Greg Whitman and Felix Orteño are left adrift in a world full of deathly shadows, blind alleys, and unanswerable questions. Into their midst comes Charlize Daou, a brilliant, wildly talented arms expert with a past entangled with Whit’s. Though Charlie grapples with damage of her own, she becomes their new center, their moral compass, and their reason for resurrecting Red Rover.
Despite Whit’s seemingly super-normal abilities it is Charlie, fully rooted in reality, who recognizes that both Whit and Felix have lost parts of themselves. And it is she who possesses the true power necessary for survival: the power to heal, to forgive, and to bring these two lost souls back from the demonic spiritual darkness into which they have fallen.
Ignoring their new orders, Red Rover secretly sets out to find the protected Saudi terrorist, the first step in a perilous journey into the heart of a vast conspiracy that involves the NSA, a cabal of immensely wealthy mystics known as the Alchemists, and an ageless visionary out to create an entirely new way of waging war. A war that will destabilize one of the great super-powers and forever rearrange the balance of power across the entire globe.
Any Minute Now will be available August 16th. Please enjoy this excerpt.
“A mess,” King Cutler was saying.
“A mess?” Whitman echoed. “It’s a goddamned clusterfuck, is what it is.”
Cutler watched Whitman with the eyes of a tiger, green and glittering. His torso, tense and leaning slightly forward, gave him the aspect of someone about to rend anyone who opposed him limb from limb. “Seiran el-Habib was an extremely high-risk target, even for you guys.”
“And that’s another thing,” Whitman said, heatedly. “There are no ‘you guys,’ not anymore. Sandy is dead and Flix just got out of surgery. Red Rover is dead, gone, finished, kaput.”
“Flix will be fine.” Cutler struggled to maintain an even tone in the face of Whitman’s rage and pessimism. “They got the bullet without any difficulty. No bones involved. With our accelerated PT program he’ll be as good as new in a week, ten days at the outside.”
“And what about Sandy? Will he be good as new? Are you going to resurrect him?”
Cutler made a disgusted noise in the back of his throat. They were seated opposite each other in Cutler’s office, which held the look of a room in a gentleman’s club rather than an office. Paneled in gleaming mahogany, its myriad shelves were filled with books on military history and biographies of great generals and admirals going all the way back to Alexander the Great. Only one anomaly appeared in the room, and it was a doozy: an enormous flat-screen TV set into the wall opposite a massive tiger-oak desk, on which played an endless rotation of scenes of battle zones from across the globe, images from closed-circuit and drone cameras, exclusive to Universal Security Associates.
“I know you’ve got your team to consider, Gregory, but I have to take in the big picture.”
“Which is what? What’s more important than one of your men being shot dead?”
“The president.” Cutler stared at his flat-panel computer screen. “This fucking president is going to be the death of us all. He’s just not that into war. On every front he’s dragging his feet. This crap with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had breathed some new life into our business, but for how long? That’s the question that keeps me up at night. We need wars, no matter the size. No American military presence, no business for us.” He shook his head in consternation. “It’s a new day, Gregory. Our world is becoming smaller and smaller. I’m lucky I have my contacts in NSA, otherwise the company’s bottom line would be bottoming out.”
Outside the bullet- and soundproof windows, the expanse of the Washington Mall flowed away like a stream on which ten thousand pleasure boats drifted back and forth.
Whit appeared entirely unmoved. He’d heard this lament before from the members of the Alchemists. “Like you say, my focus is on my team, and because of this snafu one of them is dead and another is injured. It’s unacceptable.”
Cutler was wrenched away from his contemplation of USA’s future. “Are you really going to make me say that we all know the risks?” he said, clearly annoyed. “In our business, it’s such a fucking cliché.” He was a big man in all directions, tall and wide as a Mack truck. He was an ex-Marine, had seen combat three times that Whitman knew of. Divorced twice, two kids, one from each marriage. They stayed in touch, even if his exes didn’t. “Worse than a cliché.” He had a head like a football, his hair still shorn in a Marine high-and-tight, and there was not a gray strand to be found on him. His knife-slash of a mouth was always grim, his nose constantly questing for danger. “Honestly, Gregory, this talk will go better when you simmer down to a rolling boil.”
