INTERROGATION Once, Charlie Dean was a Marine sniper in Quang Nam Province. Today he’s a Deep Black operator, returning to Vietnam to find the source of some threatening e-mail. Instead, he comes face to face with a man he once hunted down…and thought he had killed.
FEAR FOR THE NATION…
Back in the U.S., Deep Black agent Lia DeFrancesca has uncovered the trail of a killer in Dean’s path. Now, with every asset, weapon, bug and high-tech magic wand Desk Three can wave, the agents enter a terrifying global race against time. Because ghosts of the past have risen to life…to strike a death blow at the heart of the U.S.A.
“Coonts knows how to write and build suspense.” – The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Date of Birth:July 19, 1946
Place of Birth:Morgantown, West Virginia
Education:B.A., West Virginia University, 1968; J.D., University of Colorado, 1979
Read an Excerpt
Stephen Coonts' Deep Black: Conspiracy
By Stephen Coonts, Jim DeFelice
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2008 Stephen Coonts
All rights reserved.
EVEN THROUGH THE SCOPE, the black circle at the center of the target looked tiny. The shooter tried to remember everything the rifle instructor had told him, held his body steady, checked his breath, eased his finger against the trigger.
He didn't have to be perfect. He just had to be decent.
The Remington barked. The bullet missed the center of the target, hitting the white space just beyond.
Again, the shooter told himself. Better this time. Better.
The shot sailed high, to the outer ring.
I can do better, thought the shooter. He took a long breath, then slipped his left hand ever so slightly forward. He imagined that the center of the target was not a black circle a hundred yards away but a man's head.
This time, the bullet hit the mark.
The shooter tried again, once more imagining that he was firing at a person. His shot sailed a bit to the left but still managed to find the black disk. So did the next.
"You're getting much better," said his instructor as he paused to reload.
"I think I've found the key," said the shooter. He grinned.
The instructor waited a moment to hear what he might think that was, but the student had no intention of explaining. He had registered for the rifle class not merely under false pretenses — unlike the other students, he had no intention of ever going deer hunting — but also using a false name and ID.
"Well, very good," said the instructor finally. "Keep at it."
"I will," said the shooter, beginning to reload.CHAPTER 2
PINE PLAINS LOOKED like a picture-perfect town, a throwback nineteenth-century village, complete with striped awnings over the main street storefronts and white picket fences on the side streets. The center of town was dominated by a freshly painted three-story bank building — Stissing National, which had so far resisted overtures to join the megabanks that dominated the region. The drugstore to its right could make the same claim, with an old-fashioned soda fountain clearly visible through the sparkling plate glass at the front of the store. And the hardware store demonstrated that it was still just a hardware store, not a fancy home decorating center, by displaying a full run of lawnmowers and assorted shovels and rakes on its half of the sidewalk. Neither the machines nor the tools were chained or otherwise secured, the store owner confident that no one would walk away with them.
Secret Service Special Agent Jerry Forester turned his big Ford off Main Street, heading down Meadow Avenue. He gazed past the row of wood-sided houses toward the field beyond them. It was late spring, and though the field had been cleared, it had not yet been planted, the owner timing his crop to meet the needs of a processor, who would already have contracted for the result.
Meadow Avenue ended at a set of train tracks. Forester took a right, passing the ruins of an old whistle-stop as he headed back in the direction of the state highway. The houses that lined the road were bigger than those packed into the tight streets at the town center; they had larger lawns and longer driveways. But the newest was probably more than forty years old, built before whirlpool tubs and two-story entryways became fashionable. The sugar maples in their yards had stout trunks and were generous with their shade.
Forester lingered at an intersection, considering getting out of the car and going for a walk. But then he realized if he did, Pine Plains' idyllic character would quickly fade. He'd see the beer cans tossed onto the long lawns by bored teenagers over the weekend and notice graffiti on the sides of the Main Street buildings, including the five-fingered star that proved even rural America wasn't immune to the awesome coolness of outlaw gangs. The torn shingles on the church and the rust stains from the broken gutter would be difficult to miss. The man sitting in the window seat at Kay's Breakfast Nook would have a wild expression and the vague smell of hospital antiseptic in his clothes.
Step inside some of the houses and the last bits of the illusion would quickly melt away. Forester had no illusions about human evils and how widespread they were. Even if he hadn't grown up in a town exactly like Pine Plains, he'd spent the last twenty-three years working for the Secret Service, a job that permitted no naïveté. He knew the foibles of the powerful as well as the delusions of the powerless.
And the knowledge choked him.
Best to leave it like this, he thought. Best to leave the image intact, even as the snarling dog of cynicism, of apathy and black despair, growled at his neck. He was in a hole and he was not getting out. The drive he'd taken to cheer himself up had done the opposite. There was no fooling himself, no fooling the cloud that clung to him every moment of every day.
Forester's cell phone buzzed. He pulled it from his pocket.
"Jerry, where are you?"
"Running a little late."
"Wait until you see the nightgown I'm wearing. How long before you get here?"
"Oh, pooh. I'm going down to the bar."
"In the gown?"
"Call up room service. I'll put the pedal to the metal."
