McDonald, Murray

Divide and Conquer

Chapter 1

The crinkle underfoot sent a shiver down his spine. The wall-to-wall plastic sheeting was a sinister addition to the hotel room decor. Sean reached for his gun but was too late. The club landed at the base of his skull and sent him crashing to the floor.

He opened his eyes and looked straight into the eyes of his boss. Fat Jake Lombardi, the Texan drug lord, stared back. The disappointment in his eyes was evident. Sean, his bodyguard, had failed him.

Sean counted at least six Mexicans in the room where he and Jake were gagged and bound by the ankles and wrists to the legs and arms of their chairs.

He watched helplessly as the disappointment in Jake’s eyes turned to panic. Jake struggled wildly against his bindings as an ear splitting scream filled the room. Sean turned his head as far as he could in an attempt to see what Jake was looking at, just in time to see the final breath of Jake’s other bodyguard. Sliced from navel to throat, it was not a pleasant sight, particularly as he was the only other person in the world who knew where they were and was, in effect, their last hope.

Once a month, they had crossed the border into Nuevo Laredo and met Jake’s Mexican supplier without incident. Up until they had stepped onto the plastic sheeting, everything had been exactly as normal, even down to the suite they always used. It was normally the highlight of the month. Once the cash had changed hands, the Mexican supplier would arrange for a number of young and beautiful Mexican women to join them and celebrate the deal.

Sean watched the Mexican who had just slit his friend wide open, wipe his blade on his trousers and walk towards him and Jake, with a grin on his face.

“Gentlemen,” he offered, in a heavily accented voice, the G almost an H. “I need some information.”

Jake nodded his head frantically. The sight of one of his bodyguards lying cut wide open in front of him was more than enough persuasion. The five other Mexicans and their automatic weapons didn’t even figure in Jake’s equation. The Mexican with the knife was a lunatic. Jake had watched him lick his lips and smile as he worked the razor-sharp knife through the bodyguard’s torso.

Jake talked for his life. The Mexican listened coolly as Jake detailed the route used to move the drugs across the border and his distribution network beyond. He offered assistance on an ongoing basis should they require it and offered up Sean as an excellent operative. Even detailing his credentials — martial arts expert, ex Special Forces and CIA Special Operations Group operative. The Mexican looked at Sean with interest, an eyebrow rising as Jake detailed Sean’s accomplishments as a highly trained killer.

When Jake finally stopped talking, the Mexican turned to one of the other Mexicans and received a nod and a “ I have it all, El Jefe.”

Sean knew that 'El Jefe’ meant 'The Boss’, which was pretty evident in any event; the rest of the Mexicans were extremely deferential to the knife-carrying Jefe.

El Jefe looked into Jake’s eyes and smiled before turning around to face Sean. As he turned, he swept his hand around and, almost as an afterthought but with total disdain, he slit Jake’s throat from ear to ear. The razor sharp knife sliced through the bone and cartilage as though they were paper and Jake’s head lolled back, barely clinging on to the body.

Sean’s stomach churned at the horrific sight before him and struggled to hold down its content. He had to stay strong. El Jefe raised his knife and slit Sean’s bindings, first at the ankles and then at the wrists before removing the tape from his mouth. Sean inwardly thanked Jake. His sales pitch had worked after all. Sean stood up at El Jefe’s behest and was relieved when the men were instructed to lower their weapons and remove the two bodies that were cluttering the room.

Sean remained stationary as Fat Jake’s body, together with the other bodyguard’s body, was tossed unceremoniously into the bathroom, also joining their old Mexican supplier’s body.

“So, you’re ex-delta Force?” asked El Jefe, once the room was finally cleared.

Sean realized he had to show his mettle and replied forcefully.

“Yes,” he said, pulling himself up to his full 6 foot 3 inches and pushing out his powerful and muscular 46” chest. The Mexican stood a good 4 inches shorter but was an intimidating figure in his own right. His face was battle hardened and his white t-shirt strained over the muscles underneath, revealing the toned physique of a man in his prime. The sprays of red that now decorated the crisp whiteness of the t-shirt added to his manic grin and evidenced the deranged killer within.

“I was GAFE myself!” he offered.

Sean looked at him blankly.

“Mexican Special Forces,” he explained angrily, realizing that Sean had not understood what he meant.

Sean watched as the five other Mexicans backed up and created space in the room. El Jefe stepped back and spoke to his men in Spanish so quickly that despite understanding enough Spanish to get by, Sean caught little of what was said.

“I was just saying,” he said, in his heavy accent. “That should you beat me in a fight, my men will let you go.”

Sean raised his hands. “Wait a minute, there’s been some mistake here!”

El Jefe was done with talking and threw the first punch which he was surprised to land as he had expected Sean to deflect it. Sean took the punch on the chin and rocked backwards. El Jefe spun and delivered a roundhouse kick, again to Sean’s head. Sean fell to the floor.

El Jefe screamed in frustration. As a champion fighter, he thrilled at the competition but so far, the ex delta Force soldier was putting up absolutely no fight. On hearing Jake’s description of Sean’s exploits, he had been excited at the prospect of a real fight, something he had not had for years. Of course, he was well aware of Sean’s background. The operation to take over Jake’s drug business had been well planned and his companions’ and bodyguards’ histories checked. El Jefe knew all the details of Sean’s illustrious background, his decorations, his work for the CIA, his martial arts trophies and championships. What he had not known were the stories that Fat Jake had told of Sean’s exploits, the details of his missions and they had just added to the anticipation of the fight he would have, to the death, with one of America’s greatest warriors. It was not by luck that Sean had been spared and the other bodyguard slaughtered, it was by design.

El Jefe looked down as Sean struggled to recover from the two blows that had floored him. The anger welling inside him, he had spent the last week training night and day for this moment and the warrior lay at his feet like a sniveling child. Sean struggled to his knees and again raised his hands in an attempt to stop the fight.

El Jefe had had enough. He pulled out a knife from its sheath and advanced on Sean. His men called him El Jefe but everyone else called him El Carnicero, 'The Butcher’ and Sean spent the next six hours experiencing just how skilled El Carnicero was with a knife. El Carnicero had once managed to keep a man alive for ten hours and by that point there had been little left but torso and head. Fortunately, Sean’s heart stopped beating after six hours when he could take no more.

Chapter 2

New York, Newark Airport

Three months later

As he walked into the Immigration Hall, he breathed a sigh of relief. The queues were minimal. To the surprise of his fellow travelers, he selected the US Passport Holders’ line and began to think of the hotel suite that awaited him. After six months in Afghanistan, living and breathing like a local, all he could think of was a steak, a bath and a shave. The much-needed haircut would wait until later.

“Next!”

The shout from the immigration officer brought him one step closer.

“Good morning, Sir,” offered the deadpan official.

“Good morning,” he replied, handing over his passport. His American accent surprised the official.

As the official swiped the passport, a look that did not equate to a welcome home crossed his face.

“Is there a problem, Officer?” he asked, suddenly aware of exactly that.

“No, Sir. Just routine,” lied the officer as two of his colleagues approached the passenger, having been alerted the moment the passport had been swiped.

He felt the two colleagues before he saw them, each grabbing an arm.

“Would you mind coming with us please, Sir?”

The question was rhetorical; the grip on his arm and the guiding motion allowed for no other option. A locked room awaited, with three chairs, one table, one camera and four blank walls. After thirty minutes of sitting facing two empty chairs, the door opened and two men entered the room. One was middle aged and held himself half-heartedly, shuffling into the room as though it were the last place he wanted to be. The other was younger, brighter, more alert, larger but moved like a man half his size. The older guy was the man, thought the passenger.

A passport was placed on the table as the two men sat down. No words, just the passport placed carefully on the table, the writing facing the passenger. It was his passport; he recognized the creases on the bottom right corner.

“I’m Mr Smith,” announced the older man. He didn’t bother to introduce his younger colleague. “So, Mr…” he stopped, waiting for the passenger to confirm his name, a first test. Did he even know the name on the passport?

“Fox, as my passport no doubt has informed you,” replied the passenger. He wasn’t going to be intimidated.

“Your passport has informed us of many things, Mr Fox,” he emphasized sarcastically. “Most importantly that it ain’t yours!”

“Sorry?” he asked, incredulous. Having used many passports over the years that weren’t his, to be accused of his legitimate one not being real, was rather ironic.

Smith held out his hand to his colleague and received a file which he opened and laid in front of him. “Were you in the army, Mr Fox?”

“Yes.”

“Any particular branch?”

“Yes but that’s classified, above your pay grade,” smiled Mr Fox. He would play them at their own game.

Smith did not react. Not good. A low-level immigration official would have risen to the bait. Smith was obviously not immigration and he was probably way above the pay grade.

“Any other branch of government?” Smith moved on.

“Yes,” replied Mr Fox simply.

“Which one?”

“Can’t remember.”

“Are you still employed by the government?”

“No.”

“Who do you work for now?”

“Myself.” He was tired and his hotel suite was beckoning. “What is this all about?” asked Mr. Fox.

“Any siblings, brothers or sisters?” clarified Smith, ignoring the question.

“No, none.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely, only child, my mom struggled to even have me. What the hell is this all about?”

Smith put out his hand and three sheets of paper were delivered by his young colleague. Smith selected one of the sheets before laying it in front of Mr. Fox.

It was a printout of the front page from the Laredo Morning Times. 'Medal of Honor Winner Slain By Drug Gangs’ was the headline.

A fellow winner had been slain. Mr. Fox was instantly outraged and read on. Captain Sean Fox’s (retired) mutilated body was delivered to his young widow…

A Medal of Honor winner with his name had been murdered, shocking but no relation, at least as far as he knew. His parents had died in a car crash when he was fifteen so he wasn’t great on knowing his extended family. He read on.

…by UPS. The gruesome contents of the parcel were identified by DNA as formal identification of the remains was not possible. The son of ex Chief of Staff General James Fox…

Sean’s head shot up at his questioner. That was his father!

As Smith gathered that Mr Fox had hit the point of realization, he pushed a second page across the table. The photo of Sean Fox in uniform next to a very attractive young woman stared up at him.

“Yep, that’s me but I don’t know who she is, don’t remember this one being taken,” he offered.

“Your wife on your wedding day?”

“I’m not married.”

A third sheet was a wedding certificate. His wife’s name was Katie.

“Doesn’t look much like you, no beard, well groomed hair and I’d say this guy was a good thirty pounds heavier.” The questioner pointed to the wedding photo and opened the passport to the photo page; it matched the wedding photo.

“Six months in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban,” offered Sean, tugging at the beard and ruffling his unkempt hair. The weather-beaten skin that was not otherwise hidden by facial hair was brown and leathery. His clothing, straight from Kabul, didn’t help prove his identity as the handsome clean-cut all-American hero he was claiming to be.

Smith shook his head. “Honestly, after everything I’ve just shown you, you’re still seriously claiming to be Sean Fox who died three months ago? And looks nothing like you?”

Sean nodded his head vigorously. “That is me,” he pointed at both photos. “And that’s obviously not me,” he said pointing to the headline proclaiming his death. “I’ve heard of identity theft but this is ridiculous!” shouted Sean, now outraged.

Smith stood up. “I tried,” he turned to his younger colleague. “Your turn,” and left the room. Sean noted the red light on the camera go out as the door closed.

The young man stood up. At 6’8” and 280lbs, he was a formidable sight, even to Sean.

As he reached down into his briefcase, Sean braced himself. Expecting the worst, he positioned himself in his seat ready to retaliate to any attack. He relaxed as the young man pulled out a small plastic tube, removed its stopper and retrieved a wooden swab.

“Can you open your mouth, please?” he asked very courteously.

Sean opened his mouth and the swab was run along the inside of his cheek. The swab was re-inserted into the tube along with the stopper.

“Thank you,” he offered before leaving and closing the door behind him. The door clicked after closing; it was locked again.

Sean figured it would be a few hours for the results to come through and another couple of hours while they re-checked them. Whoever was in that photo looked like Sean Fox but it obviously wasn’t. Sean was alive and well and sitting in an interview room at Newark. How they messed up the DNA check he didn’t know but it would be cleared up soon enough. All Sean knew was that the wife he didn’t know was in for a hell of a shock.

Chapter 3

CIA Headquarters

Langley, Virginia

Vincent Black couldn’t have had a more apt surname if he had been able to pick it himself. He was Director of the National Clandestine Services (NCS) Division within the CIA; assassinations, political action, covert operations, pretty much anything the US wanted to influence, but deny knowledge of, fell under Vincent Black. Or, as he was more affectionately known, due to his being the Master of the Dark Arts, 'V’. Whether he knew the reference to Voldemort from the Harry Potter novels or not, he appeared to be more than happy with the acronym.

Black had personally approved every man that had entered his service since his appointment over 15 years earlier. In that time, he had had to make many phone calls and pay visits to many grieving families. He took all of them personally. There was nothing more devastating to Vincent Black than losing one of his men; they were the cream of the crop, the most complete warriors available to the US Government in its fight against terror. His men were the front line. His men made America strong.

Losing his men in the fight against terror was devastating. Losing one of his men, even a retired one, to a Mexican druglord was unthinkable. The news, three months earlier, of Sean Fox’s death at the hands of a drug cartel had resulted in a rage never before seen by his staff. The details, when they had come through, had not helped. The remains consisted of a brutally beaten torso and a head. The head was detached and was devoid of pretty much everything a head should have; eyes, teeth, nose, ears had all been removed before death. Genitals had been removed from the torso and recovered from the stomach, partially digested, suggesting death had occurred some hours after their consumption. Horrific did not begin to describe the death that one of his most decorated men had gone through. Sean Fox was a legend within the division; one Distinguished Intelligence Star and two Intelligence Stars; he was the man that would never say no; the man that when the chips were down, you could rely on and most importantly to Vincent Black, he was the son he had never had.

The revelation that Sean had been married was surprising. To discover he had been acting as a bodyguard to some two-bit hoodlum was too shocking to believe. However, the more he looked it into and checked, the more it appeared to be true. Nobody could deny the evidence. The body was that of Sean Fox. The DNA was checked and triple checked at Black’s insistence and proved it beyond doubt. Sean Fox, one of the CIA’s best, was dead, mutilated by scumbags unfit to tie his shoelaces.

In the three months since Sean’s death, not a day had gone by that Vincent Black had not thought of Sean and wished vengeance upon his killers. It was within his power. He could order a squad of men and equipment into Mexico but it would be his last act as Director of NCS. Black had been overlooked for promotion many times and for one simple reason, he was the best man for the job. He truly was a master and America could not afford an apprentice in a role so crucial. Above all, Black was a patriot and he could not and would not let his personal vengeance affect America’s ability to defend itself. Black was a modest man but he knew America needed him exactly where he was.

Black’s phone buzzed. He had left instructions not to disturb him.

“It better be important, Jane,” he threatened.

Jane ignored the threat. She had worked for him for every one of his fifteen years as Director. She knew the hard man exterior was only a facade. She also knew the death of Sean Fox was the reason for the mood and all the more reason she was ignoring the threat.

“I have an Agent Smith from New York on the line. I think you’ll want to talk to him.”

“What’s it …” he didn’t get a chance to finish asking. The line clicked, she had just connected him.

“Hi, is that NCS admin?”

“I think you’ve got the wrong line, who is this?”

“Agent James Smith, I’m part of the joint counter terrorism task force based in New York.”

“Hold on, I’ll put you back to my assistant.” Outwardly calm, inwardly seething, he reached for the button to transfer the call back to Jane.

“Wait a minute, will she be able to get me Sean Fox’s records?…”

Black’s finger hovered over the button. On hearing Sean’s name, it retracted immediately.

“…I feel I’m getting the run around here!” exclaimed Smith, frustration clear in his voice.

“Why?” he asked, not letting his hopes rise. Sean Fox was dead.

“We’ve got some guy, looks like a Taliban fighter, with Sean Fox’s passport, claiming to be him!”

“Where are you?”

“New York!” said Smith.

“You said that already, where in New York?” an impatient tone cut through Smith.

“Who is this?” demanded Smith.

“Director Vincent Black, now where are you?!!”

Smith, a long in the tooth CIA agent, was well aware of Vincent Black and who he was.

“Newark Airport, Sir,” he responded quickly, sitting a little straighter in his chair.

“I’ll be there shortly.” He hit the button that ended the call and was immediately reconnected to Jane.

“Get…”

She cut across him. After fifteen years, he didn’t need to ask, she pretty much read his mind most of the time.

“Car’s waiting, jet’s fueled and ready to go.”

Chapter 4

Sean woke up as the door opened. Vincent Black entered, took one look at Sean, saw through the hair and broke into a huge smile.

“I knew it! I fucking knew it!”

As Sean stood up to greet him, Black pushed past Sean’s outstretched hand and uncharacteristically embraced him. Had Sean been able to see behind him, Black was wiping a small tear from his eye.

“Are you going to tell me what the fuck is going on?” Sean pulled back from the embrace and looked at the inane grin on Black’s face.

“You’re not fucking dead is what’s going on!”

“Obviously!”

A knock at the door, followed by the appearance of Smith, interrupted the re-union.

“We have a problem.”

“My DNA checked out!” replied Sean stating the obvious, smiling at Black.

“Yes…”

Sean walked towards the door. He’d hung around long enough, his suite was waiting.

“Not so fast. As I said, we have a problem,” repeated Smith firmly.

Black looked at Smith, surprised at his forcefulness.

“So the guy that’s dead wasn’t me, not my problem, goodbye.” Sean opened the door, followed closely by Black.

“That’s the problem. It was you in the headlines. According to the DNA, you are definitely dead.”

Both Sean and Black stopped in their tracks and looked back at Smith. Sean had the door half open.

“Sorry?” asked Black, struggling to comprehend why the obvious error had not been resolved.

“The DNA from the murder victim matches that on your records and the sample you gave us today. Three separate techs have confirmed it.”

“Impossible!” exclaimed Sean. “What’s the chance of a DNA match?

“One in six billion but I think a match with someone who looks like you and takes your identity would be around, oh, one in no fucking chance,” explained Smith succinctly.

Sean thought about what Smith had just said. It didn’t change anything. “Not my problem. I’m out of here!” He opened the door fully.

“Wait a minute,” said Black, turning back towards the small table, wanting to see the results for himself.

Sean was tired and frustrated. He wanted to get to his suite. The bath, steak and comfortable mattress were calling. But with Vincent Black sitting back down, he was left with little option.

“Just check the fingerprints,” offered Sean, taking a seat.

“Not that simple,” replied Black, fully aware of the dead Sean’s lack of digits, hands, arms, feet and legs for that matter. He passed the file that sat in front of Smith to Sean.

Sean opened and witnessed what somebody had done to him. He was immediately incensed. “Holy shit!”

“Not a pretty sight,” agreed Black.

“No,” agreed Sean. “But not just that,” he pointed to a mark on the side of the torso and lifted his shirt — the same mark.

Smith just looked from one to the other. “That’s seriously weird!”

Black looked at the mark and considered the evidence. “There are two options Sean. That’s you or there’s another, sorry, was, another Sean out there exactly like you. You must have had an identical twin.”

“For God’s sake V, you knew them better than me! My mother was desperate for kids and having me was difficult enough. She was desperate for more and trust me, if I had a brother, twin or not, my mother would have kept him.

“I know, I know, it just doesn’t make any sense!” replied Vincent staring at the evidence.

“Adopted?” offered Smith, trying the other most obvious explanation.

“Nope,” replied Vincent. “I was there just before Sean was born and she was definitely pregnant.

“A mix-up at the hospital and they switched the babies by accident?” grasped Smith, looking for a rational explanation.

“He’s the spitting image of his father,” replied Vincent shaking his head.

Sean considered the possibility. Perhaps but then he remembered. “Nope, I was tested after my parents’ crash. I was a perfect match for my mom if she needed a kidney.” Sean went quiet. Even after twenty-five years, the memory hit hard. His father had died instantly and his mother had died 48 hours after the crash. She had never woken up. He had never had the chance to say goodbye, to either of them.

Black noted the change in mood and moved on. “OK, so no siblings or mistakes at the hospital. Which brings us back to there’s something wrong with the evidence. There’s an error somewhere. We’re just missing it.”

“Simple. The wife. She’ll be able to sort it out,” suggested Sean.

“Whose wife?” asked Smith.

“The dead guy’s!” said Sean. “You just need to go see her and she’ll clear it up for you.”

“Wait a minute,” suggested Black. “Exactly what has this got to do with the CIA?”

“Somebody’s impersonating one of our officers?” offered Smith, helpfully.

“He retired 18 months ago,” replied Black, disappointment heavy in his voice. Sean had been his rising star, his protege, the son he never had and as far as Black had envisioned, his replacement as director of the NCS and potentially beyond. However, two years earlier, following a political cluster fuck, three of Sean’s colleagues had been killed after their mission was leaked by an over eager Senator. Sean himself only just survived and six months later, after a full recovery and serving his notice, he left the Agency, vowing never to work for 'Uncle Sam’ again.

Smith looked back at the passport and the date of birth, quickly calculating Sean’s age, ten years younger than him. “You retired at 38!”

“It’s complicated, politics, wanting me to ride a desk. Anyway, that’s all history. I’ve just made in a year what the government would’ve paid me in twenty!”

“Doing what?” asked Black, surprise barely hiding the suspicion at how such a sum could be earned legally.

“All legitimate, don’t worry V,” replied Sean, sensing the concern.

“So what now?” asked Black. He had always hoped Sean would come back. A couple of years’ break after twenty years’ service wasn’t a bad thing. Unbeknownst to Sean, his final termination had never been filed. As far as Black was concerned, before Sean had been reported killed, he had been on an extended career break.

“Florida. Gulf Coast. As cliched as it sounds, a charter boat and a house on the beach.”

“I meant about this guy,” Black pointed to the photo of the corpse.

Sean had promised himself that it was over. For over twenty years he had put his life on the line for others. He had no family of his own, no roots and nowhere to call home. He wanted a family. He wanted a home. He wanted not to be used. For the last eighteen months, he had worked for himself. Tracking and saving two kidnapped execs from the hands of the Taliban had been exceedingly lucrative.

“It’s not my problem.” He pushed the photo towards Smith, indicating to whom he believed the problem belonged.

Smith lifted the photo and placed it back in the file. In full view of both of them, he closed the file and wrote 'stolen identity, case closed’ across the front.

“I’ll re-instate your passport and Social Security numbers. Be aware, it can take some time to filter through the system. So you should probably call your banks and insurance companies asap and let them know it was an error.”

Black stood up and looked at Sean and asked “Drink?” as he picked up the file and flicked through the rest of the contents.

“Definitely! Right after my date with a bath and a razor.”

“Excellent,” he replied, extracting another photo from the back of the file. “Imagine,” he pondered, showing Sean the photo. “If somehow he were your brother, this young boy would be your nephew!”

Sean looked at the photo of the young boy in his school uniform and if it hadn’t been for the Colonel Santos Benavides Elementary School logo on the boy’s sweater, he would have sworn it was a photo of himself. The likeness was impossible to deny.

Chapter 5

Twenty minutes, a shower, shave and hair trim later, a very different Sean Fox, the one resembling his passport photo, was boarding Vincent Black’s CIA gulfstream jet. The stewardess who earlier would have scowled at the Talibanesque Sean smiled warmly as he boarded.

“Still got it, I see,” chided Black. He had always been envious of Sean’s ability to attract the opposite sex.

Sean just shrugged. He didn’t really pay much attention. Black seemed to notice it far more than Sean.

Sean slumped into one of the seats and strapped himself in. The last place he wanted to be was on another airplane. He had spent the last two days travelling. All he had wanted was his hotel suite but Black had pulled the cute kid card.

As the plane took off, champagne was offered and accepted. Shortly after, the pilot announced their descent to Washington D.C.. A rather confused Sean turned to Black. “Washington? I thought they lived in Texas?”

“They do,” he said, nonchalantly looking straight ahead. 'I need to get back to the office, it’ll just be a quick stop to drop me off.”

“Whoa, wait a minute, you’re not coming?” asked Sean grabbing Black’s arm.

Black retrieved his arm. “I told you back at the airport, this is not a CIA matter.”

