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FROM USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR J. ROBERT KENNEDY
THE SYSTEM HAS FAILED
THE COUNTRY IS ON ITS KNEES
CAN DYLAN KANE SAVE IT BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE?
Despite his heroic efforts, CIA Special Agent Dylan Kane’s girlfriend is kidnapped by overwhelming forces in a brazen daylight assault. Later the same day, a series of crippling cyber-attacks bring the cities of America to a standstill, and a former assassin for a secretive cabal known as the Assembly, arrives at CIA Headquarters, claiming to know who is behind the hacks. She demands the assistance of Kane in eliminating her previous employers, and in exchange, will tell him where his partner is held.
With the cities starving and his girlfriend critically wounded, Kane is in a race against time to save not only the country he has sworn to protect, but the only woman he has ever loved.
And in the end, he may be forced to choose between the two.
From USA Today Bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy comes The Agenda, an action-packed page-turner torn from today’s headlines, that will leave you breathless until its riveting conclusion. Filled with intrigue and action, romance and humor, The Agenda delivers like only Kennedy can.
With over 800,000 books sold and over 3000 five-star reviews, USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy has been ranked by Amazon as the #1 Bestselling Action Adventure novelist based upon combined sales. He is the author of over thirty international bestsellers including the smash hit James Acton Thrillers. He lives with his wife and daughter and writes full-time.
"A master storyteller." — Betty Richard
"A writer who tells what we are thinking but sometimes afraid to say." — Bruce Ford
"Kennedy kicks ass in this genre." — David Mavity
"One of the best writers today." — Johnny Olsen
"If you want fast and furious, if you can cope with a high body count, most of all if you like to be hugely entertained, then you can't do much better than J Robert Kennedy." — Amazon Vine Voice Reviewer
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“We may get to the point where the only way of saving the world will be for industrial civilization to collapse.”
Maurice Strong, September 1st, 1997
“It is hardly possible to maintain seriously that the evil done by science is not altogether outweighed by the good. For example, if ten million lives were lost in every war, the net effect of science would still have been to increase the average length of life.”
G. H. Hardy, A Mathematician's Apology, 1940
The technologies described in this book are real, and the hacks described are technically possible, many having already occurred, a recent minor example the hacking of Dallas’ emergency sirens. The perfect storm described in this novel has yet to occur, but the rapid collapse of urban society is a near certainty should it.
As of 2010, over 80% of Americans lived in urban centers. In these massive cities, there is nearly zero food production—all food and water are transported in. Should a nation’s transportation system be compromised, and its fresh water systems threatened, those within the cities could find themselves thirsty and starving within days.
Leaving a simple, devastating question that demands to be answered by all law-abiding citizens.
When your child is starving, when your significant other runs out of their medication, and when your government appears powerless to stop those responsible, how long would it be before you took matters into your own hands, and acted to save your family?
Bronx, New York
Larissa Williams tightly gripped the package under her jacket, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, a difficult task with so few people on the streets. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, had already fled New York City in the aftermath of the attacks, yet millions still remained, huddled in their homes, terrified to go out. Under a dusk to dawn curfew, most voluntarily extended it to the daylight hours for their own protection.
The city was shut down.
Businesses were closed, transit was at a near standstill, and tens of thousands of cars were abandoned in the streets, paths cleared along major routes by the National Guard using bulldozers. During the first 48 hours, there had been rioting and looting, but the Guard now had orders to shoot looters on sight, returning a frightening calm to the city.
Her stomach rumbled.
As a nurse, she had been deemed essential personnel, so was first in line for rations if she showed up for work. Which she did. It was the right thing to do, but she didn’t do it for the food. In fact, she had passed on the rations. She had plenty of food at home.
Or rather, she did.
Her apartment had been looted, all their food and water taken, and the babysitter murdered, leaving her three kids alone until she could reach them. It had been hours since she had received the desperate call from her young son, and had heard nothing since, not even from her brother who had promised to help.
And yet that wasn’t what preoccupied her thoughts.
Before leaving the hospital, she had done something she felt horrible for doing, something she had never thought she could do.
She had become a thief. One of the very looters she had urged shot just yesterday.
All the food she had to feed her three kids was now gone, and they would be starving by tomorrow. She was racked with guilt, though felt justified, albeit only slightly. She was, after all, feeding children, not herself.
But what if she were caught?
Would the National Guard accept her reasoning? She doubted it. She’d probably be arrested, for she had taken food from the mouths of the sick and dying.
Yet she had no choice. Weren’t the lives of her three young children worth as much as the patients this food had been earmarked for? And many of those people were certain to die. Didn’t it make more sense to feed those who could live through this crisis?
The government kept promising relief, yet it never arrived. It could come tomorrow, or next month. Those responsible for the catastrophe promised it never would, and right now, she believed them more than Washington.
A glass bottle rolling on pavement had her head swiveling toward the alleyway she was passing.
“What you got there, lady?”
Her heart slammed as footfalls echoed.
Part of her didn’t want to look behind her, the prospect of seeing whoever was chasing her more terrifying than not knowing. She spotted a National Guard unit ahead at the next intersection, at least a dozen armed men that were there to protect her.
Yet she was a thief, breaking the law.