As Forester switched off the phone, he noticed a police cruiser growing in his rearview mirror. He glanced down at his speedometer; he was doing just over sixty. The state had a law against driving with a cell phone and required seat belts to be buckled, but it was too late to do anything about either; the bubblegum lights erupted red. He hit his blinker and pulled off the side of the road before reaching for his Service ID.CHAPTER 3
AMANDA RAUCI TOOK another sip from the wine and glanced at her watch. It was nearly half past seven.
Where the hell is Jerry? she thought to herself, putting the glass down. He should have met her at least two hours ago. Even if he'd gotten lost, it shouldn't have taken him this long to get here.
And Jerry Forester never got lost.
Maybe his rotten bitch of a soon-to-be ex-wife had called him with some new bullshit. She was always torturing him with something, even though they were getting a divorce and hadn't lived together for nearly a year. Amanda couldn't understand why he even took the bitch's calls, since inevitably they ended with her screaming at him.
Actually, Amanda could. Forester wanted custody of his two sons, or at least some connection with them. The bitch was doing her damnedest to keep it to a minimum.
Amanda caught a glimpse of herself in the hotel room's full-length mirror. The nightgown, which had seemed so sexy when she'd put it on earlier, looked a little silly, even sad. She decided to change into her street clothes. When she was dressed, she picked up her cell phone and called Forester again. The call, her third in the past hour or so, went to voice mail like the others.
"Hey, where are you?" she asked. "Meet me in the bar, OK? And hurry up. I'm hungry."
IN THE HALF hour she waited at the bar, Amanda turned down two different offers of drinks. With her hunger getting the better of her, she asked the bartender for a menu, then gave Forester another call. Once again she got his voice mail. She didn't bother leaving a message.
The baked sole in vermouth was very good, but Amanda left most of it. Too many people were staring at her, calculating whether they might relieve her loneliness.
This wasn't like Forester, not at all.
Amanda went back to her room, half-expecting — hoping — that the light on the phone would be blinking, indicating she had a message. But it wasn't.
Amanda started to dial the number for his office, thinking he might have checked in. She stopped before the call went through. Their relationship was a secret, and besides, by now there would be no one to check in with. It was going on eight o'clock.
Amanda went to the desk in the corner of the room and picked up the phone. Gerald Forester had not checked into the hotel; he didn't even have a reservation, according to the clerk. This didn't necessarily bother Amanda — the hotel wasn't that busy, and maybe Jerry had always intended on staying with her anyway.
Maybe. Ordinarily, though, he reserved his own room, since the Service paid.
A phone book sat at the edge of the desktop. She pulled it over and leafed through the yellow pages, caught between her instincts to act and the uncertainty of what to do. Then the investigator in her took over; she flipped to the hospital listings and began making calls.
The list was quickly exhausted. No Gerald Forester had been checked in or reported to an emergency room.
The only possible reason for standing her up was that something was happening on his case. Amanda didn't know exactly what it involved — Jerry never discussed what he was working on. But she did know that he hadn't planned on doing any real work until tomorrow.
Amanda called the desk again. Had Mr. Forester checked in yet?
"No," said the clerk, annoyed. "Did you call earlier?"
Amanda put down the phone. And then, on a whim, or maybe to satisfy a growing sense of insecurity, she began dialing other hotels in the area, asking if a Gerald Forester had checked in.
Did she think he was cheating on her? It wouldn't be cheating, exactly, if they weren't married. She was worried, and insecure, and unsure. After the third call — "No guest by that name, sorry" — Amanda got up and began pacing the room.
Amanda heard a noise in the hall. She stopped, held her breath as she heard the footsteps.
Decide, she told herself. Are you mad at him for being late and not calling, or are you happy nothing is wrong and he's finally here?
But whoever was outside didn't stop at her door. She opened it, saw another man taking out a key several rooms away.
Back inside, Amanda called the next hotel.
"Do you have a Mr. Gerald Forester there?"
"Yes, ma'am. Should I connect you to the room?"
Amanda felt as if she'd been punched in the chest. "Please."
The phone rang, but there was no answer.
THE DANBURY RAMADA was only two miles from the InterContinental, and it took less than ten minutes to get there. Amanda's heart sank when she saw Forester's car in the parking lot. She sat in her car with the engine running, literally feeling sick to her stomach.
And then her anger took over.
Who the hell was he in there with? Where did he come off calling her — calling her — and then standing her up?
Amanda got out and walked toward the hotel. She was angry — too angry, she thought — and she reversed course.
Why would he reserve a room in another hotel without telling her?
Maybe it was to keep their affair a secret.
Amanda passed by his car. Looking inside the passenger-side window, she saw a notebook, some pens, and the edge of a room card.
So he'd checked in earlier, without even telling her!
Forester was always locking his keys in somewhere — his car, his office, his house. To avoid embarrassment, he planted spares all over the place. When he stayed somewhere, he made sure to get two cards and left one in his car. He must have gotten up here earlier, gone out, come back — maybe to pick up someone.
