Series: The Jericho Quinn Series #6
Published by: Pinnacle
Release Date: December 29, 2015
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In the aftermath of a devastating biological attack, America stands on the brink of disaster. The President of the United States is controlled by terrorists. The Vice President, global mastermind Lee McKeon, is plotting his next move. And special agent Jericho Quinn is running for his life. Desperate to clear his name—and expose the conspirators in the White House—Quinn must race against time before McKeon can execute his evil plan. It begins with heightened security, mass surveillance, and the establishment of a brutal police state. It can only end in the takeover of America. The only thing standing between democracy and destruction is a man named Quinn…and one perfectly aimed bullet.Add on Goodreads
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Pericula ludus (Danger is my pleasure)
— Motto of the Mayotte Detachment, French Foreign Legion
Jericho Quinn began to move an instant before the 150-grain bullet thumped into Khan's head. Standing at the far end of the line of prisoners, he knew Thibodaux would pull the trigger at his signal. Quinn also knew the round from the big Marine's FN SCAR 17 would travel fast enough that there would be no apparent gap between Khan's death and the death of the young jihadist who stood across from him.
Quinn was a dark man. He'd never been one to carry extra pounds, but months of living as a fugitive had left him with deep hollows in his cheeks and a hungry look. At thirty-six, the first flecks of gray had invaded a full black beard and the temples of his shaggy hair. The copper complexion of his Apache grandmother and his fluency in Arabic made it easy for him to pass himself off as a Moroccan. In reality, he was an agent with the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations or OSI. At least he had been before he'd become a fugitive.
The young jihadist across from Quinn flinched at the sudden thud of the bullet that plowed through his commander's skull.
Hands bound, Quinn stepped forward, sweeping his foot inside the kid's left knee and grafting downward. This sudden pressure bent the leg and forced the jihadist into the beginnings of a spin. Hands together, Quinn grabbed the rifle, trapping the young militant's fingers and snaking his own thumb into the trigger guard as he twisted the weapon in a tight arc. The hapless kid continued to spin until his back was to his compatriots, making him a convenient human shield.
Quinn stepped in as the jihadist fell, bringing the short Kalashnikov up, firing as the muzzle moved across his opponent's chest, stitching him with at least three rounds. Flinching from the impact and the concussion of the muzzle blast just inches from his ear, the young man abandoned his grip on the rifle and tried to push away. Quinn let him fall, engaging the line of remaining terrorists with short bursts from the Kalashnikov.
Jacques Thibodaux, the United States Marine Corps gunnery sergeant posing as a Belgian security specialist, worked methodically from a hide in the rocks above camp. Issued to Marines in the Special Operations Command, the FN SCAR was a Belgian design, so it made sense that a Belgian soldier of fortune would have such a rifle. Thibodaux took out the leader and two others while Quinn saw to the rest. Roughly four seconds after Thibodaux's first round had entered Khan's head just beneath his nose, seven other terrorists lay dead on the glacier. The last surviving attacker, a twentysomething youth with a great swath of blood on his chest from the recent beheading, abandoned his weapon and fled, careening down the boulder-strewn glacier as fast as his legs could carry him. He was not much older than the boy bleeding to death at Quinn's feet, but with a much fuller beard. Quinn recognized the fleeing man as Abu Khalifa, a Pakistani Taliban wanted in connection with the murder of thirty-three primary school children during a school massacre the month before. The young militant zigzagged on the loose gravel in an effort to keep from getting shot. It was a useless effort. If Marines were anything, they were expert riflemen. Had Thibodaux wanted to take him, Khalifa would have only died with sore ankles.
Lucy Jarrett sank to her knees, her shoulders wracked with sobs. The brothers from Wyoming worked to free themselves from the restraints while other climbers fell back to the gravel, blinking in amazement that they'd survived. Alberto Moretti rubbed a trembling hand across the stubble on his face. His mouth hung open as he stared at Quinn.
"You are not from Morocco, signore," he whispered.
Quinn pulled his hands loose from the zip tie. "Yes," he said. "I am not."
Jacques Thibodaux trotted into camp a moment later. The massive Marine carried the desert-tan FN SCAR rifle in one hand and a small black satellite phone in the other. He looked sideways at Quinn. "Are you whole, Chair Force?" he asked, his Cajun accent palpable in even a few words.
Quinn tossed the zip tie on the ground and rubbed his wrists to get back the circulation. "I'm good."
Thibodaux whistled under his breath, looking at the body count. "I'd have sore feet if I kicked as much ass as you."
Quinn ducked into the cook tent to retrieve a small backpack, which he slung over his shoulders. He eyed the diminishing dot that was Abu Khalifa.
Thibodaux fished a black patch from the pocket of his pants. "Glad that's over," he said. "I was gettin' tired of pretending to see out of my bad eye." Broad shoulders and muscular arms filled a navy-blue commando sweater. Close-cropped hair and an impossibly square jaw gave no doubt that he was a military man. The black patch only added to the intensity of the gaze from his good eye.
