The unthinkable has happened: ISIS, covertly assisted by Pakistan’s intelligence services, has acquired nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver them anywhere in the world. They begin with an attack at Bagram Airfield, America’s largest military base in Afghanistan. A second weapon is detonated in Battery Park in New York City.
The blast levels a square mile of Manhattan, including the Financial District. Hundreds of thousands perish. The American economy is in chaos. Banks close their doors. The U.S. supply chain is disrupted. Riots and looting break out while enemies in the Middle East burn U.S. flags in celebration.
The stakes skyrocket when Islamabad CIA Station Chief Bill Gorman unearths evidence of a third bomb headed our way. Across two continents the chase is on to find the runaway terrorists led by the ruthless and capable Salma Bahmani, star agent of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, the dread ISI. She will stop at nothing to deliver what could be the final nail in America’s coffin.
About the Author
R.J. PINEIRO is a thirty-year veteran of the computer industry as well as the author of many internationally acclaimed novels, including Shutdown, Cyberterror, Firewall, 01-01-00, and The Fall. Pineiro makes his home in central Texas.
Read an Excerpt
By David Hunt, R. J. Pineiro
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2017 David Hunt and R. J. Pineiro
All rights reserved.
"How did we let this happen? And what are we going to do about it?" They were simple questions that the newly elected president tossed down the thirty feet of conference table in the Situation Room to guide the outcome of this emergency meeting.
Every black leather chair was occupied this early morning. Each faced a thirteen-inch mobile computer, a sparkling crystal water glass, a white coffee cup adorned with the White House seal, and one very pissed-off commander in chief.
Wearing a dark blue skirt suit, President Laura Vaccaro rested her palms on the table and looked around the room. She weighed 120 pounds, with a slim frame. Short dark hair framed her narrow face, partially covering a fine scar traversing her left temple and cheekbone, earned a lifetime ago in Afghanistan.
Those physically present included the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, and the directors of the FBI, the DIA, and the National Intelligence Program. The White House chief of staff, John Wright, sat to Vaccaro's immediate right, next to National Security Advisor Lisa Jacobson, the vice president, the secretary of Homeland Security, and the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration. They formed a mixed group of men and women of varying ages. Some she had brought along, like John Wright and Lisa Jacobson. Others she had retained from the prior administration, like the secretary of defense and the heads of the FBI and the CIA.
For now, she thought. Let's see how they handle this mess.
The Pentagon feed on the large screen at the end of the room showed all seven members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They sat stoically shoulder to shoulder along one side of a black table facing the camera. The chairman and the vice chairman occupied the middle seats, flanked by the chiefs of the army, naval operations, air force, and the National Guard Bureau, and the commandant of the Marine Corps. They formed a unified wall of chiseled faces, starched uniforms, ribbons, and shiny medals.
A pair of sixty-inch TVs on each side wall depicted images of Bagram from various feeds, including the Department of Defense, the National Reconnaissance Office, and two networks.
Even with the sound muted, the videos were hard to watch. Body bags lined the floor of a hangar. Hundreds of wounded overwhelmed the base's hospital. Rubble and debris reigned across the airfield. Fires raged on the tarmac from countless wrecked planes and helicopters. Soldiers in hazmat suits guarded the gap created by the blast while others began the cleanup process. Meanwhile, demonstrators were out in numbers across the Middle East, dancing and chanting in the streets. In northern Iraq, black-clad militants hung out of cars and trucks waving their AK-47s while parading down the streets of some village. In Tehran, hundreds of American flags were being burned in celebration of the attack.
Vaccaro contemplated the Stars and Stripes in the corner of the room under a single spotlight before calmly looking over at her chief of staff. "Go ahead, John."
Wright was a former U.S. Marine captain who'd served three tours in Afghanistan before working the Pentagon and then Capitol Hill as a military liaison. He was slim but firm, with penetrating hazel eyes and a full head of blond hair, trimmed very short. He wore a tight gray suit and spit-shine black shoes. Everything about the man was shipshape, from the way he'd led his teams back in the day to his golf game, and especially the manner in which he ran the new White House administration.
