After more than a decade on the deadly front lines of the war on terror, Ryan Kealey believes he’s finally put danger behind him—and some of his demons to rest. But his calm is shattered when he’s swept into a merciless terror attack during a charity gala in downtown Baltimore. Among the dozens of casualties is the wife of CIA Deputy Director John Harper. With normal channels of investigation obstructed, Harper turns to Kealey, the one man with the resources, expertise—and freedom from government interference—to pursue the awful truth.
Following a string of secrets and violence, Kealey blazes a trail from the confines of the innermost chambers of government and big business to the dimmest reaches of the human psyche, forced to match wits with a new nemesis aided by new allies, each with a unique agenda. Slowly, Kealey unspools an unimaginable conspiracy that suggests America may in fact be its own worst enemy.
“[Britton] may well give Tom Clancy a run for the money.” –St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“No-holds-barred action and gripping suspense.” --Library Journal on The Exile
“The ‘best’ of Tom Clancy, Michael Connelly, and Robert Ludlum all rolled into a single book.” --armchairinterviews.com on The Assassin
“Brilliantly well-written with plotting sharper than a fence full of razor wire, a sizzling page-turner.” —Brad Thor, New York Times bestselling author on The American
Asif Kardar crushed the brake when he heard the hiss of the tire
through the open window of the bread truck. The pads were old,
and they squealed as the squat white vehicle lurched to a halt. The
hard stop caused the peppermint air freshener to swing in long arcs
from the rearview mirror and a marble in the ashtray to smack violently
front to back.
The young man sighed as he looked out the mud-splashed windshield,
stared at the wide dirt street awash with the red of the rising
sun. He had only a half dozen or so blocks to go before he reached
the market. Why now?
Because Allah willed it, thought the devout Sunni. Why else does
A boy on a badly dented bicycle passed him. Then another. And a
third. They waved as they passed. Asif knew them. They shared
breakfast at the coffeehouse some mornings—though they didn’t
He couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter.
The young men were workers who lived near Asif, in cinder-block
shacks in the katchi abadi, the slum off Service Road West 110. They
were commuting along Seventh Avenue, past the doctors’ offices,
banks, and parcel companies, and then on to Kashmir Highway, near
the universities, post offices, and the always popular Sunday market,
on their way to the richer sections of the capital, where they were
employed as street cleaners. All of them saw the irony in that, yet all
of them were happy to have jobs. It was either this or the military.
Asif found himself grinning. In the year he had been driving this
route, he had never suffered a blowout. He supposed he was due.
And it was no one’s fault, he knew. Metal shards were everywhere in
the streets of the slum: pieces of discarded appliances, rusted tools,
even belt buckles and pocket watches.
And the remnants of car bombs. There had been three in the last
year, all of them accidents. They were meant to blow up after leaving
here and arriving at their destinations—some government building
or military installation. Except for the loud bangs, the children liked
it when vehicles blew up. They quickly came and collected the fenders
and fan blades to dig in the rubble for treasure. To a child, anything
free was a treasure.
Asif ’s smile drooped as he considered his situation. He looked at
Drive on, he thought. He could probably make it, even with a rim
that was clanking and sparking.
The morning sun was rising higher, clearing the clay tile roofs of
the structures that lay ahead. This was the “better” section of the
slum. Where he lived, the roofs were all corrugated metal. The daily
sun-scorched metal created such intense heat within the homes that
being outside in direct sunlight was preferable to being slow cooked
alive inside. And while the temperature on the roof of the buildings
was occasionally more comfortable for sleeping, the distorted,
grooved surface was no place to remain grilling for too long. He
peered at the buildings. There was something he was supposed to
do. . . .
He shifted gears, started the truck ahead slowly. What was it?
Clanking and growling, the truck rounded a sharp curve. Two
hundred or so meters to the east he noticed soldiers standing watch
outside a Humvee. It was the end of the slum. They were parked in
front of a one-story building that was used by South Korean Christians
to feed hungry children. At one time it was a police recruiting
station. It was firebombed, but the missionaries had plastered it over.
That was what outsiders did. They covered things with paint and activity
and believed that they had begun to heal what was wrong underneath.
The soldiers were looking at him.
Asif stared back. He had a spare tire. He should stop and replace
the blown-out one. If he continued driving, the men would wonder
why he was willing to do permanent damage to his truck. Spare parts
were not plentiful, unless one were willing to hammer out the bent
and broken pieces found in scrap yards, and what he was doing was
not just odd. It was suspicious.
So why are you doing it?
He had no good answer to that.
He slowed, but he did not stop. Something told him to drive on.
The early morning air was already warm, and the driver was perspiring.
He was wearing a white silk kurta, a hand-me-down from his
elder brother who was in the army. He dragged a sleeve across his
forehead and looked anxiously ahead. There was a Shiite mosque
across the street. Men were beginning to arrive for prayer. Something
about it seemed familiar—not just because he had seen it before
as he drove by. It was something else.
The street was suddenly paved beneath him. The truck chugged
over the lip, the naked rim cutting the asphalt, the glove compartment
snapping open, the marble rolling, the air freshener smacking
the windshield. Three of the eight soldiers started in his direction.
