off her headset to add, “I don't trust him.”

“I'm keeping an eye on him. Guess who flew the coop?”

“Denny Chin?”

“Yousef.”

“Oh, man. That's all we need. That little weasel going home to lead a counterrevolution courtesy of Catspaw.”

“If he is, we'll have to go looking for him. I told Quintisha to put out feelers. Meantime, Mrs. Helms takes priority—OK, go back to your Somali. I'll do Doug.”

Doug Case, American Synergy's president of Global Security, was the first burned-out covert intelligence agent the Phoenix Foundation “rescued” from homelessness and addiction. Janson, Kincaid believed, had dangerously mixed feelings about the former assassin, who had been second only to the Machine at Consular Operations. Her own feelings were not at all mixed.

Case answered on the second ring, “Well, well, well.”

Janson pictured him. ASC's president of security was a rugged man about Janson's age, corporately smoothed over with a $200 haircut, a $4,000 suit, and English shoes like Kingsman Helms. But the soles of his shoes would remain forever shiny. Doug was stuck in a wheelchair—a tech-heavy six-wheel electric “superchair” with enough buttons and dials to launch a moon shot, and outriggers that extended when he used the hydraulic seat to lift him to eye level with a standing man—but still a wheelchair.

Case was a Cons Ops veteran too, of course, and they had been through the wars together. Janson knew that there wasn't a covert officer, active or retired, himself included, who didn't ask of that wheelchair, Why him? Why not me? When is my turn? That a failed suicide jump had put Doug in that chair was a relief only to those with little imagination.

“I had hoped,” Case said, “that you would make it down for the grand opening of my latest gangbanger haven.”

Whatever Janson's misgivings, whatever his suspicions, the rehabilitation homes that the wheelchair-bound Case had set up for Houston teenagers crippled in gang shootings were unalloyed good work.

“I had hoped too,” said Janson. “How did it go?”

“Swimmingly, thank you.”

“How'd your operation go?”

“Better than the last. Docs popped in a new stimulator. Damned thing's smaller than a dime and charges wirelessly.”

To alleviate the pain that radiated from his shattered spine, Doug had had numerous spinal-cord-stimulation implants, which consisted of a titanium-alloy-clad mini charging coil, battery, and electrodes. He replaced them repeatedly as they grew smaller and more sophisticated.

“How's the pain?”

“Pretty good. When it hurts, I wave my magic control wand, all I feel is a tingle. Most of the time.”

“Congratulations.” This latest model, Janson knew, had doubled the number of electrodes; the “magic wand” let him adjust the intensity and frequency of the pulses via an inductively coupled controller.

“It beats heroin,” Doug said.

“You called. What's up?”

“I understand that my least favorite rival at ASC hired you.”

“I don't discuss clients.”

“Aren't we prickly.”

“I'm going to need a good reason not to end this conversation,” said Janson.

“I'm not asking for information. I am merely stating that I know that Kingsman Helms hired you to rescue his stunningly gorgeous wife.”

“Then why are you calling me?”

“Professional courtesy. To let you know what I know. Which is to say that various people know everything going down. Including what transpired at your job interview.”

Janson was not surprised that Case had heard about the shooting. American Synergy's PR department might have kept Helms's name out of the news, but word would be flying around inside the company, spread by the same publicists who kept it from the media. That meant, Janson surmised, that Doug either did not know exactly what went down, or he did know what went down and wanted to hear what Janson knew about it. Or he feared that while Janson tried to rescue Helms's wife, Helms might spill information that ASC Security didn't want Janson to know.

The difficulty with trying to figure out what Doug Case wanted was that Case had been taught duplicity by the same Consular Operations instructors as Janson had. Case was as good a chameleon, as good an actor, and almost as good a liar.

“Thank you for that information.”

“Paul.”

“What?”

“Helms's problem is not ASC's problem.”

“That's between him and ASC.”

“ASC will not pay you, you know.”

“I'm doing it pro bono.”

“What?”

“That was a joke.”

“Good one. Pro bono! I love it. What's he paying you, if you don't mind me asking you?”

“Good-bye.”

“Enjoy Somalia. And don't forget, just because the poor woman is married to Helms doesn't mean she doesn't deserve to be rescued.”

“Any idea who would send a sniper after Helms?”

“Me.” Case laughed. “If I thought I could get away with it.”

Janson did not respond.

“Seriously?” asked Case.

“Seriously.”

“No one. Kingsman Helms is a jerk businessman. He's not sniper bait.”

“What about me, Doug? Am I sniper bait?”

It took Case a moment to answer. The half breath that a top-notch liar would interject to indicate innocent shock at the suggestion. Exquisitely timed? Or genuine? Tough call, although Janson leaned toward exquisitely timed.

“What are you talking about?” More baffled than indignant.

“What if they weren't aiming at Helms, mistakenly or otherwise, but at me and Kincaid?”

“Then you'd be dead.”

“What makes you think that?”

“If they were gunning for you, they wouldn't send amateurs.”

“These weren't amateurs.”

“They missed, didn't they?”

Janson had reviewed the attack on the pier, repeatedly. It was tough to tell for sure about the sniper's intentions at four hundred meters, but the strollers who came around the corner had murder in their eyes for Helms and Helms only. On the other hand, those store labels still basted to their jacket sleeves were an odd oversight.

“Interesting idea, Doug. A whole new wrinkle.”

“Glad to help. Watch your back. And if you need anything in Somalia, don't hesitate to ask. We've got terrific access through Somali expat communities in Nairobi and Dubai.”

“Thanks,” said Janson, and hung up, saying to himself, “I'll bet you do.”

Kincaid removed her headset. “What was that all about?”

“Doug sniffing out what Helms is up to.”

“Beyond trying to get his wife back?”

“He suggested the sniper was aiming at us, not Helms.”

“Bullshit—Paul, what was that about Isse connecting with Abdullah al-Amriki?”

“I told him not to.”

“Isse is troubled,” said Kincaid. “Didn't you think?”

“Or just a romantic from the suburbs.”

“Something's bugging him,” Kincaid insisted. “Troubled young Muslims turn to clerics. It could get him killed.”

“Let's hope that when Isse sees Amriki face-to-face he'll realize the imam is more murderous terrorist than holy cleric.”

Janson reached for his phone. “Quintisha? Would you put someone to work on Mrs. Helms's background, please?… By the way, as soon as Mr. Helms sends you a photo of his wife, get it straight to me, please. Thank you.”

He rang off and looked at Kincaid.

Kincaid nodded. “She's Italian.”

“A countess.”

“Some kind of a quote ‘Italian' is shaking up things in Mogadishu. And Somalia was an Italian colony. And the shooter we nailed was Italian. I still say we file it under ‘Far-fetched.'”

Janson went back to the phone for a round of heads-up calls to people he knew personally in East Africa. He concentrated on Army officers from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia on the theory that the first contact should be made before help was needed. Then the panic call would not come out of the blue.

Quintisha broke in. A Navy lieutenant with whom Janson had spoken earlier—an old friend from a night landing on the Iranian coast—had news. “Looks like the yacht is heading for Eyl. It's a pirate city at the southern end of Puntland.”

“Will they land in the harbor or anchor off?”

“If they make it, they'll probably stand offshore. But if they follow pattern, they won't anchor. They'll keep her moving so we can't sneak up on her with swimmers.”

A flat, distant note in his tone ratcheted Janson's instincts to high alert. “What do you mean ‘if they make it'?”

“A guided-missile destroyer has them in her sights. She sent helos up with assault teams.”

“Do they know who they're facing?”

“Affirmative. An aptly named Mad Max.”

“Good luck to them,” said Janson.

“Good luck to Mad Max.”

“What do you mean?”

“Not to mention the hostages.”

Janson sat up straight. “What are you talking about?”

“It's not our destroyer.”

“Who the hell's is it?”

“PLAN's.”

“China?Jeez-us!”

“The People's Liberation Army Navy contributes ships to the international patrol. Not to mention waving the Chinese flag off the coast of East Africa.”

“Let's hope their assault team knows what it's doing.”

“Oh, they know what they're doing, all right. It's how they do it that worries me.”

Worried was putting it mildly, thought Janson. Dictatorships like China operated under cruel standards. Order was paramount. Pirate suppression trumped hostage health.

“What are you going to do, Paul?”

Janson glanced bleakly around his airborne study: Jessica curled up in her big red leather chair with her eyes closed, intently mouthing the Somali words she was hearing in her headset while repeatedly stripping and assembling a new mini pistol that had caught her fancy; he sprawled comfortably in his green chair, drinking in the information from the computers while the silver cocoon of the Embraer swept them in near silence 42,000 feet over the ocean and 8,000 miles too far away to do a goddamned thing to help.

*  *  *

MAXAMMED STARED AHEAD, desperate to make landfall before they were seen. Unlike southern Somalia's monotonous coast of white sand and shifting dunes, the Puntland coast was backed by stone escarpments as the land reared westward toward the mountains of Ethiopia. He would see the foothills before he saw the beach, but at the moment all he saw was blue sky overhead and haze where the land should be.

One of the keen-eyed younger men he had stationed on the roof of the wheelhouse shouted that he saw a ship. Praying it was not a naval vessel, and cursing the captain again for blinding his radar, Maxammed scrambled up the stairs for a better look. Thirty knots covered distance quickly. The ship hardened up in the long, low silhouette of what could only be a warship.

They had started the turbines in the nick of time, Maxammed thought. With any luck, the powerful yacht could outrun the naval patrol. But in moments, helicopters were tearing through the sky.

“Get the women.”


Page 8

NINE

7°59' N, 49°51' EOff the CoastEyl, Somalia

The attack helicopters bearing down onTarantulawere so close that Maxammed could see snipers strapped in the open doors. In that same instant, the stone fortress at Eyl suddenly sprang into view—a dusty brown windowless pile baking in the sun. The haze had lifted so quickly and unexpectedly that Maxammed thought in his panic that the helicopters had somehow blown it away with their powerful rotors. Impossible. They were only machines and the sky was huge.

He had a split second to make a decision that would save his life or end it. Every fiber in his body was screaming, Get inside, get under cover. He hesitated, frozen in place.

Lead rained down around him, splintering the planked surface of the wheelhouse roof, screeching across the carbon fiber beneath. He could not believe they would shoot without warning, and now he knew that as much as he wanted to hide, this was his last chance to resist or it would all be over.

“Farole! Bring the women,” he shouted, praying to God that Farole would have the courage to drag them into the storm of fire. High-powered rifle slugs crackled past his head.

“Maxammed!”

It was Farole, eyes wild with fear, yet burning with the same determination Maxammed felt coursing through his veins. Farole was dragging two women onto the roof, the old one and the countess. Maxammed sprinted toward them, flung one powerful arm around the countess's waist, and raised her up in front of him like a shield.

*  *  *

ALLEGRAHELMS WAS ASTONISHEDby the pirate's strength. He was swinging her like a doll. Bullets cracked the air with a noise so loud they hurt. It was a miracle they missed. But they could not keep missing for long.

Maxammed jerked her against him. She could feel his heart and could smell his fear. He was soaked with sweat. He staggered. She thought he had been shot and her hopes soared. But he kept his feet and she realized a bullet had passed so near it seared his skin and made him flinch.

The shooting stopped.

But the danger wasn't over. It had just begun.

The helicopters thundered lower, with soldiers poised to rappel down onto the yacht. When she tried to slide out of his arms, the pirate clutched her so tightly he bent her spine backward. Allegra cried out in pain.

Maxammed drew his pistol, waved it in the air for all to see, and held it to her head. Farole repeated the action with his hostage.

Allegra felt the barrel of his gun pressing to her head, hard and hot.

I will die in an instant, she thought. It all will end and I will never even hear the gun that kills me. I will disappear and never hear the shot.

*  *  *

“KEEP TURNING!” Maxammed shouted to Farole. “Keep moving!” And they spun like dervishes so that only a madman or cold-blooded murderer would dare take a shot. Maxammed imagined the soldiers in the helicopter watching his every move. He waved his pistol in a wide arc—signaling,Move away! Get away from my ship!—and pressed it back to the woman's head.

The helicopters hovered, thundering, blowing wind. Then they slowly backed away, pivoted in the air, and raced back to their ship. Only then did Maxammed see the markings on their tail booms. When he did, his knees felt weak.

“Chinese,” he said. Had I but known, he thought. “I might have lost my courage.”

“Americans,” said Farole, pointing at another ship that had drawn within a mile, and how lucky they had been was suddenly so clear that Maxammed felt his stomach nearly give way. The Chinese were the most violent of the navies that patrolled the Indian Ocean, except for the Russians. They would have shot him and the hostages had the Americans not come along. Not that the Chinese feared the Americans. But they would know the Americans were observing and videoing their every move and they feared finding themselves gunning down hostage women on CNN and YouTube.

“God is good,” Maxammed told Farole.

He dragged the woman toward the stairs.

The yacht was close to land. He could distinguish individual buildings in Eyl, the old fish plant and a large half-built house of a clansmen who had been killed before it was finished.

“Hurry up!” he called to Farole. “What's taking you so long?”

“Mine is dead,” said Farole. “It makes her heavy.”

A bullet had pierced the older woman's chest. But the methodical Farole had had the presence of mind to hold her head up to pretend she was still alive.

“Well done,” Maxammed said. “It's all working out. Here come our friends.”

Skiffs were putting out from the beach, packed to the gunnels with fresh men to guard the hostages and finally let them sleep. In one was a sheep they would slaughter to feast. In another, bundles of green khat.

Farole asked, “Will we go ashore?”

Maxammed's weary, bloodshot eyes narrowed. He had spotted a sight less appetizing than a fat sheep—three clansmen of Home Boy Gutaale, who were beaming covetously at the magnificentTarantula.

“Maxammed? Can we go ashore?”

“We will see what we will see,” said Maxammed, keeping his options to himself, though in truth he had just vowed to himself never to leave the ship until he got the ransom. No way he would surrender his precious hostages to a relief crew. Neither did he intend to let anyone “borrow”Tarantulato act as a mothership for a pirate run. Not even Home Boy's clansmen—especiallynot Home Boy's clansmen. He would stay aboard until it was over.

In the meantime, he celebrated. He had caught a great ship and landed it. The Chinese and the Americans would hang about for a while, but they had a huge ocean to patrol and many ships to protect. They wouldn't stay long. The worst was over. He had stood unscathed in a sandstorm of bullets. Suddenly Maxammed felt invincible, as if God had enclosed him in his own hand that nothing could penetrate. He had survived explosions and blood. Nothing could touch him now.

“You fucking coward!”

He was still holding Countess Allegra.

Allegra pushed away from him and knelt by the dead woman's body. Her eyes were wide open, empty and ugly. Her husband came running. He knelt over her, pressed his white head to her bloody chest and wept as if he would die.

Allegra looked up at Maxammed with an expression of hatred. She searched for words, but all she could say was “coward” again.

Maxammed shrugged. “Dead is dead. Not dead is not dead. You're lucky you were with me instead of Farole.”

“I don't feel lucky.”

“I do,” said Maxammed. “I have moved under a magic star.” He turned to Farole and commanded, “Make a course along the beach, up and down, back and forth. Never drop anchor.”

*  *  *

“OURMUSLIM FRIENDSsay that only Allah knows when and where you will die,” Doug Case told Luke Bing, a retired petroleum scientist who was tied to a chair and had a ball gag in his mouth.

“Our Muslim friends are immensely ignorant about many things, yet on this issue they are spot-on. Allah calls the time and place, just like our God. Butyou,” Case said, rolling his wheelchair close enough to touch him, “youhave it in your power to decidehowyou will die. Slowly and painfully? Or will you slip off too quickly for pain or even fear?… Obviously, you can't speak your answer, but you can nod. Nod if you understand what I just said to you.”

Bing sat there, staring, still overcome, Case realized, by disbelief, the voices of reason still screaming inside his head:One minute I'm driving my magnificent Bentley to my beautiful ranchette—twenty acres of pasture and spanking-new horse barns—with the sweetest pole dancer I ever met sitting beside me. Next minute I'm tied to a chair in a dank cellar with a madman in a wheelchair. What happened?

“Here's what happened,” said Doug Case. “You, Dr. Bing, a petroleum scientist, betrayed your employer who paid for your education decades ago at Texas A&M and MIT, and ever since paid you a handsome salary for your considerable expertise. Big bucks, generous stock options, incredible pension. You produced brilliant scientific proof that Somalia sits on top of huge oil reserves. But you then turned around and sold that same report to an agent for China National Oil.”

The petroleum scientist tied to the chair shook his head.

Doug Case flicked open a gravity knife, slid the blade between the man's cheek and the ball gag, and cut the strap. “No?” he asked. “You didn't sell it to a Chinese?”

“I didn't sell anything,” Luke Bing said in a rush. “He approached me. I didn't sell him anything.”

“Even if I stand corrected,” said Doug Case, “I fail to see how that changes the fact that you betrayed your employer. Why didn't you report his approach to your security officer? The Manual of Employee Conduct is crystal clear on that issue: employees privy to sensitive information are to report immediately any attempt to obtain the incredibly valuable information acquired in the course of their work.Sir!We're talking about hard-won exclusive knowledge of information worth billions.Billions,with ab. And you handed it over to the fucking Chinese for a Bentley.”

Bing got indignant. “You spy on us.”

“Us?”

“We who do the real work for ASC.”

“No, sir, I did not spy on ‘us.' The American Synergy Corporation has sixty-eight thousand employees. It would not be practical to spy on sixty-eight thousand people. But we did not get rich and powerfulnotpaying attention to the details. So when a top petroleum scientist retires young, acquires a Bentley convertible, and moves halfway across Texas to a posh ranchette near hip and trendy Austin, where he thinks no one will notice him, we notice. Even if he puts out a story that he inherited money when Aunt Matilda died, we notice. He went to MIT, after all, he's smart enough to know to put out a story.”