Perching a pair of reading glasses on the tip of his aquiline nose, he looked at his computer screen and said, "We will start with a fifteen-minute brief from the DoD, followed by another fifteen minutes from the NNSA, since this clearly deals with nuclear proliferation. Then ten-minute briefs from the counterterrorism divisions of the DIA, the CIA, the FBI, Homeland, and the NSA. An open discussion will follow for exactly one hour. Our goal this morning, ladies and gentlemen, is to formulate a clear plan of action by eleven hundred in response to that." He pointed at the TV screens. Then he added, "That will leave exactly two hours to prep for the presidential address scheduled for thirteen hundred hours."
Producing a digital chronometer, Wright looked over at Charles Grandville, the secretary of defense, and started the timer.
Grandville leaned forward to start his brief, but the president spoke first.
"How many people work inside the Pentagon, Mister Secretary?"
The man blinked, considered the question, and finally said, "Over thirty thousand, Madam President."
"Specifically, there are thirty-six thousand three hundred and twenty-seven in that building."
General Grandville, a heavyset man who cut his teeth in the Baltics before fighting in both Gulf Wars and then Afghanistan, obviously didn't know how to respond to that. So Vaccaro decided to assist him. "Considering all that brainpower, I am looking forward to understanding the facts and our immediate and violent reaction to what I'm seeing on these very large HD screens."
This was combat. She had been in combat, led men and women into battle in some of the worst armpits of the world. She had killed and had witnessed close friends getting killed or wounded.
She had the damn T-shirt.
And the fucking scars to go along with it.
Vaccaro had risen to popularity after logging more than seven hundred combat flying hours in the A-10 Warthog, the armor-plated aerial "tank" built to fly low and protect the backs of ground soldiers. She became one of the first authorized female combat pilots in 1993, when then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin approved it. And she went on to serve, first in Iraq and later in Afghanistan. During her final tour, she'd refused to leave several ambushed marines, even after taking heavy fire and losing an engine. She'd pushed her wounded A-10 to keep the Taliban at bay until the marines were rescued, but got shot down in the process. Vaccaro spent two days fighting her way to an extraction point, getting shot in the face and stabbed twice. All of the marines she had protected were aboard the two Black Hawk helicopters as volunteers for the daring rescue mission. They had provided the required muscle to reach Vaccaro's hideout in a nearby cave. One of the marines had ignored the cross fire, raced across the clearing, found her in the cave, and hauled her back to the chopper.
His name was Captain John Wright.
Vaccaro returned a decorated hero to her family in Colorado Springs, where a grateful state sent her to Capitol Hill to represent them in the U.S. Senate.
And within a decade, she was propelled to the Oval Office, where everything she said or did was scrutinized under the twenty-twenty lens of hindsight. This was only her third month in office, and the honeymoon was certainly over.
And now the President needed this man who had saved her life in Afghanistan to help her get America through this. Vaccaro needed to trust him completely as her gut told her the nation was about to enter one of its most dangerous times: facing terrorists armed with nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately, Vaccaro never really learned to trust anyone quite completely. And while Wright, as well as Lisa Jacobson, came damn close, the President still lived and died by the old Ronald Reagan quote from his days dealing with the Soviet Union back in the 1980s.
Trust but verify.
Wright waved his chronometer at Grandville and said, "Tick tock, Mister Secretary."
Grandville leaned forward again, and again Vaccaro cut him off. Something on the flat screens had caught her attention.
Stretching an index finger toward the closest LED monitor, she said, "Volume, John."
All turned to the video playing on every TV feed.