Would they shoot her for looting? And if they did, who would take care of her children? She glanced behind her, finding herself alone. One of the soldiers walked toward her, tapping his watch. “Five minutes, ma’am!”
“I-I’m almost home.”
He nodded at her, returning to his post. She dared not get any closer, the bulge in her jacket too obvious.
She took a chance.
She dashed down an alleyway, a foolish venture, yet she had little choice. Somebody grumbled from between two dumpsters, yet she pressed on as fast as she could. She could see the street just ahead, her apartment building on the other side, when two men stepped in front of her, blocking her path.
“What’s the hurry?”
She cried out, trying to push through, but it was useless. They grabbed her arms and the food she had managed to conceal for so long fell to the ground.
“Holy shit!” The two men scrambled for the loot, and she took advantage. She raced past them, bursting out onto the street, tears streaking her face as she rushed for the doors of her building, a siren wailing a warning of the impending curfew, and she left to wonder where the next meal for her children would come from.
Tonight, she had failed her family, her helpless children, and soon they’d be sick enough to join those in the hospitals, too weak to go on.
If they were still alive.
She unlocked the door to her apartment building, stepping inside and pulling it shut, feeling safer, though not safe. For in today’s America, friends and neighbors were no more. No one could be trusted. The country was collapsing, and the government was powerless to stop it. She had stolen food from the dying, then had it stolen from her.
And tomorrow, God willing, she would do it all over.
For there was no one left to help her.
She was on her own.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Three days earlier
CIA Special Agent Dylan Kane sprinted as hard as he could, a grin on his face, the hormones pulsing through his system giving him a natural high that only vigorous sex with a beautiful woman could provide.
Though that was frowned upon on the streets of Philadelphia.
He glanced over his shoulder to see the only woman he had ever loved keeping pace, less than ten feet behind him, taking advantage of the slight delays he encountered as he threaded his way through the crowds of pedestrians.
Lee Fang had changed his life in ways he could never have thought possible. He was madly in love with the former Chinese Special Forces soldier, the brave woman having chosen what was right over what was safe, forced to betray her country in order to save it. She now lived her life in exile in the United States, a grateful American government providing her with a pension and strict conditions that were driving her crazy.
She was a doer, a woman of action, with skills that would make most men envious, yet she was forbidden from using any of them, lest it attract attention. The Chinese had been quiet so far, no sabers rattled, insisting she be returned. And if she kept a low profile, along with a shut mouth, they’d probably leave it that way, though it meant never returning home, never holding down a fulfilling job, and lying to any friends she might make.
But with him, it was different.
He had been the one who had extracted her, who had saved her life, so she knew exactly who he was and what he did, and he her. It meant they could be completely open with each other, no secrets beyond operational.
They could be themselves.
Like right now.
Two highly competitive athletes, sprinting all-out in the streets of Philly, without, for a moment, a care in the world. His career as a spy, a member of the CIA’s Special Activities Division of the Special Operations Group, had been one of quiet distinction, a solitary life with few friends, and a family left in the dark, his relationship with his father estranged because of it.
His cover story as an insurance investigator for Shaws of London had never sat well with his father, especially after blindsiding him with the announcement he had left the military, a profession for which his father had tremendous respect. It had been a betrayal, never forgiven, and a sore spot at almost every rare family gathering, no matter how desperately his mother tried to keep the peace.
But that lonely life had changed when he had met Fang, though not immediately. She was a job, a package to deliver. Yet he had felt sorry for her, understanding her isolation, and that had led to an unexpected friendship that had quickly blossomed into much more.
He loved her.
He had even told her so.
He had told plenty of women he loved them over the years, his marks sometimes needing to hear those words before they spilled their secrets or offered up their bodies for clandestinely taken compromising photos.
But this had been the first time he had actually meant it.
Yet he was tormented, tormented by a secret eating away at him, a secret he could never share without shattering the heart of the woman he loved.
Somebody dropped on the sidewalk ahead of them, a crowd quickly gathering. Kane eased up and pushed through the crowd, an Asian man gripping his chest.
“I think he’s having a heart attack!”
Kane looked about. “Is there a doctor here?”
Two black SUVs skidded to a halt only feet away, Asian men—Chinese—pouring out.
He stepped back when the man on the ground suddenly grabbed him by the leg. Kane delivered several quick blows to the man’s throat, leaving him choking for air when Fang cried out. He glanced over his shoulder to see two men hauling her toward the open door of one of the vehicles. Kane reached for his gun, finding none.
He had left it at Fang’s apartment.
This was supposed to be a jog, one she took every day alone, one he took every day with her when visiting.
That’s how they knew where we’d be.
Apparently, the Chinese had been searching for her the entire time, and now they had her.
Not if I can help it.
He spotted a shoulder holster on the decoy and yanked the weapon, rolling to his side then popping up on a knee. He squeezed off two quick rounds, dropping one of the men holding Fang, then fired two more, eliminating the other. Fang grabbed their weapons, blasting double-barreled at the targets to her right as Kane continued to fire at those on her left. Six were down, another six remaining, when something hit him and every muscle in his body seized. He dropped to his knees, the sensation overwhelming, a sensation he had experienced in training and real life.