“I want a lawyer. And if I am not officially under arrest, I want to be immediately released and returned to my vehicle.”

Doug Case shook his head. “Let us go back to the beginning of our conversation. The lady who falsely represented herself as a pole dancer and pulled a gun on you is not a cop. The tattooed gentlemen who delivered you to this cellar and tied you to your chair are not cops. And Allah and our God both agree that when your number is up, your number is up. But unlike most poor devils,youhave it in your power to decidehowyou will die. Will it hurt or will it be like falling asleep?”

Case moved even closer. “Not up to God. But up to you… And me, of course.”

“What do you want?” Bing whispered, suddenly a believer.

“I am going to show you photographs of Chinese gentlemen. You will identify which man approached you and then you will tell me everything about him.”

Doug Case had the photos on an iPad.

As he held the screen up to Bing's eyes he said, “I will do you one more kindness and warn you that there are ringers among the photos. Some are the enemy. Some are ordinary businessmen. Do you understand what I am telling you?”

The scientist nodded.

“Let's begin. This man?”

“No.”

“This.”

“No.”

“This.”

“That's him.”

“Fuck!”

“No! It's him. It's him. It really is him. I swear it.”

“Oh, I believe you. I was just hoping it wasn't. He's the sharpest one in the bunch. Tell me what you know about him.”

The rogue scientist told Doug Case a lot of details, most of which he already knew. Bing didn't know his name. But that didn't matter. ASC's Global Security Department employed more intelligence agents and private contractors than many nations, so Case already knew his name—Kin Poy Lam—though he'd been hoping it was someone less formidable than the senior field executive for the People's Republic of China's Ministry of State Security, East Africa Bureau.

On the other hand, Mr. Kin was under a lot of pressure and might be vulnerable, as long as he had no idea that ASC had learned about the Bentley. And worth manipulating if he was—as the petroleum scientist's admission confirmed—the PRC's point man in Somalia.

“You realize, Mr. Bing, that in the course of our conversation you ceased to deny that you sold secret information.”

“I'm not an idiot,” said Bing. “Clearly, you knew a lot. All you needed was confirmation. So now what?”

“Don't worry,” said Doug Case. “I'll keep my word.”

“Let me go?”

“I did not promise to let you go. I promised to let you die without suffering pain or fear.”

TEN

53°32' N, 9°50' EFinkenwerder AirportHamburg, Germany

It was raining in Hamburg.

When the Embraer's engines fell silent at the Airbus Company terminal, a striking woman in her fifties—a tall brunette with violet eyes—came out to greet Janson and Kincaid with an umbrella large enough for three. Janson hugged her close and kissed her on the cheek.

“Great to see you, Petra. This is my associate, Jessica Kincaid. Jess, my old friend Colonel Petra Rasmusson.”

They shook hands, Petra smiling warmly at the younger woman, Kincaid wondering if the MUST colonel was this gorgeous in her fifties what a knockout she must have been back when she worked with Janson.

Janson asked, “How'd you make out?”

“Herr Lynds, the owner, is standing by to give the personal royal tour. He has been led to believe that you are private security consultants paid to evaluate the success chances of a raid conducted by Special Forces.”

“Perfect, thank you.”

She ran her eyes over his face. “Still trying to save the world?” she asked softly.

Janson winked. “Just making up for bad choices.”

“It agrees with you. You look well.”

“Will you join us?”

“No, I'd only get in the way. I have a car ready to take you if you like.”

“Thanks, we booked a rental.”

It was a two-liter Passat 170-horsepower TDI diesel sedan. Janson punched a street address into the GPS, followed by the shipyard's address. Kincaid drove.

“You worked together?”

“Russia.”

“Doing what?”

“Remember when the FSO was poisoning Russian exiles in London?”

“I was in high school.”

“Turned out the Russians had one hotshot killing them all. The Brits were hell-bent on a trial, even though he was safely back in Moscow. So it fell to Cons Ops. MUST, Swedish military intelligence, offered a hand with the penetration. Petra got me across the border, pointed me in the correct direction, and got me out again.”

“How?”

“Cruise ship. Honeymoon cover. She's a real pro.”

Kincaid told herself that she did not want to know the details from forever ago. Jealous? Goddamned right I'm jealous, and no apologies. Thank God she had not done something really awful like grab Janson's arm as if to say,He's mine.

Janson was looking at her curiously. The man was a mind reader.

“What's she doing in Germany?” Kincaid asked.

“Lynds was originally a Swedish yard. Moved to Hamburg lock stock and barrel when Sweden's shipbuilding collapsed and hooked up with Schmidt.”

“Great-looking woman.”

“Played hell with her career,” said Janson. “I mean, how do you disguise an operator that beautiful?”

“She'd have to be a mega-chameleon.”

Janson's phone rang. He answered, listened, said “Thank you,” made two quick calls, turned off his phone, and removed the battery.

“We're still employed,” he told Kincaid. “Our guys convinced the Chinese that raking the vessel with gunfire might prove fatal to the hostages.”

“How?”

“Flew a drone around them and threatened to stream the video. God bless YouTube.”

“Can we get faces off the video?”

“They think yes. We'll see. The latest is the yacht is cruising circles a couple of miles off Eyl.”

“Will the SEALs hit it?”

“Doubt it. When the Chinese opened fire, Mad Max went straight to human shields.”

The GPS took them to a hole-in-the-wall T-Punkt cell-phone store on a side street a few blocks from the railroad station. Kincaid drove past and around the corner. Janson deleted the address from the GPS and jumped out when she stopped for a red light. He walked back to the shop. The elderly Indian clerk behind the counter stood next to a pink Deutsche Telekom T-Mobile logo as tall as he was. A scratched glass counter held cell phones, memory cards, and SIM cards with prepaid minutes. A wall-mounted rack displayed skins and headsets, batteries, and chargers.

Janson bought a four-pack of precharged batteries and paid cash. Then he said, “I have an ancient Nokia that needs a battery.”

“May I see it, please?”

“It is back at the hotel,” said Janson.

The elderly Indian bowed his head with a private smile. “Excuse me, sir.” He stepped from behind his counter, checked that no one was coming in the door, and tugged the wall rack, which hinged open on steep and narrow stairs. He switched on a light. Janson descended to a cool cellar that smelled of the rivers that riddled the city.

“The safe,” the Indian called down, “is—”

“I can find it. Please shut the door.”

There weren't that many places to hide a safe in a small shop's basement. Having established similar stash points in cell-phone shops around the world, Janson had seen them all. This one was hung from the rafters, concealed by a teak armoire made a hundred years ago in Bombay. A sixty-gram can of WD-40 stood on top. Janson directed the water-displacing spray around the dial and waited for it to seep around the spindle before he spun it. The first three of the six-number combinations were all different, easily remembered by transposing the letters of the city's name.

He opened the door on a cubic foot of space that contained money, passports, driver's licenses, credit cards, cell phones, and an IWI Jericho 941 pistol. He took a German driver's license and passport, and a phone. He inserted the precharged batteries and made a call. “Barorski,” he said, “it is Saul.”

Daniel Barorski's silence spoke of fear and greed.

Janson said, “If I need you, could you meet me in Beirut tomorrow?”

“Where in Beirut?”

“Zaitunay Bay.”

“It could be possible.”

“Make it possible. I'll call when I decide,” said Janson, and hung up.

He pocketed the passport and license, removed the batteries from the phone, and locked it, the money, and the gun back in the safe.

Kincaid picked him up opposite the railroad station and drove to the shipyard.

Strict security started outside the gates of the Lynds & Schmidt Shipyard. They were told to leave cameras, phones, and weapons in the car. After posing before an airport-type body scanner, they were driven in a van past the blank walls of a covered dry dock. Rolf Lynds's office overlooked the crowded River Elbe and the Lynds & Schmidt piers. The interior windows viewed the design loft, where naval architects, interior decorators, and engineers labored at CAD monitors.

Lynds apologized for the tight security and explained that it was necessary to protect his wealthy customers' privacy and safety. Not to mentionhisbusiness from “occupiers” protesting inequities. Though it was not yet lunchtime, he'd already had a drink or two and was talkative.

“It is so ironical. My cheap-labor competitors in the Gulf states mock my labor force for costing fifty euro an hour. I pay it gladly for experience that makes a better boat than can be made by guest workers shuttled in and out of barracks. Besides, better a business where human beings can live with peace in their lives, go home each night to their families, drop their children at school, and return to the yard rested. For this ‘crime' the occupiers stalk me and my clients.”

Janson said, “We need to know where on the ship the pirates are likely to hold the hostages.”

“Behind every great fortune lurks envy.”

“And we need to know their options if our clients decide to board forcibly. Is there a safe room where the crew might be hiding?”

Lynds had already unrolledTarantula's builder's plans and had the paper drawings supplemented by a digital display on a twenty-seven-inch Phillips LED monitor.

“Two safe rooms,” he answered. “The first is here, forward of the engine room, fully armored. You'd need a howitzer to break in.”

“It's big.”

“Enough to hold the full crew and twelve passengers. Crowded, but sufficient with secure air sources and food and water, and satellite phone and distress beacons.”

Janson studied the drawing. Kincaid studied it on the monitor.

“What is this space?” she asked, zooming in.

“Within the safe room is the sabotage room.”

He smiled proudly at the puzzled expressions on his guests' faces.

“Sabotage room?”

“It is unique, I believe. We suggested it to the owner and he saw the advantage. The main electrical boxes are housed inside, while fuel lines for the high-speed turbines are routed through it. From there, it is a simple matter to stop the turbines by cutting off their fuel, reducing the boat's top speed to twenty knots. And if so desired, the victims who are hiding can disable most of the boat's instruments by directing powerful electrical surges through the wires, blowing fuses, burning circuits. That would be a last resort, of course, but they could render the boat blind and deaf. The attackers could only communicate with their own handhelds, and navigate with their own GPS if they possessed it. But most important, no radar.”

“Meaning they can't see patrols farther than they can eyeball.”

“Precisely. Do you know whether they used it?” asked Lynds.

“No,” said Janson. “Where's the second safe room?”

Waves of light rolled across the LED screen as Lynds scrolled through scores of drawings. “It is very little. Only the owner knew of its existence. Here we are. Between Frame 42 and Frame 43.”

He slid the cursor arrow to a hatch in the shell plating.

“This is an airlock in the bottom of the ship. Inside is a raft and SCUBA gear for an underwater escape.”

Janson and Kincaid exchanged glances. “Can it be opened from outside, underneath the ship?”

“I wondered if you would ask.” Lynds fished a small piece of knurled steel from his pocket. It was about the size of an automobile lug nut and had an octagon opening in the middle of it. “Six bolts secure it. They can be unscrewed from outside. Slip this key inside them, turn it with an ordinary tire iron. You unscrew them, the plate hinges open. You swim into this space. You close the plate, you open this hatch, and you're in the ship.”

“How do you open it against the water pressure?” asked Janson.

“Each bolt admits water—essentially opens a leak. As it fills, the water drives the air out and pressure is reduced.”

“How long does that take?”

Lynds shrugged. “Not long, I should think.”

“How long?”

Lynds opened a window and typed in the search box. “Four to five minutes.”

Kincaid asked, “How many people can fit in that lock?”

“Unfortunately,” said Lynds, “it was not made for more than one. And it would take a very coolheaded swimmer or trained diver like the boat's owner to make it out and safely to the surface—leaving his friends to fend for themselves.”

Kincaid and Janson exchanged another glance. One at a time would be too slow. Anything that slowed an operation upped the risk. They made precise measurements of its location underTarantulaanyway. Neither loved the hatch option. At this stage, with events in flux and no predicting how they would break, they would be derelict not to seize any chance of an extra arrow in their quiver.

They took notes on the deck plan. The ship was even bigger than they had imagined. “Like raiding a shopping mall,” muttered Kincaid.

  

Lynds grew more talkative as they were leaving.

“We actually designed for Mr. Adler a submersible escape boat that could be secreted in the yacht's hull.”

“A submarine?”

“How many people would it hold?”

“Six or eight,” said Lynds. “But either the expense was too great, or he was less interested in saving his guests than saving himself. We sold it to a Russian oligarch who will need to escape from the police when he runs afoul of Putin.”

Janson and Kincaid exchanged an almost invisible glance.

Survivors keep far-fetched standing by.

Dream it up before the lead flies.

Small subs were common. There were thousands in the world, some were rich men's toys, some used for tourist rides. Most served undersea research and offshore petroleum infrastructure. But in every case, their range was limited. To reach the remote Eyl, a small submarine would have to launch from, and return to, a nearby mothership. Janson thought immediately of tapping an old friend at Woods Hole. The Oceanographic Institution very likely had a research vessel working in the Indian Ocean. He dropped the thought as quickly. There was no way to sneak a slow-moving research vessel into Somali waters; not only would the pirates not be fooled, they would eat it for breakfast. The same would hold for petroleum explorers or seabed-pipeline installation ships.

But a yacht, thought Janson—a fast megayacht that secretly carried a submersible escape boat—would be a mothership beyond suspicion. He saw in a flash how to make the pirates welcome it with open arms.

“Which oligarch?” Kincaid asked casually.

Lynds demurred. “I am sorry, but a secret escape hatch must be secret. A secret submarine, even more so.”


Page 9

ELEVEN

Finally, a photo of Mrs. Helms.”

Janson tilted his computer screen toward Kincaid. Catspaw's Embraer had just lifted off from Hamburg, bound southeast for a fuel stop in Cairo on the first leg of the five-thousand-mile flight to Mogadishu.

“Wow!” said Kincaid. “A long-haired, fair-eyed gal. Helms sent this?”

“He said her father took it a couple of years ago.”

Until now, they had only seen Allegra Helms in group photos of schoolgirls clowning for iPhones or paparazzi rich-and-famous shots of a blonde hiding behind Ray-Ban Wayfarers. Her father had captured a face from the Renaissance—long and heart-shaped, with a straight nose and a high brow. Her lips were expressive, her eyes reserved.

“If I were a pirate dude,” said Kincaid, “you couldn't pay me enough ransom. She's a keeper.”

Janson said, “Makes you wonder why she's camera shy.”

Quintisha had forwarded a rundown on the other hostages, who were well-off but not rich enough to raise huge ransoms: Adler's New York realtor and her husband, a French fashion model, and elderly in-laws he'd stayed friendly with despite a long-ago divorce.

They got busy on their sat phones.

Janson started by putting out feelers to link up with more trustworthy gun runners than the one Barorski might introduce him to in Beirut. It was unlikely he would do better in that part of the world on short notice, but it was always worth a try.

Next, he spoke with people he could trust to inquire discreetly into the name and current location of a Russian oligarch's mega­yacht with a hidden submarine. It was less of a long shot than would appear. Yachts, like geese, migrated with the seasons. The fierce winds of the southwest monsoon had moved on to the subcontinent, which made it the time of year to cruise the Indian Ocean. The oligarch, or at least his yacht, was likely near Somalia, either visiting Persian Gulf sheiks or puttering around the Seychelles Islands.

Kincaid rounded up gear, using Catspaw intermediaries to purchase and ship. She still did not know how they would use an electric hydrofoil water scooter, but there was no way she would pass up a fast craft that could deliver them a fair distance in silence. She arranged for the Slovenian manufacturer to airfreight a Quadrofoil to Nairobi and another to Victoria, capital of the Seychelles Islands. She also ordered up advanced CCR scuba-diving outfits. The closed-circuit rebreathers employed computer-blended gas mixes and carbon-dioxide-absorbent canisters to prolong the time they could operate underwater and eliminate telltale bubbles. The sleek new side-mount type was simpler to operate and considerably less bulky.

Janson gingerly continued his discussions with Lloyd's of London. Maxammed's Mad Max reputation was spooking them. They repeated again and again that the situation was “volatile.” He ran that by Kincaid, and she suggested that Lloyd's no longer trusted their own negotiators.

The Embraer had just crossed out of German airspace when news came that the men and women ofTarantula's crew had been discovered seasick and sunburned, but otherwise healthy, adrift in one of the yacht's tenders. Reports from several sources suggested that the only hostages the pirates held were the owner's wealthy guests.

“Much better,” said Kincaid. “Six instead of twenty-six.”

They were flying across Serbia, and Kincaid was just unlocking a concealed overhead storage compartment to take a break by field-stripping her Knight's M110 semiautomatic rifle, when Quintisha Upchurch routed a call from a Catspaw contract researcher assigned to Allegra Helms.

Janson ejaculated a startled “What?”

“What?” asked Kincaid.

“If you find it hard to believe that Camorra assassins slinging lead at Kingsman Helms was coincidence, this nails it.”

“What?”

“Countess Allegra Helms's aristocratic family has Camorra cousins in Naples.”

“Helms is married to gangsters?”

“All we know for sure is that his wife has gangster cousins.”

Janson raised his voice and called, “Hey, ladies!”

The mikes to the cockpit were voice activated.

“Yeah, boss,” Lynn answered.

“Hang a right. We're going to drop Jess in Naples.”

*  *  *

IN THE TWENTY MINUTESit took their pilots to get ATC permission for the course change and bank the big private plane on its starboard side, Kincaid studied a digital map of Naples and Janson tried to find her some friends on the ground.

Alessandro Mondazzi, a director of the oil conglomerate Eni, with whom he had coordinated the Yousef exfiltration, would not take his call—blowback, probably, from Yousef flying the coop. When Janson tried a well-connected acquaintance at the Farnesina, he was told the Ministry of Foreign Affairs officer had retired.