Amanda ducked under the rear bumper on the passenger's side, fishing for the small metal key container Forester kept there. She took it, then slid open the top and took out the car key, only to find that he hadn't bothered to lock his car.
There was no room number on the key — but the small envelope it came in had the number in tiny script at the bottom edge.
She could surprise him if she wanted. Surprise him in bed with whatever whore he'd picked up.
Unless it was his wife. Amanda scanned the parking lot, sure for a second that his soon-to-be ex had come up here to confront him about something. But Amanda didn't see the car.
She was being ridiculous, acting like a petty bitch herself. She put the key card back and started toward her car.
He did owe her an explanation. Leaving her waiting at the bar for hours was rotten.
Why not go up there right now? If he was cheating on her, at least she would know.
Amanda realized that she hadn't replaced the spare key holder. She turned and walked back to the car. But before she got there, she changed her mind again: she was going up to his room. She opened the car door, grabbed the room key, and then walked quickly into the hotel, determined to confront him before she could change her mind.
There was no one at the front desk. She walked straight ahead toward the elevators, head down, determined.
The elevator doors opened in slow motion. Amanda got inside, pressed the button for the fifth floor.
The doors opened in a few seconds. She found the room at the very end of the hall, took a deep breath, and knocked.
"Room service," she said curtly, her anger still sharp.
Amanda knocked again. "Room service," she said, a little louder. "Mr. Forester?"
"Jerry, open the damn door."
Still nothing. Amanda slipped the card into the slot. The two lights at the top of the lock came on, both red, then green.
I shouldn't go in, she thought to herself, placing her hand on the handle. She pushed anyway.
"Jerry?" she said. The light was on. "Why are you —"
She stopped in mid-sentence. Her lover sat in the chair across from the door, a good portion of his mouth and head blown away by a bullet from the old-school .357 Magnum that sat on the floor below his open hand.
CHARLIE DEAN PULLED the strap of his bag over his shoulder and stepped out of the plane, ambling down to the concrete runway. A narrow man with thinning hair near the terminal bent toward Dean as he approached.
"I'm Charlie Dean."
"Red Sleeth." The man stuck his hand out. "How are you?"
"When your girl said there would be a driver waiting, I didn't expect it to be the guide himself," said Dean.
"We're a one-man operation," replied Sleeth. "One man, one woman — the girl was my wife. I don't think she'd be offended," added Sleeth, reaching for the bag.
Dean insisted on carrying it himself. He followed Sleeth as he walked toward a parking lot on the side of the terminal.
"I'm glad you had an opening," said Dean. "I know this was kind of last-minute."
"Happy to have you. Customer who canceled will be happy, too. We refund his deposit if we find someone else to take the slot."
Sleeth's battered Ford Bronco looked a few years older than the nearby mountains. Dean paused a few feet from the vehicle and looked around. The sun had already set, but he could see the tall shadows in the distance. It was beautiful country; you stood in a parking lot and thought you were at the edge of the world.
"Never been to Montana, have you, Mr. Dean?"
"No, sir. Beautiful land." Charlie swung back to the truck.
"Yes, it is," said Sleeth. "Ready to get yourself a mountain lion?"
"Good. It'll be the greatest experience of your life. There's nothing as exciting as hunting a mountain lion. Everything else you've ever done will pale in comparison."
Dean knew that wasn't true but smiled anyway.CHAPTER 5
DURING THE SIXTY seconds immediately after she saw her lover's dead body, Amanda Rauci acted like the trained Secret Service agent she was. Unholstering her pistol, she checked the rest of the room and made sure there were no intruders. She then went to him, squatting just close enough to make sure he was dead.
There was no question. Blood, skull, and brain material from the gunshot's exit wound had splattered on the curtain behind him. The back of the seat and floor were covered with thick red blood.
As Amanda straightened, the restraint imposed by the Service training began to slip away. She felt many things: Shock and grief and fear. Panic. Her heart raced.
Why would he do this?
Why didn't I realize he was suicidal?
Is it my fault?
Is it really suicide? How can that be?
His eyes gaped at her, as if they were accusing her of something.
I have to get away, she thought, and for the next sixty seconds the trained Secret Service agent shared the body of a panicking, guilt-stricken woman. She backed from the room, carefully making sure not to touch anything. She took a handkerchief from her pocket, opened the door, closed the door, walked swiftly down the hall toward the elevator, then came back and ducked into the stairway instead. Amanda descended all the way to the bottom floor, where the stairwell opened to the outside. She turned and pushed the crash bar with the side of her hip, then walked around to her car.
Amanda didn't begin to cry until she was almost to her hotel. The tears slipped down her cheeks in ones and twos. Then, as she waited to turn into the parking lot, they burst from her eyes in a steady downpour.
Excerpted from Stephen Coonts' Deep Black: Conspiracy by Stephen Coonts, Jim DeFelice. Copyright © 2008 Stephen Coonts. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Charlie Dean is back as full of action as ever. The book starts with a mystery, murder or suicide? rapidly Charlie Dean and Lia DeFrancesca are engaged in their business as Deep Black operatives. A dangerous mission to Vietnam is the climax of the story. You will not be disappointed if you are a fan of the Deep Black series.