Somebody had tased him.
He collapsed to the ground, his entire body shaking, his muscles tensed to the point of exhaustion, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw the decoy holding the device with one hand, his heavily bruised throat with the other.
Fang cried out, rushing toward him when she too was tased from within one of the vehicles. She tumbled forward, smacking her head hard on the pavement. Kane tried to reach for her but couldn’t, completely incapacitated by the 50,000 volts coursing through his body. The surviving attackers grabbed her and hauled her inside the lead vehicle, its tires chirping as it sped away, the other quickly following.
Kane felt hands on him as onlookers, cowering moments ago, rushed to his aid. “Get me up,” he moaned, and he was hauled to his feet. He stumbled into the roadway, staring after the vehicles as he tried to regain control of his muscles. He heard the whine of a motorcycle engine behind him and turned, sticking out an arm and clotheslining the unfortunate rider. His shoulder almost dislocated as the Kawasaki careened out of control before falling on its side and skidding fifty feet.
He stumbled over and picked up the bike, climbing on and restarting it. He glanced in his side mirror and saw the crowds that had helped him, now help the new “victim.”
He gunned it, the front tire popping off the pavement for a few seconds as he tried to close the gap, when his eyes narrowed at the sight before him. He could see the SUVs in the distance, blasting through every intersection, the lights green the entire way ahead of them, and as they cleared, turning red.
This is way too well coordinated.
He pulled his phone from his armband and speed-dialed one of the few friends he had in the world, and the only person he could think of that might be able to help.
Leroux-White Residence, Fairfax Towers Falls Church, Virginia
CIA Analyst Supervisor Chris Leroux moaned in ecstasy as he leaned back in the tub, hot water enveloping his body, bubbles up past his nose. But all of that had been forgotten as his girlfriend, CIA Agent Sherrie White, sitting at the opposite end of the tub, worked her magic with her toes. It was exquisitely dirty, and as his eyes rolled back, he gasped out a warning that only encouraged her further.
His phone rang.
“Oh, God, don’t stop.”
She didn’t, though she did offer commentary. “That’s Dylan’s ringtone, isn’t it? Tomorrow I’m bringing some equipment from the office to sweep this place. There’s no way it’s just a coincidence every time we get in this tub together, he calls.”
“Oh, God, yes!”
“Is that a yes to sweeping the apartment, or something else?”
He sighed, his tension relieved, then gave her a look. “Yes to both.” He reached for his phone and swiped a wet thumb across the screen. “Hello?”
“Hey buddy, it’s me. I need your help.”
Leroux recognized the urgency in his friend’s voice and immediately began his one-handed struggle from the slippery tub, Sherrie becoming all business, her lithe, highly trained form leaping clear and offering a hand.
“Somebody just kidnapped Fang. I need eyes and I need them now.”
“Just a sec.” He put the call on speaker. “I’m at home with Sherrie. You’re on speaker.” He glanced at her as she quickly toweled his hands and arms dry, then her own. “Fang has been kidnapped. Call my team,” he whispered, then raised his voice as he headed naked for the living room, a trail of bubble bath and water behind him. Sherrie dialed her phone as he logged into his laptop. “Where are you?”
“I’m in Philly. I’ve lost sight of them, but I think they’re hacking the traffic signals. They were getting greens, and I kept getting reds.” Kane’s voice was strained, occasionally punctuated with the loud whine of what sounded like a motorcycle engine.
Sherrie stepped away slightly. “Hi Sonya, it’s Agent Sherrie White. Hold for Chris.” She sat beside him and pressed the phone to his ear.
“Sonya, it’s me. Assemble the team. I need access to the traffic cameras in Philly. Lock on to Special Agent Kane’s cellphone and look for a hack of the system, and—wait.” He leaned toward his phone, sitting on the living room table beside his laptop. “Dylan, what are we looking for?”
“Two black SUVs, Ford Expeditions. I’ve got a plate on the second vehicle.”
Sherrie held her phone close to Leroux’s as Kane read off the plate, then pressed it back against his ear. “Sonya, did you get that?”
“Yes, sir. Just a second.”
The voice of Randy Child, one of his young hot-shot analysts, jacked in. “Sir, it’s Randy. I’m seeing your hack. Looks like they’re just taking a straight shot east.”
“Can you give him some help on the lights?”
“Just a sec.”
Leroux heard keys tapping then Kane laughed. “Awesome. I’ve got greens!”
Child cut in. “He’s got green lights, but I can’t stop the hostiles. He might be able to catch up, though.”
Leroux frowned. “You can’t give them reds?”
“No, they’re in the system deeper than I am, but they seem to be just setting and forgetting them once they’re past. They’re heading somewhere in a hurry, and they seem to just want to get there first.”
Leroux exhaled loudly. “Any guesses?”
Tong replied. “They’re heading for the Delaware by the looks of it.”
Child cursed. “If they get there, they can put her on a boat, and we’ll never find her.”
Leroux exchanged a concerned look with Sherrie. “We need eyes in the sky.”
Tong was way ahead of him. “Sir, I’ve got someone on a motorcycle, and two black SUVs on camera. Patching the feeds to you now.”