“Somebody’s been impersonating me! I was CIA!”

“Yes you were,” replied Black, the disappointed tone unhidden. “You’re on your own. The ride to Texas is a personal favor from me, nothing to do with the CIA.”

Sean had no issue with being on his own. He just didn’t know why he should be heading to Texas. He should have been going to Florida if anywhere.

Chapter 6

SVR Headquarters

Moscow

Deputy Director Mikhail Beryutov replaced the handset and wondered exactly why, as Head of the Science Department within Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, he would care. He had no idea. The name Sean Fox meant nothing to him and the fact that he had just been reported as arriving in the USA was even more perplexing. Why should he care? Certainly in the five years he had been in post, he had no dealings with a Sean Fox or America for that matter. He had assumed they had contacted the wrong office but the caller had been insistent. He had his orders and was to inform the Head of the Science Department as a matter of urgency and alert him to the news.

Exactly what the news was, other than an American had arrived back home, he had no clue. The fact that two agents were being sent to the location was even more surprising. Mikhail, in his five years, had never ordered any agents to do anything. He had teams of scientists that worked for him, not agents. He himself was a particle physicist by education, far removed from the previous incumbent, a KGB Colonel, old school political appointee who had held Mikhail’s post from before SVR’s transition from the First Chief Directorate of the KGB, over 20 years earlier.

Mikhail was a brilliant scientist and had not risen to his office through luck or by association but through genuine hard work and ability. An ability that came from a quizzical mind that never liked questions or situations to go unanswered. Mikhail picked up his phone and called the Director’s secretary, perhaps he would understand why Mikhail should care about Sean Fox. The secretary made a big deal of squeezing Mikhail in at short notice. She huffed at how busy the Director was and how inconvenient this request was. Eventually, a slot was made available, five minutes at 7 a.m. the following morning. Mikhail thanked the empty line, the secretary having hung up and already berating the next person who dared need her boss.

Mikhail dialed the number he had jotted down on his pad. The phone rang twice before it was answered.

“Hello?” answered a young American sounding woman with laughter in the background.

An American answering in English threw Mikhail somewhat. He responded in the only language he spoke, Russian.

“This is Mikhail Beryutov, Deputy Director SVR, to whom am I speaking?”

Mikhail could have sworn he heard the woman snap to attention.

“Aleksandra Demietriov, Sir,” came a clipped and respectful Russian response. The laughter had died instantly.

“Where are you, Ms Demietriov?”

“We have just picked up a car at San Antonio Airport and are on our way to Laredo, as per our orders, Sir.”

“Who gave you those orders?”

Mikhail wondered if the line had been cut as no answer was forthcoming. “Hello?” he prompted.

“Sorry, I’m confused Sir,” replied Aleksandra. “The orders are signed by Mikhail Beryutov, Deputy Director SVR. You, Sir.”

It was Mikhail’s turn to be lost for words. Falsifying orders by a Deputy Director of the SVR required serious clout.

“What are your orders once you get in position?” asked Mikhail.

Agent Aleksandra Demietriov turned to her colleague, a far more experienced agent than herself. She covered the mouthpiece and filled in the gaps he had not heard from the conversation, namely the Deputy Director asking what his orders were. His response was instant. He took the phone from his younger colleague and disconnected the call. Agent Pyotr Travkin had worked in America for over 20 years for the SVR and another 10 before that for its predecessor, the KGB. The field trip with the attractive young newbie had taken on a new edge. Never, in his thirty years, had anything like that happened before, not even under Soviet rule. Deputy Directors did not call field agents and certainly never asked what orders the agents had received from them.

He pulled their car over and retrieved the file that had sent them across America at a moment’s notice. He read it again and checked the details more carefully. Everything was in order. Everything, of course, except for the signature or the phone call, one of which had to be false.

Alex’s phone rang again, the number simply said 'International’.

“What do I do, Pyotr?” asked Alex, holding the phone limply.

Pyotr took the phone from her and answered. “We will call you back at headquarters!” he barked into the phone, ignoring the alleged senior member of staff’s protestations.

Mikhail slammed the phone down after being rudely dismissed by the man on the line. Never in all his years had he been spoken to in such a manner. He was a Deputy Director of the SVR. As he reached to call again, his phone rang.

“Yes!” he barked.

“Deputy Director Beryutov?” asked the man who had just hung up on him.

“How dare you hang up on me!” exclaimed Mikhail, furious at Pyotr’s behavior.

“I apologize, Sir.” The deference to Mikhail’s position and apology removed some of Mikhail’s fury almost instantly. “I needed to confirm you were who you said you were. We are in the field and have to take precautions for our safety, Sir.” Pyotr wished he hadn’t been quite as blunt on the earlier call and explained his actions as quickly as he could.

Mikhail reminded himself he was dealing with Agents operating in a foreign country and not scientists working in ultra secure labs and facilities. Calling them out of the blue and asking orders that he had given them would appear rather odd.

“You are right, Agent…?”

“Travkin, Pyotr Travkin, Sir.”

“It is I who should apologize. Of course you had to check I was who I said I was.”

“Thank you for understanding, Sir, but if I may Sir, you called and asked us what our orders were?”

Mikhail didn’t know how to respond. Subterfuge was not his game but he wasn’t about to let the agents know he wasn’t in control.

“I just wanted to check what version you received, the latest version was the correct one.”

As Pytor read the orders to him, Mikhail’s blood ran cold but he remained silent and let Pyotr finish.

“Is that the correct version?”

Mikhail would have no part in it but his name was all over it. “No, it is not, observe and await further orders.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Mikhail put the phone down and breathed, something he hadn’t done since Pyotr had read out his orders. Mikhail was in a game way above his already elevated position.

Chapter 7

Luis knocked loudly on the door and entered. He, as nephew of El Jefe, could interrupt when others could not. El Jefe turned towards the interruption. His orders had been clear and his orders were never disobeyed. He was not to be disturbed. The anger in his face was not missed by Luis.

“I’m sorry, Uncle,” Luis began, averting his eyes as his uncle dismounted the young bride he had been 'breaking in’.

“It had better be good, nephew!” he spat. The use of the word nephew was not wasted on Luis either. If he had not been his nephew, he would already be dead.

Luis watched as the young bride struggled to cover her dignity with the wedding dress that had been lifted to allow his uncle’s entry. Tears streamed from her eyes, no doubt as much for the indignity as for the memory of her young husband, slain just moments after their marriage. Her perfect day had become the last day of her life as she knew it, her husband killed before her eyes, raped by his killer and destined to spend her life repaying her husband’s debts in El Jefe’s whorehouse. Her life, just hours earlier full of so much promise and dreams, was over.

“I’m sorry, Uncle, but we have news from Laredo I thought you should hear immediately!” Luis eyes fell on the young bride, a real beauty and such a waste.

El Jefe turned to the bride. “Out!” he barked, understanding his nephew would not discuss business in front of her.

El Jefe had no concerns over talking business in front of others. He knew that the fear he evoked silenced everybody. Luis, however, was more cautious and never discussed business within the earshot of others, or for that matter in a room he had not personally swept for listening devices. Cell phones had been consigned to emergency use only and never used to discuss trafficking plans. All supply and sales communications were done through encrypted emails, their codes changed daily. Luis was the brains behind his uncle’s brawn. Arrests and interception by authorities had reduced significantly under Luis’ stewardship and profits had increased dramatically.

The bride stood up and stumbled towards the door in her blood stained wedding dress.

“Her husband would have had a true virgin bride!” El Jefe laughed with his nephew.

Luis deplored the actions of his Neanderthal uncle but smiled. He was the power. Without him, Luis was nothing.

With the door closed behind her and with his uncle’s trousers fully fastened, Luis began. “Federales have taken up position outside of the Fox’s woman house!”

“I knew we couldn’t trust that bitch!” exclaimed El Jefe.

“We don’t think she knows they’re there,” explained Luis, taking some of the anger out of his uncle’s reaction.

El Jefe looked quizzically at his nephew, prompting a more detailed explanation.

“They’re taking precautions not to be seen by anybody including the Fox woman and nobody has made contact with her. We have her phones tapped and have her under constant surveillance. She’s clean. If anyone contacts her about Fat Jakes’s drugs, we’ll know!”

El Jefe kicked the base of his bed at the reference to Fat Jake. The bastard had lied through his teeth about every detail of his operation. It was the only time El Jefe had ever been duped by someone he had questioned. The sincerity of the fat man’s lies was astounding and had fooled everybody in the room. What El Jefe would have given to have not killed him that day. The pleasure and time he would take to kill him over again…only this time checking the detail before finally letting the fat bastard die.

Fat Jake had controlled the entire East coast distribution network. Taking his end would have tripled the cartel’s profits overnight. Luis had warned them to keep him alive but as soon as he had talked, El Jefe had killed him and soon afterwards, the bodyguard too. In fact, all links had been extinguished before the network was established. Not that Luis would ever remind his uncle of his warning. Their largest single customer was dead and their profits and turnover had slumped.

Nobody questioned El Jefe.

With every link gone, the only living link to Fat Jake was the wife of his bodyguard, Sean Fox. As unlikely as it was, Luis thought she could be useful. She had been approached and questioned. Her young son was held at knifepoint which pretty much ensured she told the truth. She knew nothing. However, a meeting had been held at their house in the past. Although she didn’t know the men, they knew her husband and her house. It was enough for El Jefe and Luis was tasked with finding the links and gaining control of Fat Jake’s network.

“So what the fuck do they want then?” asked El Jefe.

“I have no idea. I’ve tried all our contacts and none claim to know anything about any surveillance team.”

The cartel’s contacts were extensive and pretty much covered the city and State police and the local FBI and DEA offices. Whoever the Federales were, the local federal officers knew nothing about them.

El Jefe didn’t waste a beat. “I don’t like it, take her child from her! Make sure she doesn’t fuck this whole thing up more than you have already!”

Luis could have protested that El Jefe had been the one to fuck up but Luis felt no compunction to learn first hand why his uncle was infamously called El Carnicero.

Chapter 8

Laredo International Airport

Laredo, Tx. USA

Sean squinted as he exited the executive jet, the sun firing a warmth he hadn’t felt for years deep into his soul. A feeling of well-being began to sink in. He was home, back in the US where he belonged. He took one look at the azure blue sky and once again thought what the hell was he doing. The Texan beaches and her beauties were just a short hop away in the jet or worst case, just over a couple of hours in a car. Why did he really care whether some guy had stolen his identity? Big deal, he was dead. Sean was alive and he had the rest of his life to plan. He spotted the car rental sign in the terminal building. Decision made. Beach.

With a fantastic deal concluded on a Mustang convertible, Sean reached for his wallet. A small piece of paper fell out as he took the wallet from his rear pocket. He bent down and retrieved the paper, flicked it over and stared into the eyes of the young boy, in his school uniform, who had recently lost his father; the same young boy who, if somehow the DNA test were correct, was in some way related to Sean. The address was written across the base of the photo. Vincent Black’s handwriting with a large question mark placed at the end of the address. Black knew Sean far too well.

Sean made his way to the car park and noticed a long line of convertibles. They were obviously a popular choice, he thought, as he threw his small bag onto the passenger seat and let the electric mechanism open up to the sky and sunshine. He entered the address details into a small SAT NAV device and was rewarded with a detour of just three miles to visit the widow and her son. Sean pulled out of the covered garage and instantly realized just how stupid he had been. The SAT NAV had not been a complimentary extra but a pity offering. The sun blasted into the open-topped car with its full force and made it apparent exactly why the lot was full of them. Only an idiot would rent an open top car in Southern Texas at that time of year.

With the roof back in place, Sean pulled into the obviously middle class lakes area of Laredo. Well, at least Sean assumed it was the Lakes area, as it seemed every street name was either preceded or superseded by the word 'Lakes’. Eventually, he caught a glimpse of water. The SAT NAV told him he was at Lake Casa Blanca, the small checkered flag highlighting his target just a few hundred yards ahead. Sean noted, as he neared the lake, that the houses grew in size. His doppelganger had done well for himself. The flag on the screen corresponded to a large white house that backed directly onto the small lake. The columns to the front of the property were more reminiscent of a plantation house than an upmarket estate property but each to their own, thought Sean, as he began to slow down.

“What the fuck?!”

“What now?!” protested the older of the two lookouts, Miguel. He was fed up with his young colleague, Hector, and his outbursts. It was bad enough being holed up in the woman’s loft space without being stuck with some young fool who reacted to just about everything that went past the window. Sometimes he wondered why he even bothered giving him the watch.

“That car!” Hector pointed to the road below. “The guy driving, I recognize him!”

“So you’re ten miles from home, of course you’ll recognize people!” replied Miguel dismissively, closing his eyes to emphasize he was resting.

“No, it’s the guy El Jefe cut up, the bodyguard, you know, the woman’s husband!!” He pointed towards the floor and the rooms below.

“That guy was in about a thousand bits, what the fuck are you talking about?!” Miguel got up from his seat and walked across to the window in an attempt to see whatever had excited his young colleague.

“Fuck, he’s slowing down, he’s coming here!” exclaimed Hector nervously.

Pushing his young and excitable colleague aside, Miguel looked down at the approaching car. The closeness of the car did not allow the angle for him to see the occupant but it certainly appeared the car was slowing down and about to enter the drive below.

“I had to carry the guy’s head, nobody knows better than me what he looked like and it’s him, I tell you!” explained the young man gesticulating wildly and sounding more deranged by the second. He crossed himself dramatically, praying to a god, who, if there were one, would have deserted him many years earlier.

Miguel watched as the car slowed down but failed to make the turn. Still unable to see the occupant’s face, he lifted the assault rifle that sat next to the window. He was beginning to feel a little freaked out himself. First the Federales had appeared and now this. Some bad shit was going down and he was too long in the tooth to be unprepared. At the sight of the older and more experienced man lifting his rifle, Hector reached for his and cocked it, ready to go.

Pytor watched Sean’s car as he approached the house. Unfortunately, the glare of the sun was hitting his windshield and all he knew was that the woman was about to get a visitor. Pyotr nudged Alexa awake and she raised her camera and shot off a few snaps of the car as it slowed down near the house.

“What should we do?” she asked.

“Who knows?” responded Pytor. “We don’t even know why we’re here, I mean exactly what are we surveilling?!”

“So you’ve not heard back from Mikhail?”

“Nothing.”

“So we just sit in the car watching the house?”

“Those are the orders,” confirmed Pyotr. His voice did not hide the monotony that he expected. He had been doing this for many, many years.

Sean recognized the young boy from his photo. He had obviously just finished school and was walking home. Sean had passed the school when he entered the estate and knew it wasn’t far for the boy to walk but even so, the heat was unbearable. The boy was approaching from the opposite direction. Sean surmised that either his SAT NAV was useless or there was a shortcut for walkers. Obviously, the heat was a little more bearable for those who were used to it. He then thought about another option. The boy had walked home with a friend and took a slightly different route. Sean shook his head. He had to stop analyzing every situation to death. He was retired. Sean turned his attention to the boy again but rather than focus on his route, he was amazed at the likeness the boy had to him as a child; it really was uncanny.

The front door of the house he was about to pull into opened to reveal his doppelganger’s wife. Her eyes were fixed on her son and she didn’t even notice Sean’s impending arrival. He had to hand it to his doppelganger, he had seriously good taste. The wife was stunning. It helped that she was wearing nothing more than a skimpy pair of shorts and a bikini top. Exactly the reason Sean was about to spend the rest of his life in the Southern and warm parts of the US.

Sean caught a movement in his left eye and he instantly chastised himself for letting down his guard. His mind returned to active mode and the serene view of the son returning home to his mother at the end of the school day instantly changed.

Two agents were in a car further down the street and a camera or some type of lens was being aimed at him. There was movement in a window on the upper floor of the house. There was only one small window, it wasn’t a bedroom, more like a loft window. The sun hit something shiny as the movements seemed to quicken. They were reacting to Sean’s arrival, possibly raising a weapon.

However, Sean’s focus was not on any of these. He was far more interested in the intentions of a white van that had blasted around the corner at the top of the street and was barreling towards the young boy, its side door being thrown open as it neared the youngster.

A scream screeched across the scene completing the change from serenity to horror.

Sean was unarmed, and, it appeared, from the intentions of the people in the loft window, about to come under fire. As the loft window broke, the rifle appeared. Sean calculated angles and distances and came back to his original instinct, get the hell out of there quick. There was nothing he could do. The young boy was already half way into the van. He couldn’t ram the van without endangering the boy and whoever was in the loft was about to start firing with what Sean recognized as a pretty fucking big gun.

Sean hit the accelerator and thankfully, the one saving grace of his getting screwed by the rental company, kicked in. The Mustang GT’s 400 horses bit into the road and threw the car forward; the screech from the tires drowning out the mother’s scream for her child. Sean could see the flashes but no sound followed. The assault rifle was silenced. Whoever was in the house had some serious equipment.

Miguel watched in horror as the sleepy neighborhood exploded into life. First the kid was snatched. El Jefe was going to kill them for that alone. Next, somehow, the driver of the car caught wind of their attack and had accelerated hard. Miguel tried desperately to catch the car with his bullets but to no avail. As he neared the car, it flashed behind the van which had just taken the woman’s son. He had to stop firing. His 7.62mm rounds would have torn the van and its occupants apart. Something he was not willing to do, unless of course El Jefe told him to kill the kid. Through it all, the hysterical screams from the woman below were matched by the shouts of his young assistant who was, Miguel thought, really beginning to get on his fucking nerves.

Miguel drowned out the screams and let his own military training kick in. The man was gone. Whether he was the ghost Hector claimed him to be, he didn’t know. Miguel had not seen his face. The van had the child and was already making its way to the end of the street. Throughout everything that had just happened, one action stood out. The Federales had done nothing. Miguel knew he had to report in as a matter of urgency. El Jefe needed to know what had just happened.

Chapter 9

Sean kept the pedal down and continued to accelerate. He had to follow the van and the boy. He glanced at his SAT NAV and was rewarded with a map that showed two exits from the Lakes area but only one near them. He just had to make sure he got there before the van disappeared into the wider Laredo area. He cursed his stupidity for not having purchased even a basic cell phone. Instead, he had planned to go to an Apple store the first chance he got and get the latest iPhone that everybody was raving about. Too late for the boy and a decision he would forever regret. A $20 prepaid cell would have been perfectly sufficient to call the police and ultimately ensure the safety of the child.

The Mustang tore through the estate as Sean raced to the entrance and was rewarded with a view of the van as it careened onto the main highway, the Bob Bullock Loop, and a sign for the Mexican border. The next sign was even less encouraging — Mexico 9 miles. The van slowed down as it blended in with the mid afternoon traffic. Sean hung back. From the van’s pace, they hadn’t spotted him.

Sean ran through the options. Stop and raise the alarm. But the risk of losing the van was too high, so not an option. Ram the van off the road and rescue the boy. The van was far bigger than him and unlike the old cliche, when it came to vehicles, it was all about size. So that option was out. In short, he had no option but to do what he was doing. Follow and strike when he had the chance. That chance would only arise when they stopped. However, that would then start a whole new dilemma. Sean was unarmed and he doubted the occupants of the van would have kidnapped the child without at least some weaponry but he’d worry about that when the time came. At that moment, all he could think about was why the hell he hadn’t just gone to the beach.

Miguel dragged the screaming mother back into the house and slammed the door closed. He had glanced across at the Federales and was dumbfounded by their inaction. They just sat there as though nothing had happened. They had seen him shooting at the Mustang and witnessed a boy being kidnapped. One thing was certain, they weren’t Federales.

The woman needed two slaps before her screaming became a whimper.

As her screaming died down, the police sirens came to life.

“Shit!” Miguel ran upstairs to check on Hector. “Hector, what the fuck are you doing?” he screamed.

Hector failed to answer, infuriating him even more. “Hector!” he shouted as he entered the loft area.

Hector waved at him wildly, his finger to his lips.

“I assure you everything is fine, we don’t need anybody here.” Hector was saying into his phone. “Don’t be ridiculous, nobody has been kidnapped, the boy’s uncle picked him up.”

Hector listened for a few seconds before his tone changed. “I don’t care how you stand them down, just fucking do it! That’s what we pay you for!” and put the phone down.

A few seconds passed before the sirens died. Their man in the force had just earned himself a large bonus and saved his family’s life.

“Fixed!” he announced. His calm composure had returned after his earlier panic.

Miguel didn’t bother responding as he headed back to the mother. Someone was reaching out to get to her and it may well have been the breakthrough El Jefe was waiting for.

Miguel grabbed her and took her into the living room. El Jefe needed to be updated.

Miguel dialed the emergency number and waited to receive the call back. Five minutes passed before El Jefe’s menacing voice was on the phone. Miguel knew he was to be careful on the phone line.

“We’ve had a visitor!”

“Where from?”

“Out of town I think!”

“What did they say?”

“Nothing, they didn’t stop, they just took the small package and left.”

“They were local, not visitors.”

Miguel thanked God he hadn’t shot at the van. El Jefe had just told him he had sent the men to get the boy.

“And our friends?” asked El Jefe, meaning the Federales.

“They just drove off, as though nothing had happened.”

“Interesting.” the line went dead. El Jefe was finished.

Miguel considered calling back. He hadn’t told him about Hector’s vision of the guy in the sports car. He’d have to go through the same procedure again, calling the emergency number and waiting.

“We have your son.”

Miguel relayed the information in the hope it would give the woman some comfort and shut her up but to no avail. In fact, her whimpering increased.

“You just need to help us establish links to your husband’s contacts and we’ll be gone!” he reiterated for the fiftieth time.

“I don’t know what or who you are talking about. I promise I don’t know what contacts you are talking about!” she blubbered in response as she had every time previously.

The frustration for Miguel, which made this assignment all the more difficult, was that he genuinely believed her. He retreated back to the loft area; the whimpering was really beginning to gnaw at him.

Sean was struggling to hide himself amongst the traffic. It seemed the closer they got to Mexico the more cars decided against it. Every exit resulted in another swathe of cars exiting but nobody entered. There was certainly no shortage of vehicles coming the other way. Truck after truck lined the road. He knew the US was more appealing than Mexico but this was ludicrous. He was the only car heading to Mexico along with a handful of trucks.

They were definitely taking the boy to Mexico. The final cut-off to remain in the US flashed past as they continued towards the border. Sean unbuckled his belt and sped up. As soon as the van stopped, he wanted to be out and alerting the border staff to the kidnap. As the road spread into a wide number of lanes, Sean stayed directly behind the van as it selected a central lane and approached the barrier. Both slowed down as the barrier blocked their way. Sean’s hand was on the door handle. As soon as they stopped, he would be on them, screaming towards the building four lanes to his right that he was sure would house armed officers.

Sean was now tight behind the van offering them no escape from the barrier ahead. They continued to slow down. As Sean began to pop the door, the van sped up, the barrier lifted automatically, no checks were going to be made on the van.

Sean slammed the door and sped forward. The barrier dropped and Sean waited for it to lift and allow him to continue the pursuit. The barrier remained down. A boy’s life was in Sean’s hands. He blasted his horn in frustration. The van was pulling away from the border area and entering Mexico. Sean was in a sport’s car with no storage. They had a van and could have any kind of contraband in the back but he was the one being held back!

As the van disappeared from view, Sean banged his horn in frustration. An officious looking border officer cut across the lanes and headed towards his car. Sean jumped out of the car.

“Lift the barrier, they’ve kidnapped a boy!” Sean pointed desperately at the empty road ahead.

“I’m sorry, Sir. This is for commercial vehicles only,” she said ignoring what he had just said.

“Didn’t you hear me?! They’ve kidnapped a boy, open this fucking barrier!!!”

The officer looked at him with some disdain. “Sir, you wouldn’t believe the stories we get in an attempt to allow unauthorized vehicles through this commercial crossing.”

Sean took all his strength not to hit the supercilious bitch.

“Open the barrier, NOW!” demanded Sean.

The woman removed the walkie-talkie from her belt much to Sean’s relief and as she hit the talk button, Sean climbed back into the car, ready for the barrier to rise.

“I need back-up please, I’ve got an aggressive driver here!” she said backing away from Sean carefully.