“You weren’t there, boss. You didn’t see…” Whitman gritted his teeth, stopping of his own accord. “We were betrayed. There was a leak, a breach of security, call it what you want. The upshot is that someone from inside—one of us, boss—didn’t want us to get to Seiran el-Habib.”
“We were warned that el-Habib had connections.”
“No fucking kidding.”
Cutler’s green eyes seemed to flare. “What did I just tell you? Nothing’s going to get settled when you’re too hot to handle.”
“Why shouldn’t I be hot? It’s a fucking miracle we weren’t all killed. Not only did Seiran el-Habib’s people ambush us inside the compound, but his patrol outside the perimeter knew our exact escape route, and were lying in wait for us. That meant they not only knew the day and time of the raid, but the details of the brief as well. But how could they have known? This is the question that’s been eating at me ever since I watched the hellish landscape drop away as the helo took us out of there. There’s only one answer. We need to go mole hunting.”
Cutler held up a fistful of black-jacketed files. “Here is everyone who had knowledge of the Seiran el-Habib brief. I’ve already started vetting them—movements, travel, mobile phone records, bank accounts, family, friends, acquaintances, the whole nine yards.”
“Yeah, well, everyone’s already been vetted up and down the yin-yang, so don’t forget to look in all the dusty, unremarked corners of their lives.”
Cutler cut across his words. “That includes Orteño and you, hotshot.”
“Maybe it was Sandy.” Whitman’s tone hung heavy with sarcasm. “Maybe he was shot on purpose to keep him from blabbing.”
“That’s enough.” Cutler put down the files. “We need to move slowly and carefully. NSA and DARPA personnel are involved.”
“Fuck them.” Whitman jumped up, held out his hand, fingers wiggling. “Let me see those files.”
“Were you suddenly elevated to CEO?”
Whitman, looming over the desk, appeared not to hear him. “It’s my right. My team—my freaking right.”
“Sit. The. Fuck. Down.”
The two men, engaged in a staring contest, were immobile. The atmosphere in the room turned gelid, as if the clash of their respective wills had sealed them in amber.
Whitman, possibly coming to terms with the futility of his position, finally fell back. “Okay, okay.” Slowly, deliberately, he sat back down.
Cutler, seeming to relax a couple of notches, shook his head. “This is typical of you, Gregory, you know that? I’ve got very powerful people perched on my shoulder like owls, their claws digging into my flesh. I’ve got the politics to consider, you don’t. It’s imperative to think things through clearly and completely.”
“What’s to think?” Whitman inched forward until he was on the edge of his chair. “Like other security contractors, we’re hired by the NSA. Like other security contractors, we hose the government, but also give them access to services their own people cannot provide. We do the real overseas dirty work for the United States government. But unlike other contractors you have us—or at least you did. We did the real down and dirty work no one would trust even normal contractors to do. But there’s nothing normal about what we do; it’s the kind of crap that if it ever saw the light of day would surely topple the current administration, no matter how much plausible deniability they believe insulates them from the sewer Red Rover works in on every brief.”
“What is this?” Cutler spread his hands. “A pitch for a raise?”
“Yeah,” Whitman said sourly. “I want Sandy’s salary as well as mine.”
The edge of Cutler’s hand sliced through the air, cutting through Whitman’s sarcasm. “Your job, in case you forgot, is to return Red Rover to operational level. Assemble your team, Gregory. Leave the mole hunting to me.”
The staring contest resumed as if it had never been broken off, while the tension in the room ratcheted up another couple of notches to strangulation level. Cutler’s phone rang, but he ignored it. His assistant, Valerie, could be heard briefly outside his door, as she told someone in her not-to-be-brooked tone that the boss could not be disturbed. While inside, the staring match continued unabated.