Leroux watched his screen change to show a map with three pulsing dots. He smiled. “Dylan, you’re gaining fast. You should be on them any second now.”
“I see them.”
“Sonya, send local PD and notify the local FBI office. He’s going to need backup.”
“Copy that, already on with local PD now. They’re dispatching units.”
Child cut in. “FBI has been notified.”
“Good. Dylan, are you armed?”
Leroux pointed at Sherrie. “Get me the Director.”
Sherrie grabbed the landline and quickly dialed. “This is Agent Sherrie White for Director Morrison. We’ve got an urgent situation. Authentication code Niner-Alpha-Charlie-Echo-Four.” She waited, her finger tapping her naked thigh, when Kane cursed.
“Make sure you keep those locals out of my way!”
Leroux saw the problem, local police cruisers now chasing Kane, two cutting in front of him from side streets. “Sonya, deal with it.”
Leroux watched Kane gun his motorcycle and thread it between the two cruisers.
“I’ve got the Director.” Sherrie pressed the handset against Leroux’s free ear.
“Sir, this is Leroux. I’ve got Dylan on the other line. Someone has just kidnapped Lee Fang, and he’s in pursuit. I need clearance for him to take action.”
“Where is he?”
“Philadelphia. He’s in pursuit of two black SUVs, one with Lee aboard.”
“Also in pursuit, though at the moment they think Kane is a suspect.”
“Let the locals handle it. We can’t have an agent killing people on the streets of Philadelphia.”
Leroux frowned. “Umm, sir…”
“Tell him that’s an order, directly from me.”
Leroux closed his eyes. “Umm, okay. Dylan, the Director says to stand down and let the locals handle it.”
“You tell him to go fu—” There was a burst of static as the motorcycle engine overwhelmed Kane’s voice. “—himself.”
Morrison’s voice rose slightly. “What did he say?”
Leroux wasn’t sure what to do. He didn’t agree with Morrison’s order, yet the Director was right—technically. The problem was he was ignoring who Kane was. There was no way he’d stand down, not when Fang was involved. “I, umm, don’t think he heard me, sir. He’s on a motorcycle doing over sixty on city streets.”
Sherrie pointed at the screen, the three dots almost converging.
“Sir, he’s about to engage them. I need a go or no go.”
Morrison cursed. “Tell him he’s cleared to engage. Have him identify himself as a Homeland agent without his ID. I’ll get the identity live by the time they run it.”
Leroux grinned. “Thank you, sir!” He leaned toward his cellphone. “Dylan, you’re cleared! You’re now Homeland if asked.”
“Copy that. Engaging now.”
Kane drew the liberated Type 92 5.8mm semi-automatic pistol from his belt and took aim, squeezing off two rounds into the front tire of the second vehicle. It swerved hard to the right, hitting the curb and flipping on its side before sliding into a gas station. He ducked as it erupted into a fireball, cringing as he silently prayed any civilians were able to get clear. A quick glance in his rearview mirror showed the road behind him cut off, the police in pursuit now blocked.
He was alone.
Which was the way he liked it.
He closed the gap on the remaining vehicle Fang had been hauled into. Somebody leaned out the passenger side window, a JS 9mm submachine gun belching lead at him. He leaned to the left, the bullets tearing at the asphalt, then fired two rounds into the rear tire, allowing the driver at least some control. The vehicle careened to a halt and Kane braked hard, coming up directly behind it, the vehicle itself providing him with cover. He leaned to the right, squeezing off a single round, nailing the passenger in the side of the head as he foolishly stepped out.
Kane surged forward, the passenger door now open, and put two in the driver. He stepped up and aimed into the rear, finding only Fang, bound and gagged. He leaned forward and snapped the zip ties with a jerk of the blade hidden in his keychain, then yanked the gag free.
“Then let’s get the hell out of here.”
Fang hopped out the rear door and Kane stepped down, quickly surveying the area for new arrivals. Flashing lights were quickly approaching, the police having made it past the fireball roadblock.
He turned to Fang. “I’m with Homeland Security if anyone asks. Special Agent Dylan Kane. I don’t have my ID, it’s back at the apartment.”
“What if they ask to see it?”
“It’ll be there by the time we get back. Don’t worry.”
A chopper thundered overhead and he looked up, shielding his eyes from the sunlight behind the silhouette.
It finally came into focus, a black civilian chopper with a large dome mounted on the side, aimed directly at them. A crushing, earsplitting screeching sound erupted, overwhelming his senses. He squeezed his eyes shut, grabbing at his ears as the air sucked out of his lungs. Fang cried out beside him, dropping to the ground in agony. He raised the weapon to fire, but it meant uncovering an ear, the excruciating pain too much, forcing him to drop the gun and press as hard as he could against his ears as he collapsed to his knees.
The chopper landed, and between forced blinks, he saw several men with ear protection jump out. They grabbed Fang and hauled her inside, another man walking over to him and bending down. He shouted something at him, but between clenching shut his eyes and jamming his palms into his ears, he could hear nothing, and only lip-read the last word.
The man rose and climbed into the chopper. It lifted off, the incredible din finally subsiding as it banked away. Kane picked up the gun, but it was no use. They were gone. She was gone.
And he had failed.