Sean looked at the road ahead in despair. The bridge off in the distance crossed the Rio Grande, which offered a natural line to delineate between the two countries. A speck in the distance had just passed through the Mexican border crossing without stopping. The boy was gone. Sean was in no mood for bullshit.

“Call the police and the Mexican authorities and give them this registration,” Sean said, stepping out of his car, holding out a piece of paper to the woman. “A young boy is in that van!”

The woman backed away further. Sean stepped forward and grabbed her hand squeezing the paper into it.

“Do it now!” he commanded.

“Step back, Sir!”

Sean ignored the request from behind. He had heard the car approach but saving the boy was all that was on his mind.

“Call it in!” he demanded of the female officer.

As Sean released the female officer’s hand, two sharp stings hit him in the back. Sean dropped to the ground and despite the 50,000 volts surging through him managed to regret for about the tenth time that day, not going to the beach.

Chapter 10

Pyotr had seen many things in his life but what he had just witnessed pretty much stood above them all.

“We can’t just sit here and do nothing!” exclaimed Alexa having watched the boy being bundled into the van.

“You’re right, we can’t!” offered Pytor, matter of factly. Internally, however, he was as outraged as Alexa. “Let’s get out of here!”

“What about the boy?”

“Our orders are to observe. We can’t get involved!”

“We have to do something! We should at least call the police.”

Pyotr was a father himself. “Perhaps.”

Alexa did not need any more encouragement and dialed 911 immediately, relaying the address and what had just transpired.

As Pyotr pulled away, he caught sight of the Latino man grabbing the woman in the drive. He eyeballed him, wishing he could do more but his orders were simple. Just observe. As they exited the estate, police sirens cut through the air confirming they had taken Alexa’s call seriously. The death of those same sirens just a few seconds later left Pyotr wondering just what the hell he had become involved in and beginning to wish he had been busy when the call requesting his services in sunny Texas had come in.

“What do we do now?” asked Alexa as silence reigned again.

“I have absolutely no idea,” replied Pytor, shaking his head in frustration.

It wasn’t the first time Sean had been tasered but it certainly was the first time he had been tasered in anger. As the volt surge passed, much to the surprise of the border officers, Sean was able to stand up almost immediately, ruining their plans to have him in cuffs before he recovered. Three officers had rushed to back up the female officer. Sean knew he was an imposing figure, tall, wide-chested, muscular and, thanks to six months in the wilds, in great shape. The officers dropped their tasers as he stood up and went for their side-arms.

Sean raised his arms slowly in surrender, hoping their trigger happiness was left for their tasers.

“Whoa guys, I’m on your side,” he said calmly.

“On the ground, hands behind your back!” commanded one of the officers. His name badge said he was 'V. Suarez’.

Sean reluctantly got back down on the ground. Once he was in cuffs, they’d relax and listen to him. The boy was still his priority.

As he got on the ground, the female officer moved quickly and forced her knee with some conviction into his back while securing him in handcuffs.

Whilst the first officer covered him, the other two male officers grabbed an arm each and helped Sean back to his feet.

“A boy has been kidnapped.” Sean nodded his head towards the Mexican side of the river. “Can someone please tell the Mexican authorities?!”

Suarez looked firstly at Sean and then at the female officer. Sean’s revelation of a kidnap was not what he had expected to be his first words.

The female officer stood firm. Sean could see the look of defiance on her face and for the first time, he read her name badge, filing it away for future, 'S. Martinez’. Sean prayed she had some gender issues and would one day go through the surgery to become a man. That day would be the day he could hit the stupid bitch for what she had done. Sean’s mother had raised him well. He just couldn’t lift a finger to hurt a woman, unless of course she was a terrorist but then as far as Sean were concerned, terrorists weren’t human, let alone female.

“It’s bullshit! He just wanted to get through the barrier and as I explained, this is for commercial vehicles only,” explained Martinez with conviction and some swagger.

Sean thanked God he was cuffed. His mother’s memory was close to being disrespected as Martinez pushed him to the edge.

Suarez looked with some disdain at his female colleague before turning back to Sean. “What vehicle were they in?” he asked.

“A white E series, license number…”

“Uncuff him,” ordered Suarez, interrupting Sean.

“But the license? You’ll need it to alert the Mexicans,” argued Sean as his hands were released.

“You’re not from around here, Mr…?”

“Fox, Sean Fox,” replied Sean automatically. “ But what’s that got to do with a kidnapped child, what if it were your child?”

Suarez waved his colleagues away and taking Sean by the arm, led him back to his car. Directing him to take a seat behind the wheel.

“It has everything to do with that kidnapped child. That van you were following is a Los Zetas van.”

The blank expression on Sean’s face told Suarez he really wasn’t from the area, or anywhere near at all.

“All we can do for that boy is pray that the Zetas get whatever it is they want!”

Sean was incensed. The guy was a law enforcement officer and he had just told Sean he was going to do nothing about a kidnapped American boy. He tried to exit the car.

Suarez pushed back against Sean’s door and placed his other hand on his pistol. The message was clear. The conversation was over. Sean had outstayed his welcome. Sean looked into Suarez’ eyes and, much to his surprise, saw nothing but fear.

“Are you going to lift this barrier?” asked Sean, resigning himself to the fact that nobody was going to help and it was down to him.

“I’m sorry, Sir, you’ll have to turn back. This is for commercial vehicles only,” replied Suarez deadpan.

“You are fucking kidding me?” Sean stared into Suarez’ eyes. Again the look in his eyes was not a man being stubborn about the rules; the guy was genuinely terrified.

“I’m saving both our lives!” replied Suarez sincerely, before walking back to his office.

Sean waited a few seconds to see if they were just playing with him but the barrier stayed down. He was not getting through. He thought about the boy now almost certainly miles from the border, deep in Nuevo Laredo, the Mexican side of Laredo. A metropolitan area that spanned the two countries, Laredo/Nuevo Laredo was home to almost a million people. That was unfortunately the extent of Sean’s knowledge and that had been garnered from the local map left in the rental car. He really wasn’t from around there and had no idea what Los Zetas was. In fact, in the last ten/fifteen years, he wasn’t even really from America; eighty to ninety percent of the time, he had been on other continents.

Shot at, tasered, cuffed and witness to a kidnap. Not even his worst days in Afghanistan had been as dangerous as what had just happened. He wasn’t even taking account of the detention at the airport, DNA test and transcontinental flight. All because he didn’t go to the beach.

He started the car, selected reverse and did what he should have done to begin with, find out what exactly he was up against. Gung ho had failed miserably. First though, he needed to make a call and for that, he needed a phone. A plain simple phone.

Chapter 11

Sean replaced the handset and listened as his dimes fell and echoed inside the empty metal box. Nobody used public phones anymore and it was the only one for miles. He would have been quicker buying a cell but he didn’t know he’d take so long to find a phone, one that worked. The dimes were lost forever, as was the boy as far as the Mexicans were concerned. The operator had half heartedly taken the details but Sean knew it was a waste of time and money. He inserted a few more quarters and dialed the operator again, this time asking for the local FBI office. He had to do something and had a feeling the local police would be as useless as the border officers and Mexicans.

“I’d like to report a kidnapping,” he offered before the FBI agent could offer any preamble.

“Of course, Sir,” came the extremely professional response. At last, he was getting somewhere. “Can you please give me the details.”

Sean spent the next few minutes relaying exactly what had happened. The agent occasionally stopped him to check particular details but otherwise let him flow, right up until the border incident.

“Sorry, Sir, did you say the van with the boy entered Mexico?”

“Yes!” exclaimed Sean. He could sense a change in tone and his anger began to well.

“I’m not…”

“Don’t even consider saying it,” threatened Sean, pre-empting the 'not a lot we can do’ scenario.

The agent sensed the futility in trying to stall Sean. So instead, came from another angle. “Perhaps we should visit the mother, get some more detail?” offered the agent in a conciliatory gesture.

Sean had avoided giving the mother’s address during his description; he didn’t know why. When pushed, he had simply said he didn’t know the address as he was from out of town, but he could take the agent to the location. As the agent offered to visit the mother, Sean hung up; it just felt like the right thing to do. Something was telling him he was the boy’s only hope. That wasn’t exactly true, pretty much everything was telling him he was the boy’s only hope.

Sean lifted the handset again and began to dial Vincent’s number. His final and simple message for Sean had been “If you change your mind, call me.” And it really was that simple. If Sean wanted to get back in, call. If he didn’t, don’t. He could call Vincent and have a small army to help within the hour but it would cost him his freedom. Sean began to dial. A boy’s life was at stake but then so was Sean’s. He’d felt more alive in the last eighteen months than the previous twenty years. Sean stopped dialing. He had just single handedly retrieved two American executives from the hands of the most feared terrorist group in the world, in the most lawless and dangerous country on earth. He could certainly get a boy back from a few crazy Mexicans. It was worth a shot before surrendering his soul to the man. He replaced the card in his wallet and dialed a different number. The only difference between Afghanistan and Laredo was that in Afghanistan, Sean had a shit load of weapons. Next stop was a gun store and according to the operator, there was one less than a mile from where he was standing.

Sean thanked God for the second amendment as he entered Kirkpatrick’s Guns amp; Ammo store. Texas had a particular love of the amendment and there wasn’t much he couldn’t walk out of the store with straight away. Sean quickly selected an H amp;K Mark 23, his preferred handgun while in the DIA and a USC. It was the civilian version of his UMP sub machine gun. Including ammo, scope and a knife, the bill came to almost $4,000 dollars.

He handed over his credit card and driver’s license and waited as the assistant ran them through the computer. It didn’t take long for a look of disappointment to register on the assistant’s face. What was going to earn him a rather nice commission had just been foiled by the incredibly lax gun laws of Texas. Laws that quite simply allowed anyone over 18 to own a gun had beaten the officially dead Sean Fox.

The assistant turned the computer to allow Sean to see 'Refused’ stamped across the screen.

“I’ve been here five years and that’s my first refusal!” he added, rather unhelpfully.

“You can see me standing here, it’s an error,” offered Sean, half-heartedly. Black had warned him that it might take a few days for his survival to work through the system.

The assistant shrugged; he was as frustrated as Sean was, having just spent twenty minutes earning two hundred bucks commission that he’d now never see.

“So what can I buy?” asked Sean resignedly.

“Everything but the guns!” offered the assistant hopefully, handing back the credit card and license.

Sean looked down at the selection and pushed to the side everything but the Maglite torch and a cold steel recon scout knife, totaling $200. He handed the credit card back to the assistant.

The assistant looked at the card and smiled but did not reach out to take it.

“Sorry,” he said, pointing to the screen.

Sean couldn’t dispute the assistant’s refusal; he wouldn’t accept the credit card of a guy listed as deceased by the federal government. Despite the fact he knew it would have worked.

“I don’t have that much cash!” protested Sean. It really wasn’t his day.

The assistant shrugged in apology and began to look for another customer. Sean was worthless to him.

It wasn’t just weapons that Sean needed though. “Well, just one more thing?” he asked raising his finger to catch the assistant’s attention.

“Yes, Sir,” all enthusiasm for dealing with Sean had gone. His voice lacked its earlier bounce.

Sean ignored the change in demeanor. “Who or what are Los Zetas?”

The assistant stared at Sean as though he had just asked the stupidest question ever, before cracking a smile. “Shit! You’re not joking,” he said, some of the earlier enthusiasm was back.

The assistant took Sean by the arm and led him to the far end of the counter, out of anyone else’s earshot.

“Los Zetas are the meanest cartel in Mexico. Shit, scratch that, the world. They are sick, man!”

“Cartel, as in drugs?”

“Drugs, whores, trafficking, kidnapping, corruption, shit anything, where the fuck have you been man, these guys are infamous.”

“Overseas a lot,” replied Sean. “ And back East.”

“Forces?”

“Sort of!”

“Cool,” replied the assistant nodding his head. He was smart enough to know what that meant and not to ask any more questions. “Anyway, the Los Zetas are ex Mexican Special Forces who quit and started working for the Gulf cartel as their muscle. After a few years, they decided they could do it themselves and started up their own cartel. They’ve kicked off this massive war and they’re cleaning up. Los Zetas are brutal. Tortured corpses without heads turn up to show people what happens if you fuck with them.”

Sean nodded his head. He had seen some reports about the drug wars in Mexico and of course had seen what they had done to his doppelganger.

“How many are there?” he asked.

“Thousands. They’re massive. They pretty much run the whole of the Mexican West coast and they’re still expanding.”

“All ex-special forces?” Sean didn’t think the Mexicans had thousands of Special Forces, never mind thousands that had quit.

“No, sorry, the first thirty or so were ex-special forces. They’ve recruited since then, probably some more special forces but mainly just normal guys, maybe some ex-army as well though.”

“What about the police, can’t they stop them?”

“Not a chance, they’re out-manned and out-gunned by Los Zetas. Those guys think nothing of launching a full military assault on police stations. The police know what’s good for them, they keep their heads down.”

Sean’s mind was racing. Los Zetas had kidnapped the boy and were probably the ones who had killed his doppelganger. Certainly the MO fit. Brutalized body, publicly delivered to the wife. That left two unknowns. Who had shot at him from the house and who were the agents in the car parked outside?

However, before he could tackle either of those unknowns, there was still something he needed.

Sean eyed the assistant. Middle aged, overweight and single. Sean thought he might still be able to help. He leant in close to the counter and whispered. “I’m having a nightmare of a day, anywhere I can find some female company to cheer me up, if you know what I mean?” he asked conspiratorially.

Armed with the brothel’s details, Sean headed into the seedier side of Laredo. The assistant had suggested heading across to Nuevo Laredo, the Mexican side of the city which, he assured Sean, offered some of the best entertainment in the world. Sean had insisted he preferred the US side and was told in no uncertain terms that the quality was sub-par and not even on a bad day would the assistant visit the Laredo establishment but gave him the details anyway. He also, much to Sean’s relief, warned him to be careful; it really was a very different part of the city.

Although Sean had noticed that the ethnicity of Laredo was almost completely Hispanic, it wasn’t until he ventured towards the center that it became apparent just how different Laredo was from most of the US. Sean had been to Miami once and had noticed a lot of Spanish signs. Laredo, however, had a few signs in English. It seemed he had been lucky up until then as Sean’s Spanish was somewhere between beginner and non existent.

He followed the assistant’s directions and soon noted a significant drop in the wealth of the local inhabitants. Driveways became scrap yards and front yards were refuse tips. The brand new Mustang rental began to look significantly out of place and drew a few discerning stares from groups of young men. Sean felt more out of place here than in Afghanistan. At least there, in local dress and unkempt hair, he passed for a local. Something he’d never manage in Laredo and most definitely not in South Laredo.

Sean arrived at the address the assistant had given him and really began to regret his rental car choice. He’d have to change it asap. Being white and six foot three was obvious enough without driving a bright yellow Mustang.

That, however, would have to wait. In the meantime, he just had to work with what he had. He drove past the brothel, a non-descript house on a non-descript residential street and took the first road on the right, parking just out of sight.

A small group of teenagers approached the car as he stopped; one walked forward with some bravado as Sean opened the door.

“Hey hombre, what are you…”

As Sean stepped from the car, the small Latino lost his swagger and changed tack.

“…you want us to look after your fine car?”

Sean smiled. Up until he stepped out of the car, he felt sure they were about to mug him. Obviously his size and the 'don’t fuck with me’ look had deserved a re-evaluation by the teenager. Sean towered over the four of them and probably weighed twice what each of them weighed soaking wet.

“That would be great!”

The leader held out his hand for some cash which Sean ignored but leaned into the leader and whispered.

“If I come back and the car’s good, it’ll save me having to kick your ass in front of your little gang.” Sean looked into the leader’s eyes and saw a mixture of anger and fear. “Get me?!” he added with steel, knocking the anger from the eyes.

A small almost imperceptible nod from the leader ended the interaction.

As Sean walked towards the end of the street, he could hear the young leader barking out his orders to his gang, all in Spanish. He had absolutely no idea what was being said. Sean was embarrassed. His country had two languages, English and Spanish and he spoke only one. Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan had many and he spoke many of them. At times, he felt very un-American.

As Sean had driven past the brothel, he had spotted two guards, one by the front door and another to the side of the property. As he walked towards the brothel, both pairs of eyes were on him. Obviously, they didn’t get many white American clients. Both seemed particularly uneasy at the sight of Sean and came together, backing each other up as Sean entered the drive. Both stood by the front door, blocking Sean’s entry.

“Buenas tardes, Senor!” offered one of the guards. On closer inspection, his clothes were of significantly better quality than his colleague’s. Probably the owner of the establishment, thought Sean. The other guard was definitely taking the lead from him.

Fortunately, Sean’s non-existent Spanish stretched to 'good evening’, 'good night’, 'one, two or three beers’, 'please’ and 'thank you’.

“Buenas tardes, Senor,” replied Sean, although he wasn’t sure how long it would remain one. One owner, one guard, neither looked happy to see him, nor did they move aside to let him enter.

“Perhaps we should take this inside?” suggested Sean, breaking the silence that had settled.

Neither moved nor responded. Sean stepped forward, thinking they may part to let him through. Neither did. Impasse.

The guard began to reach for his belt. The message to Sean loud and clear. He wasn’t welcome.

Sean sighed. This wasn’t really what he had planned. Inside would have been much better but time was an issue and he just didn’t have any. He stepped back and threw his hand out, catching both by surprise. Sean grabbed the guard’s wrist before it reached his belt and as he twisted hard, forced a powerful head butt into the nose of the owner. As both wrist and nose shattered, the owner fell soundlessly to the ground while the guard doubled over, screaming in agony. The scream was short-lived as Sean followed quickly with a knee to the guard’s temple.

Sean quickly scanned for any reaction in the street. There was none. A female voice shouted from inside and footsteps approached the door but whoever was behind the door wasn’t about to open it. They shouted again. Sean had no idea what they were saying. He was too busy searching the two unconscious bodies. And whoever was shouting wasn’t wishing him good evening or inviting him in for a beer. After a quick search, Sean had exactly what he needed. He thanked the two men, wished them a good evening and returned to his car.

The gang leader stood next to his car, smiling proudly. His gang numbers had swollen to ten.

The gang leader held a knife above the fabric roof of the Mustang, ready to stab it. Other gang members held baseball bats at the ready, ready to teach the hombre a lesson, thought Sean. First they’d pound his car and then him.

Sean shook his head as the gang leader swung his hand up ready to strike down. Sean was still twenty yards away and was helpless to stop him. Except, unfortunately for the young gang leader, Sean swung his hand down to his belt, retrieved the Glock he had just taken from the owner and in one seeping motion, fired three rounds in quick succession.

The first took the knife cleanly out of the leader’s hand, the second took out one of the baseball bats and the third, a baseball cap off the head of the nearest gang member to Sean.

As half the gang ran away, the other half stood their ground. One reached for a pistol he had tucked in his trousers. Before he could bring it to bear, Sean sent over another bullet and removed it from the gang member’s hand. He was not as fortunate as his colleagues. As the gun exited his hand, a snap signaled his trigger finger would not be pulling triggers anytime soon.

The rest of the gang fled.

Sean climbed into the Mustang and placed the two handguns on the passenger seat, one Glock and one Jimenez Arms. He wasn’t familiar with the make but it felt light and very cheap. The Glock certainly worked and Sean had the gang to thank for the impromptu test firing. It was always good to know your weapon worked before you really needed to know if your weapon worked. Weapons were not hard to get a hold of. You just needed to know who to go to. Pimps were weaker and far less trigger happy than drug dealers. As for the shattered nose, Sean hadn’t met a pimp who didn’t prey on the weak and less fortunate in society; it was the least he probably deserved.

Chapter 12

SVR Headquarters

Moscow

Mikhail paced nervously outside the Director’s office. He had already been in the office for hours. His wife had kicked him out of bed at 4.00 a.m. due to his tossing and turning and inability to sleep.

He had spent the last few hours going through old records in an attempt to understand what was going on but there was nothing. At least nothing he was allowed to see without further approval; something he didn’t know was possible. He had access to everything the Science Department had ever been involved in, or so he had thought. One file was inaccessible, the Grebnevo file. No other detail was available. The file was simply labeled Grebnevo. Mikhail had tried an Internet search, inputting the name; nothing showed up other than it was the name of a derelict estate just outside of Moscow. Shortly after his search, Mikhail’s computer stopped working.

“Come in!” The Director’s voice boomed through the door. His assistant didn’t come in before eight.

Mikhail puffed out his chest and stood to his full five foot seven as he walked into the Director’s office. Mikhail shrunk an inch as the imposing figure of General Yuri Borodin stood up to greet him. He was Director of the GRU, Russia’s Military Intelligence Directorate. His own Director sat motionless behind his desk, leaving Mikhail alone to face Borodin. Borodin took Mikhail’s hand and shook it before guiding him to one of the two seats in front of the SVR Director’s desk.

Mikhail sat and surreptitiously wiped the sweat from his hand. He could do nothing about the sweat forming on his brow. He just had to hope the two most powerful Intelligence tsars in Russia did not notice. Mikhail was a scientist. Politics and power games were most definitely beyond him and if he had ever harbored any doubt, the speed at which his heart was currently racing proved it categorically.

“I believe you needed to speak to me urgently?” offered the SVR Director.

Mikhail glanced at Borodin before answering. As far as he was aware, although they both worked for Mother Russia, the two tsars were constantly fighting over resource and territory. Discussing confidential SVR business in the GRU Director’s presence was not only unorthodox but unheard of.

Borodin leaned over and slapped Mikhail’s knee. “It’s OK, young man, you can discuss this in front of me. I know all about Sean Fox!”

Mikhail breathed a sigh of relief and began to relay the telephone conversations he had received the previous day, informing him that Sean Fox was alive and in America.

“Obviously,” he concluded. “There has been a miscommunication as I don’t know why my department would be involved with this Sean Fox.”

“And that’s exactly why I’m here. There was a mistake. You should not have been informed. Sean Fox is an agent of ours whom we had presumed dead. Part of a joint KGB/GRU project in the past. I believe the agent in the US who contacted you yesterday with the information had historic contacts at KGB and GRU. He contacted the modern day equivalents, assuming you would be involved. However, this is old news and we need no longer worry about it.”

Smiles broke out throughout the meeting as all came to the silent agreement. Mikhail would forget the name Sean Fox ever existed.

A brief knock at the door preceded the door being opened without pause. Mikhail thought this rude as he watched the First Deputy Director of the SVR cross the office and hand a note directly to his boss, the SVR Director.

The smile instantly drained from the Director’s face, as did every drop of color. A nod towards Borodin indicated he should see the message too. Borodin’s smile and color also disappeared as he too read the note.

Mikhail began to shift awkwardly, wondering why the note was causing such a dramatic reaction. Were they at war? Had the President been assassinated? The First Deputy Director left without showing Mikhail the note.

“Is there anything else, Mikhail?” asked his Director, as the door closed behind the First Deputy Director.

Mikhail stood up, assuming he had been dismissed.

“Is there anything you’ve not told us?” clarified his boss.

Mikhail sat back down and realized he had not told them about his conversation with Agent Pyotr Travkin. As he relayed the conversation, General Borodin stood up and began to pace around the large office. Mikhail became increasingly nervous as the massive General appeared to become more and more agitated the longer Mikhail spoke. On more than a few occasions, the General’s guttural throat clearing interrupted Mikhail’s flow. Borodin was clearly not happy.

The SVR Director looked at Borodin as Mikhail ended with the revelation that he had changed the agents’ orders. The look on the General’s face was not conducive to continuing the meeting.

“That will be all Mikhail!” ordered the SVR Director.

“But…” Mikhail wished to explain his actions.

“Out!” boomed Borodin, clearly unable to contain his anger any longer.

As the door closed behind Mikhail, Borodin sat back down.

“So, what should we do?” asked the SVR Director.

“We will do nothing. I will sort out this mess,” replied Borodin leaving no room for discussion.

“Mikhail?” asked the SVR Director.

“Find out exactly what he knows about Grebnevo,” instructed Borodin, looking again at the note in his hand. “Before you kill him.”