The third Italian he telephoned took his call. They spoke briefly, after which Janson told Kincaid, “I got you a late lunch date with a SISDE field officer I partnered with on a NATO thing. Italian domestic intelligence. He's a cop now. Take him to Ciro a Santa Brigida. It's a little touristy, but Ric's nuts forbufalaand they have the best. It's off Via Roma, where it butts into Via Toledo.” He showed her on the map.

“What's the dress code?”

“Ladies and gents for the locals. Sweats for the tourists.”

Kincaid hurried back to the clothes lockers. As the plane descended, she returned wearing a snug-fitting tracksuit under a black blazer, low heels, and tousled bed hair.

“Let Ric choose the wine. Don't let him get you drunk.”

“Appreciate the heads-up.”

“He wasn't my first choice. Don't tell him anything you don't have to.”

“How bent is he?”

“Old Neapolitan saying,” said Janson. “I won't even try to put it in Naples dialect, but roughly translated: ‘The walls between good guys and bad guys are porous.'”

“Why would he help you?”

“He knows I respect his bravery, though I don't admire him. He also knows I know enough about him to get him killed, which of course I would never spill without major provocation. You can remind him of that if you like, but it probably won't be necessary.”

“How well does he know the Camorra?”

“You can't be a cop in Naples and not know the Camorra.”

“Are we really looking at a connection with Hassan's so-called Italian?”

Janson shrugged. “At this point anything is possible. Watch your back. Look out for the women. And try not to get mugged. Little kids steal ladies' pocketbooks.”

Kincaid slipped her new pistol into its holster at the small of her back and slid a fresh carbon-fiber blade inside its slot under her clutch. “I'll try not to get mugged.”

As Lynn Novicki was lining up on final approach into Capodichino, a call came in from an officer who had seen the US Navy drone video. “Another hostage got shot.”

“Which one?”

“It looks like an older woman.”

Janson signed off and said to Kincaid, “Fast as you can.”

TWELVE

40°53' N, 14°17' ENaples Capodichino Airport.

The Embraer stopped rolling long enough for Kincaid to disembark at a private apron. Sky Services had a car waiting that took her to Capodichino's main passenger terminal. By the time she stepped out of the limo at the terminal, the Embraer was taking off again. She watched it disappear on a course farther to the east than a beeline to Cairo, where they had been scheduled to refuel. Maybe air traffic control had routed it that way. More likely, Janson was pulling a disappearing act.

She walked around the passenger concourse, forcing herself to put in the time until she felt comfortable that no one was following her, then boarded a bus to the Napoli Centrale train station. She wandered the station as she had the airport; when Janson said “fast,” he did not mean risking cover. She took a taxi to the Renaissance Hotel Mediterraneo, went in the front, went out the side, and walked narrow streets for an hour, absorbing the city and watching her back.

The Church of Santa Brigida fronted the sidewalk closely, like a New York apartment building. Continuing along the Via Santa Brigida and into Ciro, she passed through the pizzeria on the ground floor and up a flight of stairs to a dining room packed with stylish locals and tourists in sweatsuits. The restaurant was a quarter mile from the Bay of Naples, and the densely built maze of streets blocked any view of the water, but the light streaming in the second-floor windows was unmistakably maritime—soft, yet oddly penetrating.

The captain of the dining room bowed and smiled her across the crowded room to a corner table for two, where a swarthy, dark-haired guy in a suit with razor-sharp creases swept to his feet. Ric Cirillo was about Janson's age and reeked of cigarettes.

She let him kiss her hand.

He had a big, warm smile and spoke English with a flourish. “Signora, our mutual friend failed utterly to paint a portrait worthy of your beauty and your youth.”

“I'm sorry I'm late,” she said, thinking,Jesus, I'm going to have to move things along, or we'll be here all day.

“No problem. No problem. In Napoli, who knows the time when we have a good time? Are you hungry?”

“Starving.”

“Come. We will tour the antipasti and they will bring us what we love.”

He led the way to an immense spread of cured meats, pickled vegetables, breads, sausages and cheeses, bright peppers in oil, octopus, squid, countless fish she had never seen before, and huge mounds of mozzarella with rinds as shiny and white as porcelain.

When they had seen it all, Kincaid said, “I know what I want, if I can have it.”

“They'll bring you anything you want.”

“I want a big old slab of that mozzarella di bufala.”

“You speak Italian with an excellent accent.”

“And I want olive oil and a hunk of bread.”

“Perfect. You heard the lady,” he told the waiter. “For her and for me, the same! And your best bottle of Falanghina.”

At the table, Kincaid said, “I'm afraid I have a better accent than a vocabulary. I really appreciate your speaking English. The Neapolitan dialect is so fast it makes my head spin. Have you had a chance to look into the connection between—”

His eyes widened.

“Don't be afraid,” she said. “I won't say it out loud. But you know the connection I mean.” Even this she spoke in a low voice that did not carry to the nearby tables, and she saw him relax, slightly, as if he had decided that Janson hadn't saddled him with a moron. “I want to meet them,” she said.

“They won't talk to you.”

“Then you talk to me.”

He nodded. “It is my pleasure, for the sake of our mutual friend.”

“You know the connection.”

“I know a little. I have heard stories. I have heard rumors. It is an unusual connection. Rare and unusual.”

The waiter brought a bottle of pale yellow wine, opened it ceremoniously, waited for Cirillo to approve, and poured with a flourish. Cirillo raised his glass. “Welcome to Napoli.”

“How rare and unusual?”

“The classes don't mix in Italy. Yes, an elderly widower might marry his housekeeper, but it is not common. In the case that has engaged your interest, an aristocrat from the north made love to a beautiful peasant girl from Campania, the region surrounding Naples, and instead of dallying with her, married her. Perhaps he took pity on an orphan, perhaps he fell in love.”

“How closely connected is she to the woman we're talking about?”

“Her mother.”

“I didn't realize the connection was that close. Can we talk to any of them?”

Cirillo's eyes widened again, as if reconsidering her intelligence. Ignoring her question, he said, “The count's family had a fit. But then things changed. His family was feckless and lost their money. Her family—her uncles—were Camorra and at the same time that his family was losing their money, the Camorra—both the slum poor and the country peasants—rose to great wealth and power by making a new Italy.”

“How?”

“They emerged from ordinary drugs, prostitution, garbage collection, protection, and gunrunning. They transcended the traditional bribing of officials. They became titans of international arms trafficking, and the international clothing industry, which has many factories here, and cement, and construction, and money laundering. They made partners of powerful politicians.

“The mother's uncles had no children of their own left alive. They had all been killed along with their wives in the clan fighting. So they shifted masses of wealth to the mother, perhaps from kindness, more likely out of a scheme of money laundering, establishing businesses, industries, in her name. Suddenly, the mother, their niece, died. The woman you're asking about had just become of age, so they shifted the money—the masses of freshly laundered now-legitimate money and enterprises—to her.”

Cirillo sipped wine, smiled, and shook his head at the vagaries of fate.

“Imagine she was twenty-one, a countess, and suddenly very, very rich. What did she do? She fell in love with an American. And suddenly those back-alley peasants saw their little girl in the clutches of a powerful, ambitious business executive. It was too late to cut her off. I am told that her father tried to intercede. Probably ordered to, probably threatened with grievous harm. Whatever, he was obviously not successful, as she married the man.”

“Is she Camorra?”

“That is highly unlikely.”

“Why? Women often replace mafia men.”

“First of all, remember this is not mafia. This is not Sicilian Cosa Nostra. Nor is it the Cosa Nuova, ‘New Thing,' of Calabria. This is Il Sistema—the System—which is the true name of Napoli's Camorra. Here, among the System, each clan chooses its own course. In Sicily, old-man bosses have to be asked permission to conduct murders. In Naples, the bosses are young, very young, younger every day, and Camorra families decide for themselves. That means more killing—they slaughter each other with knives, bullets, bombs, fists, and boots. No one fights like them. They mean it—and their enemiesknowthey mean it—when they boast, ‘Live or die, it's all the same to me.'”

“That doesn't mean there's no room for a woman boss.”

“I did not say that there are no women bosses. It's not that Il Sistema doesn't have women in charge. But the woman who you are asking about lives abroad, married a foreigner, travels the world. No one can run the System from far away.”

“But you said they've expanded abroad.”

“Each new family that forms abroad tends it own affairs, locally, whether in Spain or Brazil or North America. No. I can assure you that the woman in question darting about the world like a rabbit is not running any criminal enterprises.”

“Then why did they try to kill her husband?”

“Killing is like breathing to them. It would be a mistake to overestimate the importance of them deciding to kill him. Perhaps he cheated them, perhaps he insulted them, perhaps he irritated them.”

“Why didn't they kill him at the get-go? Back when she first married?”

“I don't know.”

“Would he even know these people? He's a corporation man. Totally dishonest in his own way—totally corrupt—but not the sort with the guts to hang with gangsters.”

“Very unlikely he knows them,” Ric Cirillo admitted. “In fact,shelikely does not even know the connection.”

“Shewouldn't know?”

“How would she? It is very likely her father and mother hid the past from her. Remember, they shipped her off to America to school. That is very rare, except for children of the diplomatic corps. If they want boarding school, there are plenty in Switzerland. But to send her to America?”

Kincaid had another question, her most important. She waited while they drank more wine, ate the fabulous cheese, and let the waiters bring plates of fish. Ric Cirillo probed repeatedly about Paul Janson. Kincaid deflected his questions with noncommittal answers. Cirillo pushed harder, demanding, “Does Janson never doubt this mission of his?”

“Not that I've noticed.”

“Has he no internal conflict?”

Whenever she razzed Janson about the paradox of atoning for violence with violence, Kincaid always came away with the feeling that Janson saw no choice except to act. But to Cirillo she would say only, “He knows himself.”

Cirillo stared into his glass. “That was always his strength,” and fell into a morose silence.

Kincaid pretended some probing of her own to get him talking again, asking what he and Janson had done together for NATO. Cirillo admitted only that they had seen some action in North Africa involving drones. No hint, of course, of what Janson had on him that could get him killed. He told a funny story and ordered another bottle.

Kincaid held the straw-colored wine to the Bay of Naples light. It was absolutely delicious, but when a girl had learned to drink moonshine at age fourteen, it took more than wine to get her high.

“Was the Camorra involved in the Italian colonies?”

“Where the poor emigrated to foreign slums, Camorra followed.”

“How about in Libya? Or Ethiopia? Or Somalia?”

“No. The African ventures were government-sponsored rural enterprises. We had too many poor peasants in Italy cluttering up the countryside and overwhelming the cities. We had to send them somewhere. We gave them farms, houses, and trucks and made our poor farmers instantly much richer than the poor natives. Of course, individual Camorra might have drifted along for the ride, but not in force. And remember, the Fascists who sponsored so many farm colonies also attacked the gangsters. Nearly put them out of business.”

Cirillo looked around the restaurant, which was emptying out, and nodded to himself as if arriving at a decision. “No, you wouldn't see Camorristi in the African colonies. Not as the sort of power you see here, where the System insinuates itself directly into politics through their businesses: garbage, bakeries, clothing factories, and, of course”—he studied the light through his glass—“eggs.”

He looked Kincaid in her face practically inviting her to repeat, “Eggs?”

“Eggs. Tomorrow morning, if you were to visit a small neighborhood shop a few steps from here—up Vico d'Afflitto, say, around the corner on Vico Tre Regine, into the Spanish Quarter, just beyond a church—you would marvel that eggs identical to thousands of dozens of eggs purchased at a high price by hospitals, schools, and government commissaries are sold for so much less. You would wonder how a shopkeeper might sell them at such a price when the state and institutions pay so much more. You might even wonder if it's because she is so young.”

“She?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

“Why not now?” Kincaid asked.

“Introductions take time,” Cirillo replied, smiling over his wineglass into her eyes. “There are many calls to be made. Where will you stay tonight?”

Kincaid debated her answer. That the Italian cop hadn't used “where will you stay tonight” as a bargaining chip for information might be a testament to the esteem in which he held Janson. She returned his inviting gaze and thought, No way am I visiting the Spanish Quarter on your timetable so you can do Janson the favor you owe him and also cover your ass by telling the egg lady I'm coming.

“Tonight,” she said, “I am visiting an old friend on the Amalfi Coast.”

“Shall I drive you? The coast roads are treacherous. Our drivers regard traffic signals as suggestions instead of laws.”

“Thank you,” she said, playing out the lie. “But he would not be comfortable if I arrived with a policeman.”

“A pity.”

*  *  *

CIRILLO HELPEDKINCAIDinto a taxi.

“Hertz Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi,” she told the driver before the car pulled away. She took a makeup mirror from her bag and watched Cirillo in the reflection beckon an unmarked car, which tore after the cab. She filled her hand with euros and waited for the traffic to bunch up. Just before the Corso Umberto crossed the Via Renovella, her driver raced ahead of a tram and cut in front of it, leaving the unmarked car behind for a moment.

“I'll get out here,” said Kincaid.“Alt! Velocemente!”


Page 10

THIRTEEN

When the taxi driver saw the fifty euros, he stomped his brakes.

Kincaid shoved the money in his hand and jumped out, shouting, “Continuate!Via!Go! Go! Go!”

The cab raced ahead of the tram. The tram tore after it. She darted beside it, using it for cover, and seconds later strode into an Oysho boutique. She lingered in the pajama section, inspecting a leopard-patterned hoodie, until she was sure Cirillo's man hadn't seen her enter. A salesgirl approached. Kincaid bought red pants, a white blouse, and a yellow scarf to cover her hair and left the store carrying her blazer and tracksuit in a plastic shopping bag.

She walked back toward Ciro.

The slope of land rising gently from the Bay of Naples steepened when she crossed the Via Toledo, and the streets narrowed. Tenements loomed over lanes that were paved with swirls of cobblestones and squeezed by cars and trucks and motor scooters parked on the sidewalks. Neo-melodic music—sappy tunes sung to guitar and synthesizer in old-fashioned 1980s disco style—blared from windows and scooters. Far off in the distance she could see a green hill framed by the narrow alley walls. A classical stone building crowned it. But overhead, balconies, laundry and scaffolding, clotheslines and electric cable and telephone wires attenuated the sliver of blue sky that shone between the rooftops.

She saw some tourists, but the people were mostly local. Having observed them earlier on her way to meet Cirillo, Kincaid was not the only woman in bright pants and blouse carrying a plastic shopping bag. She stopped, leaning against a car covered in canvas while she adjusted her shoe and looked back.

No Cirillo as far as she could see. She tried to picture Kingsman Helms here and found it impossible. The steep, cluttered lanes, the packed tenements, the sewage and garbage smells, and the mind-numbing racket of scooters and motorbikes and disco seemed closer to Mars than the hushed and spacious halls of his Houston office tower. A little kid running down the center of the lane tripped on a sewer grate and went flying. Kincaid caught him before he hit the cobblestones and set him on his feet. He reached with a lightning grasp to snatch her bag. Kincaid was too quick for him. His hand closed on air. He whirled away and fled. Twenty feet on, he skidded to a stop, grabbing at his belt, and looked back in disbelief.

Kincaid beckoned. He slunk closer. She tossed him his cell phone.

She turned off Vico d'Afflitto onto Vico Tre Regine and kept climbing.

Just beyond a small church she found a hole-in-the-wall grocery shop fronted by fruit and vegetables on a sidewalk table. A red Volkswagen Polo and a red Smart car were parked half on the walk. A pair of platinum blondes with thick bangs covering their foreheads and major mascara and shadow ringing their eyes flanked the door. Both were armed, and neither was making a secret of it. The heavy woman on the right had an automatic clearly identified by the bulge in the pocket of her stretch pants. The wraith-thin girl on her left had something Beretta-sized in an ankle holster too big for her skinny leg.

Kincaid stepped between them, making no eye contact.

The shop smelled of fruit and bread and damp plaster, and seemed to be exactly what it looked like, a neighborhoodgroceria. Shelves held colored boxes of pasta, cans, and jars; a cooler offered milk, juice, and bottled water. A tall man who looked English paid for a bottle of wine and cigarettes. Kincaid waited until he went out the door and approached the woman at the cash register. She was dark-haired and quite attractive, with a narrow face and coal-black eyes that reminded Kincaid of the handsome deputy commissioner Eddie Thomas for whom her former student had been so hot. She wore no earrings or necklace but had diamond wedding and engagement rings on her left hand and more diamonds on her right. Kincaid put her age around thirty.

She looked at Kincaid expectantly.

Kincaid spoke Italian at half the local speed. “I bumped into Sabastiano Bardellino in New York.”

The woman stared.

Kincaid said, “Sabastiano Bardellino told me this was a good shop to buy eggs.”

The woman shouted. The bodyguards scrambled into the shop. The woman behind the counter said something too fast for Kincaid to understand. The heavy woman yanked her automatic from her pocket.

Kincaid took it away, swept her feet out from under her, and dropped her on her back with a crash that knocked the breath out of her. The skinny one was drawing her ankle gun. Kincaid racked a round into the automatic, pointed it at the woman at the register, and gestured at the floor. The woman she was pointing the gun at shouted and the skinny bodyguard lay down as Kincaid ordered.

Kincaid spoke slowly. “Good. Sensible. No one gets hurt.”

“What do you want? Money?”

“Why did Sabastiano Bardellino try to shoot Kingsman Helms?”

The woman looked at her as if she were out of her mind.

“Simple question,” said Kincaid. “You know who I mean. Give me an answer and I'm out of here.”

The woman took a deep breath. She seemed less afraid than incredulous. Kincaid let silence build between them.

“Who are you?” asked the woman.