Leroux-White Residence, Fairfax Towers Falls Church, Virginia
“What the hell was that?” Chris Leroux stared at his laptop screen, watching as the helicopter took off, the camera feeds returning after momentarily experiencing major interference.
“I don’t know,” replied Sonya Tong.
“Where’s that chopper heading?”
“Okay, track it. I’m coming in.”
Sherrie hung up the landline, the Director apparently ending the conversation. She disappeared into the bedroom.
“Dylan, can you hear me?” There was no reply, but he could see from the footage that Kane was alive. He finally responded.
“Hey, buddy. They got her.” There was a burst of static. “The bastards got her. Please tell me you’re tracking that chopper.”
“We are. It’s heading east. I’ll have a destination for you shortly.”
“Okay, I’ll wait for your call.”
“I’m heading to Langley now. Remember your cover.”
“Yeah, looks like I’m about to use it. I’ll call you back in a few.”
Kane’s voice was replaced by shouts as Leroux watched local police surround his friend, dozens of weapons pointed at him. The call went dead as Sherrie reemerged, clothed, carrying an armful for him.
“I’ll come in with you, just in case there’s something I can do.”
Leroux nodded, turning his attention to the last call he was connected to. “Sonya, I’ll be in shortly. Keep me posted if anything happens.”
He ended the call then quickly toweled off before slipping on his underwear. He sat, awkwardly catching the pair of rolled up socks Sherrie tossed at him, batting them about several times before finally snagging them.
I’m definitely not a sports guy.
“It’s gotta be the Chinese.” Sherrie handed him a shirt. “They were after her, not him. He wasn’t even a target, otherwise they would have shot him when they took her.”
Leroux agreed. “They’ve clearly been looking for her since she defected, so it makes sense. They don’t like loose ends, especially loose ends that know state secrets.” He stepped into the bathroom, applied antiperspirant, then a spray of Yves Saint Laurent cologne.
Sherrie leaned in and inhaled deeply. “Mmm, love that stuff.”
He eyed her in the mirror as he buttoned up his shirt. “Don’t get any ideas.”
She patted his package. “I know, I know. Business time.”
Leroux pulled his pants on and stuffed his shirttails inside. “Belt?” Sherrie disappeared then returned a moment later with one as he zipped his pants. He quickly fed the belt through the loops as his phone rang. Sherrie put it on speaker for him.
“Sir, it’s Sonya. We’ve got a destination on the chopper. It landed on the roof of Temple University Hospital.”
Leroux’s eyebrows rose as he buckled his belt. “Okay, send the locals to that address immediately, and make sure Kane knows.”
“They’re already on their way, sir, and I’ve texted the destination to Special Agent Kane’s phone.”
Leroux headed for the door to their apartment. “Good work. I’m about to leave. ETA twenty minutes.” He stuffed his feet into his shoes, leaning over to pull them on, the laces still tied from last night.
Sherrie opened the door and gasped as two men stepped inside, one holding a gun, the other something in his hand. A spraying sound was followed by a fine mist, aimed at Sherrie’s face. She collapsed without a sound, the spray turned on Leroux. He spun but felt himself fading, the world closing in around him as whatever he had inhaled took effect. Someone stepped beside him and a voice said something in his ear, though what it was, he had no clue.
He was already done.
Operations Center 2, CIA Headquarters Langley, Virginia
Sonya Tong pressed her finger against her earpiece. “What did he say?”
Randy Child shook his head. “Something is eternal?” He leaned back in his chair. “What the hell does that mean?”
Tong stared at him, puzzled, then gasped. “Wait a minute! The Assembly is eternal! Holy shit! We need to tell the Director, now!” Tong pointed at Child. “Do it!” She reactivated her headset. “Sir, can you hear me? Sir!” No response. “Chris!” The desperation in her voice had probably just revealed to everyone in the room her true feelings for her boss. She was infatuated with him, yet it was never to be. His heart belonged to the beautiful, sexy, stylish, intelligent, exciting, Sherrie White.
And what was she?
Just a dorky mid-level analyst with no fashion sense, that had a hard time looking anyone in the eye, let alone making conversation. She would forever be a wallflower, while women like Sherrie would dominate the dating pool. She was definitely intensely jealous of her, though she’d never wish her any harm.
Did she want them to break up?
Every damned day.
But she’d never want their relationship to end like this, with her death. It would hurt her dear Chris too much, and she’d never want to see that. Though if she played her cards right, and were there to console him—she stopped the thought.
She held up a finger, silencing the room as she heard footsteps then a door close, the call still open, but no one responding. She turned to Randy Child. “Get me footage of their lobby, now.” Fingers flew and Leroux’s lobby camera appeared on the main screen of the operations center. Four men exited the elevator, one pushing a large box on a dolly. “That has to be them. I need external cameras. And notify the locals about a possible assault and kidnapping.”
Child shoved a thumb up in the air, covering his mouthpiece. “The Director just dispatched a team by chopper. Patching you in now. You’re Control.”
Tong caught her breath. She had never been Control before—that was Leroux’s job. She was just an analyst, and she was compromised due to her emotional connection to the subject, yet she couldn’t exactly tell the room that and cede operational control to someone even more junior than her.