Chapter 13

Sean swung by the airport and solved two other issues on the way back to the house. The bright yellow Mustang was swapped for a less conspicuous Toyota Corolla and a prepaid cell phone was acquired for a frustrating $20. Twenty bucks that could have meant the difference between life and death for the boy.

Sean entered the lakeside estate for only the second time in his life. He listened carefully as the top of the hour news kicked off. The top story, again, was a local zoning issue. No Amber Alert had been issued. It had been almost five hours since the abduction and it seemed nobody, other than Sean, was looking for the boy. None of it bode well. Even when he was alone in Afghanistan, he knew the military were at least looking for his kidnap victims, not actively but they were certainly on the radar. Sean considered calling Black again. The boy deserved more; this was America for God’s sake! Sean was comparing the situation to Afghanistan and Afghanistan was looking more positive.

Sean picked up the cell and stopped himself short of calling. One drive-by, he thought. No point calling until he knew what they were up against. As he entered the street, the main question that had been racing through his head was answered. Why had nobody reported the kidnap and shooting? Simple, other than the target’s house at the end of the street, the rest of the houses were in darkness. All were unoccupied, either unfinished or probably brand new. Victims of the downturn and unaffordable.

Sean stopped the car before entering the street. With no other occupants and being at the back of the estate, drive-byes were going to be few and far between. No point in advertising his arrival, particularly after such a warm welcome earlier in the day. Sean stepped out of the air conditioned Corolla and gasped at the warmth still in the air. Why the hell people wanted to live here, he had no idea; it must have been almost 90 degrees and it was after nine at night. Sean tucked the Glock and the Jimenez pistol into his belt and quietly closed the car door. A small path cut behind the nearest house and, if the Sat Nav were right, it led to the lakeside. As he neared the lake, he slipped the Jimenez out of his belt and threw it as far as possible into the lake. It really was a piece of junk and would be rust by dawn. The Glock, on the other hand, was an entirely different prospect and he patted it, taking comfort from the hard angular edges digging into his skin.

Sean eased himself over the wall into the target property and crouched low against the wall. The garden offered little cover. A large expanse of grass gave way to an oversized pool, no shrubs or bushes to assist Sean, just a vast open expanse of garden. Fortunately, security lighting, like all the other properties he had passed, appeared to be exclusively for the front of the house. Apparently in Laredo, burglars didn’t use the back door. Sean edged forward and was suddenly assaulted by a wave of light. Sean threw himself over the wall and tucked himself tight in against it. Apparently in Laredo, the security lights out front were for show and the ones at the rear were triggered by motion sensors. Sean kicked himself for being so stupid but in Afghanistan, his enemies were lucky to have batteries for their torches, never mind multi million watt security lighting systems.

After a number of loud Spanish conversations, the lights shut down and darkness was restored. The two watchers had obviously concluded it was a wild animal that had triggered the lights, neither it seemed, was keen to explore further than the back deck, which suited Sean perfectly. It did, however, leave him with somewhat of a dilemma; how the hell was he going to find out anything from the wrong side of the garden wall?

Sean remained seated, his back to the wall. From what he had seen of the back garden, there was no possibility of getting anywhere near the house undetected and going by the earlier propensity for shooting, that included doing so alive. The rear wasn’t an option which left the sides and front of the house. Sean took a peak over the wall. The wall to the side of the house was still a good distance and he had to assume was afforded the same protection as the rear. So the rear and sides were out. He’d trigger the lights almost as soon as he’d set foot in the garden. That left the front, in its permanent state of daylight but that, in itself, had one major advantage. It wouldn’t react to Sean’s presence.

Katie Fox flinched as the lights exploded at the rear of the house. Her nerves couldn’t take much more. They had her baby and she knew they would kill him without a second thought. She began to shake involuntarily. The rear lights were set to react to only very large mammals. Her husband had got fed up with them bursting on and off throughout the night and had set them to their least sensitive mode. If the lights had come on, somebody was out there, not something, and that somebody was going to get her baby killed.

Her watchers grabbed their guns and rushed out of the back door, both screaming at each other. If it were the police or somebody coming to the rescue, they were going to be easy targets, but after a few minutes, the watchers returned. Katie spoke Spanish fluently and realized they thought the lights had been triggered by a raccoon or a coyote.

Katie looked at the photo of her baby. He was all she had left in the world. No other family, it was just her and James against the world. Up until three months earlier, life had been perfect in their own little world. Sean, James and she had been so happy. Then the parcel arrived, the memory of which would live with her until her last breath. A week later, right after the funeral, the watchers had arrived and she had been living under their gaze ever since. She hadn’t even had a chance to grieve properly; the men allowed her no time alone. Even at night her bedroom door had to remain open, while one was stationed at the door. James had slept beside her since Sean had died and that night was the first either of them would be alone. The tears started to flow as she thought of James, frightened and alone. He was just a baby, in a strange place, surrounded by people he didn’t know.

As the doorbell chimed, she automatically looked at the clock, 9.30 p.m. Nobody she knew would come to the house at that time of night.

“Quien es?” asked Miguel, the older of the watchers.

Katie could do nothing but shrug her shoulders, panic had already sunk in. The thought of anybody interfering and causing her son to be killed consumed her.

“Get rid of them!” he ordered, pulling her from her seat and handing her a handkerchief as he led her to the door.

Hector appeared from the back of the house and gave the all-clear sign. Whatever was happening was all at the front. Miguel waved him out of the hallway and back into the living room, out of sight of the door. Miguel took up station on the wrong side of the door. As she unlocked the latch, Miguel pointed his gun at her and put his finger to his lips. The message was loud and clear, say nothing of him or Hector.

Katie opened the door slowly, trying desperately to recapture at least some composure. She knew her son’s life depended on how she reacted to whatever was behind the door.

Sean had thought long and hard about exactly how to handle the situation before coming up with his plan. He pressed the buzzer and waited. The Glock sat comfortably in his hand as he waited for the door to open. Eventually he heard footsteps, two sets coming towards the door. Thank God for hardwood floors he thought, preparing himself for the door to open.

Chapter 14

Pyotr’s cell barely rang before he answered the call he had been impatiently expecting. “Sir!” he answered mustering as much deference as possible, given his somewhat irritable mood. The motel they had checked into was a dump but was the closest to their target they had found.

“My name is General Borodin…” came the extremely unexpected response. The booming voice forced Pyotr to remove the cell from his ear and negated the need to keep his partner, Alexa, up to date on the changing situation.

“I have taken over control of this matter and your Director has offered your services to me in the interim.”

“Of course, General.” Pyotr knew exactly who General Borodin was; everybody in SVR did. Just as they knew never to trust him and to thank God every day that they did not work for the GRU and General Borodin.

“Your original orders, do you remember them?”

“Of course,” replied Pyotr, trying to sound as controlled as possible. The impact of what he was being asked to do and the potential repercussions for Russia were enormous. It was bad enough doing it for his own Agency but being an Agent of the SVR doing this for the GRU? The implications had his mind racing.

“Good, do it now!” the voice boomed before the call ended.

Pyotr hit the end button three times on the already dead phone.

“Oh my God,” Alexa exhaled. Her breathing had stopped as she too understood the enormity of the situation, despite her tender years.

Pyotr slumped onto the bed. Thirty years he had given to his country. Thirty years of total devotion to the KGB and SVR and ultimately Mother Russia. He was doomed. They were doomed. After they had carried out their orders, there was no way Borodin would let them live. SVR agents killing a woman and child for the GRU, or even knowing the GRU had had them killed was a death sentence, let alone being the executioners.

Dismay turned to anger as he caught Alexa’s eye. She knew without having to be told.

“Who the fuck is this Sean Fox anyway?” he shouted, banging his fist against the cheap desk.

“The son of the ex-chief of the US Military,” replied Alexa, without thinking.

“Sorry?” asked Pyotr, surprised at Alexa knowing more than he did.

“I googled his name when we got the orders,” she confessed. “Looked it up on the internet,” she explained more fully, given the look of confusion on Pytor’s face. Pyotr was old enough to be her father, perhaps even grandfather, and obviously had not embraced the computer age.

Pyotr remained silent as he computed the information. His brain cells may not be computer age but they were wired for cold war counterintelligence and this had all the makings of some old cold war plan. He shook his head. Whatever it was, Pyotr couldn’t begin to comprehend. He had an order to follow and, like he had for the last thirty years, he would follow it to the letter, even if it did mean his own death. He loved Russia and whatever Russia wanted, Russia got.

He picked up the car keys and with a heavy heart, beckoned Alexa to follow him. He, of course, would help her disappear after the job but Borodin’s GRU was massive, far larger than SVR, with resources just about anywhere. Well anywhere but Laredo Texas obviously. Otherwise, Pyotr and Alexa would have been on their way back to Washington. Alexa had a chance. Pyotr had family back in Russia, he had no chance. This would be his final mission, his swan song.

Pyotr drove as Alexa prepped the weapons, neither spoke as they covered the short distance back to the estate. As they neared the house, Alexa broke the silence. “How do you want to play it?”

“No point beating about the bush, fast and quick?”

“Fine by me!” replied Alexa, cocking the second of the two Tula Arms AS Val silenced assault rifles.

Fast and quick meant exactly that. Pyotr would drive the car as near to the door of the house as possible. They would then assault the door, breeching with a pump action shotgun if necessary before entering the house and killing all inside. They would then exit as quickly as possible. Time on site would be sub one minute if possible.

“Shit!” exclaimed Alexa from nowhere.

“What? What’s wrong?” Pyotr looked around anxiously, desperate to see what she had spotted.

“The boy! We never told them about the boy being kidnapped!”

Pyotr pulled the car over to the side of the road, just before the entrance to the target street. He drummed his fingers against the dash as he leaned over the steering wheel, deep in thought.

“Fuck 'em” he said eventually. “I’m not overly keen to shoot a four year old. Nothing we can do, we’ll just say he wasn’t there. I’m fairly certain a four year old American boy is no great threat to Mother Russia!”

He put the car back in gear and pulled away without further discussion. Pyotr just wanted the whole thing over with. He entered the street and accelerated towards the house.

As they skidded into the driveway, the first and most worrying thing Pyotr noted was that the front door was wide open.

Chapter 15

Katie’s heart stopped. Sean stood before her on the front step. Miguel must have shot her. She must be dead. Sean was dead. He couldn’t be standing there in front of her. It wasn’t possible. Her mind raced while her body remained rigid. Her mouth froze. She was unable to speak for fear of stopping the vision.

Katie felt a hand push at her as the world exploded in her ears. A flash from Sean. She was seeing the light. She was dead.

The wife opened the door and just stood agape looking at him. Sean had the pistol up and ready. His plan was fairly simple, kill anybody that was a threat and get information on the boy from whoever was left. Time was of the essence.

A hand pushed at the woman as one of the Mexicans came from behind the door, obviously keen to find out who was there as the woman had just become comatose. As he spotted Sean, he tried to put the woman between him and Sean but Sean had him and squeezed off a round, catching the Mexican between the eyes. He dropped to the floor already dead.

Sean knew there was at least one more shooter and with no time to sugarcoat his actions, he pushed the wife to the floor and stormed into the house. She screamed almost as soon as she hit the floor. The Mexican’s brain matter did not make the most pleasant of landing spots.

Two rounds thudded into the doorframe next to Sean, indicating that the other shooter was in the room opposite. Sean had to keep moving. He dived across the hallway and positioned himself against the wall. All he needed now were a couple of flash bangs and he’d be good to go. One through the doorway quickly followed by himself. Bang bang bad man down. Easy.

A blast of gunfire had Sean falling to the ground. A white-hot pain seared though his leg. Sean grabbed at his leg and was rewarded with a moistness that screamed blood. Sean looked for another shooter before the realization of the American dream home hit home. The walls were paper-thin. The shooter had hit him through the wall. Another burst of fire tore another line of holes. Fortunately the shooter had gone higher and not lower; he hadn’t realized he had already hit Sean.

“Fuck this,” thought Sean diving for the doorway. The rounds were working away from the door not towards it.

As Sean fell into the room, the young Mexican’s rifle was pointing at the far wall. Sean didn’t hesitate and double tapped him. One in the chest and one in the head; it always paid to make sure.

As Sean struggled to get to his feet, the wife rushed in and threw her arms around him. Her brain coated lips making straight for his.

“Whoa,” Sean grabbed her by the arms and held her back at arms length. “I’m not who you think I am!”

“Sean, it’s me! Katie!” she replied excitedly, ignoring his words.

“I’m not Sean!” replied Sean rather awkwardly. “Well, I am Sean, just, not your one,” he clarified even more awkwardly.

As a look of confusion began to register, a screech of tires from the front drive caught both their attention.

Alexa was first out and had her AS Val rifle up and ready to fire, the silenced assault rifle was the favored weapon of the Russian Spetsnaz forces.

As Alexa rushed towards the door, Pyotr covered her expertly. The dead body sprawled across the doorstep gave them all the warning they needed. They entered the house, weapons very hot. As Alexa covered the doorway, Pyotr rushed forward. They would clear the house room by room, systematically, just as the Spetsnaz instructors had trained them.

As Pyotr entered the hallway, Sean, reacting to the screeching tires, rushed from the living room. Sean’s weapon was up and ready but so was Pyotr’s and he was already aiming at Sean’s doorway. Pytor hit the trigger before Sean and three bullets instantly spat out of the silenced barrel.

“NO!” was the only sound that could be heard. The female scream covered even the modest spit of the silenced rifle.

Chapter 16

Luis loved watching the night sky from the ranch’s terrace. Miles from any major conurbation, the darkness was almost complete and allowed an unpolluted view of the universe and the infinite galaxies beyond. The stars lit up the sky and produced the most magical canvas, surpassing any of his uncle’s original oil masterpieces, certainly in Luis’ opinion. Who could compete with God Himself?

“LUIS!!!” screamed El Jefe, for the nth time that day.

“Yes, Uncle?” He jumped up in response. The tone was not good, angrier than normal.

“Have you heard?” he asked, agitated, storming onto the terrace from the living room.

“Heard what, Uncle?” asked Luis calmly, noting his uncle’s lack of even the tiniest of glances towards the wonder above him.

“The Gulf Cartel have a meeting with major buyers from the East coast!”

“Where did you hear that?” asked Luis, dismissively. He was responsible for Intel and he had heard no such thing.

Even before the back of El Jefe’s hand hit him square across the chin, sending him crashing to the floor, Luis had regretted his tone of voice. The large gold medallion on El Jefe’s index finger tore into Luis’ cheek and ensured he’d never forget his place again.

“I have ten thousand men at my behest! I hear things!” explained El Jefe, leaning in, menacingly close to Luis. “But you’re supposed to hear them first! Stop looking at the pretty lights and do your fucking job. Get me those contacts!”

As El Jefe stormed back into the house, Luis picked himself up and rubbed his chin. Every now and then he was reminded exactly why his uncle was in charge. Behind his ruthlessness, he was a very bright and intelligent man. Luis occasionally forgot that the Neanderthal brute was as much an act to maintain control, by fear and power, as it was the true nature of his uncle. He was a sociopath, not a psychopath.

Luis wiped the blood from his cheek and walked tall into the living room. El Jefe stood in front of a massive drinks bar, pouring himself a Scotch. He nodded towards a beaten man lying on the floor in the corner of the room. Two of El Jefe’s most trusted men hovered over the man.

“He’s Gulf Cartel. We picked him up earlier today drunk in a bar bragging about arranging a massive deal.”

Luis looked at the man and could see the desperation in his eyes. Both knew it was pointless. The man would be dead within the hour, if he were lucky.

Luis turned back to his uncle. “Fat Jake’s contacts?”

“Must be,” concluded El Jefe, the insinuation being that the man had not confirmed or did not know if they were.

Luis walked over to the man and made him a promise he couldn’t nor wouldn’t even try to keep. “ I promise, if you tell us everything you know, you will live!”

The man quickly relayed as much detail as El Jefe had already given Luis. All he knew was that a big meeting was due to take place in the next two days in Nuevo Laredo. The details were a closely guarded secret, only the head of the Gulf Cartel knew all the details but the rumor was the buyers were very rich and desperate Americans from the East.

“Fat Jake’s contact and my fucking customers!” El Jefe shouted, throwing his glass at the Gulf Cartel man.

Luis managed to avoid the glass as he stepped back from the captive. The ramifications of the Gulf Cartel gaining their East coast business were catastrophic. They were just managing to keep their heads above water while they tried to renew the routes they had lost but losing them permanently to their main rival was unthinkable, not only for the loss to them but the massive gain to the Gulf Cartel. It could spell the end for Los Zetas.

“We have to stop them meeting!” exclaimed Luis forcefully.

“I know that!” shouted El Jefe impatiently. Stating the obvious was not helpful. “I’ll get Juan onto it,” added El Jefe confidently. Juan was his number two in command. El Jefe had no more trusted or loyal follower than Juan Torres. They joked they were twins from other mothers, having been best friends their entire lives. He was also Luis’ arch nemesis; seldom did they see eye to eye but thankfully Luis’ blood kept him safe. While El Jefe lived, Luis, his nephew, was safe.

“Juan is in Columbia, he’s not due back until tomorrow. It may be too late by then,” replied Luis. “No matter what it takes, they can’t meet!” emphasized Luis. “Even if we can’t find the meeting, we have to stop it happening!”

“And how exactly do you propose we do that?” asked El Jefe.

“You’ve got 10,000 men! Use them!” replied Luis matter of factly.

El Jefe eyed his nephew carefully for any sign of dissent but none existed. The suggestion to use his men was a genuine one and had not been meant flippantly.

El Jefe swept his hand in the direction of the captive man before taking a seat. His men did not need any further direction, the captive would be dead in minutes. His body would be tossed in the back of a truck and would be dumped as publicly as possible in the middle of the city.

“Where is the boy?” asked El Jefe as the door closed behind his men dragging the living corpse.

Luis took a seat on a sofa opposite his uncle. He pressed the handkerchief tighter against the wound on his cheek before answering. “In the servants’ quarters. One of the maids is keeping an eye on him.”

The ranch was a sprawling estate, 50,000 acres that skirted the northern limits of Nuevo Laredo city. The main ranch house sat atop a hillside that afforded a view over the majority of both the Mexican and American portions of the linked cities. El Jefe had no interest in farming and after purchasing the farm had quickly removed all but the essential living quarters, removing a number of farm buildings to ensure an unencumbered view to the cities below.

“Get a message to his mother. If the meeting happens with her husband’s men and the Americans, her son dies!” he ordered. “We’ll see if she really does know anything!”

“Brilliant!” offered Luis. Stroking his uncle’s ego was never a bad move, particularly after just having pissed him off. He got up and walked to the desk in the corner of the living room and grabbed another unused prepaid cell phone. He’d make the call straight away.

Chapter 17

“No!!!” screamed Alexa as she threw her hands at Pyotr’s rifle barrel. Her hand caught the barrel just as the first of the three bullets was being ejected. The resultant move was just enough to ensure three clean misses and Sean remained standing.

Unfortunately, Sean’s reaction, although slower than Pyotr’s, was almost immeasurably so and his bullet remained true to its original course and hit Pyotr center mass.

Pytor spun back and slammed into the wall as the bullet tore at his chest. Pyotr’s rifle clattered to the floor followed shortly by Pyotr as he slid unceremoniously down the wall. His eyes stared at Alexa, the question etched on his face. “What the hell was she doing?!”

Sean trained his pistol on Alexa as she stood up, mouth agape, watching her partner slide down the wall. Her weapon, although not raised in anger, was still in play and as far as Sean was concerned, still a threat, despite the fact she had most definitely saved his life.

“What’s happening?” cried Katie Fox from the living room. She was doing as Sean had told her, keeping her head down but he should have told her to keep her mouth shut.

Alexa looked at Sean in the eye and carefully placed her weapon on the ground. The act of trust was rewarded by Sean. He lowered his weapon and allowed Alexa to move towards Pyotr.

Pyotr winced in pain as she grabbed at his chest, before slapping him hard across the face.

“You could have told me you were wearing a vest! I thought you were dead!” she shouted angrily, standing up to face Sean.

Sean watched in amazement as Alexa first slapped and then turned her back on Pytor. He was obviously struggling for breath and Sean wouldn’t be surprised if two or three ribs weren’t cracked and from the noises he was making, his lung was probably punctured.

“You should get him to a hospital,” suggested Sean.

“I’ll take him right after you,” replied Alexa, pointing at Sean’s leg.

Sean looked down. His pants were soaked in blood. He pulled at the fabric and examined the wound; it was merely a flesh wound, a splinter from the wall and not a bullet.

“I’ll live,” said Sean, turning his attention back to Alexa and Pyotr.

“Sean?!” shouted Katie from the living room.

“I’m fine, just wait there!”

Pyotr almost forgot his injuries as he heard Sean react to his name.

“You are Sean Fox?” he asked in astonishment through the pain, first looking at Sean and then at Alexa who was nodding her head just enough for him to understand that that was why she had diverted his shots. How could they kill Sean Fox’s widow? If he were alive, she was not a widow. A mistake had been made somewhere and she may not be a threat if her husband was alive.

Sean had recognized the AS Val rifle even when looking down its barrel. The chances of two assassins favoring that weapon were nigh on nil. That left standard issue equipment which meant they were Russians or their allies. Initially he just wondered what the hell the Russians were doing involved in the mess but their knowing his name and the way in which it was said had just added an entirely new twist to the day’s events.

“Sorry, do I know you guys?” asked Sean, feeling the trigger on his pistol once again.

“No and you don’t need to,” offered Alexa turning and helping Pyotr to his feet. “We’re just leaving.”

Alexa put Pyotr’s arm over her shoulder and made for the door. Sean stepped into their path. His gun pointed in their general direction rather than directly at them but the meaning was not lost. They were going nowhere.

“It’s better for everybody if you let us leave,” offered Alexa in a conciliatory tone, allowing her rifle barrel to point to the floor.

“You came here to kill whoever was in this house,” replied Sean. He was beginning to get a little pissed. “It was only when you,” he said looking to Alexa, “recognized me, that you stopped him,” added Sean, pointing his pistol at Pyotr.

Both stayed silent, neither wanted nor was able to admit the truth.

“It makes me wonder what you would have done had the lady of the house come out first?” pondered Sean, staring into Alexa’s eyes.

Alexa could not hold Sean’s gaze. The guilt of what they had been ordered to do weighed too heavily on her mind, telling Sean all he needed to know.

“But why?” was all he could ask, as the impact of what he had stopped hit home.

Alexa looked at Pyotr. He was the more senior of the two agents. He struggled onto his feet and pushed Alexa aside. The impact of the round was lessening and he was regaining his breath.

“We have no idea. All I can say is that we have followed our orders. You being here meant that our orders no longer stood but I would advise taking your wife and child and getting out of here. Others may have different orders or may be more flexible around the orders they have.”

As bizarre as the situation seemed, Sean stepped aside, allowing the two Russians to leave. He could see the relief on their faces, neither was happy at whatever their orders were and like Sean, they had simply being following orders sent down from on high. He knew they had already divulged more than they should, and for that, he was grateful.

“Sorry about the ribs!” he said, closing the door behind them. He knew pursuing them further was pointless. In any event, he had the small issue of convincing the wife that he wasn’t her husband. He’d worry about how the Russians fitted in after that.

As he turned towards the living room, the dead Mexican’s phone began to ring. The Mexican Hat Dance ring tone had Katie Fox running from the living room, a look of horror on her face.

Chapter 18

“What do we do?” asked Katie, grabbing the phone from the floor, her voice cracking from panic.

“Well, we can’t answer it!” replied Sean looking at the handset as uselessly as Katie.

“They have our baby!” she explained, pleading at Sean.

Sean really had to clear up the not being her husband issue and it not being his baby but such pedantry could wait until the phone stopped ringing.

“I know but we can’t answer without putting him at risk.”

The phone continued to ring. Both looked at it helplessly as the Mexican Hat Dance continued on a seemingly endless and infuriating loop.

As the tune ended, Katie dropped the phone on the floor and threw herself into Sean’s arms. Tears streamed from her face and soaked his shirt as she clung to him with every ounce of strength she possessed.

“I thought you were dead! God, I thought you were dead!” she whispered next to his ear between her sobs.

