The Last Line: A Novel

The Last Line: A Novel

by Anthony Shaffer, William H. Keith


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THE DRUG WAR is about to become A REAL WAR.

Chris Teller may be the best in the intelligence business, but that doesn't mean he's the most popular. Far from it, in fact. While he may be a threat to the status quo, however, the only thing saving him from expulsion is an even greater threat to his country, one that's already within our borders.

With Mexico descending into anarchy, the drug cartels have kicked up the heat, allying with Hezbollah and the Iranian secret service in a plot aimed at nothing less than the destruction of the United States of America. As Teller races to unravel the plot, he discovers that the most dangerous and pernicious enemies are not bloodthirsty drug lords, but a terrifying and treasonous cabal within the U.S. government itself.

Former military intelligence officer Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer made headlines when his memoir, Operation Dark Heart, faced Department of Defense censorship. Now he returns with The Last Line, an eye-opening thriller rooted in the shadow world of espionage, government power, and betrayal.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250260437
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/04/2013
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 4.72(w) x 7.48(h) x 1.21(d)

About the Author

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer is the author of Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan—and the Path to Victory. He is a Bronze Star Medal recipient and a lieutenant colonel in the U. S. Army Reserve. A CIA-trained senior intelligence operations officer, he has more than twenty-five years of experience in the intelligence community. He is a Senior Fellow and Special Lecturer at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies in Washington, D.C.

William H. Keith has written nearly eighty books over the past twenty-five years, including the Warstrider series. His novels, published under the pseudonyms Ian Douglas and H. Jay Riker, are geopolitical thrillers with an emphasis on the Marines and submarine warfare. A veteran of the Navy, he lives in western Pennsylvania.

Read an Excerpt

The Last Line

By Anthony Shaffer, William Keith

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2013 Anthony Shaffer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-01368-2



Night — as impenetrably black as only a moonless and overcast night in the woods can be. Captain Chris Teller lay full-length on the ground, probing the smothering darkness around him, every sense alert. There'd been no sound to warn him, nothing but the usual chirp and whir and peep of insects and lovesick amphibians at the pond just up ahead, but there was something ...

There, he caught it again as he inhaled — the faintest whiff of cigarette smoke just perceptible above the mingled scents of leaf mold, earth, and stagnant water. His pursuers wouldn't be stupid enough to smoke in the darkness; he was probably smelling it on someone's uniform.

Someone very, very close now ...

Yes ... just ahead, a shadow against shadows. Using averted vision, looking to one side of the figure instead of straight at it, he could make out the shape of a man leaning against the trunk of a massive tree. The head was heavy and misshapen beneath the brim of his boonie hat.

A Klingon, wearing NVD — night-vision device.

Teller waited, not moving, scarcely breathing, not even looking at the man standing nearby. Play sneak-and-peek with the bad guys long enough and you became convinced that the opposition could feel you staring at them. The answer was not to stare at them, and to make the mental noise of a rock.

Patience. Steady nerves. He was prepared to outwait the guy, however, to lie on the chilly ground for an hour if need be. He'd done this before ...

Christopher Thomas Teller had been with the Department of Defense for eight years now, as a case officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency's Intelligence Directorate. A captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, he'd seen action in both Afghanistan and Iraq, in combat zones where it was sometimes tough to figure out who were the good guys and who wore black hats.

Since he'd started working for the DIA, that was more of a problem than ever.

A sharp hiss of static and a burst of unintelligible words sounded from the tactical radio holstered on the man's combat harness. "Yeah," he said. "Red Three."

More crackling mutters, and then the man said, "Negative. Nothing here. Sector Charlie one-one is clear."

While Red Three was distracted by the radio call, Teller, wraith silent, rose and eased forward. The man was angled away from him, his field of vision sharply restricted by the night-vision device over his face. Teller knew he would get just one chance ...

"Copy that," Red Three said. "Out."

Teller took the last three quick steps and struck, using the heel of his hand.

Karate chops to the neck are pure Hollywood, all for show and largely useless. What knocks a man unconscious is not the blow itself but the force of the brain slamming against the inside of the skull. Strike high and from the side, aiming just above the temple, and if the target is relaxed his head will jerk sharply enough to rattle the brain and induce immediate unconsciousness.

It was a martial arts technique that Teller had practiced long and exhaustively. You didn't actually need to use much force — in fact, too hard a blow to the temple could kill — but your accuracy had to be perfect, especially when the bull's-eye was covered by an NVD harness and the brim of a boonie hat.

Red Three slumped; Teller caught him as he fell and silently lowered the body to the ground. Swiftly, he dragged the night-vision device from the man's head, checked the man's pulse, then pulled a penlight from his pocket and peeled back the eyelids, first one, then the other, making sure to shield the light with his hand. Both pupils were the same size, thank God. If Teller had misjudged and fractured Red Three's skull, it would not have been good.

Again Teller smelled cigarette smoke, stronger now, and grinned. Most smokers had no idea just how much their clothing and breath stank to nonsmokers. A good thing, too; he'd very nearly walked into this one in the darkness.