She squared her shoulders and drew a deep breath, imagining what Leroux would do in this situation. She heard a burst of static.
“Control, this is Echo Leader. Status on the hostiles?”
Tong gulped, then snapped her fingers like she had seen Leroux do a hundred times before, pointing at the screen. Child brought up cameras showing the four men climbing into a vehicle after loading the crate in the back.
“Echo Leader, this is Control. Four hostiles in a black SUV, leaving Pimmit Drive, turning north onto Leesburg Pike. They loaded a large crate into the back that we believe contains either Analyst Supervisor Chris Leroux, or Agent Sherrie White, perhaps both, over.” She stunned herself with her confident delivery, though her hands trembled.
“Copy that. ETA five minutes. Keep us posted of any changes, over.”
“Roger that, Echo Leader, Control out.” She tapped a key at her station, muting her end of the conversation, her heart racing with the excitement and pressure of being in charge as she dropped into her chair, about to close her eyes. The door to the operations center burst open and National Clandestine Service Chief Leif Morrison entered.
Tong leaped to her feet, stepping to the center of the room as Leroux would have. She pointed at the screen, traffic camera footage actively tracking the hostiles. “Director, sir, Rapid Reaction Force is en route via chopper. We believe four hostiles have taken either Leroux and-or White, and are headed…”—she glanced at Child—“Still northbound on Leesburg?” Child nodded as Morrison’s eyes narrowed.
“Believe? You’re not sure they’ve been taken?”
She shook her head. “They exited the apartment building with a crate large enough to hold at least one person, but we have no confirmation on whether or not anyone was actually taken.”
Tong glanced at Child.
“Both are still showing at their apartment, and Leroux’s is still connected to us.”
Tong turned to Morrison, explaining. “I was on with him when the attack occurred. I heard someone say ‘The Assembly is eternal.’”
Morrison froze then his eyes widened slightly. “You’re sure someone said, ‘The Assembly is eternal?’”
She glanced around the room, everyone nodding. “Yes, sir. That’s the consensus.”
Morrison tossed his head back and cursed. “We knew they’d eventually come back, but not like this. When we named a few during that Titanic business, we thought that would be enough to warn them off. But to try and kidnap our people? That’s ballsy!”
“But they didn’t just target our people.”
Morrison’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, they kidnapped Fang.”
“Do we know that?”
Tong paused. “Umm, well, no, but I can’t believe it’s a coincidence. Two abductions, minutes apart?”
Morrison pursed his lips then nodded. “Agreed. Let’s go under the assumption it wasn’t the Chinese but the Assembly. You were saying?”
“They didn’t just target our people. Fang’s not one of us. It was as if they didn’t care about Dylan at all.”
Child spun in his chair, his head tilted back. “Not entirely accurate.”
Tong tensed slightly at the cockiness of the youngest member of the team. “Excuse me?”
Child dropped a foot on the floor, halting his spin. “If they didn’t care about him, they would have just killed him, but they didn’t. I think we’re looking at this all wrong.”
Morrison eyed him. “Explain.”
“They took Fang because she’s important to Kane. I’m willing to bet they took Agent White because she’s important to Leroux. Who are the biggest thorns in the side of the Assembly? Kane and Leroux.”
Tong’s eyes popped wide as she realized what Child was getting at. “They’re leverage! They’re going to use them as leverage over Kane and Chris!”
Morrison’s head bobbed slowly as he folded his arms, a finger tapping his chin. “Makes sense and fits the facts, if Agent White was the one who was kidnapped. And if you’re right—”
“Then they must be planning something big, and they don’t want any interference from us meddling kids!” Child spun in his chair.
Morrison chuckled as Tong shook her head.
“Scooby-Doo references aside, we need to know what happened at Chris’—I mean Mr. Leroux’s—apartment.” Tong turned to Child. “Have the locals arrived yet?”
“ETA less than five.”
“And our Rapid Reaction Team?”
“About to overtake the vehicle.”
Fairfax Blvd, Fairfax, Virginia
CIA Special Agent Brooklyn Tanner, officially on loan to Homeland Security so she and her team could operate legally on American soil, leaned out the side of the Bell 412EP helicopter, her FN P90 strapped to her chest, gripped loosely as she eyed the road ahead. The latest update was that the target SUV was still heading north with no deviation in course, and was obeying all traffic laws, likely trying to draw as little attention to themselves as possible.
Which was idiocy.
What made anyone think they could kidnap CIA personnel only miles from Langley, and not trigger a rapid, unforgiving response?
You don’t mess with our agents. Especially on our soil.
The chopper roared up beside the SUV, about fifty feet overhead on the driver side.
“Signal them to stop!”
The pilot nodded, activating the loudspeaker. “Driver of the black SUV. Stop your vehicle immediately. I say again, stop your vehicle immediately!”
The SUV continued with traffic, though the traffic was thinning, those that had spotted the helicopter, backing off, leaving a wide gap behind the vehicle.
“Tell them we’ll open fire.”
“Driver of the black SUV. Stop your vehicle immediately, or we will open fire! I say again, stop your vehicle immediately, or we will open fire!”