Sean felt the weight of the world fall on him as the wife whose husband was most definitely dead clung to him in relief.

“I’m not your husband, he is dead,” Sean said quietly but firmly, extracting himself from Katie’s hold.

Katie swung a fist at Sean. “Stop saying that! Why would you say that?! You are Sean Fox!” she cried, looking him deep in the eye.

A statement that Sean could not deny. He was Sean Fox but not her Sean Fox.

“I am Sean Fox,” he said and received a smile almost instantly from Katie. “But not your Sean Fox,” he added in explanation.

Katie looked at him with concern. “You must have hit your head. Head injuries can cause memory loss,” she offered, reassuringly stroking the side of his face.

Sean pulled back. Her intimate touch, after six months in the wilderness of Afghanistan, was very pleasant but also very wrong. He was not who she thought he was.

Sean led Katie through to the dining room which was untouched by the earlier violence and lacked any recent corpses. He sat her down in one of the chairs and pulled another out to allow him to face her.

“Please just hear me out,” he asked and received a nod of acceptance in response.

“My name is Sean Fox. I am 39 years old and have never been married. Up until 18 months ago, I worked for the government and only arrived back in the United States this morning after being in Afghanistan for six months.”

Katie had nodded in agreement to every statement but the last. “You were here three months ago,” she corrected. “That’s when you went missing and we thought you had been killed.”

Sean shook his head in frustration. “No I was in Afghanistan for six months and pretty much most of the year before that.”

Katie smiled. “It’s OK Sean I’ve seen TV shows about this, the confusion, the denial, the loss of time, it’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” She worked her way forward in the chair and reached out to him again. “I understand and we’ll get through it together!”

Sean stood up in frustration. Katie pulled back but did not react. Obviously, the TV shows had prepared her for such outbursts. None of it was helping Sean get his point across.

“Katie, your name is Katie, right?”

Katie nodded her head and smiled.

“I don’t know what has happened but I am a different Sean Fox. I am not your husband and I need you to accept that. I will get to the bottom of whatever has happened but your son…”

Katie’s face changed. The euphoria of having her husband back was suddenly trumped by the reminder of her son being kidnapped and being in the hands of the Mexican gang that her husband had just killed two members of.

“…I need to know everything you know about the men that took him, ok?”

Katie explained that the two dead Mexicans were part of the same gang that had taken her son and that their only demand was to meet Sean’s contacts, whoever they were.

As she stopped speaking, she threw herself once again into his arms, the tears started to flow afresh. Sean debated pushing her off once again but he would have done the same for any mother in that situation. She needed comfort, not more heartache.

Neither knew what to say or what to do next. They just climbed into the car in silence and drove out of the estate. Had there been a flight available at that time of night, they would have caught it to anywhere it was going. As Alexa indicated for the motel they had been at earlier, Pyotr broke the silence. “Let’s head to San Antonio, I’d rather not stay in Laredo!”

Alexa did not need to be asked twice. She killed the indicator and stepped on the gas.

“We need to call in,” she said, knowing Pyotr was thinking the same.

“I know,” he said heavily. His mind was elsewhere. Depending on how they handled their call in, there was just a chance they might manage to get out of the hole they were in.

“If they order us back, what do we do?” asked Alexa.

Pyotr didn’t answer straight away, as he considered the question. After a minute or two, he smiled and grabbed his phone.

“Get me General Borodin!” barked Pyotr as the call was answered. Alexa looked on in panic, not having had the chance to debate how Pyotr would handle the call that held their lives in the balance.

After a few seconds, Borodin came on the line.

“Done?” asked Borodin.

“Slight problem.”

“What?!” boomed Borodin threateningly.

“Sean Fox isn’t dead!”

“What makes you think that?” asked Borodin, his voice heavy with suspicion.

“He answered the door,” replied Pyotr. Although not technically true, Sean had been the first to react to Alexa and by default had answered their entry to the house.

Silence reined as Borodin digested the information. Pyotr waited with bated breath as the future of his life hung in the balance. If he was ordered back, he was as good as dead. If he were put on hold and told to await further orders, he reckoned it was a fifty fifty. If they were stood down, he pretty much reckoned they were free and clear.

Seconds felt like minutes as he awaited his fate. A deep guttural cough announced Borodin was about to speak. Pyotr held his breath.

“I’ll call you back shortly!” said Borodin and hung up.

“Shit!” replied Pyotr to the empty line.

“What? What is it?!” clamored Alexa, desperate to know what was happening.

Chapter 19

Luis crushed the pre-paid cell and extracted another. He gave it ten minutes and tried the emergency cell phone again; it was switched off. Miguel was one of the oldest and most trusted members of Los Zetas. Not answering a call to the emergency cell phone was uncharacteristic but he could have been taking a piss, thought Luis. That was allowed but having it switched off was totally unacceptable and suggested something far more worrying.

He tried again after thirty seconds; it was still off. Miguel would not let it run out of charge; it was for emergency contact and had to be available at all times. Miguel knew that. Luis began to panic. If anything had happened to the woman, all hell would break loose. El Jefe would not rest with killing the son in retaliation, there would be a very high probability that Luis may feature in any reprisals. Failure with El Jefe really wasn’t an option. Certainly not if Luis wanted to live. His life depended on securing Fat Jake’s contacts.

Luis had the landline number for the house but was loathed to use it. It went against every piece of field craft he had advocated over the last few years. Never ever use a line that could be traced or recorded. One-time pre-paid cell phones were a must and, even then, only in emergencies. Luis wanted to keep their voices from the authorities as much as anything else. With their voices came voice print analysis and with voice print analysis came tracking capabilities even with pre-paid cells. If they didn’t have the voiceprints, they couldn’t track them and as far as he knew, he had succeeded. To give that up for a phone not being answered was a risk. Too big a risk, he thought.

Luis walked out into the warm night air and pointed to four guards. “Grab a truck, we’re going out!” he shouted.

As he waited for the truck to materialize, Luis watched El Jefe appear, heavily armed from the ranch house. A large group of guards rushed to join him, including two of the men that Luis had pointed to.

“Hey?!” shouted Luis at his two deserters.

Both waved him off, El Jefe came first and foremost.

Luis walked across the large compound and joined his uncle as another group of men appeared from one of the two barracks that secured the ranch and its surroundings. Over fifty Los Zetas were permanently at El Jefe’s beck and call and ensured the ranch was one of the most heavily guarded places in all of Mexico. El Jefe’s latest toys included two armored personnel carriers, Soviet BMP-2’s and an ex-soviet era Hind Mi24 attack chopper, all courtesy of the earlier unrest in the Ivory Coast.

From what Luis could see, El Jefe was not looking at starting a full-scale war. The military vehicles were being left behind in favor of the heavily armored SUV’s. Five B7 level armored Lexus LX570’s were pulling up in front of El Jefe and full of his men. Pretty much capable of stopping even the largest of armor piercing rounds, God help anyone who got in their way.

“Luis!” said El Jefe noting his nephew’s appearance.

“Going out?” asked Luis watching the men pile into the SUVs, with some bewilderment.

“Doing as you suggested nephew!” he replied with a smile, opening the passenger door of the third Lexus.

“What’s that?” asked Luis perplexed, having no recollection of suggesting his uncle go out that night.

“Using some of my ten thousand men to stop the meeting!” El Jefe climbed into the Lexus and turned to his even more confused looking nephew. “After tonight, no one will be on the streets of Nuevo Laredo and no Americans will be visiting any time soon.”

In answer to Luis’ unasked question, El Jefe picked up the FN Minimi machine gun that sat at his feet and secured to it a one hundred cartridge drum feed. Luis stopped himself from asking anything further. Wherever El Jefe was going, many people were going to die. Nuevo Laredo was about to become a war zone again.

Luis signaled to his two guards to wait and rushed back inside. Takings would be hammered in the next few days and their cash-flow needed to be protected. A number of purchases would have to be put on hold, otherwise Los Zetas may experience a very embarrassing cash-flow issue. As Luis logged into their bank accounts and stopped the payments, he wished his uncle would understand that they had to discuss his actions because whether he agreed with them or not, there were always consequences.

Safe in the knowledge that they’d have enough cash on hand for a few weeks but would not be taking ownership of two new aircraft anytime soon, Luis headed back to his waiting truck. He checked his watch; it had been another thirty minutes since his last call. He powered up another unused pre-paid cell and tried the emergency contact number — it was still off.

“Let’s go!” he said, the concern growing. He really had expected the cell to have rung.

“Where to?” asked the driver, having no idea what was in Luis’ thoughts.

“Laredo!”

Sean looked at his watch over Katie’s shoulder. He really needed to get a move on. She had been stuck to him for over ten minutes, her body heaving against his, rising and falling with each and every deep, long and sad breath. As much as Sean felt for her situation, he didn’t have the time or the inclination to be the shoulder to cry on. He had a boy to rescue.

Time was moving on and whoever had rung the cell phone would be wondering why their man hadn’t answered or returned whatever pre-arranged system they had in place. Sean was beginning to wish he hadn’t killed them both. First things first though, he had to extract himself from Katie.

Sean slowly began to disengage from Katie, removing one arm at a time until she sat before him unaided, her eyes bloodshot and wet as tears flowed freely.

“Please get our boy back!” she pleaded as much with her eyes as her words.

Sean thought better of pointing out it wasn’t his boy, given Katie’s current state of inertia. Patting her knee tenderly, he got up and made his way back to the hallway, retrieving the Mexican’s phone. At least he knew why it hadn’t rung subsequently. The hard tile floors were no place to drop a phone you hoped to use again. He dismantled and reassembled it quickly but the result was the same; the phone was dead. He really wished he hadn’t killed them both but then it was pretty much a rule for Sean. If somebody shot at him, he would shoot back better, which pretty much meant if you shot at him you died. It was a rule he’d never broken and was living proof it wasn’t a bad rule to live by.

However, it wasn’t going to help save the boy. For that, he needed some help but that came at a cost he wasn’t sure he was willing to pay.

“Sean?” Katie joined him in the hallway, having pulled herself together. She walked across and leant into him, wrapping her arms around him and resting her head on his chest. She ignored his flinching. “Our baby, Sean, what about James?”

Sean struggled to control his emotions. “James, your son is called James?”

“After his grandfather.” Katie reacted calmly to Sean’s disowning of his child, coping with Sean’s post traumatic stress. “Your father!” she confirmed.

“Jesus,” replied Sean shaking his head, a photo on the staircase caught his eye and he pulled himself away from Katie and realized the wall that lined the staircase was a home gallery. He followed them up the stairs, recognizing many of the photos and remembering exactly when they were taken. They were his photos, his graduation photo, his passing out photo, his mom, his dad, his photo in full dress uniform, his photo with the President. His history, his life. The wedding photo ended the history and the lie. The baby photos of James with his real father and mother took precedence as Sean reached the top landing and looked at the last photo in the collection. Vincent Black with the young James Fox on his lap.

“Just what in the fuck is going on here?!” Sean asked himself, as another twist was added to the already bizarre set of circumstances.

Chapter 20

Borodin had made it back to GRU headquarters by the time the call from Pyotr Travkin had ruined his day for a second time. The news that Sean Fox was alive and in the house was anything but good. He extracted the file that had sat in his top drawer for pretty much all of his service and had never had the misfortune to have to open until earlier that day. The fact that he was having to open it for a second time that same day did not help his already foul mood.

The word 'GREBNEVO’ was written in fading ink, a brief description was written below in German and Russian but had faded so badly neither was legible. However the word CEKPETHO stamped in red were as visible then as they had been over fifty years earlier. Obviously his predecessors had chosen the red ink on their top-secret stamps far more carefully than their pen ink.

He opened the file and scanned through the yellowing pages, finally finding the page he wanted and was rewarded with a photo of a smiling young couple staring up at him, James and Myriam Fox.

The top of the page offered a file reference, the sub file was stored down in the vaults and would have to be brought up to him.

“Vasiliy!” he shouted at the door. An intercom sat on his desk but Borodin found his voice carried well enough on its own.

The door opened momentarily and Borodin’s ever-present assistant entered the office.

Borodin scribbled down the reference number and passed it to the only man he truly trusted on the planet. After nearly sixty years together, there was nothing they didn’t know about each other. They joked that their memoirs would make an amazing story but it would have to go in the fiction section as nobody would believe it was true.

“Can you get this file for me.”

Vasiliy took the reference and noticed the number referred to the most secure area of the records department.

“I’m sorry, General, but I cannot,” offered Vasiliy apologetically.

Borodin rubbed his temples; the stress of the day was getting to him. He didn’t need any more grief.

“Are you too busy?” he asked, struggling to hide his irritation.

“No General, I’d like nothing better,” replied Vasiliy quickly. “It’s just the number you have given me refers to an area of records that only yourself, the Prime Minister and President can gain access to.”

“Vasiliy, Vasiliy, I trust you with my life and my sons’, and grandsons’ lives. I will call down and let them know you are getting them for me. Off you go.”

Vasiliy was about to protest but seeing the look on the General’s face thought better of it and began his wasted trip to the basement record department.

Borodin called the Head of Records and was informed he was indisposed and would return his call as a matter of urgency. Borodin had to laugh. The first time in fifteen years he had called to speak to the man, he had been on the shitter. Borodin could just imagine how crest fallen the man would be at having missed his call when it came in.

As he waited for the call, he picked up the file. The smiling couple stared back at him, he could feel the warmth and hope in their smiles. He guessed they were probably late twenties maybe early thirties when the shot had been taken. He could see from the summary that James Fox was already a rising star in the American Military — three tours in Vietnam and Congressional Medal of Honor winner, the American military’s highest honor. A full Colonel, one of the youngest ever, he was singled out as a future military chief and thanks to his aristocratic background, a potential political career beyond that. James Fox was a man going places and had been identified by the Washington GRU station chief at that time as a man of interest.

As he turned the page, his phone rang. Borodin grabbed at it.

“I’m very sorry General…” started the records chief.

“We all need to take a shit!” boomed Borodin, laughing. “I’ve sent Vasiliy down to get a file for me, make sure he gets it.”

“Of course, General,” replied the records chief. “I wasn’t on the toilet,” he tried to explain but the General had already gone.

Borodin read on. It seemed that James Fox’s career had gone exactly as the GRU had anticipated right up until the accident that claimed him and his wife. Not even fifty thought, Borodin, what a waste.

Borodin got up and poured himself a vodka from his drinks cabinet. It had been a long morning and was going to be an even longer day. He wondered where Vasiliy had got to, just as the phone rang.

“Yes!” he barked.

“General, I’m very sorry.” It was the records chief, his mousey voice more pathetic than normal. “The records you requested cannot be brought to you, Sir.”

“Rubbish! Send them up with Vasiliy!” he barked before replacing the handset firmly enough to ensure the records chief knew he had been hung up on.

Borodin’s phone rang again. “I’m sorry…” started the records chief.

“Now!” demanded Borodin, losing his patience and slamming the phone into its cradle.

The phone rang again. Borodin looked at it with fury. He lifted it and was relieved to hear Vasiliy’s voice. Had the records chief spoken, Borodin could not have controlled his actions.

“General, I’m sorry,” began Vasiliy.

“Do not tell me you can’t get the file!” warned Borodin sternly.

“General, you don’t understand, it’s not that we won’t, we physically can’t.” explained Vasiliy.

“Sorry?” replied Borodin beginning to understand this was not about defiance or his lack of authority.

“If you could just come down please, General. You will understand.”

Borodin got up from his desk and stomped along the corridor to his own private elevator. His was only one of two elevators that offered the option to every floor within the massive and ultra modern GRU headquarters. This was no relic of the Soviet empire. This was a symbol of modern Russia’s power and ambition. Borodin hit B6 and waited as the elevator rushed him down to the very bowels of the structure, available to only a handful of staff members.

Vasiliy met him at the elevator’s door, the records chief standing a good ten yards further away. Borodin noted he looked exactly as he had envisaged, small and somewhat mole like, perfect for his underground environment.

“Well, show me what all this fuss is about.”

The records chief led the way, quickly followed by Vasiliy and then Borodin. A number of blast proof doors separated the vast rooms of paperwork they passed through. It was only after the third door that Borodin actually realized they were walking in a slight curve and ever so slightly downhill.

“How far is it?” he asked as doors led off into the distance.

“Not much further,” promised Vasiliy.

After a couple of minutes, they reached another elevator. Borodin looked at Vasiliy and the records chief.

“Where does this go?” he asked with some consternation, stopping himself from asking why doesn’t mine go there?

“All three got into what turned out to be a very small space and rode another thirty feet towards the earth’s core. As the door opened, Borodin began to understand. A small corridor ended at a large vault door. A finger and eye scanner stood ready to reward only those who matched its system memory.

“Only yourself, the Prime Minister and President may gain access General,” offered the records chief with a little more conviction, signaling for the General to go ahead.

General Borodin, the first and only head of Russia’s GRU since the end of Communism, bent forward and rested his chin on the eye scanner and placed his right index finger on the pad to his right. The system went to work and quickly confirmed that both the retina and fingerprint did indeed match. A final check by the system was that a pulse flowed through both, holding a severed finger and plucked eye would not fool the vault door.

The door opened without a sound, its oiled hinges as good as the day they had been installed and never before used.

Borodin entered the chamber and found an even greater surprise, no records existed. One desk sat in the middle of the room with one chair before a screen. No printers, nowhere to plug any drives, DVDs or USB devices, just a screen and a keyboard. The reason Vasiliy couldn’t bring him the files was simply because there were none. As he stepped into the vault, a steel gate snapped closed behind him. Obviously he was not allowed any visitors. Whatever was in the system was for his eyes only and only while in that room.

Borodin made his way to the desk and noted the flashing cursor on the screen. He typed in the reference and after a second was rewarded with an index page. The index alone blew his mind, the list of names read like a who’s who. The first name on the list caught his eye. There had been no reference to it in his paper file but it explained why the front cover contained a description in German. The more he read, the more he wondered at what had been conceived all those years ago. His file had only hinted at the scale of the project, as had his predecessor.

He wished he could print the screen but that was obviously not an option and he could see why. The information before him was dynamite and could spark a whole new cold war. He clicked back to the main index and selected Sean Fox’s name from the list. He read page after page of information, pretty much the whole of Sean Fox’s life was detailed before him, pages upon pages, details of every single event that marked the young man’s life. His parents’ death, his college and courses, his girlfriends, his army career, his entry to the CIA, after which details became less detailed and spaces began to appear, until finally leaving the CIA and his death three months earlier.

It was only as he realized what he had just read that the importance of it hit home. His death three months earlier. Three months ago. The project had been shut down over twenty years ago.

Borodin closed down the system and rushed back to the vault door. Vasiliy stood patiently waiting for the General and matched his pace as they almost ran back to the elevator.

“Do you have a cell phone?”

“Of course, General.”

“Good, get me Pyotr Travkin on the phone!”

Vasiliy dialed the number and as the cell began to ring handed the handset to the General.

“Travkin?” asked Borodin as confirmation. Receiving an affirmative, he continued. “You’re off the hook, head back to Washington. GRU will take it from here.”

Borodin heard the sigh of relief from Travkin as he hit the end button.

“I hope you’ve not got any plans this evening?” Borodin asked Vasiliy. The message was clear enough. Whatever they were, they had just been cancelled. “Because we are going on a little trip.”

“Of course, General. Will I get the plane prepped?”

“That won’t be necessary, it’s not that far. Have you ever heard of a place called Grebnevo?”

Chapter 21

“You’ve lost so much weight!” exclaimed Katie as she brushed past Sean at the top of the stairs. “He’s a lovely man!” she added seeing the photo Sean was looking at.

“You know him well?” asked Sean.

“Just met him the once, just after news of your…” She caught herself. “ Just after you went missing.”

“He loved James, he said he reminded him of you when you were a boy.”

“Did he,” thought Sean. Vincent had failed to mention his visit when they talked earlier.

“He brought your life assurance payout and details of my widow’s pension.”

Sean’s eyes left the photo and moved directly to Katie’s. “He what?” he asked angrily.

Katie stepped back, realizing she had said something wrong, she was still under the impression Sean was just suffering post traumatic stress. Perhaps she shouldn’t have mentioned 'life’ or 'widow’. She’d have to be more careful she thought. There were probably lots of words that were danger words. She’d have to look into it more.

What in the hell was Vincent up to, thought Sean. He hadn’t been an employee for over a year when the other Sean had died. No payouts should have been made from the CIA. Unless… “Son of a Bitch!” shouted Sean aloud.

Katie stepped back further, fear in her eyes.

Sean saw her move and couldn’t help but throw out his arm and pull Katie towards him. She was so petite and vulnerable with the largest, pleading brown eyes he had ever seen. “Not you, Vincent Black!” he comforted. “Son of a bitch has been playing me for eighteen months!” he added, looking at Vincent’s photo.

That information changed Sean’s outlook on many things and most importantly, picking up the phone to get some much needed help.

Sean reached for his cell. “Just out of interest, did he go to the funeral?”

“Who’s?” asked Katie, not wanting to talk about Sean’s own funeral.

“Sean’s,” replied Sean without any hint of anguish.

“No, I wanted a very private affair, just very close family,” she replied nervously, unable to look him in the eye and ignoring his use of the third person for his own name.

That basically meant her and James. Sean’s close family was Vincent but he wasn’t there and beyond that, his ex-military colleagues. Brothers for life or so they promised each re-union they had. Every one of them a hypocritical bastard. Not one of them had gone to his funeral. Not one. Sean was genuinely upset. Technically, of course, it wasn’t his funeral but nevertheless. What if he had become a drug pedaling scumbag, he was still their brother and pseudo son and as far as they were concerned, it was him.

“Bastards!” he blurted aloud.

Sean gently pushed Katie aside as he dialed Vincent’s number. He opened the nearest door and walked into a room fit for a four-year-old boy. Sean’s photos lined the wall and had pride of place next to the small single bed. James hero-worshipped the dead Sean. Most of the photos were of Sean in his military uniforms, adding to the bizarreness of the situation.

With his focus firmly back on the task at hand, he hit the dial button.

“Err, hello?” came a sleepy voice on the other end of the call.

“You didn’t go to my funeral, you prick!” blurted Sean. He had promised himself he wouldn’t say anything but hearing Vincent’s voice stirred up too many emotions. Sean really did look on him as a father and finding out that he had abandoned him was not easy. Particularly when he was sat on the bed of a young boy who hero-worshipped pictures of him.

“Sean, is that you?”

“Who the fuck else do you know whose funeral you didn’t go to?” replied Sean, barely containing his anger.

“But it wasn’t you!”

“You thought it was!”

“Well…”

“Don’t even try and suggest otherwise, you paid her my pension!”

Game, set and match.

“I’m sorry,” said Vincent, any hint of fight had gone from his voice. “I have regretted that decision, every second for the last three months.” He answered with all his heart.

Although Sean was furious, he could tell that Vincent was being sincere. “Don’t think I’ll be going to yours!” threatened Sean, half-heartedly.

“At least that’s how it should be. You should bury me, not the other way around.”

Sean realized then, from the sincerity and truthfulness in Vincent’s voice, just how hard it had been for him over the previous three months. The anger faded and with it any doubt as to what he needed to do. All thoughts of the beach were shelved. There was a young boy in danger.

“Truce?” offered Sean.

“Absolutely!” replied Vincent, a bounce back in his voice. Sean was alive and well and being his usual pain in the ass self.

“I’m not forgiving you about the pension, though! Don’t think I don’t know what that means,” threatened Sean. Vincent had not terminated Sean’s contract with the CIA, eighteen months earlier.

Vincent mumbled something inaudibly in response which Sean ignored; it would have been some bullshit lie about a clerical error.

“I need some help.”

“Just say the word and you’re back on the payroll!” offered Vincent cheerily. “I’ll have a team with you in four hours.”

“I’m fine on my own, thanks. Anyway, I thought I still was on the team,” replied Sean sarcastically.

“Right up until we thought you were dead! Payroll are a little pedantic about things like that.”

“I need to know where a call came from.”

“You know I can’t…”

“Seriously, don’t even think about it, I’m this close to disowning you!”

“Give me the number, I’ll see what I can do.”