“I am from another planet. I don't care about anything you've got going on here. Nothing. I don't care about Il Sistema. I don't even care about Kingsman Helms. But you're in my way and I want to know why.”

The skinny blonde at her feet lunged for her bag, which had fallen near her, and whipped out a second gun. Kincaid stomped her wrist and kicked the weapon aside without her eyes or the automatic leaving the face of the woman she was interrogating.

“When I'm done with Kingsman Helms, you're welcome to kill him,” she said. “But right now I need him alive.”

“You are crazy.”

“Yes, I am,” said Kincaid. She raised the gun so she could sight down the barrel at the woman's forehead, and tightened her finger on the trigger. Then she laid down her Il Sistema trump card.

“Live or die. It's all the same to me.”

The woman looked into sniper eyes and believed her.

“Helms is a wife murderer.”

It was the last thing Kincaid expected, and she had to struggle to hide her shock. “Explain!”

The woman exploded in an angry torrent of Neapolitan dialect that Kincaid could not follow. “Stop. Stop. Slower. What did he do?”

“You think kidnapping by pirates was coincidence?”

“Coincidence to what?”

“Ten years to themonthafter they marry? Coincidence? He's a murderer. A wife killer.”

“What does it have to do with being married ten years?”

The woman's eyes, which were bulging wide with anger, narrowed as if she doubted Kincaid's intelligence. “Prenup,” she said slowly, as if speaking to a child. “Do you know what prenup is?”

“A prenuptial agreement is about who owns what if the marriage fails.”

“Her father was ordered to demand a prenup. But she refused to do it for longer than ten years. After ten years, no matter what happened, Kingsman Helms would own her money if she died.”

Kincaid thought that she had heard it all. Even Janson, who really had heard it all, wouldn't believe this. She said, “Let me get this straight. You believe that Kingsman Helms arranged for Somali pirates to kidnap his wife so she would get killed and he could inherit her money?”

The woman crossed her arms. “It cannot be coincidence.”

Kincaid shook her head. She had learned a lot more about Kingsman Helms than she could have imagined. But she could not imagine such a convoluted scheme.

“Prenups with a lapse date are not unusual. A gal I know told me it was like getting married again, for real.”

“Her stupid father allowed this,” the woman shouted. “Weak man. Pussy.”

Staring into her raging eyes, Kincaid recognized an abyss of willful ignorance and unshakeable belief that was not unique to a Naples slum. Down home in Kentucky, folks whose people had lived way back in the hollows for countless generations could conjure up tales about the world beyond theirs as paranoid as this woman's and cling to them as fiercely.

“What do you have with Kingsman Helms?” the woman demanded. “Business?”

“Business.”

“Not friends?”

“Definitely not friends.”

“He is a wife killer. We will get him.”

“She's not dead, yet. But like I told you, you're welcome to him when I'm done. Until then, stay out of my way.”

A shadow loomed in the doorway.

Kincaid, who was shielding the weapon with her body in case a customer came in from the street, tucked it closer. A man walked in. It was Ric Cirillo. He glanced down at the bodyguards on the floor, exchanged cold nods with the woman, and said to Kincaid, “I thought I would find you here.”

“If you give me a lift to the airport, I'll tell him you were helpful.”

FOURTEEN

TRAVEL WARNINGUS Department of StateBureau of Consular AffairsLEBANON

“US citizens traveling or residing in Lebanon despite this Travel Warning should keep a low profile…”

Paul Janson entered Lebanon at Beirut International Airport on a Canadian passport that named him Adam Kurzweil. Ordinarily he used his Kurzweil cover when posing as a weapons buyer. On this particular morning his business card read Advisory Committee, Association of Canadian Travel Agencies.

Temporary one-month entry visas were issued at the airport. He wrote under Purpose of Visit: “Ministry of Tourism's ‘Smile Lebanon 50/50 Campaign.'”

With neighboring Syria in fiery civil war, a desperate Lebanese tourist industry was trying to snag visitors by knocking 50 percent off Middle East Airlines tickets, hotels, and restaurants. The travel agencies card got him comped into an airport lounge, where he caught up by phone with Nick Sayers, a troubleshooter for Lloyd's. Sayers was at the Mombasa Airport awaiting orders from London to attach a parachute to a waterproof shrink-wrapped package of one million dollars in fifty-dollar bills.

Janson said, “You're there and I'm not. But I have a powerful feeling you're dealing with the wrong pirates. They asked for too little, too soon. The real ones will want more.”

“Except your so-called real ones still haven't asked for a penny.”

“So far,” Janson admitted. “But I just have an awful feeling these guys are taking you for a ride.”

Sayers said, “Mine is not to question why, mine is to put the money on the plane when the London honchos tell me to.”

“On the bright side,” said Janson, “when they get fired for paying scammers a million bucks, you'll get promoted.”

*  *  *

ALLEGRA CLUNGto one bit of hope. Maxammed, the pirate chief, had commanded that the hostages be kept on the bridge, where he could see them at all times. She prayed he would not change his mind. It was a large, airy space with everyone in full view of everyone else. The lack of privacy would drive her crazy, ordinarily. But as a captive, she dreaded being alone with only one or two guarding her and no one to witness abuse.

“Are you OK, Allegra?” Susan whispered. The New York realtor and her husband, Hank, were eyeing her. The fear must have been showing on her face.

“Yes, yes,” she whispered back, and she felt tears well into her eyes, undone by unexpected kindness. They were watching her as if they were sincerely concerned even though they had to be as frightened as she was. She glanced across the bridge to where Maxammed was sleeping in a blanket thirty feet away.

Was it safe to talk? The boy at the helm stared ahead, jaws grinding steadily on a mouthful of khat leaves. Three others on guard were hunched up at the back of the bridge, also chewing. The old diplomat was huddled in a chair, as silent as he had been since his wife was killed. Monique was curled up in another armchair, half her face covered by blue swollen bruises where Maxammed had hit her.

“OK?”Susan mouthed.

“Yes,” Allegra whispered, and to change the subject she asked a question. She had become fascinated by the couple. They seemed connected as tightly and flexibly as layers of gold leaf. “May I ask you, do you always hold hands, or is it just while this is happening?”

They looked at each other. Hank shrugged. “I don't know. Yeah, most of the time.”

“Do you never fight?”

“Not yet.”

“How long have you been together?”

Susan said, “Seventeen years.”

“How do you never fight? Such a thing is not possible.”

Susan said, “People ask all the time.”

Hank winked. “It helps to adore each other.”

“How did you mee—”

“Shut up!” Maxammed yelled. “No talking.” He kicked off the blanket, jumped up, and ran at them. Hank and Susan shrank back. Monique pressed both hands to her mouth and moaned like a cat mewing.

Maxammed ran straight at Allegra. He reached into his flak vest. Then he jerked a cell phone out of it and thrust it into her hand.

“Call your husband.”

She stared at the phone in disbelief. Maxammed pointed out the windows, across the water at the cellular tower on a hill behind the beach. “Call your husband.”

She dialed his cell. If he didn't answer, she could try his sat phone. What was going on? Why would the pirate suddenly allow her to call Kingsman?

“It's ringing.”

“You tell him you're OK.”

“Do you want me to ask for ransom?”

“Just tell him you're OK.”

“But can I tell him what you want to free us?”

Maxammed shook his head, suddenly angry. “No!” he shouted. “Do what I say. Tell him—”

“Hello! Hello!”

“Kings?” she blurted. The connection was awful, but it was him. “Kings, it's me.”

“Are you all right?”

“I am perfectly fine.”

“They haven't hurt you, have they?”

“Not yet.”

“Oh God, don't say it that way.”

“I'm sorry.”

“All right, let's get to it. How do I pay the ransom?”

“I don't know. ”

“What do they say?”

“Nothing to me. Didn't they ask you?”

“Lunatics—put him on. Let me talk to him!”

Allegra extended the phone to Maxammed. “He wants to speak with you.”

Maxammed said, “Tell him I am showing you're alive—so Combined Forces don't attack. Tell him.”

“He says he's showing that I'm OK so the Combined Forces don't attack.”

“Put him on, dammit!”

Monique screamed. A pirate fired a single shot.

Maxammed snatched the phone out of Allegra's hand. Allegra saw Monique standing outside the bridge balanced on the railing of the docking wing, which extended over the side. Monique stretched to her full height, lifted her arms into a long, graceful stance, and dived at the sea forty feet below.

Hostages and pirates rushed to the railing. The fashion model had cut the water cleanly and was swimming with strong, skilled strokes toward the beach. A pirate snapped a shot at her. Maxammed knocked the gun out of his hand.

“Get in the skiff!” he ordered. “Catch her.”

Three men ran to the distant stern, where the skiffs were tied.

“Zambezi!”cried one of the khat chewers, and the others took up the cry, pointing at the water.

Stunned, Allegra asked, “What doeszambezimean?”

“Bull shark,” said Maxammed. He raised his long-barreled pistol and took careful aim. Now Allegra saw the shark's fin cutting toward Monique. Maxammed fired. The bullets stitched into the water around the shark but had no effect.

“There's another!”

“They usually hunt alone,” Maxammed said conversationally. “Sometimes in pairs.”

“Shoot it!” Allegra screamed. “Shoot it!”

Maxammed shrugged and fired again. The bull sharks veered toward Monique. Allegra saw their backs break the water, gleaming. They caught up with the woman and pulled her under.

“Oh my God,” gasped Susan. “Oh my God.”

Allegra stared at the empty waves with disbelief.

Monique's hands broke the surface, reached high, fingers grasping the air, and sank from sight again.

“No escapes,” said Maxammed.

*  *  *

“JANSON! JANSON! Can you hear me?”

Paul Janson was in the midst of paying cash for a royal-blue wind vest in an expensive boutique—one of several shops he had ducked into to ensure no one had followed him from the airport. Quintisha Upchurch had routed an urgent call from Kingsman Helms.

“Janson. Can you hear me?”

“I hear you. Hold on one moment.”

Janson finished paying and hurried out of the store wearing the vest and carrying his jacket in a shopping bag. “What happened?”

“Allegra telephoned.”

“Good. What did she say about the ransom?”

“Nothing. She said she is all right. But nothing about ransom. I tried to talk to the pirate and all of a sudden all I heard was screaming and shooting. And I don't know what the fuck is going on now.”

“What is going on,” Janson said calmly to settle Helms down, “is they want everyone to know she's alive so they're safe from attack. How did she sound?”

“Like herself. Very cool.”

“Good.”

“But then the shooting started.”

“Listen to me. We will know one way or another very quickly if she's all right. They'll be bound to call back.”

“Why?”

“She's their shield. Hang in there, Kingsman. It'll work out.”

“You have to go in now.”

“I'll keep you posted.”

Paul Janson hung up and immediately telephoned Nick Sayers in Mombasa.

While the call went through he watched the street, intent on tracking shoppers, pedestrians, cars, police. He could not say he had a sixth sense he was being followed. The feeling was vaguer, more like what Kincaid called a “seventh sense.” He had seen absolutely nothing to back up the suspicion, and he knew he had come into Lebanon clean as a whistle on the Kurzweil passport. But the feeling existed, and he could not ignore it.

He had chosen the wind vest for its intense color. If he was being followed, it would imprint on the watcher's eye. Removing it would buy a few invisible seconds.

“Now what?” Nick Sayers answered his phone.

“I definitely wouldn't send that dough.”

“Listen.” The Lloyd's of London man held his phone to the sky.

Janson heard the sharp drone of a twin-engine prop plane clawing for altitude. Sayers said, “I'm standing on the tarmac. I'm watching him head east over the ocean. In a moment or two, he'll turn left, and I will return to my hotel for a hard-earned G and T…Son of a bitch.”

“What?”

“He just turned right.”

Right was south. The remote dirt-runway airfields of Tanzania, Mozambique, and Madagascar were all to the south. Somalia was north.

Janson said, “I hope you advised your bosses not to send the dough, because your courier would very likely steal it.”

“I took your advice,” said Sayers, “and I recommended not trusting him.”

“Are your recommendations against trusting your courier enshrined in London's files?”

“E-mail, text, and fax,” said Sayers. “I owe you one, Janson.”

*  *  *

“ISSE? WHY YOU LOOKso miserable?” asked Ahmed. “We're home. It is so cool. Everything's happening.”

Hope in Mogadishu was sparking a boom. New houses were being built and the old ones painted in cheery pastel pinks and yellows. Electric, water, and cable companies were digging trenches for wire, coax, and pipes. Brickyards were springing up in vacant lots. The huge Bakaara Market, formerly an al-Shabaab stronghold, was open for business, guarded by soldiers and police, and packed with customers. Mercedes, SUVs, pickups, and AMISOM armored cars were shoving donkeys off the streets.

“Splish-splash!”

Ahmed pumped a cheerful fist at a bunch of guys swarming a Mercedes with buckets and sponges. “There's more carwashes than khat stands. One on every block. And check out the money changers. There's a racket for you. Dude, we got here just in time.”

But Isse despaired. He was not just in time, no way. He had returned too late for the city he had dreamed of. The traitorous president Mohamed “Raage” Adam and the foreign invaders of AMISOM had driven al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu. The righteous were scattered into the bush, and everywhere Isse looked he saw the city spinning out of control.

Infidels, the unbelievingkuffar,swaggered. Music blared. Women threw off their veils and walked with men. Men shaved their beards and thronged the streets during prayer times. And no one but him seemed to notice the starving refugees, abandoned children, and prostitutes huddled in the wreckage of bomb-shattered buildings not yet painted in cheerful pastels.


Page 11

FIFTEEN

33°54' N, 35°29' EZaitunay BayBeirut, Lebanon

The first time Paul Janson had set foot on the Beirut waterfront, Druse artillery on the hills outside the city was shelling the Christian-controlled port, and ships were fleeing to the open sea. Since then, Lebanese civil-war rubble had been pushed into the Mediterranean. On the rubble now sat the Zaitunay Bay development, a brand-new yacht basin ringed by luxury hotels, shops, and restaurants.

Pedestrians strolled a promenade with views of floating piers at which were moored speedboats and motor yachts. It was oddly quiet for Beirut, as the buildings and gardens separated the promenade from noisy roads and the only automobile access was to the breakwater on the far side of the moorings. The newness, cleanliness, and order reminded Janson more of an airport shopping mall than a cosmopolitan waterfront. But when the wind shifted out of the east, he was strongly reminded of the way things used to be. Then, as now, a change in the weather carried the stench of the port's cattle boats, slaughterhouses, and tanneries.

“Cool vest,” Barorski greeted Janson. The vest had come in handy as the shift in wind brought a chill down from the mountains. Barorski was shivering.

“You're looking pretty sharp yourself,” Janson said, though it was hard to imagine that Barorski would believe it, slouched over a little café table and looking anything but sharp. He was about Janson's height and build, but there the resemblance ended. He was fifteen years younger and soft in the middle. His belly bulged under his T-shirt. He had a thin mustache and a stubble beard and eyes habitually darting with envy.

“Strange choice to meet here,” said Barorski.

“Not at all strange,” said Janson. “I want you to introduce me to Genrich Moscow.”

He watched Barorski's gaze shoot across the basin, past the floating piers toward a boat moored stern-to on the outer breakwater. It looked similar to most in the marina—eighty feet of sculpted carbon fiber, dark glass, and electronic arrays. Moscow's was the fastest, Janson's sources had informed him, a supposition that he judged to be fantasy. The Russian arms merchant had not thrived as long as he had by selling AKs from his own boat.

“Why,” Barorski asked, “should I give you this incredibly valuable introduction?”

“For money.”

“Money goes without saying. But why else?”

Janson reached under his vest. Barorski flinched. Janson smiled. “I promise not to shoot you on a busy promenade.”

“Of course not.”

“Though I probably should.”

“That is purely a matter of misinformed judgment. You haven't any facts.”

“If I didn't have any facts, you would not be here. You ripped off the wrong people and left a trail. I swept it up, investing in a treacherous young man who has a peculiar talent for arranging introductions thanks to his extremely well-connected father and uncle on whose reputations he trades.”

Barorski conceded the point with a nod. “Why do you want this introduction?”

Janson said nothing.

Barorski asked, “What is that in your hand?”

Janson flashed the German passport. Barorski wanted it so much he did not even try to conceal his interest. “Is it fresh?”

“It awaits only your photograph and signature.”

“When should I telephone Mr. Moscow?”

Janson said, “Understand the ground rules. Hello is not enough. An introduction has to be more than hello. Only when Genrich Moscow agrees to do business with me do you get your reward.”

*  *  *

JANSON WATCHEDGenrich Moscow watch them walk the circle of the promenade to reach his yacht. They did not pass muster, entirely. The guard at the gangplank was joined by two more who moved like they could handle themselves—Al Qod–trained Hamas commandos, Janson rated them. Proof, as always, that arms traders were equal-opportunity employers. They inclined their heads toward their earpieces, stepped aside with blank expressions, and followed them onto the yacht. Janson was not surprised that its mooring lines were tied with slipknots for a quick exit.

A uniformed steward, a light-on-his-feet muscle goon, led them to a breeze-swept flying bridge atop the wheelhouse. Genrich Moscow stood up and looked Janson over. He was a trim forty-five-year-old, with a face ridged by shrapnel scars. His left eyelid drooped from the wounds, but the eye appeared intact.

Janson waited quietly, returning a level gaze. Barorski watched anxiously. At last Moscow said in a vague accent that could be Polish or Russian or even Israeli, “Welcome aboard, Mr. Saul.”

“I appreciate your seeing me on short notice.”

The guards retreated and took up positions one deck below.

“What did you pay this one to vouch for you?” Moscow asked, indicating Barorski with a contemptuous nod.

“I took it off his tab.”