Tanner shrugged at her team. “Oh well, they were warned.” She leaned out and took aim at the rear driver side tire and squeezed the trigger, pumping three rounds into the rubber. The vehicle swerved slightly then rapidly slowed to a stop. The chopper blew past, the pilot banking hard. She let herself drop out the side of the helicopter, her feet on the skid as the harness held her in place, her weapon trained on the windshield where the driver should be.
Where the driver should be.
“There’s nobody driving! Get us down, now!”
The pilot complied, pulling up and dropping them fast and hard. One of her men unclipped her from the harness as they hit and she jumped out, sprinting to the side of the vehicle as her team followed, quickly surrounding the black SUV, the tinted windows giving no hint as to what they were facing. The vehicle’s engine was turned off and its flashers were on, traffic on both sides of the boulevard slowing to a halt as the chopper’s rotors continued to thump at the pavement.
“Lower your windows, now!”
“Lower your windows, or we will treat you as hostile and kill you!”
She motioned to two of her men and they surged forward as the others covered them. The first smacked a window breaker against the large rear window and it shattered, the second tossing a flash-bang inside. Tanner turned her head away slightly, her Sonic Defender earplugs protecting her from the overwhelming explosion, her sunglasses muting the flash.
And again, nothing.
She stepped forward and yanked on the driver’s door. It was locked. She smashed the window with the butt of her weapon then stepped back as smoke billowed out, her P90 trained on what was an empty seat. The others did the same, smashing all the windows, the smoke from the grenade quickly dissipating, revealing an empty vehicle. She activated her comm.
“Control, Echo Leader. We’ve got an empty vehicle here. Did you see anyone leave when we stopped it, over?”
“Negative, Echo Leader. Nobody left the vehicle.”
Tanner shook her head. “Then, Control, either they were never in this thing, or there’s a ghost in the machine.”
“Hey Brooklyn, check this out.”
Tanner leaned into the vehicle, one of her men, Agent Michael Lyons, pointing at the navigation display, a warning message flashing.
Tire pressure reduced. Emergency override engaged.
“What the hell is that?”
She checked where Lyons was pointing, a device sitting on the dash with wires extending through the sunroof. She stepped out and looked at a small black dome sitting on the roof. “Umm, Control, we’re going to need some techs out here. I think this thing has been customized so it can either drive itself, or be driven remotely.”
“Copy that, Echo Leader. Is there any sign of our agents?”
Tanner leaned back inside, finding no crate or anything else to suggest it had ever been there. “Negative, Control. The vehicle is completely empty. Retrace the route and see where they got out, over.”
“Retracing the route now, Echo Leader. Stand by.”
Tanner headed for the chopper as local police vehicles began to arrive, her heavily armed team causing some hesitation in how to respond. She pointed at Lyons. “Go settle them down before they start shooting.”
He grinned. “Yes, ma’am!” He jogged over, holding up his Homeland ID, weapons lowering, tensions eased.
She leaned into the chopper. “Let’s get airborne just in case we get lucky.”
Operations Center 2, CIA Headquarters Langley, Virginia
Sonya Tong stood in the center of the room, the pressure of an operation gone bad weighing heavily on her shoulders, and now she realized the pressure her boss and fantasy, Chris Leroux, must feel every time he was in command. She didn’t envy him, and understood why he had been reluctant to take on the role.
She glanced at Director Morrison, the man who had forced him into the job, still standing at her side, watching as the chopper powered back up. “I’m sorry, sir. I screwed up.”
He continued to stare at the display. “Screw-ups happen. It’s what you do next that matters.”
She nodded, then turned to the team. “Okay, let’s retrace the route. Look for any gaps. We need to see when they were out of our sight, then see if they took longer than they should have to get to the next point.”
“You got it.” Child hammered away at his keyboard, the screens rapidly following all the shots they had of the SUV, a simulated route running beside it, as the gaps in the cameras were too many for a complete picture. “Okay, here they went under this bridge. We don’t have any footage of them, but when they do appear, they’re about 40 seconds later than they should be.”
Tong shot a smile at Morrison, who responded with a frown.
And he was right.
It meant she really had screwed up. She should have caught the discrepancy earlier, but hadn’t, and now Chris and Agent White might be lost.
She activated her comm. “Echo Leader, Control. We’ve got a new location for you. Relaying coordinates now.” She snapped her fingers and Child tapped at his keyboard then gave a thumbs up. “Confirm receipt, over.”
“Confirmed, en route now. ETA two minutes.”
Tong turned to the team. “They won’t be there. Let’s analyze all the footage of the vehicles in the area at the time the exchange must have happened. See if we can spot them. Look for vehicles that head under the bridge, but don’t come out. This was well-planned and well-coordinated. They wouldn’t sit around for too long because they wouldn’t want to risk detection, so let’s start about five minutes before the phone call from Chris.”
Heads bobbed and the screen filled with time-segmented views of the two traffic cameras showing the bridge underpass, the analysts splitting up the work by timecode. She itched to return to her station to help, but that wasn’t her job. She was Control. And it shouldn’t take long to spot an anomaly, regardless, then hopefully they’d trace where the second vehicle had gone.
Child held up a hand, as if still in school. “Umm, Sonya, locals are entering Leroux’s apartment now.”
She sucked in a deep breath and closed her eyes, saying a silent prayer.