The one in front had his arms raised, motioning for him to stop.
You mustn’t, Asif told himself.
If he stopped, they would examine his truck. That was what the
soldiers did at checkpoints. The sweat was no longer only on Asif ’s
brow; it was everywhere. They would surely see that; the sun had
just cleared the low rooftops and, shining redly, was striking him directly.
He felt as though he were naked, exposed, and starting to
melt. One of the soldiers talked into a radio. Asif couldn’t make out
what he was saying, but he knew that tone, flat and low. They were
assuming that his intentions were hostile.
They weren’t, were they?
He was confused.
Asif reached for the bottle of water that lay on the seat beside him.
He saw a few young families coming down the street, toward the
Christian building. The doors would not open for another hour, but
for many of these impoverished souls—many Afghan orphans who
had been taken in by relatives, families who had come to Islamabad
to escape the Taliban or the war—this would be the only meal of the
day, the only food they had enjoyed since the previous morning’s
Asif looked ahead, past the soldiers and toward the mosque. The
Shiites were gathering in larger numbers.
The murderous fools, he thought. They believed that only the
heirs of ‘Ali¯, the fourth caliph, were the true successors of Muhammad
the Prophet. Their idiocy had bred a thousand years of bloodshed.
You hate them, don’t you?
Do you? he wondered.
“Rokna!” the soldier in front shouted in Urdu. “Stop!” He had already
unshouldered the G3A3 assault rifle and was aiming it at the
Yes, Asif decided. He hated the Shias. And the military.
The young Pakistani put the water bottle down and pressed hard
on the gas. He reached toward the sun-faded brown dashboard as
gunfire shattered the window. Bullets punched through Asif ’s shoulders
and chest, and he was knocked back hard against the seat as he
pressed the cigarette lighter. Bloody and no longer in control of his
dying body, he was unable to reach the marble. . . .
Thirty pounds of plasticized pentaerythritol tetranitrate explosives
wired to the underside of the dashboard exploded. The truck
literally expanded as the concussive force of the PETN hit the inside
walls, splitting them. The vehicle vomited engine parts to the front
and sacks full of nails, bolts, and glass to the rear. It pushed a wall of
sound in all directions. The soldiers were simultaneously knocked
back and torn open, rusted chrome, burning canvas, and grotesque
body parts flung in all directions, as the blast rolled toward an empty
lot to the south and the mosque to the north. The twisted chassis of
the old truck tumbled toward the ancient structure, stamped forcefully
across the door and lower façade before falling back onto the
street. Several men, just arriving, were crushed by the initial strike,
while several inside were injured by falling lanterns and flying pieces
of broken stone. But the structure itself held.
The remaining soldiers and the missionary building were peppered
with shrapnel, none very seriously, save for a young Christian
volunteer who had just come to the window to pull open the shade.
Shattered glass razored her face and chest, and she stumbled backward,
slipping on a quick-made slick of her own blood. Rats ran
quickly from behind the shattered foundation, waves of them pouring through the rubble like water. From above, a flaming kestrel
dropped to the ground, its wings slapping furiously and then not at
The sound of the explosion faded quickly, the rain of debris
stopped, and soon all that remained were sirens from a few late-
model vehicles, the moans of the wounded, and the smoke that obscured
the sun with an ugly charcoal film. Shopkeepers and
pedestrians who ran toward the scene were silent, their ears filled
with their own racing blood.
Dr. Ayesha Gillani was sitting at an open-air café near the market
when she heard—and felt—the powerful explosion. It echoed
through the crooked streets like faraway thunder. In the square, people
on bicycles stopped, turned, and looked down the street as
smoke followed the sounds, curling lazily from between the low
buildings. Vendors ran in fright from their stands and sought cover in
alleys, in shops, behind trees, anything that was far from parked vehicles.
These things often happened in twos and threes.
Not this time, Dr. Gillani thought.
Though she knew that, there were things that had surprised her.
The location of the blast, for one. She looked at her watch. The timing
of the blast was off, as well.
It was early, too, she thought. Six thirteen. It wasn’t supposed to
happen for another two minutes.
The changes were unexpected but not unwelcome. There were
always variables in even the best-planned scenario. A rotating checkpoint.
A mechanical malfunction. An accident. A distraction.
The important thing is he pulled the trigger, she told herself. That
was the most difficult and time-consuming part of the process.
She took out her cell phone, sent a one-letter text message—S,
for success—and resumed eating her na¯shta¯, a traditional Pakistani
breakfast of paratha, a flatbread, as well as mangoes and Earl Grey.
The tea felt much cooler than it had moments before. Or maybe it
was her. The anticipation had passed. The event was history. And her
confidence—of which she was the harshest critic—had been validated.
She watched as people slowly, cautiously returned to their stands.
The poor, poor mice, she thought. Sunni, Shiite, Kurd, Christian,
Jew—the religion or sect of the victims did not matter to her. The
tribe or nationality was of absolutely no importance. All that mattered
to the forty-two-year-old was that the trials were completed
and the real mission could begin. The task for which she had been
training herself for over twenty years. The only possible response to
what she had endured.
She was about to bring lasting, eternal peace to the world.