The arms merchant laughed. “You can bet you're not the only one he owes. He has a gift for needing rescue, don't you, Danielek?”

“Can I go inside?” asked Barorski. “I am freezing.”

“No,” said Moscow.

Janson said, “Go wait in the café—Here…” He shrugged out of the vest and handed it to Barorski. “Good job,” he said. “Take this. Warm up. I'll catch you there when we're done.”

Barorski scurried past Moscow's guards and down the gangplank. Moscow watched him speculatively. “Fools know no limits.”

“I believe he is growing up at last,” said Janson.

“He's running out of time—Mr. Saul, what do you want from me?”

“Tell me about your Otter.”

Genrich Moscow affected puzzlement. “Otter? What is this ‘Otter'?”

“Your de Havilland DHC-3T float plane. The ‘T' indicates conversion to turbine power—hopefully a Pratt & Whitney PT6A.”

“PT6A-27,” Moscow admitted, correcting him with pride. “Pratt & Whitney makes the best motor. Seven hundred horsepower. Very, very dependable. Very, very quiet.”

“All the better,” said Janson. “How old is she?”

“Older than the pilots,” said Moscow. “They stopped building them in 1967. But she is perfectly maintained.”

“So I heard.”

“From whom?”

“An admirer of yours.”

“Why didn't you ask him to introduce us, instead of Barorski?”

“He saw no profit in asking you for a favor.”

“Why didn't you buy what you need from him?”

“He doesn't have what I need. Only you do.”

“That puts you in a lousy bargaining position.”

“I didn't come here to quibble,” said Janson.

“Might I know your friend's name?”

“You would, and you would respect it.”

“But you won't tell me. Is he possibly based in Zurich?”

“Is it true that you converted your Otter's floats to RAPT?” Janson asked.

Again, the pride. “Just last month.”

“Glad to hear it.” Retractable Amphibious Pontoon Technology, RAPT, recently developed in Australia, enabled a seaplane to reduce its inherent aerodynamic drag by tucking its bulky floats under its belly in a streamlined shape. “What did you gain?”

“Twenty knots of airspeed and two hundred miles of range.”

“Congratulations,” said Janson. Moscow was exaggerating. It would be more like ten or fifteen knots and one hundred miles of range, in itself a valuable improvement worth the modest investment in RAPT.

“Will you let me charter it?”

“Charter it? I don't rent planes. I deliver weapons.”

“I don't want your weapons. I want your plane. Briefly.”

“Do you know how to fly a float plane?”

“I want your pilots, too.”

“They are the best.”

“I'll pay for the best. I also want to rent two tanker dhows.”

Moscow's eyebrows rose. “Two? How long a flight are you intending?”

“Four times longer than a helicopter. We will land on the water and refuel at sea exactly the way you do when you deliver Kalashnikovs from Mozambique.”

Moscow stared, greatly annoyed. “Your sources are impressive.”

“‘Impressive' was the word my sources used to describe your method of in-flight refueling. ‘Pioneering' was another.”

“Well, we rise to the situation.” Moscow smiled.

“We will return the same way. The pilots will refuel after they drop us, and they've put down, again, to refuel halfway home. Two tankers.”

“The plane will be heavily laden. There won't be much room for you.”

“No, I don't want her laden. I want her empty. I'm not paying to share space with your arms run. I want her capable of carrying eight people, in addition to your pilots.”

“An empty run costs me money.”

“One more question. Is it true that when you converted to turbine, you also installed an extra-wide cargo door?”

Moscow said, “We occasionally deliver extra-wide cargo. The door folds down like a ramp.”

“Name your price.”

Moscow did. Janson offered half the number. Moscow suggested splitting the difference.

Janson nodded. “Throw in a pair of Micro Tavors, and you've got a deal.” Silenced, with fast-acquisition reflex sights, and almost as small as a big pistol, the Israeli Defense Forces MTAR Micro Tavor 5.56 bullpup assault rifle was among Kincaid's favorites. An excellent weapon for fighting in a yacht's cramped spaces.

“All the money up front.”

“I have no problem with that,” said Janson.

Moscow took Janson's acquiescence as a threat. He crossed his arms and stared hard. “I do not like the menace in that statement—the implication that you know where to find me if I happen to take your money but provide no Otter.”

Paul Janson said, “I would be shocked if it came to that.”

“I am not without defenses.” Moscow indicated his bodyguards.

Paul Janson repeated, as mildly, “I would be shocked if it came to that.” He thrust out his hand. “Can we shake on this deal before we hammer out the details?”

Moscow studied Janson closely. Janson gazed back, eyes neutral. According to his friend Neal Kruger in Zurich, Genrich Moscow was treacherous but not suicidal. Abruptly, the arms merchant smiled. “You can trust me, Mr. Saul. We can shake.”

As Janson clasped hands with Moscow, both men's eyes swiveled toward a sudden bustle across the basin. A motor scooter with a rider on back had slipped in from the road that led to the seawall. Instead of continuing onto the seawall, it raced onto the promenade, scattering pedestrians.

Barorski, who was leaning over a table talking to two girls in high heels and short skirts, ran. The scooter charged after him. The rider stood on the stirrups, raised a pistol, and fired twice. The slugs knocked Barorski to the boardwalk. The scooter slowed beside him and the rider leaned over and fired a bullet into his head.

The scooter careened toward the gardens, leaning so sharply its kickstand trailed sparks on the pavement, bounced through them, and raced away. People edged from doorways and cement garden planters, and rose from under tables where they had taken cover to converge tentatively on the body.

“Interesting,” said Moscow. “He was wearing your vest.”

“So he was,” said Janson, pocketing his monocular lens. “Did you happen to recognize the shooter?”

“Not at that distance. But they're a dime a dozen in Lebanon.”

Helmeted motorcycle cops streamed onto the promenade, reinforced in seconds by four-man squads in Dodge Chargers. Moscow pressed a button on his phone and the boat's captain scrambled up to the flying bridge.

“Start the engines,” Moscow ordered. “Stand by to slip our mooring.”

The captain raced down the stairs.

Janson said, “Why don't we step into the cabin so I can pay you in private?”

Inside, Janson opened his carry bag and passed Moscow banded stacks of euros. Moscow watched the stack grow. “Enough,” he said. “You've overpaid.”

“By fifteen percent,” said Janson.

“To what do I owe such unearned largesse?”

“I'm hoping you'll do me a favor.”

“If I can.”

“I don't doubt that assassins are a dime a dozen in Lebanon. But I do doubt that many are Chinese.”

“You saw aChinesein your lens? I saw a broad-shouldered Westerner.”

“I saw his face.” A big man, tall as Denny Chin, though considerably heavier than Denny, and definitely Chinese, a northerner descended from Manchurian horsemen.

Moscow shook his head. “Who would go to the trouble of importing a Chinese to a city that has no shortage of assassins? Especially to shoot a man any number would kill for free.”

Janson shoved the money across the table. “I'd be interested in the answers you get when you ask around.”

SIXTEEN

2°2' N, 45°21' EMogadishu, Somalia

Problem, boss,” Sarah Peterson called from the right-hand seat as Lynn Novicki lowered the Embraer across Somalia's Shebelle River Valley.

The morning after he left Beirut, Janson was pressed against a forward cabin window, watching the land slide beneath the plane. The three-month-longgurains had just ended and Somalia looked greener than he had expected. The river itself was gray and fringed with trees. Ahead sprawled Mogadishu, an enormous city of low buildings on the edge of the Indian Ocean. Taller buildings and a dozen orange construction cranes clustered around the harbor, a mile-long dimple in the shore encased in man-made breakwaters. From the plane, still high up and several miles off, Janson could not tell whether the cranes were operating or abandoned.

“Nairobi ATC reports, quote, ‘possible disturbances' around Aden Adde International Airport.”

Nairobi was seven hundred miles to the west. “What does Mogadishu say?”

“Mogadishu doesn't have their act together to manage flight separation. UN air traffic controllers run Somali airspace from Nairobi.”

“But they reopened for scheduled flights. Turkish Airlines flies in daily. They must have somebody in their tower.”

“Tower doesn't answer,” Sarah answered, and Lynn said, “Nairobi says the airport manager got shot on his way to work this morning.”

Janson had heard that earlier in the day. It was the third assassination of the week in Mogadishu, following those of a journalist and an expatriate banker. Some blamed underground al-Shabaab kill cells that stayed behind when the militant Islamists fled the capital. Some blamed warlords. Others blamed the Italian.

“Flip on the camera and give me a flyover.”

In a radio exchange with Nairobi, Sarah secured permission for the course change, then activated the HD video array in the Embraer's nose. Lynn steepened their descent and soon Janson could see the city's tight street grid that ran to the edge of the blue ocean. It looked quiet, sunbaked, and hot. Red-tile roofs predominated, though near the harbor larger white buildings—villas, office buildings, hotels, and government houses—reared above the trees. Over every neighborhood, graceful white minarets speared the sky. The cranes near the harbor stood still, and few boats moved on the water.

Janson scoped the outer district around the airport, eyeing the video on one of the Aquos 1080 high-def monitors. He saw plenty of bomb damage, craters and half-demolished houses, but nothing that appeared current. No smoke rose from the surrounding neighborhoods of low buildings. He zoomed in on the streets. While he saw no signs of battle, there were few people out in the midday sun. On the other hand, that sun reflected off numerous shiny tin roofs, which indicated a brisk business in rebuilding.

The airport's ten-thousand-foot runway lay on a north-south axis. It paralleled the ocean a few meters from the beach, separated from the clear water by scrub brush and sand. On the inland side were a modest, one-story terminal building, a scattering of private and charter jets, a gleaming white-and-red Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800, a four-engine Airbus freighter, some boarding-stair trucks, and a squat control tower. Barracks for United Nations troops were clearly marked with a giant “UN” painted on the roof.

Janson spotted a square shadow in a stand of palm trees near the south end of the runway and zoomed in. A low-slung Soviet-era T-72 main battle tank lurked in the palms' thin shade, draped in camouflage netting. It was probably a “monkey model” that the Russians exported to poor countries, although a funny-looking array on the foredeck could be a modern LAHAT launcher, a reminder that all sorts of oddities could be found cobbled together in Africa's war zones. Whatever it was, it appeared to be keeping the peace.

“OK, Lynn, let's go down there.”

Sarah cleared a landing with Nairobi. Lynn swung north, then circled around and lined up to descend into the south wind. “Seat belt, boss.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said Janson, buckling in.

He was still swooping the cameras around, looking for trouble he might have missed earlier. They came down fast—Lynn had earned her spurs landing transports through Baghdad rockets—pushing the Embraer's approach-speed limits to minimize exposure to ground fire.

“Two hundred,” said Sarah, who was monitoring the altimeter.

“Technical!” warned Janson.

“Whoa, Nellie!”

The long-bed four-by-four Toyota pickup truck with a heavy machine gun on the roof of the cab shot out of the surrounding bush and raced onto the runway waving black flags. Masked fighters—al-Shabaab, judging by the fleeting glimpse Janson got of black-and-white kaffiyeh headdress covering their faces—jammed its cargo bed, passenger cab, and running boards.

“Up!” said Janson.

Lynn hauled back on the control column. Sarah shoved the throttles. The big Rolls-Royces bombarded the air, and Janson felt his seat slam into his back.

“Where the heck is he going?” asked Sarah, who was watching on a repeater in the cockpit.

Janson zoomed in on the truck. “Anywhere he wants to.”

So much for the Islamist fanatics' retreat to the bush. The technical bristled with grenade launchers and assault rifles.

Three more technicals manned by fighters in floppy hats and camo fatigues swarmed onto the field and chased after the first, exchanging fire with mounted machine guns and rocket launchers. The al-Shabaab lofted grenades into the UN barracks, which set the wooden structures burning. Another technical came boiling out from a stand of thick brush flying black flags. It joined the al-Shabaab and they counterattacked, charging down the runway at sixty miles an hour.

A third group of technicals burst from a hangar and raced past the main terminal, raking the others with rifles and grenades. The Airbus freighter trundled away from the terminal. Before it got two hundred meters, a rocket grenade set it on fire.

“Not today,” said Janson. “Outta here.”

“Glad to hear it, boss. Where to?”

Baidoa and Baraawe, the nearest Somali cities with a six-thousand-foot runway, the Embraer's minimum, were one day controlled by local clan warlords and the next in the grip of al-Shabaab, while Harardhere in southern Puntland was a pirate stronghold where Janson's $25 million Embraer could end up held for ransom, along with him and his pilots.

That left Nairobi.

But a retreat to the Kenyan capital would slow him down.

Janson looked east over the boundless Indian Ocean.

Airline pilots minimized jet-fuel costs by flying their planes light, which meant carrying only enough reserves for safe margins of extra range. But Catspaw pilots flew heavy and topped up their tanks repeatedly for unpredictable changes of course. Earlier, with only a thousand miles to go to Mogadishu, Lynn had insisted on a refueling stop in Addis Ababa. Janson had asked whether she couldn't stretch it, but she had exercised a captain's prerogative. Now he blessed her for it.

“Can we make it to the Seychelles?”

“No prob.”

He keyed his sat phone to tell Kincaid to meet him in Victoria, capital of the Seychelles Islands.

*  *  *

THET-72THATPaul Janson had spotted in the palm trees belonged to the Somali warlord Home Boy Gutaale. Gutaale was a middle-aged, dark-skinned giant with a thick beard dyed henna red. He was proud of his nickname Home Boy and prouder still that Somalis desperate for a powerful leader called him the George Washington of Soomaaliweyn.

Gutaale's tank, thirty years old but extravagantly teched-up, provided shelter from the deadly storm of small arms fire and rocket grenades lashing the airport, and relief from the heat, being air-conditioned as well as armored. Narrow glimpses of the battle offered by view slits were augmented by a panorama from sophisticated optics in the tank's periscope.

A tall American crouched under the low ceiling beside Gutaale craned his neck to watch the Embraer 650 fleeing the gun battle. The private jet, which was racing west over Mogadishu, suddenly looped 180 degrees and disappeared east over the Indian Ocean.

Gutaale, as tall as the American and much broader in the chest and shoulders—and crouching as uncomfortably—grinned at the tank's driver and gunner, smaller men suited to the cramped interior. His grin was infectious and they smiled back, delighted to be in the famous Home Boy's presence. Their smiles got bigger when Gutaale asked their guest, “Would you like to see what your gift to Somali stability does to a technical?”

“Stability?” the American shot back. “You promised stability. I see supposedly defeated al-Shabaab fanatics blowing up your goddamned airport.”

“The attack is a sign of their weakness,” said Gutaale. “Al-Shabaab is losing ground. But,” he conceded, “you are right, my friend, in that it might appear to a stranger who does not understand the situation that al-Shabaab has the upper hand this afternoon…”

The red-bearded warlord snapped an order. His gunner tracked the nearest al-Shabaab technical. A laser-guided antitank rocket leaped from the array on the forward deck, flashed across the runway, and bored into the crowded truck. Its warhead detonated, and the explosion flung burning men into the air.

The other technicals scattered, fleeing into the bush north of the runway, east onto the beach, and west into city streets.

Gutaale laughed. “For your viewing pleasure, my generous friend, a vivid example of the application of force in the service of stability. On behalf of my countrymen, thank you for your gift to the cause of Greater Somalia.”

The tough-talking American gaped. He looked horrified by sudden death close enough that the smell of burning flesh penetrated the air conditioning. Gutaale saw a man on the cusp of enlightenment. A successful transition could make him even more useful, and Gutaale sought to soothe him.

He spoke with the self-assurance of the effortlessly charismatic. Allah had blessed him with a rich voice to entrance a hundred fighters around a campfire, or give courage to a single comrade cowering from helicopters.

“You come from life, my friend. In your dollar country, life and stability are yoked like blood and bone. We come from death. In my degraded country, death and instability twirl like sand and wind. Your farms are abundant, your hospitals gleam, your schools resound with the dreams of learning. We learn death. Our teachers are famine, pestilence, and war.”

The tall American was recovering from his shock, tranquillized, as Gutaale intended, more by the confident rumble of his voice than his rambling speech. The Somali steered him back to reality, pointing at the smoke rising from the huddled bodies around the burning technical.

“Somalia is beset by enemies. Al-Shabaab roams the provinces of Bay, Hiiraan, Galguduud, and Mudug. Kenya demands Gedo and Juba for a buffer zone. Ethiopia will invade any minute from Ogaden. And no one knows better than you that pirates seize Puntland…” Gutaale paused. But the American was no pushover and revealed no emotion.

“Without stability, Somalia will be devoured. But if she is chewed into small bits, with her will die dreams of schools. And dreams of hospitals. And dreams of shipping to market the petroleum that Allah buried under our land.”

“Why do you think I bought you tanks?” said Kingsman Helms.


Page 12

SEVENTEEN

40°56' N, 74°4' WParamus, New Jersey

Hang on a minute, I have to take this,” Morton told the thief. One of the sat phones in his leather jacket was vibrating. Caller ID was totally blocked. But they had his number, so if it wasn't a wrong number, it meant money.

The thief returned his attention to the flat screens over the bar of Jerry's Sportsman's Paradise, which were showing football reruns and horse races in real time.

Morton stepped outside into the parking lot of the New Jersey strip mall anchored by Jerry's, a hangout for high-end housebreakers and jewel fences. He was a potbellied, pasty-faced, “white-hat” computer hacker who got his kicks switching hats, less for the dough than for the hell of it.

“Tell me why I shouldn't hang up.”

“Catspaw,” said a woman.

Morton scrambled into the privacy of the ten-year-old Honda that he drove when visiting Jerry's. No way he'd let the lowlifes see his regular ride and get the idea they should be robbing him instead of robbing for him.