“I don’t have the number, just the IMEI number of the phone and the serial number of the SIM card that received the call.”

“Jesus, you never did make things easy. Give them to me and I’ll see what I can do.”

Sean repeated both numbers twice to ensure Vincent had written them down correctly.

“Oh, one last thing,” asked Sean as they were about to end the call. “Any idea what the Russians are doing involved in this?”

“Did you say the Russians?” replied Vincent quizzically and with some confusion.

“Yep, two Russians came in here, guns blazing. I’d swear a hit team saw me and bugged out. Suggested I get the wife and kid and disappear.”

“Russians?! What the…” contemplated Vincent. “I have no idea. So what are you doing with the wife and son?”

Sean realized then that Vincent didn’t know about the kidnap. So much had happened in such a short space of time.

“The wife’s here and thinks I’m suffering from Post Traumatic Stress and the son has been kidnapped by the Mexicans.”

“Jesus, are the FBI on it?”

“It happened in front of me. I chased the kidnappers to the border. I phoned the FBI but wasn’t sure if they’d be a help or a hindrance. I’ve a feeling there’s an awful lot of dirty money flowing around down here. I decided to keep it to myself.”

“The local police?”

“Nope, just me!”

“I’ll be with you in four hours!” replied Vincent firmly.

“No,” Sean almost shouted. “I’m better on my own. If I need bodies, I’ll give you a shout. In the meantime, I need to know where that call came from and everything about the Mexicans and who the other Sean worked for, particularly any American contacts, it seems that’s what the Mexicans are after.”

“I’m on it…but Russians?” he pondered again as he ended the call. Their involvement had obviously fazed him more than the kidnapping of young James Fox.

As Sean stood up, a burgundy baseball cap hanging on the far wall of the bedroom caught his eye, the Native American image proudly adorning its brow, one he was all too familiar with — The Washington Redskins, Sean’s team. A number of other Washington Redskin paraphernalia adorned the desk below the cap that was proudly displayed on the wall. Why, of all teams, would the boy support the Redskins? The team Sean had spent his childhood watching with his father. Sean began to wonder if he really was suffering from post-traumatic stress. The boy looked like him, the dead Sean was his double and he had to admit if he were ever going to settle down and get married, Katie Fox pretty much fit the bill. Perhaps he really had lost his mind.

“Sean!”

Sean heard Katie’s desperate shout and snapped back to reality. There had been another Sean Fox. He wasn’t going mad and hadn’t lost his mind but it did mean there was one more action point beyond getting the boy — finding out just who the other Sean Fox had been.

Sean got up and joined Katie in the hallway, extremely agitated and gesticulating wildly towards the front of the house. “The Mexicans,” she struggled to get the words out, tears were flowing again. “A truck just pulled up outside!”

As the front door crashed open, Sean grabbed his Glock only to realize he’d left it downstairs.

“Shit!”

Chapter 22

As Vincent relayed the IMEI and SIM numbers to one of his duty managers, he couldn’t stop thinking about Sean’s last words.

Vincent had looked into every detail of Sean’s Fox life from the day he had walked out on the NCS. Rumors were abound that he was working in Afghanistan, he was in Iraq, he was body-guarding a Saudi Prince. Only after his death did they find the truth, or at least what they thought was the truth. He was working as a gun for hire for one of America’s largest drug smugglers.

A number of pieces, of course, had not fit: the marriage, the birth of a son, all of it kept hidden, nobody knew anything of the wife Katie or son James. Vincent Black was the closest thing to family that Sean Fox had had and yet had been unaware of Sean’s marriage or son. It had been the most bizarre of findings but everything fit. Katie’s story fitted with Sean’s pattern of work, times and dates. When he was in country coincided pretty much with her memories of him being at home. His rehabilitation period, everything fit.

The move to Laredo and job with Fat Jake coincided with Sean’s resignation. Sean Fox, one of the CIA’s most decorated spies had led a double life. It was of course exactly as he had been trained, he just wasn’t supposed to play that trick on his master and certainly not on the man who looked on him as his own, Vincent Black. The deceit had hit as hard as the death had and had left Vincent with a very tainted memory of a man he had treated as a son. Vincent knew it was the deceit that kept him from the funeral and nothing at all to do with the drugs. Nothing would have kept him from Sean’s funeral but it seemed, at the time, Vincent didn’t know who was being buried; it certainly hadn’t been the Sean he had known and loved, not the Sean he had held as a baby, less than a day old under the watchful gaze of his best friend and proud father, James Fox.

Vincent and James had met at WestPoint and although they were rivals for just about every competition the Officer Training Academy had on offer, James was always victorious. James Fox was a star amongst stars. Nobody doubted that he would, one day, become the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the chief military officer in the United States; it was just that nobody predicted he would do it so young. Certainly it was inconceivable that anyone in their forties could rise so high so fast but James Fox proved them wrong. Being 'the youngest’ could just about be tagged to everything he had ever achieved: youngest Major, youngest Colonel, youngest General. Had it not been for the year of his birth coinciding with James Fox, Vincent Black would have graduated top of his class with the highest scores in the history of WestPoint. Instead, he was destined to be the graduate who finished just behind James Fox, the institution’s most outstanding cadet ever.

However, such was the bond the two had created, Vincent did not grudge James one ounce of his success or achievements. In fact, thanks to James, Vincent found his niche and moved, rather than into the army itself, straight into the intelligence business where he raced through the ranks, almost as fast as James had in the army. It was there, within the Central Intelligence Agency, that Vincent had found his calling and rose to the rank of Director of Clandestine Services.

Twenty-five years had passed since the worst day of Vincent’s life. The call had come into him at eleven pm. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs had been involved in a car crash, his friend James Fox was dead, killed instantly. James’ wife Myriam was hanging on but chances were slim to nil. Vincent had rushed to the hospital and found fifteen year old Sean Fox lost and helpless, staring at the door that led to his mom. Vincent took him by the shoulders and both walked in. Myriam’s eyes opened briefly and seeing her handsome son, she mouthed the words 'I love you’ and gave a look to Vincent that was the clearest message he had ever received. 'Look after my baby’. Myriam’s eyes closed and never reopened. She knew her son would be OK.

Each and every time he thought of that moment over the last three months, he had hated himself. Not going to Sean’s funeral would have haunted him for the rest of his life.

Vincent became Sean’s guardian and although they set off on a rocky footing — a recently orphaned teenager was no easy introduction to parenting — as time passed, they became more friends than parent and son. Sean was a chip off his father’s block, a natural athlete, intelligent and stubborn, a perfect candidate for WestPoint. The only setback was that Sean had no intention of following in his father’s footsteps. Sean wanted action. WestPoint was for desk jockeys, for guys who wanted to play soldiers. Sean wanted to be a soldier. After an extremely difficult year of frayed relations, an agreement was reached. Sean could go in as a grunt but only if he attended college first. Vincent was immovable on the point; an education was the least he could assure Sean’s parents.

With the war in the Gulf kicking off and the wall falling in Berlin, Sean chose to study the Middle East and Arabic. A champion in various sporting activities, he had his choice of universities with full scholarships and chose Harvard. It, he assured Vincent, had the best program for what he wanted to do. However, it was the only university in the country which did not offer Sean a scholarship. Sean’s junior American kick boxing crown, his quarterback of the year award and swimming titles were all meaningless, especially to Vincent’s bank account which was about to take a pummeling. Sean, it seemed, was going to teach Vincent a very expensive lesson. If he interfered, it would cost him and cost him dearly.

Sean graduated top of his class and had recruiters knocking at his door. Six figure starting salaries and offers to pay off all of his loans flooded in. Vincent fielded a number of the calls, although Sean was happy to leave them to the answering machine. He had only one plan. On the day of graduation, he walked out of the hall and straight into the nearest army recruiting station. From there, he became one of the most over qualified soldiers to walk through the doors. Despite numerous calls to convince him to enter WestPoint, from pretty much every member of the Chiefs of Staff, the son of WestPoint’s greatest ever graduate and youngest Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, entered basic training with an Option 40 contract for the Rangers. Sean sailed through basic training, airborne training and the Rangers Indoctrination Program. A tour of duty followed before he was finally installed in Ranger School. Sixty-one days later and proudly displaying his yellow and black Rangers tab, Sean posted his application for 1st SFOD-D, Delta Force.

Seeing Sean graduate from Ranger school was one of Vincent’s proudest moments. The young boy whom he had watched turn into a man was now a fully-fledged Special Forces warrior. The application to Delta was just another surprise that Sean had managed to pull out of the hat and six months later, Vincent was standing once again proudly at Sean’s passing out parade. This time most definitely his last, unless of course the army created a more elite fighting force which Vincent knew was impossible. Delta Force were the best.

As the decade drew to a close, Vincent began to look at retiring. The world had changed, the Soviet threat had given way to, as predicted by Sean and his degree choice, fundamentalist Islam. Having been involved in the intelligence world for over 40 years, it was time to hang up his boots and retire. On Friday 7th September 2001, Vincent Black, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Clandestine Services and one of her longest serving officers, retired. Sean surprised Vincent once again, announcing at his retirement party that although Vincent was leaving, his memory would live on within the Agency he held so dear. Particularly, as he, Sean, would be making sure nobody forgot Vincent Black as long as he was a member of the CIA, the Agency he would be joining the following week.

Vincent had tried many times to recruit Sean. His background, training and linguistic skills were perfect for the agency’s Middle Eastern section and Sean would have been a great asset to the team and would have been the perfect successor for himself. However, just as Sean had resisted West Point, he had also resisted the Agency, or at least as long as Vincent were there.

Vincent knew it wasn’t personal. Sean was his own man and had no intention of being in anyone’s shadow. At West Point, he would constantly have been rated against his father’s scores. Not reaching them would have been failure, beating them would have felt somehow disrespectful. Likewise, if he had joined the Agency while Vincent were there, he would have been questioned as to whether he deserved to be there, or was it just because Vincent Black had got him in.

The following week everything changed. The twin towers came down and Vincent, at the request of the President, was back at the CIA, heading up, again, its Clandestine Services division which Sean had just joined. With the twin towers still smoldering, Sean was in no position to change his mind and was preparing for his first tour in Afghanistan as the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban was launched in reprisal.

Ever since Vincent had been brought back into the CIA, he had been planning his exit. Sean Fox would be an excellent Director of CS but unfortunately Sean proved too valuable in the field and every time Vincent felt the time was right, another war would break out — Iraq, the surge in Afghanistan. Political upheaval in the Middle East. Sean was needed on the front line, not behind a desk. However, all those plans were dealt a fatal blow thanks to the Senior Senator from Oklahoma and his latest young squeeze. The squeeze was, unfortunately, a very ambitious investigative reporter who, on hearing the news of an undercover operation that would capture Al Qaeda’s number two, broke the story. Unfortunately, she broke it before the operation had actually launched. Unaware of the leak, Sean’s team launched the operation and barely managed to get out with three fatalities and a list of injuries that would mean only Sean and two others out of the ten members of the team would ever live a normal life.

Vincent had called for the senator’s head but he was a massive money generator for the President and so received nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Vincent vowed he’d bring the man down one day but Sean made his feelings very clear and no amount of persuasion would change his mind. He would never work for the 'fuckers’ again. After the six months of rehabilitation and witnessing the Senior Senator from Oklahoma being appointed Chairman of the Intelligence Oversight Committee, Sean left the CIA and government service. Watching Sean leave the office with a small cardboard box under his arm was, as Vincent recalled, one of the most distressing days of his life.

For the next fifteen months, they had little contact. Sean called irregularly to say hi but never said where he was or what he was doing. Vincent tried to keep track but Sean had so many different aliases and documents, it was a full time job to try and keep up with his whereabouts. Eventually, Vincent accepted the inevitable and moved on. Sean needed time to get over what had happened, if he ever would.

Vincent, for what seemed the nth time in his life, put his personal life on hold. He had a country to protect. He had nearly been married twice, the first coincided with the car crash and it seemed while Vincent was ready to step up and take on the responsibility of a grief stricken fifteen year old, his fun loving fiancee was not. However, as far as Sean knew, it just didn’t work out and was none the wiser as to why all of a sudden uncle Vincent’s girlfriend disappeared. He had far more important emotional issues to deal with. The second and more recent engagement was collateral damage from 9/11. With his retirement in tatters and back working 18-hour days, his fiancee, who was going to love and cherish him in to his old age, decided she couldn’t really do that if he wasn’t around. Over seventy, he had resigned himself to dying a bachelor, married to his country which he had loved, honored and obeyed with all his heart despite its indiscretions, for which it was always forgiven. Something Sean could not do.

The lowest point in his life had come three months ago. Sean’s death and the revelations of a secret life hidden from him had hit him harder than the death of James and Myriam, harder than the death of his own parents. It was true, burying a child was the hardest thing you could ever do. Burying one you suddenly didn’t recognize as your own was even harder.

Having Sean back had re-invigorated him. His bounce had come back, his reason for being was back. His life once again had purpose.

Vincent got up from his bed and checking his clock, pondered again over the Russian involvement. The moment Sean had mentioned it, it had triggered something. He racked his memory. At seventy, it was a little slower to respond than it used to be but if there were something there, it would come to him eventually. In the meantime, he picked up his phone, despite the late hour, and dialed an old friend, the former head of the CIA’s Moscow office who answered after three rings.

“Who the hell is calling me at this time of night?!” came the answer.

“Vincent Black!” responded Vincent, not bowing to the old spy’s aggressive tone.

“How in the hell are you, V?”

“Confused, Mike,” replied Vincent, cutting to the chase. “Any ideas why the Russians would be interested in Sean?”

“Sean, as in your Sean, as in killed three months ago Sean?” clarified Mike. He also wasn’t one to beat about the bush.

“Sort of, Sean arrived back today after a stint in Afghanistan.”

“So he’s not dead?”

“Apparently not but the science says he was the body parts we received three months ago.”

“What’s that got to do with the Russians?”

Vincent explained what he knew and listened to a very quiet line. Just as he thought Mike had hung up, he spoke.

“It can’t be…” said Mike pensively. “Vincent, I need to make some calls. I’ll call you back,” he added more firmly.

“Wait a minute,” said Vincent quickly. “What are you thinking?”

“Too early to say but if it is what I think it is, the cold war may not be over, it may have been a temporary thaw!” Mike’s voice was ice cold, adding an eerie relevance to his shocking conclusion.

Chapter 23

Pytor hung up on Borodin and grinned inanely at Alexa. “We’re off the hook!” he said, explaining his ridiculous grin.

“Thank God!” she breathed and relaxed. It was only after the call that she realized how tense she had been.

“I’ll call the Director and tell him we’re heading back to Washington. We do work for SVR after all!” offered Pyotr as he began to search for Deputy Director Beryutov’s number.

“I’ll leave you to it,” she offered cheerily with a wave and closed the door quietly behind her as she made her way back to her own room. With twelve hours until the next flight to Washington, she planned to spend as many of them as possible sleeping.

As Pyotr listened to the voice mail message, he checked his watch. It was almost 10 a.m. in Moscow. He redialed the office number and was immediately connected with Deputy Director Beryutov’s secretary.

“Science Division.”

“I’d like to speak with the Deputy Director, please.”

“Of course, may I ask who’s calling?”

“Pyotr Travkin.”

“And will she know what it is regarding?”

Travkin assumed he misheard the secretary’s use of the word 'she’ in reference to the Deputy Director.

“He will yes!”

“I’m sorry were you looking for former Director Beryutov?” asked the secretary.

“Former Director?”

“Yes I’m afraid there was a terrible accident this morning. He was killed in a car crash on the way to work,” she said with little emotion.

“On his way to work?” confirmed Pyotr.

“Yes,” a suspicion entered her tone, which hadn’t been there previously. “It’s terrible, we are all very shocked,” she added quickly realizing she had dropped her guard.

Pyotr had a list of questions he wanted to ask and check, including whether the secretary could have sounded any less caring. However, the less he got involved the better and the sooner he ended the call the better also.

“Please pass on my condolences,” offered Pyotr in an attempt to end the call.

“Of course,” she replied without any thought. “Shall I put you through to Deputy Director Borodin?” she added quickly.

“Borodin? As in GRU Borodin?” Pyotr almost choked as he spoke.

“No, as in Dr Helena Borodin,” she replied.

“Of course, there are lots of Borodins!” he replied, laughing off the ridiculousness of his question.

“I believe she is his niece!” she added matter of factly. “Will I connect you?”

Pyotr struggled to garner his thoughts. “Hmm, no it’s OK, it really wasn’t important and is no longer necessary,” he managed, despite himself.

The secretary having done her job gave him a clipped goodbye and ended the call.

Pytor slumped onto the bed as the repercussions of the call reverberated throughout his mind.

First things first though, they had to move. He packed his bag and made his way to Alexa’s room. It took almost a minute of hard knocking to wake her up. Eventually her door opened, a long white t-shirt managed just to cover the roundness of her very pert bottom, something Pyotr, under normal circumstances, would have paid far more attention to as he followed the half asleep figure back towards her bed.

“What do you want Pyotr? I really need to sleep,” she whined.

Pyotr didn’t sit or speak. Instead, he approached the window and pulled the curtain back slightly allowing him to check the parking lot below.

“What’s wrong Pyotr?” prompted Alexa, his behavior bringing her out of her slumber.

“Deputy Director Beryutov is dead!”

Alexa looked at him, speechless.

“Killed in a car crash on his way to work this morning,” added Pyotr.

“That’s terrible!” Neither was under any illusion of what really happened.

“But we’ve had the all clear from Borodin,” she offered in comfort to a very nervous Pyotr.

“Yes but we have a major problem. I know how this works. A quick action followed by a thorough clean up.”

“We’ll be fine!” she confirmed again with confidence.

Pyotr pulled out his cell phone and handed it to Alexa. The screen showed the name 'DD Beryutov’.

Alex clicked the name and a text message appeared.

'In office, meeting with Director — stand by for orders.’

The date and time were that morning in Moscow at 6.54 a.m.

Alexa didn’t need Pyotr to spell out what it meant. She got up and packed her bag. They needed to move. Pyotr and Alexa had proof that Deputy Director Beryutov had not died on the way to the office but had in fact met with the Director prior to his death. They of course knew that GRU was involved via General Borodin. In short, they were walking corpses at least as soon as the telephone records for Beryutov were checked and the message to Pyotr was uncovered.

As she packed her bag, Pyotr updated her on the identity of the new Deputy Director, Helena Borodin, niece of General Borodin.

“Jesus, we are so fucked!” she offered unnecessarily as they fled the room.

As they got into the car, both looked at each other for ideas of where to go. They sat silently as both considered all the options. The world was a big place but whether it was big enough to evade the SVR and GRU was an entirely different question.

It was Alexa who uttered the word they were both thinking. “Defect?” she asked.

Pyotr mulled it over before nodding his head slightly. It really was the only option if they wanted to stay alive. If they gave the Americans enough Intel, they would be placed under their witness protection program, something which offered all previous Soviet and Russian traitors a modicum of security.

He looked at Alexa. She nodded more firmly. Decision made. Pyotr turned the ignition key. The car spluttered but didn’t start. He tried it again.

“No, don’t!!” screamed Alexa but it was too late, the key was fully turned and the car’s engine started.

The look of panic on Pyotr’s face turned to laughter as the low hum of the running engine allayed Alexa’s worst fears. Her paranoia was also replaced with laughter, as both realized how ridiculous they were being. The Russian system was not that efficient.

They were, of course, correct. The Russian system was not that efficient. It was only after Pyotr’s call that the Russians were alerted to any issues with regard to Pyotr and Alexa. The secretary was certain that the reference to 'on the way to work’ had somewhat surprised Travkin and she had conveyed this to her boss Helena Borodin. They quickly tracked down the reason for Pyotr’s surprise and a team had been dispatched to deal with the loose end.

However Pyotr and Alexa were already in the car with the engine running as that order was issued.

“OK, nearest US government agency it is then!”

“Yep,” agreed Alexa.

Pyotr selected reverse and hit the accelerator. Whether it was selecting the gear or pushing the accelerator that ended his life, he’d never know. The explosion that destroyed any link between Borodin, GRU, SVR and Sean Fox was massive and incinerated Alexa and Pyotr instantly.

General Yuri Borodin, Head of Russia’s GRU, didn’t hold power in one of Russia’s most powerful offices by chance. The text message from the freelance assassin he had hired the previous day informed him that his loose end had been tightened. He checked the time. His own team would be arriving in Laredo shortly. One of the other benefits of being the boss of GRU was that you had your own 'private’ army on call — Russia’s Spetsnaz troops, over twelve thousand special forces, were under Borodin’s direct control.

Chapter 24

As the door crashed open, Miguel’s corpse answered Luis’ first question. At least he knew Miguel wasn’t being disrespectful or stupid. Death was pretty much the only acceptable reason for not answering the call.

His two men moved cautiously into the hallway as Luis waited by the front door for the all clear. The sound of footsteps from upstairs caught their attention and Luis’ men had their weapons swinging towards the staircase as they both crouched ready for whoever was going to appear.

“Come down with your hands up!” shouted Luis authoritively, peeking his head into the hallway. His Desert Eagle.50 pistol also drawn and ready. Its size was ludicrous in comparison to Luis but as a drug dealer and nephew of El Jefe, he liked to look the part and the power it projected helped his confidence and standing with the men, or so he believed.

Katie looked at Sean for guidance as the shout reverberated up the staircase. He patted his belt uselessly, the Glock sat by the front door, exactly where the shouts were coming from.

“They were definitely not police?” asked Sean quietly.

“I’ve seen the truck before, it’s Los Zetas” she replied adamantly.

Sean looked around. “Weapons?”

“All downstairs, locked in the gun cabinet,” she replied, the tears beginning to well again.

“Shit!”

“We do have a four year old!” she replied angrily, justifying her rule of no guns anywhere but in the safe.

“If you don’t come down in the ten seconds, your son dies!” That shout had Katie running past Sean’s outstretched grip and down the stairs in an instant.

“Shit!” he said to himself, as she escaped his grasp. He stood waiting for the gunfire but none came. They didn’t open fire on her. He didn’t know much about the Mexican cartels but was fairly sure they’d be like any other gang. If you kill one of theirs, they killed you.

With no gunfire, Sean was left with a dilemma. Should he join her? They didn’t know he was there. At least they didn’t know Sean Fox was there. They may suspect somebody else was there. She may tell them. She was a mother trying to save her child but she also thought he was her husband. So she may not. Sean swayed one way then another. He could slip out of a back window and come back through the front, grab his Glock and take them out. Or, she could be raped and killed within the next few minutes, not something he wanted on his conscience. They of course may have the boy with them and kill them both.

The slap that he heard next stopped any further thoughts. He couldn’t listen to her being beaten and do nothing. A second slap, even louder had Sean moving.

“I’m coming down!” he shouted and with his hands in the air walked slowly down the stairs. At least if he were in the mix, they had a chance. Better to die a stupid hero than a coward, he thought.

Luis slapped the bitch again, evening up the redness of the cheeks. She fell to the floor and began to sob loudly.

“Who did this?” he asked again grabbing her long blonde hair and pulling her to her feet.

The shout from upstairs made him jump which, thankfully, his men failed to notice as they once again swiveled expertly towards the staircase.

As the man appeared on the staircase, Luis caught his breath. It couldn’t be, he had watched his uncle carve this man to pieces. He had watched every grizzly minute of it and had sleepless nights ever since because of it. This man was dead.

The man to Luis’ right had been with them that day and he could see that he too was reacting in the same way. It couldn’t be. He could also see how nervously he was training his weapon on the man they knew as Sean Fox.

“Hold your fire!” he said with as much command as the shakiness of his voice would allow.

“Don’t hit her again,” warned Sean, pointing to Luis.

Luis subconsciously stepped away from Katie. The sight of the ghost of Sean Fox brought back many old tales he had heard as a child during the day of the dead festival.

“But you are…” stammered Luis.

Sean could see he had completely freaked two of the Mexicans. The other was struggling to comprehend what was freaking out his two colleagues while trying to keep his weapon trained on him.

“Sean Fox,” replied Sean, his hand outstretched as he walked towards Luis. “Pleased to meet you!”

“Dead!” continued Luis, looking down at the outstretched hand in disbelief.