A tall and thin man with a prominent hooked nose and a closely trimmed beard filled the screen. He wore all-black, traditional clothes. In a very calm British accent he began to describe what next came into view in vivid color: nuclear explosions from our past, experiments in the Nevada desert, at Bikini Atoll, and views of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
All had seen them before in various movies and History Channel segments. The voice then described what had just happened in Afghanistan. The video transitioned from historical footage to the city of Bagram, zooming in on the base during the final seconds before the detonation. The actual blast was shown in high resolution and in slow motion. The fireball engulfed the far end of the base, incinerating soldiers, equipment, and structures. The ensuing pressure wave vaporized a large section of the eastern wall and part of the airfield, tossing massive C-5 Galaxy transports around like toys.
"We wanted no doubts, no illusions, no questions of what has happened and by whom," said the man as the images of Bagram dissolved and the video transitioned to his upper body. "We, the Islamic State, have nuclear weapons. We have the ability to deliver them anywhere in the world. We have followers where we want them. These followers are your neighbors, your babysitters, your bosses, your police officers — everyone and anyone you know and just as importantly those you do not know, but will very soon.
"We demand the release of all prisoners from your black sites, including Guantanamo Bay and the Parwan Detention Facility. In addition, we demand the withdrawal of every United States soldier from the Middle East. Go home. Now. This isn't your land. You have no business being here."
The man paused as the camera closed in on his face.
"These demands will be met within seven days. Your God claims to have built this world in those few days; surely our demands are much easier. However, should our demands not be met in the seven days, the next attack will be on real American soil ... not the soil you stole from the Afghan people."
While his voice trailed off, the images that replaced his face reminded Vaccaro of a big-budget Hollywood production. Most in the room did not realize how well done the message was until later, when the shock abated and realization set in.
What everyone in the room knew, beginning with President Vaccaro, was that the four horsemen of the apocalypse had just galloped their steeds into the White House Situation Room and let them crap all over its blue carpet.CHAPTER 2
FBI Special Agent Monica Cruz spent the first waking hours of her fortieth birthday steering her Ducati 848 precisely four vehicles behind her mark, a silver Cadillac Escalade driving down Connecticut Avenue.
The black-on-black bike wasn't an official FBI vehicle, but then again, this wasn't an official FBI surveillance job, and today she wasn't officially on the clock. In fact, she was supposed to be at the Ritz-Carlton's spa in Georgetown enjoying every penny's worth of the small fortune she had spent as a birthday gift to herself.
Until the U.S. flags flying at half-staff reminded her that terrorists never take a day off.
The SUV turned right onto Seventeenth Street and continued alongside Farragut Square. Monica downshifted to third with the toe of her riding boot before releasing the clutch and twisting the throttle. Leaning into the turn, she never lost sight of the Escalade reflecting the early morning sun forking between high-rises.
The vehicle belonged to Amir Dham, cousin of the Pakistani ambassador to the United States. Amir was also owner of Jasmine Companies, a chain of stores that sold luxurious furniture and assorted high-end imports in Washington, D.C., New York, and Chicago.
On paper, Amir's operation was squeaky clean, down to impeccable IRS records managed by Ernst & Young. Amir's exclusive clientele included several U.S. senators and congressmen. He golfed regularly with White House Chief of Staff John Wright, was a prominent donor at various D.C. nonprofits, and contributed heavily to the Metropolitan PD and the DCFD. Amir had even hosted a large fundraiser dinner for Vaccaro's campaign last year.
Quite the fucking little angel, Monica thought.
Except for the fact that two months ago one of his trucks was used to transport enough weapons and explosives to start a revolution.
Monica had led the joint FBI-ATF-Metro PD operation that resulted in the recovery of two hundred UZI PRO submachine guns fitted with Gemtec MK-9K sound suppressors, Reflex scopes, and twenty thousand rounds of ammo. On top of that, she had seized three hundred pounds of Semtex, a general-purpose plastic explosive. And she was even able to chase down the driver as he tried to flee the scene. The man turned out to be a disgruntled former employee who allegedly stole the truck to commit the crime.