“What can I do for you?”

Morton had spoken with her before but had never met her face-to-face and never expected to. She had a warm, musical voice, and a reformatory warden's precise way with words.

“We are interested in a megayacht built by the Lynds & Schmidt Shipyard in Hamburg, Germany, for a Russian oligarch. We want the oligarch's name, the name of the yacht, its current location, and the name of the yacht's captain.”

“I can do that,” Morton said, meaning that if anyone could hack into a megayacht shipyard's computers, he was the man.

“How long do you estimate it will take you?”

“Long,” Morton admitted, sticking to his mother's advice: never promise what you can't deliver. Stalling for time to think, he heard a heavy truck engine. His windows were closed, so it wasn't the traffic on Route 17, but coming over her phone, a big semi climbing its gears. It almost sounded like she was in it.

“Are you there, Mr. Morton?”

“Businesses that got Russian-oligarch customers are digi-secure up the wazoo.”

“If you want the job, you must start immediately.”

“OK if I sub some of it?”

“Use all the subcontractors you need. There is no time to lose.”

*  *  *

AFTER DARK,in a comfortable office in his villa on the Lido, Home Boy Gutaale challenged Kingsman Helms. “Yes, you bought me tanks. But you promised helicopters.”

“You'll get helicopters when you earn helicopters.”

The warlord sat behind his desk. The oilman paced. A thirty-second loop was playing over and over on Gutaale's computer screen, footage of the airport battle recorded by his T-72's optic sensors. He tapped the monitor with his finger. Then he touched the image of each of the bodies smoldering on the runway.

“You are a guest in my country. As my guest, your blood is more precious than mine. But a guest should never be too independent.”

“I am a guest in many countries,” Helms shot back. “Those I favor with a second visit are those who treat me like a valued partner.”

Home Boy Gutaale turned to the map of Greater Somalia that covered an entire wall. The nation it depicted obliterated the borders of Ethiopia and Kenya. This was Soomaaliweyn, the ancient kingdom of the Horn of Africa where Somalis ruled two thousand miles of East African coast, five hundred miles into the highlands.

He switched on a penlight laser and nonchalantly played its red dot at locations where ASC petroleum scientists predicted major oil and gas reserves. “Helicopters—”

Kingsman Helms cut the warlord off with a sharp gesture.

“Oil is a hard business, Gutaale. Oil does not come out of the ground easily. It does not come out cheaply.”

“It gushes!”

“Try capping a gusher. It is a humbling experience. If it doesn't kill you, and you manage to contain the oil, you will next learn that moving it, refining it, and selling it are even harder business than finding and containing it. If you don't want to piss it all away, you will need a partner as much as the partner needs you and your promises of stability.”

Gutaale pressed his knee against a button hidden beneath his desk. A young man wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up bustled into the office without knocking and whispered in Gutaale's ear.

Gutaale looked grave. “Thank you.”

The young man left.

Helms, still shaken by Allegra's abruptly ended phone call, asked, “Did that concern my wife?”

Gutaale said, “Mr. Helms, as you know, I've been trying to make contact with the pirate who holds her.”

Helms knew better than to ask favors of a man he was doing business with. Gutaale knew everyone in Somalia, of course, so he was welcome to help. But it had been smarter to trust Allegra's life to a top-notch, clear-eyed, straight arrow with no stake in Somalia—Paul Janson—while Helms remained focused like a laser on the biggest deal of his life. Ice water in his veins? What was the alternative? Moaning ineffectually for the woman he loved? The woman he loved deserved the best, and Kingsman Helms was providing it in the best way he knew how.

“Trying, perhaps,” he answered. “But not succeeding.”

“It is a humbling experience,” Gutaale replied, using Helms's word as if deliberately mocking him. “I thought I was better connected in Puntland than I am, at least for the moment. I don't mean I have made no progress. I am connected to people who are in a position to at least observe what the pirate is up to, if not actually negotiate with him, at least not yet. All of which is to say that I've just been told that another hostage has died.”

Helms froze. “Is my wife…?”

“A woman attempted to escape. She jumped into the sea. Apparently she was a strong swimmer and struck out for the beach. But she did not consider thezambezi.”

“What iszambezi?”

“Sharks. Bull sharks. Very aggressive.”

Helms whispered, “My wife is a beautiful swimmer.”

Gutaale raised a cautioning hand. “No, no, no. We don't know yet it was her. It could have been another. My people of course are observing closely—Sit down, my friend!”

The blood had rushed from Helms's face. He stood as pale as a wraith, unable to move. Gutaale waited a few moments before he pressed his knee to the button again.

The young man in shirtsleeves burst into the office. This time, instead of whispering he cried, “It is not her! It is not Mrs. Helms.”

“Allah be praised,” said Gutaale.

Kingsman Helms sank into a chair. “Thank God.”

Home Boy said, “I will redouble my efforts to free her.”

PART TWO

A Far Country

EIGHTEEN

04°40' S, 55°31' ESeychelles International AirportMahé, Seychelles Islands

Afire-engine-red 1956 MG TF roadster clattered alongside Seychelles International Airport's passenger terminal, backfiring explosively and grinding gears. The driver, resplendent in a linen suit, a pink shirt, and a club tie, doffed his Panama hat and shouted, “Hop in, gorgeous.”

Excellent, thought Jessica Kincaid. The Invisible Man had made himself invisible by standing out. On an island famous for expensive honeymoons, he looked like a rambunctious groom careening into a fourth marriage.

Kincaid returned the sunshiny smile of a party girl about to graduate to trophy wife, strapped her bag to the luggage rack, and climbed in beside him. Janson gave her a theatrical kiss on the mouth and floored it, weaving the MG's angular snout through dense traffic.

“Sweet ride.”

“Borrowed it from the lady who owns our hotel.”

“Old friend?” Was there anywhere on the damned planet he didn't know a gal?

“Friend of.”

Blasting out of the traffic, Janson was soon climbing a cliffside road with neither shoulders nor guardrails. “Want me to drive?” asked Kincaid.

“I'm fine,” he shouted over the roar of engine, gearbox, and wind.

Kincaid concentrated on the scenery. About the only thing she did not admire about Janson was his driving.

“We head out tonight after dark,” said Janson. “Allegra has not called, again. Helms says he was told in Mogadishu that she's still alive.”

“Who told him?”

“Warlord Home Boy Gutaale, who has clansmen up in Eyl.”

“Helms is connected.”

“Connecting to local biggies is what ASC pays him for. But there's still no peep about ransom, which is why we're going in tonight.”

Kincaid asked, “What do you think about Helms arranging his wife's kidnapping?”

“Highly unlikely. I nosed around the yacht harbor. It sounds like Adler invited both Allegra and the fashion model spur-of-the-​moment, hoping to get laid with one or the other. So even if your Camorra lady gangster is not a paranoid with a blighted worldview, Helms had no time to set up his wife's kidnapping.”

“Nothing to stop him from taking advantage of it.”

“Why is he paying us to get her back?”

Kincaid said, “Maybe he hopes we'll screw up and get her killed before SEALs save her?”

“But whether or not your Camorra lady is wrong, we are back to square one: rescue Mrs. Helms. Goes without saying, we haven't and won't share plans with her husband… There's the hotel.”

At the edge of a palm-tree forest, far below the cliff road, a steep-roofed former plantation house draped in verandahs overlooked a two-mile crescent of white sand. The beach circled a blue bay that spilled into the darker ocean. “I can't wait to take our scooter for a ride.”

“I already did. It runs fine. Fast as hell, too. I've got the battery recharging.”

“Do I have time for a swim before we suit up?”

She'd been cooped up on the long flight from Italy, and tonight they were looking at nine hours in a small plane, so Janson said, “Do it. We're not going anywhere until dark.”

“Paul, what if Helms thought that Allegra's family meant to kill him before their prenup expired?”

“That would motivate him to strike first.”

“Particularly if he thought she was on their side.”

Janson said, “But we still have to wonder how Helms connected with pirates on such short notice.”

“Warlord Gutaale must know some pirates.”

“Possible,” Janson admitted.

He had asked the hotel's owner to instruct her staff never to come without being summoned to their cottage, which was the farthest from the main house and the most private. He had a large map of Somalia's Puntland region spread out on the porch when Kincaid appeared in a snug white one-piece Speedo Aquablade.

“That is terrific.”

Kincaid's eyes fixed on a small granite island that marked the line between the darker ocean and the lighter bay. “How far's that rock, four thousand meters?”

Janson gave it a glance. “Give or take.” A bit over two miles.

“The tourist board says sharks aren't a problem.”

“A shark may change his mind when he sees that swimsuit.”

“It's white, so he won't see it,” said Kincaid. “He'll think it's the sky—Anything new on your Chinese shooter?”

Janson shrugged. “Beirut cops pulled over a motor scooter with a guy who looked Chinese.”

“What did they get out of him?”

“Nothing before he escaped.”

“Escaped?How—”

“Lebanon buries the needle on every corruption scale. The cops locked him to a neighborhood hoosegow. Bunch of lawyers showed up at the front door. Somebody C-foured the back door.”

“Nobody would import a guy with that much juice to kill a local who's hated by every side in town. He was gunning for you.”

Janson shrugged again. “I've got a fellow in Beirut looking into it. And a friend in Tel Aviv.”

“Any unmentioned Chinese parts of your past I should know about?”

“The only Chinese I can think of who were mad enough to kill me are dead. Go swimming. Don't pester the sharks.”

“When you want to kill somebody in a strange city, the only reason not to hire locals is you haven't been there long enough to vet the right locals.”

“Meaning it was an ad-hoc attack?”

Kincaid nodded vigorously. “Someone saw an unexpected opportunity to blow you away. Didn't have time to hire locals. So if the shooter was Chinese, the someone who wants to blow you away is Chinese too.”

Janson asked, “What makes you think a Chinese killer only works for Chinese clients?”

“The guy stood out like a sore thumb in Beirut. I'm not saying it's proof positive, but ask yourself, would you import a tall, broad-shouldered northern Chinese assassin who would stick out like a sore thumb? Huge risk he'd get caught. Just like he did. You told me yourself, the cops picked him up right away.”

*  *  *

JANSON WORKED HISsat phone, glancing up regularly to watch Kincaid freestyle two miles out to the rock. Coincidences came in degrees. As Kincaid said, Daniel Barorski getting assassinated immediately after meeting him was hardly definitive, considering how many people would have liked Barorski dead. His hunger for a clean German passport proved that a sudden exit was on his mind. That he had been wearing Janson's distinctive vest, however, was harder to discount.

But no one was supposed to know he was in Beirut. Janson had covered his tracks coming into Lebanon as Kurzweil, operating as “Mr. Saul.” That meant that whoever was gunning for him—if they were gunning for him—was good at tracking. But lame at execution. Hitting the wrong man was the sort of amateur nonsense he'd expect of gangsters like the Camorra assassins who attacked Kingsman Helms in New York.

But why come after him at all? He was reasonably satisfied by the family connection between the Camorra and Kingsman Helms. But what was the Chinese-Janson connection?

He had no answer. All the more reason to move quickly. There would be time to deal with the Chinese after they got Allegra Helms home safely.

Yet in the back of his memory, he heard a Catspaw analyst saying, “As big and powerful a global as it is, the American Synergy Corporation is being squeezed out of every oil patch in the world by China.”

He trained his monocular lens on the rock between the bay and the Indian Ocean. Kincaid did a resting breaststroke around the rock. When she started back, freestyle, Janson shook his head in awe. With two miles to go, she was sprinting. She would record her time, and if they happened to come back to the Seychelles to celebrate liberating Allegra Helms, she would swim her brains out to beat it.

Another thought, which had been hovering just beyond consciousness since he saw Barorski shot, began to take the shape of a vague yet compelling question: What if whoever might be gunning for him had not caught up by tracking him? And had not just gotten lucky.

What if they had somehow anticipated he would go to Beirut?

Janson reviewed each step of his route to meeting Barorski: the throwaway-cell-phone call he had made from the Hamburg T-Punkt shop; subsequent encrypted sat-phone queries from the plane; a final cell call from Jordan; and crossing the Lebanese border as Mr. Kurzweil.

He had taken each step as securely as technology and tradecraft could make it. Which raised the ominous possibility that whoever had tried to kill him knew his ways well enough to predict them. Another question that would have to wait until Allegra Helms was safe.

Fact was, had he been wearing the vest, he'd have had his pistol out the second he heard them coming. He would have shot the driver, and when the scooter crashed, put his warm gun in the assassin's ear and asked who had paid him.

Janson put it from his mind and went back to the phones. Hassan, Ahmed, and Isse should be in Mogadishu by now. He wanted news on Ahmed's former-pirate relatives and a negotiator hungry enough to risk prosecution.

But none answered their shanzhais.

*  *  *

“FAT FINGERS,” said Ahmed. “My bad.”

“What happened?” Isse squinted at Ahmed. The Mogadishu sun was so intense—ten times brighter than in Minneapolis—that it made his eyes hurt. They were waiting in line outside the Bakaara Market Internet Café, which was on the ground floor of a three-story Italianate building with a giant satellite dish hanging off the roof and workers troweling stucco over bullet holes.

Ahmed held up his shanzhai phone. “I accidentally erased Paul's cell.”

“How'd you do that?”

Ahmed flashed what Isse called his smooth-operator grin. They hadn't been in Mogadishu two days yet, and he had some kind of big deal in the works. Ahmed had traded his Somalia Coast Guard T-shirt for a white button-down shirt with a collar when they got off the plane. Now he looked like every other loudmouth businessman wheeling and dealing on the street.

“I was just checking my e-mail and I hit the panic button by accident. Now I can't report to Paul. And Paul can't GPS me. Gee, what a shame.”

“What if you need help?”

“I put his number in my regular phone, dummy, before I erased it—I mean panic-buttoned it.” Ahmed laughed.

Isse felt his scorn. It was like Ahmed was a full-grown man and he was somehow stuck in student mode, still sleeping in his old bedroom in his parents' house.

He asked Ahmed, “Why don't you want Paul to know where you are?”

“I got business,” Ahmed said. “I can't afford babysitters checking my GPS.”

Isse took out the phone Paul had given him. He brought the panic button up on the screen and held his finger over it.

“What are you doing?” Ahmed asked.

“I have business too.”

“Wait, wait, wait. Hang on, Isse. Don't burn bridges where you got no place to go.”

“I have a place to go.”

“You do? Where?”

“A place that's not about money,” Isse said earnestly. “A place for Muslim respect.” What he got back was the withering fire of Ahmed's disdain.

“Here we go again. Come on, Isse, you sound like a fucking Saudi. We're Somali. Sure, we're Muslim. That's cool. But we're Somali first. Why are you always going on about Muslims and respect?”

“Americans do not respect us.”

“You grew up in America just like me. You know damned well that no American ever dissed nobody with plastic in his wallet. Do you really want to boost Muslim respect? Give 'em a job. Let 'em have fun making dough.”

“There is a better way to live,” Isse protested doggedly. “They must be given the law of God.”

“I'd rather make a business and give 'em jobs. When they get some cash in pocket, let 'em make up their own mind how they want to live. Don't you see, man? It's so much easier and nobody gets killed. Hey, lighten up, we're in Mog. It's a wild new world and we got here just in time.”

Ahmed's phone pinged a text received. “Yes!”

He showed Isse the screen.

SOAP ARRIVED.

“I'm in business.” Ahmed thumbed a quick answer and grinned in Isse's face. “Hey, sourpuss! All I'm trying to tell you is lighten up.”

“I wish I could,” said Isse, reminded of when he was twelve years old asking his mother, who fought a daily, losing battle with depression, “Can't you just be happy?” and she answered, “I would if I could.”

Suddenly, an explosion thumped the air. The stones shook beneath their feet. Everyone stopped talking. For a moment a heavy silence gripped the street. People tried to look everywhere at once and braced to run. Even Ahmed looked scared.

Phones starting ringing, texts pinging, and in seconds news and rumor flew.

“Bomb at the Lido.”

Two miles away. They were safe.

“Suicide bomb at the beach.”

“Seafood restaurant.”

“Cars wrecked.”

“Only two killed.”

“Lido Seafood,” Ahmed told Isse. “You know, where the rich guys and government guys eat lunch—what did you say?”

“I said, ‘That got their attention.'”

“Lunatic.”

Isse brought the panic delete button up on his screen, again, and pressed it for two seconds. Then he stepped out of the line for the Internet café.

“Where you going, Isse?”

“Check out some mosques.”

Ahmed laughed. “Say a prayer for me.”

Isse turned back, surprising Ahmed with a face with a big grin and surprised him again by bumping fists. “I'll do you a rap prayer,” he said. “It goes, ‘Join the caravan before you lose your soul.'”


Page 13

Ahmed looked at him like he had lost his mind. “Whatever turns you on, Isse.”

Isse turned around and melted into the crowd.

Ahmed watched him go, wondering how fucked up Isse really was. He knew the Amriki rap. The religionist dickhead's next line went, “Sell this life for endless happiness down the road.”

Which was lame code for martyr suicide. But even Isse couldn't be that stupid.

NINETEEN

When night closed on the ocean, Janson and Kincaid blacked out head-to-toe in warm-water wet suits and marched down the beach. There was no moon, but the gentle surf gleamed under a sky white with stars. They walked the hard sand at the edge of the rising tide. The water erased the distinctive fish-spine prints of their assault boots.

Janson flipped down his JF-Gen4 PSFE Panoramic night-vision goggles when he reckoned they had gone a mile. The built-in GPS nailed their position. He led Kincaid up the sloping beach into the palm forest.

Kincaid said, “What's that smell? Paint?”

“I had to spray it flat black. The damned thing came red and white. You could see it at a thousand meters.”