After a couple of seconds, Sean withdrew his hand and moved towards Katie.

“I think she’s mine,” Sean reached down and helped Katie her to her feet.

Luis finally pulled himself together and shook off the tales of dead rising, devils and whatever other nonsense his head had been filled with as a child and aimed his Desert Eagle at Sean’s head.

“I watched Sean Fox die, who the fuck are you?!” he said with some conviction.

Sean reckoned if he were going to be shot, they’d already have killed them. For whatever reason, they hadn’t come to shoot in retaliation. There was something they needed. Sean’s contacts. Katie had mentioned that was why they were keeping an eye on her.

“Let’s talk about James,” replied Sean taking control and walking towards the living room, ignoring the huge barrel that was staring him in the face.

Sean led Katie away and the two Mexicans looked at Luis for direction. He nodded acceptance and signaled them to follow. He needed to know what had happened. He could save face later if there was a later, depending on how El Jefe reacted to what he was about to uncover.

The sight of the bullet-ridden wall and the body of another Los Zetas was not a pleasant welcome for Luis, payments would need to be made to the man’s family. Los Zetas always looked after the family of the fallen. Two down, two large payments, Luis’ mood worsened.

“Please, sit down.” Sean waved towards one of the sofas, inviting the Mexicans to take a seat.

Only Luis sat down. His two men took up positions either side of the living room, their weapons ready.

“What happened to my men?”

“Your men?” asked Sean quizzically.

“My uncle’s men,” he clarified automatically and immediately chastised himself inwardly for falling for such an obvious trick.

“So you are the nephew of the boss of Los Zetas!” teased Sean, adding very deliberately and slowly. “That must make you a very important person, very powerful!”

Sean didn’t watch Luis, he watched his men. If they understood English they would react to what he said. One man did, a smirk appeared on his face. That told Sean everything he needed to know. This guy was the boss’ nephew but commanded little respect and whatever he did was thanks to his uncle.

“Yes it does!” said Luis with some conviction and confidence. “So what happened to my men?”

“I killed them!”

“Why?”

“They pointed their guns at me!” smiled Sean looking towards the two gunmen.

Both gunmen flinched. Hector and Miguel were experienced ex-soldiers and would not have been easily killed.

Luis was taken aback by Sean’s candor. He expected a little more contrition in the current situation. He had two men covering them with guns and had their child hostage. Yet he felt he was the underdog.

He raised his gun and pointed it at Katie.

“I don’t think you are fully appreciating your position,” threatened Luis.

“Whoa!” Sean raised his hands, he had played him too hard. “Sorry, I promise, I fully appreciate our position. I didn’t catch your name?”

Luis’ hand began to shake ever so slightly as he held the massive pistol aloft. He willed himself to pull the trigger but couldn’t. He had never killed anyone before. Starting with an unarmed helpless woman wasn’t going to be the easiest of first kills. Sean’s timely and quick intervention was going to save his reputation in front of his men. As far as they knew, he would have done it.

“Luis, my name is Luis,” offered Luis bringing the gun back down, his arm muscles welcoming the move.

Katie let out a breath, her first since the gun had been aimed at her. Sean kicked himself. This was a young man with serious respect and authority issues and he had pushed him too far. He had almost got Katie killed. He had to play him, not wind him up.

“Luis, I’m sorry,” he reiterated. “Your men shot first, I shot back,” he pointed towards the wound on his leg in confirmation that they had indeed fought him in some way.

“But Sean Fox is dead, so who are you?” Luis asked for the third time.

“My name really is Sean Fox.”

“And the man we killed?”

“Another Sean Fox.”

Katie shifted nervously in her seat, uncomfortable with the discussion and Sean’s constant insistence that there were two of him.

“So you are no use to us,” offered Luis.

“Depends, on whether I’m the right or wrong Sean Fox,” replied Sean mysteriously.

“And how would I know?” asked Luis quizzically, playing along with wherever Sean was headed.

“I suppose if I could give you the contacts and leads to the East coast distributors, I would be the right one. If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t be.”

“Can you?” the hope in Luis’ voice gave away just how desperate he was.

“Where is James?” asked Sean.

“He is safe, can you?” asked Luis again.

“Where is James?” reiterated Sean.

“Can you?!” Luis asked more forcefully.

Katie kicked Sean’s ankle. She wanted him to stop.

“Yes!” replied Sean definitively.

Chapter 25

General Yuri Borodin looked at the pilot as though he were mad. “What do you mean we have to put down?”

“It’s a no fly zone, Sir.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, tell them I’m on board!”

“I have, they told me even if you were the President of Russia, you’d still not get in by air.”

In all his years as a senior member of the Russian military, he had never been told he couldn’t do anything.

“Ignore them, I’ll have their heads when we land!” he boomed in outrage.

The pilot, under no illusion who was his boss, continued on their original path.

Vasiliy sat next to Borodin quietly. He was used to watching him throw his weight around, of which there was plenty to throw. He knew he’d not hear the end of the outrageous suggestion that, he, General Borodin, could not fly wherever he needed to go, for some time. Vasiliy pitied the poor fool on the ground, who did not know what was about to hit him. Siberia would be his next posting but only if he were lucky and Borodin’s mood lightened before they landed.

“Sir, they’ve just informed me that we have one minute to turn back or they will shoot us down!” The pilot’s voice burst through the silence brewing in the rear cabin of the Kamov KA-60 helicopter.

“Rubbish!” shouted the General.

The ear-piercing screech of the missile detection system cut through the General’s response.

Vasiliy, probably the only man alive who could do so, put his hand on the arm of the General. “General, I think they may be serious,” he offered, in an attempt to avert the General’s ego killing them all.

Shrugging Vasiliy’s arm aside. “Land!” he barked at the pilot who was only too happy to oblige.

As the pilot pulled a dramatic and almost immediate landing on the edge of the town, Borodin looked fit to explode. However, almost immediately as they landed, a large and very Soviet era Zil limousine pulled up at the helicopter’s side. A well dressed chauffeur rushed to open the General’s door and led him to the waiting Limousine, taking a significant amount of steam out of the General’s fury. Vasiliy followed, rather bewildered. He had not informed them of the General’s visit. This had been done as they flew in, only minutes before.

As Vasiliy exited the helicopter in an attempt to keep up, he noticed another man had exited the rear of the limousine, impeccably dressed and standing to attention as the General approached him.

Vasiliy sped up and was at the General’s side when they reached the Zil.

“General Borodin, it is a pleasure to meet you, Sir.” The man offered him his hand.

Borodin took it and shook it. “I’m sorry, you are?” The welcoming party after the threats had completely thrown him off guard. That and his age. The man was eighty if a day, thought Vasiliy.

“The Program Director General, Dr Boris Surkov.”

“Surkov, Surkov, I recognize the name,” thought Borodin aloud.

Vasiliy leant forward and whispered in his ear. “He is on your payroll, General.”

“Ah of course, you work for GRU!” reminded Borodin loudly.

“Technically, yes,” he said before indicating that it was time for the General and Vasiliy to enter the car.

As they settled into the plush politburo car, Borodin wondered at the interior. He had not seen anything like it for twenty years.

“Fantastic.” His mood had completely changed, the wonders of nostalgia on an old warhorse.

“I know, believe it or not, it has only three thousand kilometers on the odometer.”

Vasiliy could see the look in Borodin’s eyes. The Zil would be requisitioned and no more would be mentioned of the no fly zone debacle.

“Anyway, how may I help you today, General Borodin?”

“I just felt it was time to pay a visit.”

“Unannounced?”

“Is that a problem?!” demanded Borodin who was unused to being questioned.

“Frankly, yes.”

Borodin’s face reddened notably. “Do I need to remind you who I am and what I can do to you?!” asked Borodin as evenly as his temper would allow.

“General, save your threats for somebody who gives a shit.” Surkov’s voice belied his age and frailty. The words stung as Surkov rose to the General’s challenge. Vasiliy had never seen anything like it. In all his years, nobody had ever spoken to Borodin in such a manner. Vasiliy looked at the old man who up until a second ago looked like an average sweet old grandfather. But the eyes were dead. There was nothing there. Vasiliy could not believe the transformation, the sweet old man look had been replaced by a monster. The intensity and coldness of his eyes were pure evil. Vasiliy had seen a similar look only once in his life, despite having dealt with hundreds of assassins and killers within GRU over the years. It was a look from a time long ago, a time he had spent many years trying to forget. Dr Boris Surkov reminded Vasiliy of his boyhood in camps where no boy should ever have been and where Vasiliy’s parents had met their maker because of their religion.

Vasiliy shivered involuntarily as he watched General Borodin’s resolve falter under the stare of the old doctor.

“You work for me!” countered Borodin, with less force than he had hoped.

“I work for Russia!” replied Surkov quickly and forcefully.

“Of course you do but under me!”

“You have no idea what you are getting into, do you?” asked Surkov evenly.

“Don’t be ridiculous!”

“So, what is Grebnevo then?” asked Surkov with a smile.

“You train sleeper agents!”

Surkov laughed and opened the Zil door. “Go back to Moscow Yuri and come back when you’re a big boy!”

Vasiliy moved quickly and placed his hand over Yuri Borodin’s holster, stopping him from shooting the old man. Borodin’s anger consumed him and he pushed at Vasiliy’s hand to free his ability to teach Surkov a lesson he would remember for the rest of his very short life.

Surkov did not flinch and remained calm as he stared at the massive and enraged Borodin.

“Dr Surkov, perhaps an apology would be in order?” asked Vasiliy struggling to contain the General and in an attempt to calm the situation.

Surkov smiled and shook his head slightly. He had no intention whatsoever of appeasing Borodin. He watched Borodin as only a scientist could, seemingly noting every detail, move and reaction, filing it away as he would the results of any lab experiment.

Borodin gave up trying to wrestle the pistol from his holster and instead made a move for Surkov with his bare hands.

“That, General,” offered the driver, calmly pointing a pistol at Borodin’s head, “Would prove to be a monumental error of judgment.”

With Borodin at the driver’s mercy, Surkov leant forward and disarmed Borodin. “Govin will look after your pistol for you, General,” he said, handing the weapon to the driver.

Vasiliy considered making a move for the General’s weapon but again a flashback to his days in the camps had him frozen to the spot.

Borodin sat back in his seat and struggled desperately to contain his fury.

“Excellent, now that we have that out of our system, perhaps we can go?” offered Surkov smiling at both Vasiliy and Borodin.

The driver remained facing the rear of the car, his pistol trained on the forehead of General Yuri Borodin, Head of the GRU.

Borodin nodded slightly and was rewarded with the pistol being removed and the driver turning and beginning their drive to Grebnevo.

As the car pulled away from the helicopter’s landing site, Surkov asked “So where were we?”

Borodin remained silent, looking intently at anything out of the side window. Vasiliy was left to answer on their behalf. “You asked us what Grebnevo was?”

“Ah of course and General Borodin showed his ignorance on the subject!”

Vasiliy placed his hand for the third time in an hour and only the fourth time in their lives on the General’s arm in order to contain him.

“Grebnevo, my dear men, is far more than you imagine, far more than Russia can imagine and unfortunately, far more, than you, my dear Vasiliy, are cleared for!”

The car drew to a halt and the driver jumped out and opened the door to allow Vasiliy to exit.

Vasiliy did not move. He took orders from General Yuri Borodin and no one else.

“I assure you, the General will be in a far better mood when we return!” offered Surkov as an incentive to make Vasiliy move.

Borodin was struggling to contain himself and not snap the obsequious scientist’s scrawny neck but for all his anger, his curiosity at what he was about to discover was containing him.

“It’s fine Vasiliy, go have a coffee.”

“Give us two hours!” instructed Surkov as the door closed behind Vasiliy.

At least they had stopped in a small town center thought Vasiliy. A coffee shop awaited him across the street. As Vasiliy watched the car drive away, he walked across the road and entered the least welcoming coffee shop he had ever had the displeasure to visit.

There were not many closed cities left in Russia but those that were, were closed for good reason and outsiders were rarely welcomed with open arms. The small town of Grebnevo was no different.

As the car exited the small town, the countryside opened up before them. Borodin wondered exactly where they were going. Grebnevo was behind them and as far as he was aware, that was where they were supposed to be going. Just as he was about to ask that very question, the driver took a sharp turn and had them careering down a small track into the woods that lined the road as far as the eye could see.

Borodin watched with increasing interest as they drove past numerous checkpoints, all exceptionally well concealed and guarded by soldiers who, despite their remote locales, remained extremely vigilant. The most interesting point, however, was the uniform adorning the guards. They bore the insignia of the Kremlin Guard, the president’s personal security detail and most trusted of the military regiments. The no-fly zone began to make sense. “I see the President is here.” Borodin stated rather than asked.

“No,” replied Surkov crisply.

“But his guard?” offered Borodin as explanation for his statement.

“Ours also!” replied Surkov, offering no additional explanation.

Before he could ask any further questions, they began to slow down as large metal gates blocked the road ahead. As they slowly swung open, Borodin could see they were at least two meters thick. They were more like vault doors than gates. Whatever Grebnevo was, it was apparent the world wasn’t supposed to know about it. And whatever Borodin was expecting to see behind the gates, it wasn’t what met his gaze. One of the most stunning neo-classic churches he had ever seen stood before them. Towering above the forest around them and overlooking a beautiful lake, the church took his breath away.

“Stunning, isn’t it?” asked Surkov as he watched Borodin’s response to the view.

“Beautiful,” he said taking in every detail.

“Just wait until you see the house!”

With that, the driver pushed on the accelerator and they sped under the archway by the side of the church and covered the two kilometers of driveway to the main house.

Borodin looked at a building he had seen in ruin. Something that the house was definitely not. It reminded him of the American President’s White House, only bigger, far bigger.

“I thought this was a ruin?” he asked aghast at how perfect the building was.

“A little Photoshop trick!” laughed Surkov. “I believe if you google us you even see tourists in the photos.”

“Anyway, enough of the cover story, General Borodin, welcome to Grebnevo.”

Chapter 26

Luis pulled out a small notebook and a cell phone. “You give me the names and details and I’ll have your son back in thirty minutes!”

“I need to see James. Once he’s here, you’ll get what you want,” replied Sean with some force.

“Maybe in your world but not in mine. Details, then boy!” countered Luis making it clear there was no room for discussion.

Sean looked at Katie as he tried desperately to think of a way to stall Luis. The look of hope in her face just added to his dismay. He was royally screwed. Offering the leads had seemed the right thing to do at the time, not so much any more.

“Well!” prompted Luis, a slight irritation had crept back into his voice after his initial elation at the prospect of getting what his uncle so desperately wanted.

Sean looked back at Luis, desperately trying to think of something that would allow him to stall just a little longer.

“What the fuck?!” Luis jumped from his seat and rushed towards the TV screen that was mounted on the central wall of the living room and turned up the volume.

“…It’s like a war zone here!” shouted the reporter, gunfire and explosions drowned out the reporter’s words.

The picture jumped back to the newsroom.

“If you have just joined us, the war zone pictures you have just witnessed are not from Iraq or Afghanistan, they are in fact from just across the border, in Nuevo Laredo. Running battles in the streets have left scores dead and hundreds wounded as Los Zetas and the Gulf cartels battle for control. Concern continues to rise as the violence edges ever closer to the US border and Laredo…”

“Shit!” exclaimed Luis. “What the hell has he done?!”

It seemed Sean’s prayers had been answered. He had his reason to stall.

“Obviously, we will need to work something out. With the border closed, you can’t get our son back to us and I am not giving you anything before I get him back!” said Sean, taking advantage of the situation and playing hardball.

Luis ignored Sean as he watched the events unfold on the screen. His uncle had obviously decided to create so much devastation that nobody in their right mind would visit Nuevo Laredo. Luis had to hand it to him, he had set out to stop the meeting and that was in all likelihood exactly what his plan had achieved but at what cost?

“I need those names and details,” Luis finally said as the news moved on to another topic.

“Not without getting my son!” demanded Sean.

“Shoot her!” said Luis angrily, pointing to one of his men. Fortunately he had left his pistol on the sofa and was spared the embarrassment of being unable to pull the trigger himself.

Sean jumped from his seat and blocked the gunman’s view of the terrified Katie.

“I promise you’ll get nothing if you do that!”

As the other gunman positioned himself to take the shot Luis raised his hand to stop him. “Enough.” The red mist that had descended had receded and rational thought had returned. “Just give me the details and everybody will walk out of here alive and I promise you will get your son back.”

Katie’s tearful eyes pleaded with Sean to give the men what they wanted.

Sean wished he could. He was at an impasse. There was nothing he could do other than lie and he had a distinct feeling that was going to achieve the young boy’s death much quicker than the truth. Sean considered those thoughts as they went through his mind. The truth.

“I need to speak to you in private!” he said with some sincerity to Luis.

Luis considered the request and looked at the two bodies of his men that littered the house thanks to Sean.

Sean could see the indecision on Luis’ face and the thought of being left alone with a very experienced killer was not an inviting one.

“I promise, I will not try anything stupid, you have my wife and son at gun point!”

“My men can hear whatever you have to say.”

“You don’t know what I have to say and I can assure you your uncle would not thank them for knowing what I am going to tell you.” Sean could see the use of his uncle was working. For good measure, he added. “In fact, I’d be surprised if he let them live.” Just to ensure neither of Luis’ men tried to talk him out of a one to one with Sean.

It had worked. He could see both gunmen motioning for Luis to go with Sean. They would cover Katie while Sean and Luis talked.

“OK but you try anything and you all die,” promised Luis, retrieving his desert eagle from the sofa and pointing it at Sean and motioned him towards the hallway.

“I won’t be long,” offered Sean to Katie as he rose from the sofa.

Her eyes spoke volumes, pleading, that, whatever happened, she wanted her boy back home safe.

Sean squeezed her shoulder as he followed Luis’ instructions and walked into the hallway. Luis followed a few steps behind, the desert eagle remaining firmly aimed at the back of Sean’s head.

Sean turned and entered the kitchen.

“That’s far enough, take a seat at the table over there,” instructed Luis, stopping Sean short of the kitchen cabinets and drawers.

Sean pulled out a chair and sat down. The table, he noted, was one massive chunk of oak. Very nice, he thought, running his fingers across the perfectly smooth surface and definitely not cheap.

Luis took a seat on the other side, well out of Sean’s reach. The gun although resting on the table, was still aimed at Sean and Luis’ finger was firmly fixed to the trigger.

“Well?” asked Luis.

Sean continued to rub the table’s surface; it really was remarkable how smooth it was. One piece, that could, he calculated, easily seat twelve and it was at least 5 inches thick.

“Seriously,” asked Sean. “How much would one of these run you, do you think?”

Luis looked at him with some confusion. “What?”

“This table, how much?”

“I don’t know, it’s your table, you tell me!” replied Luis, a little off-guard.

“You see, that’s just it, it’s not mine!”

“I thought you were Sean Fox?”

“Oh, I am, just not the one you think I am.”

Luis lifted the desert eagle and aimed it more precisely. “You said you had the leads.”

“I said I would give you them!”

“So do you have them?”

“I can get them.”

Luis stood up. “What the fuck do you mean you can get them?”

“Just that. I can get them.”

“So you don’t have them?” Luis cocked the pistol and pointed it at Sean’s head.

“Not at this moment but I will have them very soon,” replied Sean quickly. He could see Luis was beginning to lose it.

“How soon?” Luis’ arm began to shake under the weight of the pistol. He was going to have to use it or bring it down very soon.

“Please sit and I’ll explain everything!” pleaded Sean holding his hands in surrender. He had noticed Luis’ shaking arm and figured he had to give him a reason to put the gun down before he used it.

“No more bullshit!” exclaimed Luis, forcefully retaking his seat and laying the gun on the tabletop.

Sean winced as the gun clattered into the solid oak surface and left a noticeable dent. Jesus you’d think it was mine, he thought.

“Where to start,” thought Sean aloud. He had wondered what he would tell Luis and then decided, what the hell, tell him the truth which is exactly what he did up to and including awaiting a phone call from the head of the CIA’s special operations division to tell him who the leads were.

Luis fidgeted more and more as the story was laid out before him and when Sean finished talking, Luis sat speechless. His mind was working overtime trying to compute how best to use the information he had just received and more importantly how his uncle would react.

“So where do we go now?” asked Sean, prompting Luis for a response.

Luis shook his head, he needed more time. His uncle would not react well. The man he thought he had killed was the man in front of Luis now but he had never worked for a drug dealer. The man who worked for the drug dealer was just pretending to be the man sitting in front of him now. Whatever the case, the first thing his uncle would want to do would be to kill the man, with or without the leads. However, they needed the leads more than his uncle would ever know. Without the East coast distribution, they’d be out of cash in a matter of months and out of power about two seconds after that. There was only one solution.

“You want your son…” started Luis.

“He’s not my son!” interrupted Sean with some frustration.

“You know what I mean, you want her son and I want my leads.”

“OK?” Sean began to see some light. The boy was smart, he had to give him that.

“That leaves us two problems, my uncle and the Gulf Cartel. My uncle I can deal with, the Gulf Cartel is a bigger problem.”

Sean looked quizzical enough for Luis to explain further. “ The little war playing out in Nuevo Laredo is to stop a meeting scheduled between the East coast distributors and the Gulf Cartel. If that meeting goes ahead, they’ll steal our business and your…” He corrected himself. “Her son, will be of no use to my uncle and he will be killed.”

“So we need to stop that meeting and get one for you guys!” offered Sean.

“Exactly. Can you do that?”

Sean was now in a place where he was offering to assist a drug cartel to make a deal to gain the distribution rights for the American East coast, all to save a boy’s life who up until a few hours ago, he never knew existed and had in fact never met.

“Yes,” he responded with some conviction, surprising even himself.

“Excellent. Although there is one other problem,” Luis continued awkwardly.

Sean nodded for him to go on.

“My uncle. He cannot know you’re alive. If he did, he would have to kill you, leads or not!”

“I understand,” replied Sean, not understanding at all. His uncle was obviously a fucking psycho and seriously unstable.

Luis nodded towards the living room. Sean looked at him and wondered what was wrong.

“Are you OK?” he asked, as Luis continued to nod towards the living room.

“The men!” he whispered.

Sean looked at him with some confusion. “The men?” he shrugged.

Luis leant forward conspiratorially. “They are my uncle’s men,” he said, smiling and pushing the Desert Eagle towards him.

Sean suddenly realized what Luis was asking of him. “Shit, I can’t just walk in and kill them!”

“You already killed two of my men!”

“Your uncle’s men,” corrected Sean “And they were trying to kill me! I don’t do cold blooded murder!”

Luis smiled. “It won’t be cold blooded!”

Sean grabbed the gun and ran.

“Shoot her!” shouted Luis.

Chapter 27

The odds of the incumbent Texan Governor winning the upcoming Presidential election were already stacked in his favor. Just under half of the previous sixty years had been served by a Texan resident at The White House. With the country struggling out of recession, a budget deficit in the stratosphere and the incumbent president with a spending plan in disarray, it was a foregone conclusion that Texas Governor Rick Brown, the republican poster boy, would be the nation’s next president.

That of course was before El Jefe had decided to launch an all out war on his doorstep in Nuevo Laredo. With just over eighteen months to run until the election, the party hierarchy had made it clear — don’t cause a fuss and for God sake, keep your pecker in your trousers or your wife. Having an ex-Miss Texas as a wife, one of the requests was hardly an issue. Having two warring drug cartels on your border meant the other was slightly less within his control. It was with that in mind that the Governor took to the platform and spoke to his fellow Texans.

To date, the only negatives that any of his contenders could throw at him were his age and lack of military experience. As of the date of the next inauguration, Rick Brown would be 42 years and 217 days old. Meaning if and when elected, he would beat the youngest president in modern history, JFK, by over a year and the youngest president in the history of the United States ever, Theodore Roosevelt, by just over 100 days. His age was of course outside of his control, unlike his military experience. But that in itself was a story.

Rick Brown had been destined to be president from the day his father turned his back on big business and entered politics. John Brown had turned his back on big business for the good of his State and country. Fed up with imbeciles running the country into the ground, he decided to put his money where his mouth was and 'stop bitchin and start doin’. His campaign took off like wildfire and the self made billionaire swept into congress, taking the 23rd Congressional district away from the Democrats for the first time in the history of the seat.