“Listen, listen,” Cutler said at length, apparently feeling it was his turn to back off. “It’s not just Red Rover that’s gone to hell in a handbasket, it’s the entire world.” His tone had lost its hard edge, was even a touch conciliatory, unusual for Cutler. But then Whitman was his most prized operative. The Red Rover team would have been inconceivable without him. “Do you think you can settle yourself enough to hear what I have to say?”
Whitman didn’t reply, but neither did he get up and walk out. Cutler took this as a positive sign, because he continued. “Iraq, Syria, Lebanon—a Devil’s triangle. After a decade of fighting overseas, battling Taliban, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda cadres of all stripes and nationalities, after losing men left, right, and center, we are back where we started. Al-Qaeda has retaken Fallujah, where our boys fought them back tooth and nail. For what? Post-American Middle East is worse than ever. A power vacuum has arisen, as all the major players have left the field. In their place a whole host of Islamic jihadists have rushed in, fire-bombing, massacring, destroying whoever does not conform to their particular brand of cruel sectarianism. In both Iraq and Syria, extremists of all stripes have parlayed their foothold into majority stakes.
“And now we have Islamic State to contend with, a terrorist organization so extreme al-Qaeda has distanced itself from them. Does the president give a shit? Doesn’t appear so.”
Cutler’s hands were restless, roaming over the tops of the files, as if eager to get to work digging deep. “So who are the big fish in this wretched pond? The two who have always stood as the major antagonists: Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. Both countries are fanatical in their own way; the rational concept of coexistence is anathema, let alone an accord. The falling apart is a renewed call to the ancient enmities of clan and sect. It echoes loud and clear across the rubble and the corpses, calling forth battalions of teenagers eager to martyr themselves for the cause of jihad.”
Throughout this speech, which sounded like a history lesson he had already absorbed countless times, Whitman moved from one buttock to another, restless in his barely stifled rage. “Is there a point to all this?”
Now Cutler did glare at him, and Whitman was smart enough to stifle whatever else was about to come out of his mouth.
“The point,” Cutler said, leaning even more forward and interlacing his fingers in a gesture that seemed vaguely ominous, “is this: while you were away at the party the Saudis announced an aid package of French weaponry to the Lebanese, in order to counter the alarming inroads the Shiite Hezbollah has made in that country in recent months.”
“How much was the package?”
Something flickered in Cutler’s eyes. “That’s the first intelligent thing out of your mouth since you stalked in here.” He sighed. “The answer to your question is three billion dollars.”
“Almost twice the annual Lebanese military budget.” Whitman’s eyes narrowed. “But still, that’s not gonna get it done for Lebanon. The effect, if any, will take years. Meanwhile, Hezbollah is making mincemeat of the Lebanese army.” He spread his hands. “So, I mean, why bother?”
“It’s a shot across our administration’s bow,” Cutler said. “The Saudis don’t like our new nonintervention policy in Syria, and they’re furious over our reaching out to elements inside Iran. If, in fact, the Saudis push the Lebanese army to confront Hezbollah it will blow up the army along sectarian and political lines. The result will plunge the country into utter chaos.”
“And that affects us how?”
“The NSA isn’t sure. Last night I was at a briefing with Hemingway, where I was updated. Though the administration is in a muddle over this development, the NSA isn’t. Hemingway is extremely concerned. He wants eyes on the ground in Lebanon. Eyes he can trust. He believes the threat posed to America’s interests abroad is imminent, and he wants Red Rover in-country ASAP.”
“I told you, boss, there is no Red Rover.”
“Okay, come off the Captain America kick, Gregory. You had a loss. It isn’t the first time, it won’t be the last.”
“It will, if I have to say anything about it.”
“Be that as it may,” Cutler broke in, clearly enunciating each word, “you will immediately determine Orteño’s condition. You will find a new armorer and, if need be, a replacement for Flix. Is that clear?”
Whitman rose. “Any clearer and I could see my reflection in it.”
Copyright © 2016 by Eric Van Lustbader
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