Flat black, the hydrofoil was nearly invisible on a boat trailer with balloon tires. They pulled it into the surf, floated it beyond the low breakers, stashed the trailer back in the trees, and returned to the water, erasing footprints and wheel tracks with a palm frond Janson had cut earlier.

With its foils retracted, the wedge-shaped scooter—high in back, lower in front, ten feet long—floated in half a foot of water. They waded it out until they were knee deep and climbed into the seats, Kincaid in front. She engaged the electric motor, which was as silent as advertised, and drove it toward the open sea.

From the west, over the sea, they heard the hollow whisper of a turbine aircraft engine. The sound intensified to a growl. A bulbous form drifted down from the stars and headed straight at them. Its silhouette appeared ungainly—like a flying guppy, said Kincaid—but just as it was about to touch the water, two hundred meters ahead of them, the lower half of its fuselage split in two, lowering a pair of wide-spread floats.

The engine throttled back to a murmur. Spray glittered, and a sleek and sturdy ten-passenger high-wing single-engine de Havilland floatplane surfed to a quiet stop twelve seconds after it touched water. Kincaid approached from the rear, avoiding the propeller. Janson leaned out of the scooter and flipped a line over a cleat on the back of the nearest float. Kincaid throttled ahead and turned the airplane around to face the sea.

A section of the fuselage that encompassed the two rearmost windows hinged downward, forming a ramp to a five-foot-wide cargo hatch. Janson and Kincaid scrambled onto the right-hand float and threw their waterproof combat packs through the hatch. From the dark within, the copilot passed down a line. They hooked it to the scooter, which they guided up the ramp as the electric winch took the weight, and hauled it into the plane. They climbed in after it. All but the forward two passenger seats had been removed, creating a capacious hold with more than enough room for the scooter.

“Go,” said Janson to the shadow of the pilot.

But instead of gunning the engine to takeoff, the pilot taxied slowly, making just enough headway to hold the aircraft into the onshore breeze. When he turned around in his seat, Janson's Panoramics registered an aristocratic-looking Indian Sikh with a luxurious beard and mustache and a lightweight Sennheiser ANR headset wedged under his turban. He nodded politely to Kincaid, and addressed Janson in a cheerful upper-crust English public-school accent.

“We have a sticky wicket with the weather, sir. The captain of the first tanker dhow reports that his barometer is dropping. As I'm sure you know, low-pressure systems churn wind and waves.”

“I've been tracking the low since morning,” Janson replied. “It's moving north-northeast. The winds behind it are dropping to less than four knots.”

“Jolly good. Nonetheless, the dhow captain reports three-foot seas.”

“What's your limit?”

“Unfortunately, this is not a flying boat that lands on a stable hull,” the captain said, explaining that the Otter, being perched high on twin floats, needed calmer water to land safely. Sea heights of three feet would push her limits.

Janson flipped his Panoramics so they could talk face-to-face by the glow of the instruments. “Why don't we take off now?” he said. “Fly just short of our point of no return, where we can query the captain again while we still have enough fuel to return to the Seychelles if the seas are too high.”

“Excellent, sir,” answered the pilot. “I was hoping you would say that. Why don't you and the lady buckle your seat belts?”

The P&W6-27 turbine wound up to a high-pitched buzz. The plane—less burdened with Janson, Kincaid, and their scooter than it would be with its civilian capacity of ten passengers and luggage—surged across the flat water for a very short distance and lifted immediately into the air. Seven minutes after she had touched down to the sea, her floats folded under the fuselage again, reducing drag.

The pilot leveled off at only a hundred feet and there the Otter flew for twenty minutes under Seychelles radar. They clocked thirty-five miles and, finally out of range, ascended to ten thousand feet and continued west at a fuel-saving 130 knots. Janson and Kincaid field-stripped the MTAR assault rifles that were waiting, brand-new, in boxes, and let off a few test rounds out a back window.

Then Paul Janson closed his eyes and went to sleep and Jessica Kincaid sprang forward to kneel behind the pilots, hoping to swap plane talk. The copilot was a South African named Clarence Choh, and she learned he was an ex-mercenary who had gotten bored ferrying rich fishermen to remote “islands in paradise.”

The senior man was Kirpal Singh. He was a former Air India captain who had retired young, he told her, “in order to enjoy life more.” Kirpal Singh, Kincaid quickly concluded, was a lot more talkative than most pilots, rattling on nonstop about the meaning of life and then shifting into high gear about “my personal paradox—”

“How fast did you take off?”

“Sixty knots.”

“I noticed you held her nose down.”

“Better believe it,” the South African said with a laugh. “You've got to apply a ton of forward control column to keep her from pitching up. Nose high, she'll stall in a flash—particularly if you load your center of gravity too far aft.”

“She's a lady in every other aspect,” said Kirpal Singh, “but absolutely unforgiving about her nose. A tiny bump cocks her up, and if you fail to act quickly, her nose continues to pitch. Next thing you know it's too late for the aerodynamic capability of the elevators, in which event recovery will not be possible.”

“That's Indian aviator speak for ‘you crash,'” said Clarence Choh.

“What's your max crosswind landing?” asked Kincaid.

“Ten knots, at ninety degrees,” said Choh.

“But if you hold the weather wing down to stop it lifting,” said the Indian, “you can get away with fifteen.”

The South African laughed again. “Better have a long run out. Full flaps and crosswinds are a definite no-no.”

Janson woke up in an hour. Kincaid slept. Three hours out, they radioed the tanker dhow. The seas were still three feet. And the wind had not dropped.

“They're no worse,” said Janson. “Let's do it.”

The copilot looked dubious. Kincaid noticed that Kirpal Singh seemed more open to taking a chance. She said, “You were telling me about crosswinds. If the waves are spaced far enough apart, couldn't you land in the smoother water between the rows—across the wind?”

“That should be fun,” said the South African. “A straight-and-narrow landing in a crosswind.”

“But you're good to fifteen knots,” said Kincaid.

“The lady has a point,” said the Indian. “It's worth a try.”

The copilot looked incredulous. “Kirpal! What if the troughs are too narrow to land? By then we're out of fuel. Then what?”

“Obviously we'll have no choice but to land, regardless,” said Singh, and it finally dawned on Jessica Kincaid that there was something a little odd about the unusually talkative pilot.

The copilot said, “And get pitched ass-over-teakettle if we catch a wing.”

The Indian shrugged. “The dhow is right there to pick us up.”

“Right,” said the South African. “Provided we manage to climb out of the wreck before it sinks.”

“The empty fuel tanks will keep us afloat until we climb out.”

“Wait a minute!” said Choh. He planted a sure hand on Singh's shoulder and turned him firmly toward him. “Let me see your eyes… Are you off your chems?”

The pilot smiled. “I have felt for the past several days that I don't need medicine anymore. In fact, I feel wonderful. Almost euphoric.”

“Almost?Jesus Christ.” Clarence Choh turned to Kincaid and spoke as if the pilot were not sitting beside him. “He's bipolar. Stops the pills and gets high as a kite.”

“I am a very fine pilot,” said the Sikh.

“That you are, mate. You are the hottest pilot I've ever flown with.” Again Choh spoke to Kincaid as if they were alone. “The goddamnedest thing is, he's even better when he's nuts. But he is nuts.”

“I am wonderfully nuts,” said Kirpal Singh. “It is settled. We will rendezvous with the dhow as planned, refill our tanks, and loft this lovely lady and her gentleman friend on to Puntland, and while they go about their business we will refuel again at sea and lurk offshore until they radio us to pick up them and their friends and loft them home to the Seychelles for a honeymoon—if they've enjoyed such a good time ashore that a honeymoon seems like a delicious idea.”

“What if we end up in the drink?” asked Choh. “Who tells the ‘merchant of death' his aircraft's at the bottom of the ocean? Mr. Moscow is not a gentle soul.”

Paul Janson said, “My clients will cover the cost of the plane. They will make it right with Mr. Moscow.”

“Righto!” said the Sikh. “Onward, into the unknown.”

Janson and Kincaid continued to alternate hours of sleep until, in the middle of the seventh hour, with the barometer in the fueling sector still dropping, and the Otter's gauges nudging Empty, the pilot ordered them to put on lifejackets.

They descended in the dark.

At two hundred feet, Singh switched on landing lights.

“Seat belts, please, lady and gentleman.”

The Catspaw operators belted in quickly, motivated as much by a tightening of the pilot's jaw as the sight of the Indian Ocean scored with whitecaps.

“This sucks,” said the South African. “Six-foot seas.”

“Four feet,” said the Indian.

“Five if they're an inch.”

“Radio the dhow to switch on his lights.”

“How are you going to land in that?”

“I am not landing before the dhow shows me precisely where he is. Radio, First Officer Choh!”

Clarence Choh did as Kirpal Singh ordered. A half mile ahead, a two-masted, oceangoing wooden dhow—wheelhouse high in the stern—materialized in a circle of electric light. It was moving under power, its yards and sails struck down and suspended between the masts and the wheelhouse.

The Otter descended with its nose steeply pitched.

“One hundred feet,” called the copilot, and Janson saw Arab sailors in T-shirts wrestling a hose up from the hold. A sudden violent roll when the sea dropped under the dhow's starboard side sent one of them flying across the deck, gripping a railing for his life.

“I don't love this,” said the South African.

“Piece of cake,” said the Indian. He banked and turned the high-wing floatplane, lining onto a course parallel with the rolling seas. Janson estimated the corridor between the rollers to be narrower than the Otter's wingspan.

A gust of wind shoved under the right wing. A skillful touch on the right aileron leveled it. Then Singh raised the nose and called over his shoulder, “And now we'll attempt to put into practice the lady's interesting idea. Do not worry, madam. You didn't invent the maneuver. It has been tried many times before.”

Singh brought the floatplane down, flying ten knots faster than he would have were he landing directly into the wind. The plane was going too fast. It was refusing to descend the last few feet. But the crosswind smacking the starboard side and threatening to shove under the wing and flip her over made attempting to “airbrake” by fully lowering flaps suicidal. Singh throttled back. There was a moment of near silence.

The floats hit hard. Lacking the cushioning effect of the shock absorbers on wheeled landing gear, the plane shook from an impact that felt like it would break it into pieces. The tail snapped up, the nose dropped, and the front of the floats buried into the water.

Singh coolly raised the back elevators and revved the propeller and the plane straightened up and raised the floats out of the water. But just as it appeared that the phenomenally skilled pilot had pulled it off, an errant sea slipped out from under the left float. The plane fell to the left. A corresponding wave rose under the right float, lifting it and tipping the plane farther to the left. The left wing caught its tip in a wave. The wave curled over it and dragged it under. Still hurtling down the narrow corridor between the waves at forty miles an hour, the Otter began to tumble.

TWENTY

Paul Janson banged open his seat belt, pushed out the passenger door, and jumped.

Forty knots of prop wash flung salt spray like a water cannon. He landed one boot on the float, leaned into the speeding plane's slipstream, kicked off the float, and clamped both hands on the wing strut. He pumped his legs to swing his weight farther outboard to counterbalance the wing that the sea was pulling under. The wing fought like a maddened animal. The pounding water, the roar of the engine, the propeller wind—all were chaos in the dark until he sensed a purposeful rush behind him.

He reached back for Kincaid.

Their hands locked.

Janson used his strength and her momentum to catapult her past him. Kincaid grabbed the wing with both hands and slung her 130 pounds farther outboard to add to his weight, levering it down. The Otter hung in suspension, port wingtip angling toward the sea bottom, starboard wing thrusting at the stars. Then it tugged its wing out of the water, slowly righted on both floats, and glided to a stop in the lee of the dhow.

Kirpal Singh cut the engine, and the propeller stopped thrashing. Sailors threw lines. Janson and Kincaid caught them and passed the hose to Clarence Choh, who rammed the hooded nozzle into the Otter's fuel port.

*  *  *

“THESE ARE NOT ROADS,” Home Boy Gutaale complained to his driver and his bodyguards. “These are not even goat paths.”

The red-bearded warlord had been two and a half days leading a convoy of armored-up SUVs from Mogadishu to the Puntland town of Eyl. To call the roads horrible was to utter a statement without meaning. His driver, Mohammed, the cheeky one who had been through the wars with him, said, “Goat paths do not befit the future George Washington of Soomaaliweyn.”

Everyone laughed and Gutaale swore an oath that had his fighters smiling one second and cheering the next: “When we havewon. When Soomaaliweyn isone. We will kill every tax collector who collected money for roads. But before we kill them, we will cut their feet off so their stumps can feel what it was like to walk their roads to Eyl.”

The goat road meandered across a land of rock and sand and hellhole heat wherever the hills blocked the wind. For miles at a time it was so empty it looked like no human had ever lived there, and so hot that no one would ever want to. Then, around a bend, boys would materialize from nowhere, leading a donkey or chasing a camel. Then more empty miles, hotter and hotter even as the sun fell low in the sky.

The hills were casting long shadows and the light was fading when suddenly his cell phone rang.

“Speak to me!” said Home Boy Gutaale. Thanks to cell towers sprinkled forty miles apart, his mind was connected to a world his body could not at this moment imagine. A cherished lieutenant was calling a heads-up from the far side of the moon in Mogadishu.

“Stay off the beach. There will be a raid tonight.”

Gutaale did not ask how his man had learned that the beach would be dangerous. Fresh intelligence was a payoff for success. When a warlord looked like he could keep the promise of a better tomorrow, information flowed his way from hackers eavesdropping on Combined Force frequencies, loyal comrades observing from supply docks, European intel operators tossing morsels to be remembered as friendship, global corporations extending a helping hand for future favors, and rich expatriates paving the road home.

He telephoned a fishing captain in Eyl, a clansman who owned a bigger boat than the fish it caught could pay for, thanks to the generosity of the future George Washington of Soomaaliweyn. Gutaale imagined the scene as the son who answered ran to his father mouthing,“It is he,”and the father snatching the phone from his hand, spitting chewed leaves from his mouth, and putting the wad on a blanket beside him.

“Yes, my brother. May God be with you.”

“Cook food for twelve fighters and ready your boat.”

*  *  *

AT DUSK,PAULJANSONordered Kirpal Singh and Clarence Choh to land on an open patch of ocean fifteen miles off the Puntland shore. They had flown at wave tops, earlier, under the radar of a naval patrol. Now they were alone, the sea as empty as it had been all day. It was the evening after they left the Seychelles. After refueling, they had waited for hours bouncing under tow behind the slow-moving dhow in order to time a night raid onTarantula. The pilots had slept on the dhow and returned complaining of cockroaches. Janson and Kincaid had slept on the plane. Catspaw contacts confirmed that the yacht was still cruising back and forth off Eyl.

The water was much calmer four hundred miles from the low-pressure system, typical western Indian Ocean conditions for July, Singh said. He surfed the Otter to an easy stop on six-inch wavelets. Janson and Kincaid lowered the cargo door and eased the dark scooter down the ramp. A swell undulated beneath the surface, gathering steam as it headed for the coast.

They got their rifles, packs, radios, sat and cell phones, and GPSs, climbed onto the Quadrofoil, and did a radio check with Singh and Choh. Kincaid deployed the hydrofoils—four curved appendages, two in front, two in back that extended three feet into the water. She tongued a tsk on her wireless lip microphone. Janson tsked back that he heard her in his earphone.

Then he tsked twice. Go.

Kincaid switched on the electric motor. The Quadrofoil gathered way. She increased the power. It picked up speed, and she kept increasing it until she felt a lifting sensation, as if something pacing them underwater was surfacing with them on its back.

She turned her head and spoke aloud. “Hang on, Janson. We're outta here.” She switched wide open and the scooter jumped up on the tips of its hydrofoils. Water resistance faded as the craft reduced the wetted surface of its hull from fifty square feet to a few square inches. They raced west for the coast, skimming the water at thirty miles an hour.

*  *  *

ALLEGRAHELMSthought she heard the drones again.

Tarantulawas cruising slowly in the dark, endlessly back and forth, a mile off the beach. The pirates heard them too and freaked out. They herded her, Hank and Susan, and the grieving diplomat into the middle of the darkened bridge, away from the windows. The pirate steering the ship crouched behind the helm.

The EU Combined Force was patrolling the night sky, and the Somali pirates were taking no chances on radar, infrared, and night-vision sniper scopes. They were so scared they spoke in whispers. Who knew? If unmanned surveillance planes could see a man in the dark and shoot him in the dark, why couldn't they hear him in the dark?

And there they huddled, seated on the deck, hostages and pirates watching one another's frightened faces by the dim red glow of the instrument panels the pirates left on so they could see to guard them. They had decided that red light, which protected night vision, could not be seen by the drones. Allegra had no idea if that was true, but the belief comforted them, comforted her, too.

The previous night the drones had buzzed overhead. But this time they sounded different. Closer? She wondered. Lower? Or more of them? The noise was a different pitch, and it occurred to her in dueling flashes of hope and dread that there were more aircraft overhead tonight, not only drones, but airplanes and helicopters.

Hope that soldiers had come to rescue her.

Dread of the shooting. The skiffs that motored out from the beach with the daily bundles of green khat had brought more weapons on every run—more and more until the yacht resembled a war zone. Now the pirates guarding them and looting the cabins carried multiple pistols, automatic rifles and rocket launchers slung over their shoulders, and grenades dangling from their belts. The guns in some way were less frightening than the knives most had carried when they first boarded. Until she imagined them running around in a panic when the shooting started. With all those weapons going off at once, how long before a stray shot cut her down? How long before bullets knocked her on the deck like Allen Adler, gushing blood?