The night would no longer be an obstacle, however. Putting away his light, Teller slipped on the night goggles. Sweet. The unit was an AN/PVS-21, one of the newer Gen III Omni IV systems that let the operator see both with direct vision and with light intensification, as well as by infrared. He flipped the left-side monocle aside; he wanted to keep his night vision in at least one eye. As he switched the unit on, the surrounding forest seen through the right-eye optics became twilight-bright in green monochrome. He could see still black water thirty meters ahead — the millpond. The heads-up display projection overlaid the image with a compass bearing, waypoint, GPS data, and other useful tidbits. To the left, a bright white star bobbed slightly as it moved through darkness.

An infrared target — another Klingon wearing an infrared wand on his utilities about fifty meters off. Teller was going to have to be careful if he wanted to stay unobserved.

He still had a long way to go.


Marine Lieutenant Colonel Frank Procario glanced at the big clock on the wall, then back at the computer screen. "Face it, Clarke," he told the older man seated at the monitor. "Your people have lost him."

"Not freakin' likely," James Edward Clarke replied. He was staring at the monitor as though willing the screen to provide him with more information. An airstrip, running southwest to northeast, appeared at the bottom; the sprawl of the pond was above, to the north. A half-dozen points of light described a rough circle in the woods southwest of the pond, and Clarke pointed at the circle's heart. "We know he's in this area, right here. He can't manage more than a half mile an hour or so, not in the dark over uneven ground, not unless he wants to break an ankle. We'll get him."

Procario gave a humorless grin. "We'll see."

Officially, these woods were part of a highly classified training facility, so secret that the government wouldn't even allow it to be named. To anyone in the know, however, it was "the Farm," a rural base tucked away out of sight within thousands of acres of thickly wooded land, close by a broad and slow-moving river. On the other side of a busy interstate running past the perimeter fence, a popular tourist center celebrated America's heritage. A million tourists wandered that historic site each year, never guessing that the main entrance to the covert CIA training facility even existed nearby. Case-officers-in-training routinely used the downtown area of the tourist site as a classroom where they could practice shadowing, brush passes, mail drops, and the other esoterica of tradecraft.

Since the early fifties, some eight thousand acres of the Farm had been given over to woodland, with isolated buildings and training facilities scattered across the property, all but lost among the trees. In the past few years, though, trees had been coming down by the hundreds, and earthmovers had been carving out acre upon acre for new buildings and roads. The War on Terror had been causing the black-ops budgets to boom, and the Klingons had been making the most of it.

Plenty of woodland and swamp remained, however, more than enough for training classes such as this one.

The session was a fairly standard E&E exercise, escape and evasion. They'd driven Teller out in a Humvee and dropped him off at the side of a road three hours earlier. This night's objective was straightforward — orienting alone across three miles of woodland and swamp with a compass. Teller's goal was the 5,000-foot airstrip located a little more than a mile south of the millpond. The catch came in having to make the trek in pitch blackness while evading a half-dozen CIA instructors, all of whom were wearing high-tech AN/PVS-21s and coordinating their movements by tactical radio.

Still, Procario had known Teller for a long time. "I'll put my money on Chris Teller anyway," he said after a long moment.

"Bullshit. We've got the bastard boxed in."

"That," Procario said, his grin broadening, "is exactly when he's at his most fucking dangerous."


Teller watched the moving infrared target a moment in silence. Getting caught didn't bear thinking about. Farm instructors had been known to zip-strip trainees they caught, put them through a mock interrogation, even beat them up in the sacred name of verisimilitude. Classes like this one weren't just about proving you could avoid contract security bully-boys like Red Three. They were to demonstrate means of surviving after you were caught.

Chris Teller had already decided that he would be having none of that, thank you. His trainee days were over. He'd been through the Farm's basic indoctrination course eight years ago, and he'd attended several specialization classes since. His presence here this weekend was nothing more than MacDonald's latest attempt to make life as unpleasant as possible for him, something the woman seemed to regard as her sacred duty.

Right now, though, MacDonald wasn't his problem. He had five Klingons on his tail, and they were going to be royally pissed when they found out what he'd done to Klingon number six.

The CIA did not play well with others. Among themselves, they referred to the Central Intelligence Agency as "the Agency" or "the Company" or even "the Firm." Other U.S. intelligence services — and there were fifteen of them at the latest count aside from the Agency — referred to the CIA as "the Empire," a term that inevitably had devolved into the villains of the popular science fiction franchise. The Klingons got the lion's share of the intelligence budget, the Klingons got the attention on Capitol Hill when it came to procurements, and the Klingons didn't like to share the goodies.

For a DIA case officer like Teller, working with the CIA was a necessary evil, something to avoid if possible, to get through quickly when necessary.

This time around, unfortunately, there'd been no avoiding it.