"Miiiitzica!" Moretti gasped in the Sicilian equivalent of pleeease. All this new information, fresh on the heels of nearly being murdered, had knocked the man for a loop. "And you are not from Belgium?"
Thibodaux gave the astonished Italian a shrug. "I ain't never even been there, cher," he said. "Shit!" The Cajun gave a sheepish grin and passed the satellite phone to Quinn. "I about forgot. The boss wants to talk to you."
Quinn took the phone, looking at the screen while he adjusted the tilt of the antenna to get a better signal. A cold wind from the glacier blew against his face.
"News?" Winfield Palmer asked. The national security advisor to the former president was not the sort of man to exchange pleasantries. Driven to find those responsible for the assassination of his friend and former boss, he had no time for anything but information that moved the investigation forward. The fact that he was in hiding from the current administration — and harboring the director of the CIA, who was also a fugitive — only added to his curt demeanor. The simple stress of knowing that you only had a few moments, even on a secure line, before the NSA or some other government agency unraveled the code on your call, was enough to give lesser men a heart attack. The satellite phone functioned as a portable version of an STE or Secure Terminal Equipment, scrambling the signal with a morphing code that had to be keyed into each separate handset in order to decipher it. Speakers could use plain talk for a time, but at the end of the day it was still government encryption. Some NSA nerd would eventually find a way to hack the program if they stayed on the line too long.
Quinn's eyes flicked from the bodies of the dead terrorists and down the valley to the fleeing survivor. "Things got a little wild here for a few minutes. We do have one Abu Khalifa in our sights, so that's something. I'm hoping he should lead us to something more solid."
"Let the Pakistanis worry about Khalifa," Palmer said. "There's been a development."
Quinn was normally unflappable, but he perked up at that particular word, especially since it made Palmer blow off a high-value target like Abu Khalifa. Developments were never a good thing where Win Palmer was concerned. Good things didn't develop. They fell off the radar. Situations that were likely to get Quinn killed qualified as developments.
"The boys we transferred from Gitmo are in the wind," Palmer said, referring to the Fengs, Uyghur prisoners the new US President had turned over to Pakistan. It was just one more way the POTUS found to try to stir up a war with China, who insisted they had the moral right to try the Uyghur prisoners as terrorists for bombing a passenger train in Xinjiang Province. President Hartman Drake had been beating the war drum for months — and the escape of these terrorists was likely to push the Chinese President over the ledge.
"All three escaped?" Quinn asked.
"Just the brothers," Palmer said. "Evidently the cousin died shortly after they arrived in Pakistan. But two of them are bad enough."
"When was the escape?"
"Last night," Palmer said. "From Dera Ismail Khan."
"You'd think they'd learn," Quinn mused, remembering the Taliban attack on the same prison in 2013. "Any idea which way they're heading?"
"Mariposa is working on that problem for us," Palmer said, sniffing like he had a cold. "She'll come up with something soon."
Quinn couldn't help but smile at Palmer's code name for Emiko Miyagi — Mariposa, the Spanish word for butterfly. Thibodaux had scoffed when he heard it, saying she was more like "One of those Japanese hornets-of-the-terrible-stinging-death."
Not much over five feet tall, every inch of her was what Thibodaux called badassery and bitchitude, but Quinn respected her as the warrior that she was. Both men had learned the hard way that fighting Miyagi was like doing battle against a chainsaw.
"Roger that," Quinn said. If there was something to be found, he knew Emiko would find it.
"Listen." Palmer's voice was distant, as if he were mulling over some bit of news and deciding whether or not to share it with Quinn on the phone. "There's a good chance these guys are heading back to China. I don't have to tell you how important it is that you find them before they wreak enough havoc to convince the Middle Kingdom it's time to have a go at World War III...." Palmer broke into what sounded like a ragged tubercular cough.
"Are you doing okay, sir?" Quinn said. He'd never considered the idea that Winfield Palmer was subject to the ravages of disease that plagued normal human beings.
"I'm fine," Palmer snapped, a little too quickly and sounding far from it. "Call me back when you know something. It wouldn't hurt my feelings if you found these guys before they get out of Pakistan."
He ended the call without another word.
Quinn folded the antenna and stood for a long moment, staring at the looming black pyramid of rock at the head of the valley.
"What?" Thibodaux shrugged, palms up, waiting to hear Palmer's news.
"Grab your pack," Quinn said. "I'll fill you in on the way."
Moretti stared down the glacier, still wearing his hand on top of his head like a hat. "I must call the authorities ... let them know what has happened," he muttered. "There are dead to tend at Concordia camp."
Quinn touched the Italian's arm. "I need you to wait a few hours before you call anyone," he said.
"Wait?" Moretti turned to look at him, incredulous. "That murderer has a head start. If I wait, he will slip away."
Quinn nodded down the trail, then looked back at Moretti. "We need to talk to him. To try and find out who's behind this attack." He shot a glance at Thibodaux. "Once the Pakistanis have him, he's gone."