She felt the dread overwhelm her. Was she lost? She remembered a phrase from a poem she had spoken in a play at the Nightingale-Bamford School when she first learned English, and now it made her tremble.

My folk have wedded me.Across heaven's span,Into a far country.

Except, that was not entirely true. She had wedded herself, against their will, to escape her folk. And to the far countries where she had landed, she had ventured on her own. Until now.

A new sound intruded, a propeller plane coming in low.

With a hollowpop,a phosphorus flare lighted the sky. It drifted to Earth, a brilliant white fire blazing above the fiberglass skiffs the pirates had lined up on the beach like a row of teeth. Now she heard the thudding of helicopter blades. It was flying without lights, but she traced the noise from the sea, passing close to the yacht, then on toward the beach, where it began firing down on the boats. In seconds they were burning.

The pirates ran outside on the bridge wings, raging at their helplessness, shouting and shooting their weapons into the air. When Maxammed finally got them under control by battering several heads with the long, pistol-like rifle that was always strapped to his wrist, the flames on the beach were leaping in the dark, the helicopter had disappeared, and she heard the drones no more, only a ringing in her ears from the guns, and the sound of an old man, the retired diplomat whose wife had been killed, weeping with despair.

Allegra Helms stroked his shoulder. He cried harder and she felt as useless as she had when she couldn't stop Adler's bleeding. “Don't be afraid,” she whispered.

“They're going to kill us all,” he sobbed. “The lucky ones died first.”

She had no answer, only a silly memory. She knew those words—The lucky ones died first—fromTreasure Island. Or did Captain Hook say it to Peter Pan?Speak up!she thought.Be useful.

“Let me ask you something,” she whispered.

“What?”

“‘The lucky ones died first.' Is that fromTreasure IslandorPeter Pan?”

“Neither. It's ‘Them that die'll be the lucky ones.' Long John Silver says it inTreasure Island. There's nothing about being first.”

“I was sure it included ‘first,'” she said, and the frightened old man rewarded her effort by drying his eyes on his sleeve and replying with a sound in his throat that sounded slightly more like a chuckle than another sob.

“It should have been ‘first.' We know Long John wants to kill them all in the end. He's only warning them that if they fight back, he will make them suffer first. If they don't fight back, they get to die an easy death.”

And suddenly it was Allegra Helms, tumbling back into despair, who needed comforting. “There is no such thing as easy death.”

“When you're young, that's true,” said the old man. “But don't forget,Treasure Islandis a children's story.”


Page 14

TWENTY-ONE

7°59' N, 49°50' EEyl, Somalia

Paul Janson heard the attacking helicopter when they were a mile fromTarantula.It sounded like a Defender 500, a lightweight AH-6 observation craft, and he assumed it belonged to an EU patrol ship. Although, being hugely less expensive than a Black Hawk, the Defender was a machine that smaller armies like Kenya's, Uganda's, and Ethiopia's retrofitted with weapons. When it opened fire, he saw that he and Kincaid had caught a very lucky break.

Wherever it had come from—laying down incendiaries with the angry buzz of a M134 six-barrel minigun—Maxammed's beach base was in flames, which provided an excellent distraction. Angry pirates multiplied the mayhem, shooting up the sky with AK thunder and muzzle flashes, deafening and blinding themselves in the process.

Kincaid cruised the hydrofoil back and forth until the pirates ran out of energy or ammunition and the shooting died down. Then she drove straight atTarantula.The frigate hull raked a warship's silhouette against the fire, and Janson thought it almost looked as if the yacht had bombarded the beach, softening it up for an old-fashioned Marine landing. He tapped Kincaid's shoulder and pointed at the yacht's stern, where, by the green glow of his Panoramic, he saw that the pirates had rigged a ladder for boarding from their skiffs. With all the boats burned, the ladder offered an easy route aboard.

*  *  *

MAXAMMED STORMEDin from the open bridge wing, into the red light. His eyes were bulging, his face a mask bloated by rage and disbelief. “They're crazy!” he yelled at Allegra. “Why are they attacking my boats? Don't they know I can kill all of you?”

Allegra said, “They don't care.”

“What? What do you mean?” He grabbed her arm and jerked her close to his face. “How do you know that?”

He was twice her size, too big to pull away from. “I don't know. I'm only saying, based on what just happened, they don't act as if they are worried about us.”

“But that's not right.”

Allegra laughed. She did not mean to provoke him, but she could not help herself. Maybe, she thought giddily, it was a sudden release of the tension from the noise of the shooting—all that shooting and still unhurt. But a pirate murderer wailing that burning his boats was not fair was so absurd that there was nothing to do but laugh out loud.

“You think it's funny?”

Slowly, Maxammed lifted his rifle above his shoulder. Allegra saw it graze the ceiling tiles, glowing red, and she realized he was going to hit her face with it and she could not move quickly enough to escape the blow.

“Maxammed!”

Farole, Maxammed's skinny assistant, rushed in shouting frantically. “A boat!”

“The boats are burned.”

“It came while we were shooting. From the town. It's Home Boy!”

“Here?”

“He's taking the Sikorsky!”

Maxammed ran, trailed by Farole, down a deck and halfway back toward where the bigger helicopter, the beautiful Sikorsky S-76D, was lashed to the midships helipad. Home Boy Gutaale was swaggering about, hands on his hips, eyeing it covetously. Two men who Maxammed feared were pilots were directing Gutaale's bodyguards in the unfastening of the tie-downs. The fighters stopped what they were doing to aim rifles at him.

Maxammed was not surprised that Home Boy was trying to steal his helicopter. Thieving clansmen of Gutaale had sneaked aboard the first day to strip the hostages of their iPhones and laptops. His men stopping them had almost led to gunfire.

“Gutaale. What do you want here?”

Home Boy Gutaale gave him the look he always gave him, a contemptuous look that said,You, Maxammed, are born of lowly fishermen from the insignificant coast. I, Gutaale, am born of herdsmen with great flocks. My clan is rich and strong. We spawn kings. Your clan is small and poor; the best you can spawn is your weak and ineffective Raage “delayed-at-birth” President Mohamed Adam.

“Want?” Gutaale echoed. “I want this helicopter, for starters. This is the last time I will drive three days on ass-breaking camel tracks for the pleasure of visiting Puntland.”

“But you said we should have no contact until the ransom was paid.”

“I meant no contact until I wanted contact.”

“But you still refuse to ask for the ransom.”

“We will ask for ransom, in time. Be patient.”

“No. It's taking too long,” Maxammed protested. “We agreed we would demand the ransom the moment I got the yacht to Eyl. I got the yacht to Eyl and now I am a sitting duck for the Combined Forces.What are we waiting for?”

“Now, my friend. My brother. You remember how suddenly, out of nowhere, I discovered the opportunity to catch this yacht. Do you remember?”

“I remember.”

“I told you we had to move quickly.”

“I did move quickly. I moved like lightning to catch this yacht.”

“But mere catching is only the beginning. These things take time.”

“This is not the first yacht I've taken!” Maxammed shouted. “It does not take time to pick up a cell phone and demand ransom.”

“But who to telephone? Who will pay the most?”

“You are stalling.”

“Why would I stall? Do you think I don't want my share?”

“I don't know why. But you are stalling.”

“Is the woman still alive?”

“Of course the woman is alive,” said Maxammed, wondering, How big a fool do you think I am? Without Allegra Helms to hold off Combined Forces attacks, I am a dead man.

“‘Of course'?” Home Boy echoed mockingly. “Three hostages have already died. You only have four left. The old man. The couple. And the woman.”

“Four is plenty.”

“The woman is the richest. She had better stay alive.”

“If you're so worried about her,” Maxammed shot back bitterly, “why aren't you taking her with you in my helicopter?”

“Me?”Home Boy Gutaale laughed at Maxammed. “How would it look for the George Washington of Soomaaliweyn to be a kidnapper holding innocent women for ransom? The world would think I am a lowly pirate, and think Greater Somalia less great for it.”

His fighters laughed with him, smirking at Maxammed and Farole, daring them to try something.

Maxammed looked to the beach, where the embers of his boats were still glowing. It suddenly dawned on him how far Gutaale had gone in order to steal his helicopter. “You told the Maritime Force to attack my boats.”

“Why would I do such a thing?” Gutaale asked innocently.

“With my fighters stranded on the beach, how could I stop you from taking my helicopter?”

“I did not order any attacks on your boats,” said Gutaale. With another laugh, he added, “It would have been a good idea, actually—strand your fighters, reduce the likelihood of a violent misunderstanding where hostages might be killed in a cross fire…”

“Such a good idea that you did it.”

“Do you seriously believe that I would drive from Mogadishu to this godforsaken coast for one helicopter? I happen to be on other business, more important business. If Bashir is gone, you can't expect me to rely on you as my only pirate in Puntland. What if you were to suffer an accident—fall overboard or something—then where would I be?”

“Bashir is gone,Inshallah.”

“Inshallah?What do you mean,Inshallah? It is not up to the will of Allah. It already happened. You killed Bashir.”

Surely, thought Maxammed, Home Boy Gutaale would not journey all the way to Puntland to find out if I killed Bashir. Or would he?

“I did not kill Bashir. I might have considered it, but I did not do it.”

“Then who killed him?” Home Boy demanded.

“The Italian beat me to it.”

“The Italian? I do not believe you, Maxammed.”

“It's what I hear. What do you hear?”

Gutaale's grin seemed a little less superior. The mocking expression slid from his face and he looked troubled. Even afraid. Troubled? Or afraid? Or acting? Maxammed wondered.

“What do I hear? Here is what I hear: No matter how deadly, no matter how treacherous, no one man could possibly engineer all the betrayals that are blamed on the Italian. The Italian is a figment of imagination. A convenient figment. There is no Italian. I'm surprised that a man as smart as you say you are would fall for such a story.”

Maxammed shrugged. His own fighters were coming up behind him, as heavily armed as Gutaale's, evening the odds. Boldly he said, “You don't care who killed Bashir. You came here only to steal my helicopter.”

Home Boy Gutaale was glad to switch the argument back to the helicopter. Bashir was treacherous ground, ransom even more so. “You don't need a helicopter. Where would you find a helicopter pilot to fly it out here in your seawater bush?”

“When they pay the ransom, I will have plenty of pilots.”

“Maxammed,” Gutaale cajoled, “our ultimate goal is similar, is it not? Why—”

Gutaale's bodyguard hushed him with an urgent gesture.

The man pressed a finger to his lips and pointed down, over the side, with his assault rifle. Maxammed, Farole, Gutaale, and their fighters edged to the gunnel to look at the water. Maxammed sensed the outline of a small dark boat, darker than the sea, creeping silently alongside the yacht. It stopped directly under the bridge.

“Yours?” whispered Gutaale.

Maxammed's emphatic “No” was punctuated by the muffledthunkof a rubber-coated grappling hook.

*  *  *

ALLEGRA WAITED FORMaxammed's return, trying not to think what he would do to her. He had almost smashed her face with his gun. Would he cool down before he came back from wherever Farole had taken him? Would he return even angrier than he had left? All she knew, and it was no better than knowing nothing, was that her fate depended on what Farole had shouted in Somali that had made Maxammed run so fast.

A deep silence had settled over the bridge. She realized that for the time since the yacht had been taken, she was unguarded. The few pirates shooting outside had vanished. Maxammed and Farole were nowhere to be seen.

She looked around in the dim light. The old man and Hank and Susan were curled up in a corner—under the chart table—drifting into sleep. She was still in the middle, near the helmsman. She looked toward the door to the stairs that led down the side of the ship to the main deck and wondered if she had the courage to dive overboard and try to swim to shore like Monique. Would there be sharks at night? And if by a miracle she wasn't killed by the sharks, what would she find on the beach? Angry men looking for someone to blame for destroying their boats. But how could it get better if she stayed there on the yacht?

While she debated, her eyes kept drifting to that door to the stairs and freedom, as temporary as it would be. Suddenly, she thought she saw something move through the door. It was as if she had conjured a hallucination floating in the dark. At first it hovered just outside the red instrument glow. Then it moved closer and where she sensed a floating apparition, a figure appeared—a slight figure all in black and behind it, another, much larger.

They stepped into the glow of the red light.

Allegra's heart soared.

Commandos.

Soldiers in black. From their boots to their balaclava face masks, only their slitted eyes reflected any light at all. Commandos coming to rescue her, one big man, one small.

They saw her.

Silently, urgently, they gestured for her to lie flat on the deck.

She did as they signaled, pressing her cheek to the filthy wood, which had been so clean and polished before the pirates. Watching them, with every nerve alert, she saw, suddenly, a third figure pop up behind them.

She recognized the tall, broad-shouldered silhouette of Maxammed. The pirate had laid a trap.

English failed her in her horror and up from her breast exploded,“Attento!”

The commandos whirled.

Hours, years, decades too late.

Maxammed's gun was already flashing, thundering. Behind him, more pirates were shooting. Bullets tore into the commandos and threw them across the bridge. They crashed against the shattered windows. Their bodies slid to the deck. And still the guns fired.

TWENTY-TWO

Go!”Paul Janson double tsked into his lip mike the instant that muzzle flashes lit upTarantula's bridge.

Whatever had triggered an enormous firefight, Janson could only guess. A dozen guns at least were going at it, hammering bulkheads and shattering glass. He guessed that the pirates were fighting one another, so dismayed by the attack on the beach that they were shooting it out in an eruption of a week of stress and old animosities. Whether Allegra Helms and the other hostages had survived such gunfire, or desperately needed medics, could not be known until they boarded the ship.

But the light-and-racket show gave them welcome cover as Kincaid drove the scooter silently toward the low, dark loom of the stern. Janson watched for guards and lookouts.Tarantula's engines were stopped; she was adrift. He spotted rope ladders hanging straight down into the water. But no guard. The entire back of the ship was deserted, as if every man aboard had grabbed his gun and run to the bridge.

There was a sudden lull in the shooting.

In the silent aftermath, Janson heard a diesel engine. Raking the surrounding sea with his night goggles, he saw the silhouette of a fishing trawler churning a big wake. It was racing away from the yacht, lights out, engine straining for speed. Frightened fishermen? A supply boat? The pirates' enemies? Maybe the piratesweren'tfighting one another. Maybe the trawler had delivered rival pirates who busted in on their prize. No way to know, but the trawler was leaving as fast as a clapped-out diesel could push it. And no way to know if it had taken its fighters with it or left them on the yacht.

Janson tapped Kincaid's shoulder. She stopped the scooter and they stepped off into the warm water and breaststroked, heads high, a hundred yards to the back of the yacht and up the ladders. Janson took the lead, sweeping the boat launch bay with his silenced MTAR, climbing in and up to the main deck. Kincaid followed six paces back, covering.

The shooting started up again.

Janson and Kincaid broke into a dead run. The decks ahead glowed green and empty in their Panoramics. Then, within sight of the steering bridge, high against the murky sky, they saw hot spots moving, indicating living flesh. A dozen people, at least. How many hostages? How many gunmen?

The gunfire petered out raggedly.

*  *  *

IN THE SILENCEthat followed the shooting, Allegra Helms could hear the gunmen gasping for breath, as if they had run marathons. None of them moved. Those who had been shooting from the hip stood frozen, with rifles clutched to their sides. Those aiming carefully pressed them to their shoulders. Then Maxammed swaggered across the bridge. He switched on his cell phone. He played the screen's pale light over the riddled bodies and ripped the mask from the smaller figure.

Allegra Helms screamed, a terrible sound of heartbreak, rage, and dismay.

*  *  *

JANSON ANDKINCAIDswitched fire-mode selectors to full auto and bounded up the stairs three at a time, vaulting their weight on the handrails to hush their footfalls. The deck layout was burned in memory from repeated readings of Lynds's builder plans. They split up at the helo deck, Janson darting across the ship so he could mount the exterior stairs to the bridge from the opposite side.

He tsked that he was in position, and they raced up the final flight, trusting the Panoramics' sharp green images to avoid shooting each other in a cross fire. He was halfway up the stairs when he saw a big man in jungle fatigues. The pirate sensed the rush behind him and whipped around with an AK-47. Janson fired the sound-suppressed MTAR once, lowered the pirate's body and assault rifle smoothly to the steps, and continued up.

“Tsk. Tsk. Tsk.” Kincaid, signaling a holdup.

Janson kept going. A triple meant she could handle it. A quad would summon help. He eased himself onto the open wing outside the bridge and scanned the interior through his night-vision goggles.

More than a dozen armed fighters were staring at two commandos in battle black who lay dead against a bulkhead, shot to pieces. Someone else's rescue team? From where? Three hostages—a woman and two men in civilian clothes—lay in a heap under the chart table. Whether dead, wounded, or huddling for cover, Janson could not tell.

Allegra Helms's long blond hair showed lemon yellow in the green image. Her back was to him, as was the back of one of the big men flanking her. The other, facing her—close enough to grab her for a shield—Janson recognized as Mad Max Maxammed, from the Navy drone video of the pirate using her as a shield when the Chinese PLAN forces attacked. He could kill Maxammed with his first shot, and the other pirate with his second.

Kincaid whispered in his earpiece, “I see her.”

Janson covered his lip mike. “Too many fighters. Fall back.”

“I can kill five before they know what hit them.”

“The rest will hose the place. No civilian casualties.”

“I'm only ten meters—”

“I'm five.”

Janson kept looking for signs of life. Were the hostages dead? Were they wounded? Were they frozen with fear? Or did they, reeling in whirlwinds of terror and chaos, still have the presence of mind to play possum?

“Can you see the hostages?”

“I'm looking right at 'em. I can't tell if they're dead or alive. And Allegra's in the line of fire. Fall back.”

“But I see her face.”

“Fall back!”

“I can kill 'em all.”

“Fall back!”

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