Thirty yards farther along, the ground began growing soft underfoot, the swamp dragging at his boots with each step. He kept going until he reached the water's edge, then stopped, looking back. He pressed the SEND button on the tactical radio. "Man down! Man down!" he called. "Red Three's in trouble, sector one-one!"

There was silence for a moment. Then, "Who is this?"

"Red Three is in trouble!" Teller repeated. He switched off the radio and began wading out into the pond.

The water was cold and utterly black. In the distance, he heard a shout — and his NVDs showed three infrared beacons converging in the woods behind him. Good. If he'd injured Red Three, he wanted the man to get treatment, and the call would also serve as a diversion. After a moment, he pushed off from the muddy bottom and began swimming. The AN/PVS-21 was waterproof to a depth of ten meters; getting it wet in a late-night swim wasn't going to hurt the unit at all. He struck out with a breaststroke, moving slowly to avoid disturbing the water with more than a ripple. Someone might be watching the water, though he doubted it. Across the lake was exactly the wrong direction for someone trying to reach the airfield.

At least, it was for people trying to reach it through the woods. Teller had a different idea.

The pond was a brackish, irregular lake just off the nearby river. Teller was swimming down one of the lake's inlets now. Five hundred yards to the northeast, lights showed on a wooded shore. There was a small suburban community there between the millpond and the river, according to the maps Teller had studied — houses belonging to the Farm's permanent staff or used by long-term guests.

What he was about to try was almost certainly in violation of at least the spirit of tonight's E&E exercise. He hadn't exactly been ordered to stay on a particular route, but there'd been a clear understanding that he was to travel a more or less direct path southeast from the drop-off point to the airfield, sticking to the woods and swamps and staying clear of inhabited areas. The total trek was about three miles; he'd already traveled more than that, backtracking twice since midnight, then swinging well to the north and east to avoid his pursuers.

He maintained a slow but steady pace across the black water with scarcely a ripple to betray his movement. In the distance, shouts silenced the steady chirp of crickets. It sounded like they'd found Red Three.

Eventually his boots brushed against mud, and then he staggered up out of the lake, dripping. A few more yards through a sheltering privacy wall of trees, and he emerged onto a suburban street.

Most of the houses were empty; all were dark. One nearby house had a couple of cars parked in the driveway, a two-door Nissan and a Ford pickup truck. He pulled a small folding knife from a pocket in his utilities. The truck was the easier target — and as a bonus it wasn't even locked. Well, why should it be? This small and quintessentially American community was located deep in the heart of one of the most secure and secret facilities in the United States.

A few moments later, he touched two bare wires to each other and the truck gunned to life. He wrapped the wires together, put the vehicle in gear, backed out onto the street, and drove off toward the southeast.

Fifteen minutes later, once again in the woods, he abandoned the truck at the side of a road, checked his compass, and started walking once more.

Ten minutes more on foot brought him to the airfield. There was some activity on the far side of the runway — vehicles with flashing red lights and a couple of military Hummers. The control tower building was brightly lit; a room on the ground floor had been converted into a temporary command center for the night's festivities.

A pair of contractors met him outside the command center, rough-looking men in camouflage utilities and carrying M-4A1 Commandos. "Hold it right there, asshole," one of them growled.

"I've finished the fucking mission," Teller said. He glanced at his watch — 0314, well ahead of his 0600 deadline. "Game's over. Let me through."

"You're damned right, game over," the other merc said with a nasty grin. "You've got some people pretty fucking pissed off at you."

"Including us, you son of a bitch," the first merc said.

Teller studied the two. The CIA often employed contract soldiers — mercenaries — for its sentries, shit details, military ops, and, as tonight, its paramilitary training exercises. They were well trained and generally possessed decent to excellent martial arts skills. Teller might be able to take down one of these two, but not both, not after running through the woods for three hours and pulling a half-kilometer swim in the bargain.

The stuttering whop-whop-whop of a helicopter approached out of the darkness.

Those red lights — an ambulance. The helicopter must be a medevac chopper. Shit. He must have hit Red Three harder than he'd realized.

"Okay," he said. "So where do we go from here?"

"I don't know about the rest of us," a new voice said from behind Teller's shoulder, "but you are in a world of shit."

It wouldn't be the first time.

"So what else is new?" Teller asked.


Galen Fletcher smiled thinly as the security guard patted him down, checking for weapons. How ironic. He lived in a country awash in guns, and he had to come home, to the nation's capital, to be properly frisked.

The guard finished and waved him through.

"Thank you for your patience, sir."

"Not a problem," he replied, shrugging back into his jacket.

As he moved into the crowded entryway of the newly renovated Smithsonian Museum of American History, the warmth, the energy of the place enveloped him. The meetings at headquarters, which had begun at eight sharp, had continued straight through lunch and left him in a bit of a daze, so to help clear his head, he had decided on an afternoon walking tour of the landmarks along the National Mall in downtown Washington, D.C. They'd meant so much to him when he was younger.


Excerpted from The Last Line by Anthony Shaffer, William Keith. Copyright © 2013 Anthony Shaffer. 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.
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