Please God, let him be okay!
Leroux-White Residence, Fairfax Towers Falls Church, Virginia
“Hey, buddy, you okay?”
Chris Leroux groaned, then grunted when someone smacked his face, too firmly for his liking.
He opened his eyes, blinking them rapidly, then raised a hand to block the next friendly smack. “Yeah. What happened?”
“Not sure, you were out cold when we got here.”
He pushed up on his elbows and moaned, his head throbbing. He grabbed his temples with one hand and massaged them as he closed his eyes. “What the hell was in that?”
“They sprayed me with something. They sprayed both of—” He sat up, spinning his head back and forth, searching for Sherrie, his head pounding in protest. “Where is she?”
“My girlfriend. They sprayed her, too!”
“There’s no one else in the apartment.” The cop stood and extended a hand. Leroux took it and he was hauled to his feet, the world spinning. He reached out for a wall, finding empty space instead. The cop grabbed him and held him steady. “Woah, buddy, let’s get you onto that couch.”
Leroux nodded, regretting the movement, and carefully made his way to the couch, helped by two officers. He sat, and someone brought him a bottle of water from his fridge.
Leroux took the bottle and downed almost half of it, his mouth parched. “How long was I out?”
“We’ve been here about five minutes. Dispatch says they received the call five minutes before that, so I guess ten minutes?”
Leroux’s eyes widened. “Shit! That’s an eternity. We’ve gotta start tracking her. Any leads?”
The cop chuckled. “I think you’ve been watching too many cop shows. Why don’t you leave the investigation to us?”
Leroux pushed to his feet. “I’m CIA.” He looked about. “Where’s my phone?”
Another cop held up a plastic bag. “Is this it?”
“Yeah. I need that.”
“It’s mine, not theirs.”
“Are you sure? It was connected to a call when we got here. The woman refused to identify herself, only demanded to talk to Chris Leroux. Is that you?”
“One of my staff. I was talking to her when we were attacked.”
The cop’s eyes narrowed. “You’ve got staff at the CIA? Aren’t you a little young?”
Leroux stepped forward, grabbing the plastic bag with his phone. “Apparently not.” He pulled it out and redialed.
“Sonya, it’s me. They took Sherrie!”
“Oh, thank God you’re okay! I was so worried about you! When I didn’t—”
“No time for that, Sonya. What’s the status?”
“A Rapid Response Team took down the SUV that had Sherrie, but it was empty—driven by some sort of autonomous set-up. We’ve got a tech-team heading there. We found where they did the switch and are analyzing footage now.”
“Do we know who’s behind it?”
“You didn’t hear what he said?”
“No, they sprayed us with something and I passed out.” His eyes narrowed. “What did he say?”
“Just before I guess you passed out, we heard a voice say, ‘The Assembly is eternal.’”
Leroux closed his eyes as his heart pounded. If the Assembly was back, and were indeed behind the kidnapping of Sherrie, and possibly the too coincidental kidnapping of Lee Fang, then they were up to something, and it had to be big. “What’s the status on Lee Fang?”
“Still missing. They’re converging on the last known location now.”
“Okay, I’ll be there in twenty.” He turned to the officer who appeared in charge. “I have to get to Langley, now. Am I free to go?”
The cop shrugged. “You’re the victim, so I guess so. I’ll need to take a statement, though, otherwise this investigation is going nowhere, fast.”
Leroux strode toward the door. “Trust me, with the people they pissed off today, they’re not getting away with this.”
Leroux chuckled. “If I told you, I’d have to have you killed.”
Temple University Hospital Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Dylan Kane jumped out of the police vehicle the moment it stopped, though with no badge to flash, he had to wait for his escort, who seemed far less committed to the urgency of the matter. Kane finally strode toward the command center set up in the parking structure across from the main entrance of the hospital, a heavy police presence in evidence surrounding the building. “Who’s in charge here?”
A grizzled but vibrant fifty-something officer, pouring over a map laid out on a table, stood straight. “I am. Chief Inspector Scott Meinke. Who the hell are you?”
“Special Agent Kane, Homeland. That’s my partner that was kidnapped. What’s your status?”
Meinke glanced at Kane’s assigned escort, who gave him a slight nod. “We’ve got the entire building surrounded as of five minutes ago, but the chopper landed ten minutes before we could secure all the exits.”
Kane frowned, the update as he had feared.
She’s long gone.
Meinke shook his head. “I can’t authorize that. This is Philadelphia, not Poughkeepsie. The perimeter I’d have to set up is just too big. If they’re not in the building, then they’re already gone.”
Kane drew a deep breath, biting his tongue. The man was right. If they had made it out, which he had no doubt they had, then they would be nowhere near here. “Okay, we’ll need to review footage. See if there’s anything—”
“We know how to do our job, Special Agent. If we need Homeland’s help, we’ll let you know.”
Kane spun on his heel before he crushed the man’s larynx. Meinke was right. This was his city, and these were trained professionals.
And he didn’t need them, regardless.
He had no doubt Langley was already reviewing the footage, though their attention would be split if the update he had received before arriving were true.
Sherrie White had been kidnapped, his only friend besides Fang in the world had been assaulted, and the Assembly was back.