Lucy Jarrett looked up from where she sat slumped on the ground with her head between her knees. Tears plastered her hair against swollen cheeks. She shook her head, in a deepening daze, her eyes narrow and accusing.
"It doesn't make sense," she said with the clogged nose of someone who'd been crying for half a day. "If you knew they were going to attack, why weren't you waiting at Concordia? You could have saved Klaus ... and the others."
Jacques gave a shake of his head, kneeling down in the rocks to lay a wide hand on the woman's shoulder. It was nothing short of amazing that a man as large and intimidating as Jacques Thibodaux could somehow muffle the dangerous aspects of his nature and turn himself into a giant teddy bear. Quinn supposed having seven young sons had given the Marine plenty of training.
"I wish we would have, cheri," Thibodaux said in a quiet voice Quinn knew was capable of uprooting trees. "But the information we had said these guys would attack when everyone had formed up here at base camp. We thought they had access to a helicopter, so we assumed they'd come directly here."
Jarrett stared into the morning air, her breath forming a vapor cloud around her blank face. She said nothing, because there was nothing more to say. Death, especially the death of a friend, was impossible to process quickly. Quinn knew that all too well.
"I will give you two hours, signore," Moretti said, hand on top of his head again. Hatred began to chase the stunned look from his eyes as he stared down the valley. "But that one killed my friends. He must not get away."
"Oh," Quinn whispered, his eyes falling to a sobbing Lucy Jarrett. "He won't get away."
He gave a quiet nod toward Thibodaux, letting him know it was time to move. Neither man would say it in front of anyone in the climbing party, but the massacre at Concordia was the least of their worries. No matter how much he wanted to follow Abu Khalifa all the way back to Jalalabad, Quinn's first priority was find the Feng brothers, and with any luck avert a war with China.
Stepping away from the others, he opened the antenna on the secure satellite phone. To locate the Feng brothers, he'd need transport, and the quickest way to get that was to call a particular wing commander in the Pakistan Defense Force. The last time they'd seen each other, Quinn had knocked out the other man's tooth.
Khunjareb Pass Pakistan-China Border
Yaqub Feng lay on his stomach in the cramped belly of the swaying jingle bus, crammed between his brother and Jiàn Zou, the rat-like Chinese snakehead. Ehmet had taken the spot along the outside edge where he could press his face to the metal grating where he could see out and get some semblance of breathable air. Jiàn Zou had a similar position and view, but wedged in the middle, Yaqub could see only shadows and choked on the dust that sifted up through the cracks in the wooden floor.
A riot of sound and color on the outside, the brightly decorated bus looked like something out of a gypsy caravan. Lengths of dragging chain and countless tinkling bells hung along the bumpers and painted trim of the gaudy monstrosity that had a permit to take tourists across the border with China and up the Karakoram Highway as far as Karakul Lake. It was the perfect vehicle in which to hide in order to get out of Pakistan — for who in his right mind would hide in something that already drew so much attention?
"It would be much easier if we went out through Afghanistan," Jiàn Zou said, sounding hollow, as if he'd been kicked in the groin.
"My business is in Kashgar," Ehmet muttered, still studying the situation outside the truck through tiny holes in the metal flashing. "I already told you that. It will not take long."
"In Pakistan," Jiàn Zou said, "you are merely fugitives. In China you are human targets. Forgive me, but it seems foolish to walk straight into the mouth of the dragon when the Afghan border is as porous as a rusted bucket."
Yaqub felt Ehmet's body tense. He lifted his head enough to turn and face the center of the truck. The sight of dried blood caking the corners of his mouth was terrifying, even to Yaqub.
"Tell me, Jiàn Zou," Ehmet whispered. "Did we accompany you out of Dera Ismail Khan prison, or did you accompany us?"
"I am with you," the Chinese man said. "And happy to be so. But it would make it much easier to do my job if you told me your final destination."
Ehmet's face remained neutral, as if he was passing judgment. "You should concern yourself with our immediate destination — and that is Kashgar."
"As you wish," Jiàn Zou said. "I do have contacts there who will help us move about. When you are ready, I will make the necessary arrangements."
Ehmet turned to peer out the grating again. "The guards are waving all the buses through, just as you told us they would."
"Money and blood grease the gears of this world," the snakehead said. "The drivers pay the guards well to let them pass unmolested."
Brakes and springs squawked as the jingle truck lurched forward, sending up a cloud of dust through the floorboards that threatened to choke the three men.
Above them, wealthy passengers from Islamabad and other affluent cities snapped photographs and gasped at the vistas of the Pamir Mountains. These men and a small number of women, each with a respectable male escort, sipped tea and chatted nervously about caravan thieves on the old Silk Road, ignorant of the fact that three fugitives hid in the hollow floor just inches beneath their feet.
Excerpted from Brute Force by MARC CAMERON. Copyright © 2016 Marc Cameron. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.