Amir owned over one hundred such delivery trucks across three states. Although he had diplomatic immunity and was well connected, he claimed he had nothing to hide and invited the Feds to scrub his operation. The driver turned out to be an Afghan national with ties to ISIS back home, and hung himself in his jail cell before Monica or anyone else could interview him.
The subsequent monthlong FBI investigation supported Amir's claims and he was cleared of all charges. But Monica's sixth sense told her there was more to this story. Although her superiors had officially closed the case, she made it her hobby to keep tabs on the man.
Amir lived in a multimillion-dollar brownstone up in Dupont Circle and worked at his shiny headquarters in Manassas, Virginia, across the Potomac. But today he was breaking routine, heading in the direction opposite the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge.
Where are you going, asshole?
The Escalade slowed as it approached H Street, turned left toward Lafayette Square, and continued past the U.S. Department of Commerce. It finally pulled up beneath a large portico supported by four round tapered columns belonging to the prestigious Hay-Adams, a luxury boutique hotel resembling a 1920s mansion.
Monica parked illegally across the street in time to see one of Amir's bodyguards get out and open the rear door for his boss, who stepped out and waltzed into the lobby.
Climbing off and securing the helmet to the handlebars, she flashed her badge at a Metro PD cop signaling her to move the bike. Running across four lanes of traffic, she reached the front of the hotel just as the valet service drove off with the Escalade.
Amir's well-dressed bodyguard trio had just vanished beyond the glass front doors, held open by a bellhop. He was dressed in a tan jacket and trousers, with matching suspenders on a white shirt. A brown bow tie, a neatly folded handkerchief in the jacket's breast pocket, and smart two-tone brogues completed the period look.
As she approached the entrance, the bellhop, a man in his forties with broad shoulders and pristine black hair, smoothly closed the doors and blocked the way.
Smiling politely, he said, "Sorry. No vacancies."
Monica caught her reflection in the glass doors, guessing that her dark riding jacket, black jeans, and boots probably failed to live up to the dress code of one of Washington's premier hotels.
Pulling out her badge again, she said, "One just opened up. Step aside."
Eyes widening, the bellhop complied and opened the door while mumbling an apology. She ignored him and walked into the elegant lobby.
Square columns of dark mahogany rose to meet cream-colored ornamental arched ceilings under the soft glow of crystal chandeliers. Mozart flowed from unseen speakers. The place smelled of flowers.
Looking past the décor, Monica located her mark standing off to her far right, at the opposite end of the lobby. Amir was shaking hands with a man wearing what she recognized from her in-country days with the Rangers as traditional Saudi clothes. They included a thawb, an ankle-length shirt made of fine cotton. On his head, he wore a large cotton square folded diagonally over a skullcap. Next to the Saudi stood a bejeweled woman in a shiny black gown wearing perfect makeup and perfect hair adorned with a diamond-studded tiara. She reminded Monica of one of those extravagant Saudi princesses.
Amir's defensive linemen remained a respectful distance from their principal and the Saudi couple, forming a semicircle, protecting the pocket. Monica remembered them clearly from the investigation over a month ago. All three were Pakistani nationals who fell under their embassy's diplomatic immunity umbrella. And all three had treated her with stereotypical Muslim resentment for being a woman crossing into what they considered a man's world.
Monica surveyed the lobby once more and saw no one else, which she found strange, especially for a hotel as prestigious as the Hay-Adams. Then it dawned on her that the bellhop might have told the truth. There were no vacancies probably because the Saudis, in true form, had reserved the entire damn hotel.
Using the mahogany columns for cover, she slipped close enough to snap photos of the Saudis with her phone, zooming in on their faces — enough to run them through the Bureau's facial recognition software later.
The trio sat down around a cocktail table and seemed to discuss the contents of some brochures that Amir spread in front of them.
Excerpted from Without Mercy by David Hunt, R. J. Pineiro. Copyright © 2017 David Hunt and R. J. Pineiro. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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