With seemingly the senate and presidency for the taking, John Brown was the most talked about congressman for the first two years of his candidacy. His speeches lit up the house and had the old guard running for cover as he single handedly vowed to clean up politics. With billions in the bank, he was beholden to nobody and the public loved him — right up until the accident that ended any chance of his presidency.

Whether the modern American public would have elected a wheelchair bound president may have been a question but a wheelchair bound president with a facial disfigurement wasn’t even up for debate. His political career was over; it just seemed nobody had told the constituents of 23rd congressional district. Despite not having run for a second term, more than half of the districts voters added his name to the ballot and with the acceptance of the other candidates, John Brown regained the seat he hadn’t fought for. The following election resulted in a near 100 % vote and ensured as long as John Brown stood in the 23rd district, he would stand unopposed.

Rick Brown was a miracle or at least so his mother had told him almost every birthday that he celebrated. Conceived after his father’s accident, Rick Brown was only alive thanks to the wonders of modern science and the brilliance of the doctors based at what was then the leading fertility clinic in the country. Ultra exclusive, it was only after winning his first term as Congressman that John Brown was even made aware of its existence. The Clinic catered only to the Washington elite. Money, as John Brown had discovered, made little difference. It was the only bright spot after the accident. Two months after John’s crash and his ability to father a child gone forever that the miracle happened. Esther Brown became pregnant. It wasn’t to be an easy pregnancy and in fact resulted in her spending the last three months of the pregnancy in the Washington clinic, finally giving birth to Rick by caesarean section.

Esther and John both knew that Rick’s birth had to be as a result of some type of test tube program but it was almost ten years later, in 1978, that the first test tube baby was revealed to the world. Of course only Esther and John were aware of the accident’s effects in the bedroom and therefore to the outside world, the news was met with joy rather than wonder. It seemed with exclusivity came privacy which, as far as they were concerned, was no bad thing. They had, after all, the only thing they cared about, their own child.

The depression that had hit John after his accident immediately lifted. Rick became his purpose in life and through Rick, he would have the chance to make the difference that the accident prevented him from making. By the age of ten, Rick’s life was planned intricately. The course for him to become president was already setting sail. An Ivy League law degree would be followed with a stint in the Navy. The white uniform always looked best in the photo shoots. He would then take over John’s own seat as he retired. At age 35, Rick Brown would spend one term as Congressman before two terms as Governor, the perfect position, according to John, from which to become President.

Unfortunately, a fatal heart attack ended John’s plans and had Rick Brown being sworn in as one of the youngest congressman in US history at the age of 25, his law degree being completed while in office but the much necessary, according to John, military service, never transpired. Although ten years early into congress, Rick Brown wasted no time in following in his father’s footsteps and before long, people were talking of a potential president just as they had his father and just as his father had planned.

Governor Rick Brown tapped the mike and caught the press’ attention. The pressroom at the Governor’s Mansion was overflowing. Although hotly tipped as the next president, he had still to announce his intention to run. Calling a press conference at 12.30am was, to say the least, unorthodox and was for exactly that reason that the pressroom was packed and not just with locals. Network stations were breaking into their normal programming to bring the breaking news from Texas.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Rick addressed the cameras somberly.

“It is never an easy decision to call our young soldiers to action but as Governor and Commander in Chief of Our National Guard, I’m afraid it is my duty to do just that. Our great State is in danger and I will not stand idly by and allow the lawless few to threaten even one of my fellow Texans!”

It was a forceful display of the Governor showing the leadership that was expected from a military chief. Not one of the journalists in the room saw the maneuver as anything more than a pre-cursor to his announcement to run for president.

It was a barnstorming speech. The lectern was banged on several occasions as the Governor made it clear that the cartels would not be threatening even one Texan. If the Mexicans couldn’t control the cartels, he sure as hell would. He stopped short of announcing an invasion into neighboring Nuevo Laredo but it wasn’t far short. Governor Rick Brown was filling in the blank for military service currently lacking in his resume.

As El Jefe neared the border crossing, he smiled. The Southbound road was empty, while the Northbound road was at a standstill. But it wasn’t just the fact that the border was closed that made El Jefe happy. It was the vehicles that had closed it.

The sight of the Texan National Guard’s armored personnel carriers lining the bridge that separated the two countries was a major bonus. The Americans had obviously taken the small war he had waged over the last few hours very seriously. The five Lexuses that formed his advance party had wreaked havoc in the Gulf cartels strongholds. Hitting hard and fast, they had left a trail of casualties in their wake. Indiscriminately shooting throughout the streets had added to the casualties and confusion that had hit Nuevo Laredo and its impotent authorities.

El Jefe loaded his 4th 100 round drum onto his FN minimi and handed it to one of his men in the rear and received a sniper rifle, as requested, in return.

“Pull up over there!” he ordered, pointing at a Multidivisas bank that overlooked the river.

“You two go over to the riverside and when I signal empty your magazines towards the bridge.”

As the car drew to a stop, the two gunmen in the rear barked acceptance of El Jefe’s orders and scuttled across the road and positioned themselves amongst the bushes, ensuring they had a clear line of sight to the border bridge.

El Jefe judged the distance at just over five hundred yards, outside of the range of his gunmen but well within the range of his Heckler amp; Koch MSG90 sniper rifle.

Chapter 28

With nearly half of all US exports to Mexico travelling through it, closing the Laredo — Nuevo Laredo border was no small gesture by the Republican Governor. Its closure was going to hit business hard and by default the Governor. It was with this thought ringing in his ears that Colonel George N. Masters of The Texas National Guard (Reserve) had stationed his four troop carriers on the main bridge crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico. With only the small reserve party at his disposal, he had little more might to project but at least the four M113 Bradley personnel carriers made a fairly impressive statement as they blocked the Border crossing and made it clear America wasn’t going to tolerate any nonsense.

The fact that he had barely managed to crew the four troop carriers with local reservists, never mind fill them with soldiers, was known only unto himself and the eight men that had in fact crewed the four troop carriers which, fully manned, would have housed a further forty four guardsmen. Instead, they had a driver and a gunner each and even then two drivers weren’t even legal, having both been caught DUI, in the last couple of months.

The Governor had shot down Masters protestations and assured him he needed do nothing other than show force. The Colonel just needed to reassure his fellow Texans they were safe. It was, after all, the Governor explained, why they had based the four armored personnel carriers in Laredo in the first place — to project power. Masters had argued that was fine but without anybody to operate them, they were effectively powerless. The Governor had promised the Guards were on their way from Fort Worth and would be with him in a few hours — Masters knew this was code for some time the next day. In the meantime it was going to be up to him and his eight men to pretend to be a platoon strength detachment of the National Guard.

Of course, it wasn’t as though they were on their own. Between the police and border agents, there were over 500 armed officers guarding the four main crossing points across the Rio Grande that separated the two cities’ nationalities.

Covering over 160 square miles, the twin cities contained over three quarters of a million citizens, the Rio Grande dissecting them more effectively than any man made border ever could. Two thirds Mexican, one third American and almost entirely Hispanic but worlds apart. One side of the river prospered as part of the world’s largest economy while the other cowered as one of the most violent drug wars engulfed its citizens. Its death rate of ten fold that of its smaller twin was steadily rising, as was the level of corruption and escalation of the war between the Zeta and the Gulf Cartel. Headless corpses, assassinated police chiefs and mass murders were becoming daily events. However, the violence that had erupted that night had dwarfed all that had gone before and caused the already concerned authorities in the American city to call on their Governor for help.

Colonel Masters raised his night vision binoculars and looked beyond the Mexican immigration post and into the heart of downtown Nuevo Laredo. The slight elevation at the center point of the bridge allowed him to see over the nearest line of buildings and into the streets beyond. All was quiet. The streets were deserted. It seemed the sudden explosion of violence had quelled. The occasional single gunshot could be heard in the distance but the earlier, rat-a-tat-tat of heavy machine gun fire had stopped. He threw a thumbs-up to his rag tag team of reservists. It seem that their intervention was surplus to requirements. Of course, they’d sit out the rest of the night. The local press corps were filming the event to ensure his fellow Texans knew that when violence arose and their homes were endangered, the National Guard would be there to protect them.

“Governor Brown, how long do you think the border will be closed for?”

Governor Brown turned to the latest questioner. It was almost 1 a.m. and he was seriously questioning the point in continuing any longer with the press conference. The number of viewers would be in the hundreds. He tapped the side of his lectern three times with his index finger. This would be his last question, the signal having been given to his press officer to cut in after this answer.

“Well, Scott,” he said, smiling at the Houston Chronicles reporter. He was blessed with an ability to remember the face and name of pretty much everyone he ever met. A truly exceptional gift for any politician. “It will be closed as long as it has to be!”

The press officer jumped in before any further questions were asked.

“That’s it for now folks, we will notify you of any updates.”

Governor Brown smiled, waved and walked towards the double doors that swung open as he approached them in true presidential style.

A final look back and wave was almost complete when the first scream shattered the questions that were still being hurled at the departing Governor. Silence fell instantly as everybody looked for the source of the scream. As each person found the source, gasps and screams added to the already confused scene. The Governor was left standing in a doorway with absolutely no idea what had happened or where to go. He looked at his press officer who had also joined the group of gaspers and screamers, staring at a monitor.

Everything told him to keep walking. He had made his exit. He could go to his office and find out what was happening soon enough. Visions of footage of him making his grand exit only to turn and see what had happened in the room ran through his mind. The headline 'should he stay or should he go?’ screamed at him. Then of course there was indecision, standing in the doorway, neither leaving nor going was just as bad, if not worse and of course, the same headline would be just as effective.

Fortunately for the Governor, these thoughts had rattled through his mind almost instantly and to the outside world, hardly a heartbeat has passed before the Governor turned and rushed back into the room. A path cleared its way to the monitor to allow the Governor a view of the unfolding events.

As Colonel Masters walked back towards his four armored personnel carriers, the rat-a-tat-tat began again in earnest. Only this time, the sound of gunfire was far closer. As he turned to pinpoint the source, a bullet pinged the ground twenty feet from him and he understood exactly how close the gunfire was.

“Sir, to your left in the bushes!” screamed one of his guardsmen from on top of the nearest Bradley. He was preparing to return fire with the Bradley’s M2 Machine Gun.

Masters followed the guardsman’s arm and noted the flashes over a third of a mile away, ell out of range and obviously just somebody having some fun at the expense of the Army.

“Stand down men! Even if the bullets hit from that range, they’d be like a bee sting,” he waved his arm down as he turned and walked back nonchalantly towards the Bradleys as another bullet pinged just a few feet to his left.

As the Pro 8 News crew disembarked from their news van, the gunfire erupted. Abandoning all set up, the reporter grabbed the cameraman and ran towards the bridge, just in time to see Colonel Masters waving at his men to remain calm and not return fire. The bullet pinging to the left of the Colonel and him looking at it without flinching was footage you could only dream of. A true American hero, standing tall even under fire.

The camera zoomed in on the action, first managing to catch the flashes from across the river of the gunmen, before tracking back to the courageous Colonel standing proudly on top of the Bradley personnel Carrier, defending America’s border.

As he issued orders to his men, the Colonel caught sight of the camera and winked. The frame of the smile and wink of Colonel Nathan Masters would go down in history as one of the all time classic shots. Very few shots ever caught the emotion of a person an instant before their life ended.

By the time the Governor reached the monitor, the Colonel’s lifeless body had already slumped to the ground. The eye that had winked to the camera only a second earlier no longer existed, along with most of Colonel Master’s face. The 7.62 high velocity round having blown the better part of it clean off.

The first guardsman reacted to the shooting and swirled his M2 into position and began to return fire. His bullets could be seen pummeling the area where the shots had been seen coming from just moments earlier. However, as the camera swung back to see why the guardsman had stopped, it was an even more gruesome sight that met them. The guardsman’s half headless corpse sat in position, his hands still on the gun but without a head to control it. As the camera swung from Bradley to Bradley, gunfire started and stopped as the what became apparent sniper moved from one guardsman to the next. In less than a minute, the Bradleys stood useless, their gunners dead and their leader lay lifeless on the ground beneath them.

The drivers, leaderless and in fear for their lives did what any sane person would have done. They engaged the gears and retreated back towards the safety of the border station. Unfortunately, that also meant the body of Colonel Nathan Masters was left on its own, halfway across the bridge between America and Mexico, neither in Laredo nor Nuevo Laredo but for the whole world to see.

El Jefe surveyed the scene through the telescopic sight and smiled. It would be a very long time before any American would be venturing over the border. At least any civilian American that was. He slid back and climbed down from the shack that had offered such an excellent position and climbed into the Lexus. The driver sped down towards the riverside and they honked the horn twice.

After a few seconds the two gunmen appeared, one being supported by the other. A large bullet wound was clearly visible on the struggling gunman’s side. El Jefe jumped out of the Lexus and approached the two. The injured man smiling at El Jefe, humbled at the thought that El Jefe would help him.

“I’ll help him, you get in the car!” El Jefe instructed the uninjured gunman. Taking the injured gunman’s weight from him.

“I can manage El Jefe!” offered the other gunman, keen to show he was more than happy to assist.

El Jefe simply drew the gunman a look as he withdrew his knife and sliced cleanly threw the injured gunman’s throat. He stepped aside and let the dead man’s body fall to the ground.

“Nobody can ever know we were involved in shooting the American soldiers!” explained El Jefe to the confused gunman as they made their way back to the Lexus. “His bullet wound needed hospital treatment. That bullet was an American bullet, he would have been linked to us and we would be hunted for evermore by the Americans.”

Before the gunman could ask the obvious question of what about the body and could they not trace him from that, El Jefe had tossed a grenade towards the body as they sped away. The incendiary grenade would ensure nothing but charred bones would be left of the corpse.

Chapter 29

“Que?”

It was that single moment of delay that saved Katie’s life.

Had he shouted in the gunmen’s native Spanish, Katie would have been killed without a second thought. Fortunately, to ensure Sean knew what he was doing, Luis had issued the order in English, giving the gunmen just enough doubt as to whether the order was meant for them.

Sean rounded the doorway just as Luis was repeating the order in the gunmen’s native Spanish. “Mate la!!!”

“No!!!” screamed Sean but his instructions meant nothing to the Los Zetas men.

Despite his shout, they pointed their guns at Katie who, on understanding Luis’ first shout, was already halfway to the floor screaming and scrambling for cover.

As one gunman spun towards Sean, the other pulled the trigger as he aimed at the cowering Katie. Sean ignored the gunman spinning towards him and fired the handheld cannon twice towards Katie’s would be killer. Despite having used the Desert Eagle before, the kick, as he quickly remembered, wasn’t as much as he expected it to be. The first round hit center mass while the second, due to the anticipated recoil, hit the gunman in the head. Both should have been center mass. However the result was the same. The gunmen died before he managed to get a shot off.

With Katie safe, Sean spun back towards the other gunman who unfortunately was already zeroing in on Sean’s center mass. Sean pushed through his feet with every ounce of strength he could muster as he sprung to the right, diving out of the gunman’s range.

However hard he pushed, it was not going to be quicker than the bullet that barreled towards Sean at over 2000 ft/s. As he dived the bullet struck him high on the pelvis and spinning his airborne body like a rag doll into the wall. The sound of a 220-pound man hitting a wall at full force was magnified by the whump as every ounce of air was expelled from his lungs.

Despite the noise, Katie’s scream pierced though it all as the sight of Sean being shot all but destroyed her world.

With Sean out of the picture, the gunmen returned to his initial task, killing Katie. He swung his Ak47 back towards Katie who was scrabbling desperately across the floor to get to Sean.

As he took aim and prepared to fire, he stopped. She had stopped scrabbling and was looking in wonder at something in front of her.

The gunman tore his eyes from Katie, just long enough to see what she was seeing.

It was the last thing he would ever see, the barrel of the Desert Eagle as a bullet was fired from it. Both bullets flew within a microsecond of one another and exactly on the same trajectory. The memory of the Desert Eagle’s kick had been retrieved and the actions required to ensure a tight control on target had been made, as only a man expert at firing weapons knew how to. Sean watched as the gunman’s head evaporated under the force of the two massive bullets.

A clapping sound from behind cut through the silence and announced Luis’ entry into the room. ”Congratulations,” he offered.

Katie, ignoring Luis, jumped up and ran to Sean, a large bloody stain soaked his side, a hole clearly visible in his shirt. He had definitely been hit.

“Sit down,” she insisted, pushing him onto the nearest couch.

Sean was still gasping for the breath that had left him as he had it the wall and winced as Katie pushed him down onto the couch.

“It’s not bad,” he eventually managed as he caught his breath. “Just a flesh wound, really.”

Sean guided her hands away from the wound.

Katie was having none of it and pushing his hands aside, pulled his shirt back before bursting into tears.

Luis rushed forward fearing the worst at Katie’s reaction to Sean’s wound. He pushed her aside and stared in amazement at the shining metal plate that sat where pelvic bone would have normally sat, the bullet had merely removed a chunk of skin before deflecting off of the Titanium plate. It really was a flesh wound in the true sense of the term.

Luis looked at the inconsolable Katie and back at Sean and shrugged in some confusion.

Sean flicked the plate. “It took me six months to recover from the accident that caused this to be implanted and even longer to walk without any sign of a limp.”

Luis was still struggling to comprehend Katie’s reaction and shrugged again, as if so what.

“I’m definitely not her husband!” explained Sean.

Chapter 30

General Borodin could only gape in wonder as he was led through the Russian estate that would have put any State residence and most Western estates to shame. Its grandeur was exactly the reason the peasants had revolted almost a hundred years earlier. As much as he was revolted by its opulence, he loved it.

“This way, General.” Surkov led the general towards his private study.

The study was in keeping with the rest of the estate, grand, opulent but utterly captivating and Borodin immediately saw himself working happily behind the old oak desk that sat opposite a massive roaring fireplace. Two huge Chesterfields sat beckoning in front of the fire and with a wave of the hand, it was as though Surkov had read Borodin’s mind and guided him towards the sofas.

“General, please.” He waved towards the seat nearest the fire which the General readily accepted.

After pouring tea for them both which was topped up with vodka and a nod of acceptance by Borodin, Surkov sat down.

“So General, tell me what you know.”

Borodin looked at Surkov. His contempt for the man was becoming harder to contain. He was there to find out what Surkov knew. Not tell Surkov what he knew. However, Borodin was a man who was used to knowing everything. The thought that he was unaware of the bigger picture frustrated him even more.

He would play along with Surkov until he discovered what was going on.

Borodin smiled, the smile he reserved especially for politicians and foreign dignitaries that he had the displeasure of meeting. Warm and open, he had spent many years perfecting it, ensuring that it reached into his eyes and hid the darkness that lurked behind.

“I believed, until now, that Grebnevo…”

“No, what do you know about why you are here?” interrupted Surkov, struggling to hide his irritation.

Borodin squeezed the arm of the sofa. His temper was legendary as was his inability to control it. He smiled again, struggling to radiate warmth across his face. The resultant smile was more of a grimace.

“I received a call from an agent we had placed in America over thirty years ago. A deep sleeper. He was only to contact us if activated or if he believed his information was critical to Russia. To be honest, I had forgotten he even existed but he continued to receive data from us. He is a senior manager within the immigration department and was made aware of an alert that Sean Fox had entered America.”

“He was aware of our interest in this name and as such, knowing that he was probably the only Russian agent party to this information, made the calls to his handlers.”

“Calls?” queried Surkov with some confusion.

“When he was inserted, it was a joint GRU/KGB operation. He had two handlers myself and the Director of the Science division at KGB.”

“Surely two handlers doubled the chance of interception?”

“We had had a number of high profile embarrassments. The Americans had been playing GRU and KGB off against one another. The two contacts would ensure the same Intel was relayed to both agencies directly from the agent, without any political interference.”

Surkov nodded, he understood the political interference referred to in-fighting between the two agencies for control. In principle, the idea was sound.

“Of course, it was a disaster. You were right. The number of agents arrested increased dramatically and shortly after, the trial was abandoned. To be honest, this agent is probably the only one who still operates under joint control. He is of course unaware of any changes to operational procedure. This would never be sent in an update in case of interception. He is simply aware of areas of interest to us.”

Surkov shook his head in amazement. Thirty years on, this man gained information and followed the protocols learned a generation earlier and fulfilled his promise to his motherland. He was without a doubt a true hero to his country.

“So who received the other call?”

“The Director of Science Department at SVR.”

“Mikhail Beryutov?” asked Surkov, very aware of the name.

Borodin nodded.

Surkov nodded knowingly. There was no need to discuss the fact that he was no longer an issue.

“And?”

“I dispatched two agents as a matter of urgency, the closest were SVR. So, using Beryutov as cover, I ordered them to Fox’s last known location to deal with any loose ends.”

Again Surkov nodded. He understood the reference to loose ends. There was no need for Borodin to explicitly say the killing of the widow and child.

Surkov waited for Borodin to restart but he remained silent. As far as Borodin was concerned, Surkov appeared to know everything he was telling him and he was simply going over old ground.

“Continue,” commanded Surkov with an almost regal wave of his hand.

Borodin almost tore the arm off of the sofa as he fought to stop himself from ripping the old man’s throat out. He grimaced before continuing. His ability to smile had all but left his body.

“Our agents went in but as they were about to carry out their orders, Sean Fox appeared and as far as they were concerned, their orders no longer stood.”

“Why exactly?” criticized Surkov acidly.

“If Sean Fox was alive, how could they kill his widow?”

Surkov smiled wryly at the rationality of the agents’ actions.

“They have been dealt with!” explained Borodin dryly, removing Surkov’s smile.

“And what of Sean Fox?”

“He is of no concern. I have a team arriving in the next couple of hours,” replied Borodin with some conviction. He was beginning to exert his authority on the situation. He had had enough of the games and wanted some answers himself.

“Now tell me why he is of such interest?”

“He is not of any interest,” replied Surkov simply.

Borodin sat bolt upright. “Sorry?”

“I am not the least bit interested in Sean Fox.”

“But you issued the original request to have him killed if he surfaced, some five years ago?”

“Yes but he is not of interest!”

“So what is he?” asked Borodin, following on from Surkov’s hint in emphasizing interest.

“The single biggest risk to our country since the end of Communism.”

Chapter 31

Luis shook his head. These Americans always talked in riddles. They could never just say what they meant. The woman was curled in a ball crying her eyes out while the American sat hopelessly looking at her with large sad eyes. He picked up his Desert Eagle and turned his attention to the TV. The pictures of the armored personnel carriers on the bridge had just started beaming live as he joined the coverage.

As the graphic image of the Colonel’s head exploding on live TV hit the screen, he preyed to God that his uncle was not the gunman and it was some rogue imbecile that had killed the American officer. However, he knew deep in his heart that his prayers would not be answered favorably. It was exactly the type of insane stunt his uncle would pull.

“Oh fuck!” exclaimed Sean as he witnessed the killing.

Katie looked up and caught the body hitting the ground. All she cared about in the world was her son and the pictures on the screen were not of a young boy. She turned and buried her head further into the sofa, wishing everybody would leave and her son and Sean were back home and everything was back to normal. Something she knew life would never happen.

Sean stole a look at Katie, he wanted to help her, needed to help her. But he knew the last thing she wanted at that time was help from a man whom she had thought was her husband miraculously arisen from the grave.

He looked at Luis and from the look on his face, he knew things had just got even worse. “Your uncle?”

Luis didn’t even think before nodding. “Probably!” his eyes glued to the continuing coverage of the soldiers being killed.

“Fuck!!” repeated Sean with more conviction.

As the screen showed the lonely body of Colonel Masters abandoned in the middle of the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge, Sean considered what he had just witnessed and the implications. Two things were obvious, the border was going to be shut for some time and Luis’ uncle was a fucking good shot.

“Jesus H Christ!!” exclaimed the Governor. It had been less than half an hour since he had spoken with the Colonel.

“Governor, what are you going to do?” came numerous shouts as the press in the room remembered their purpose.

The Governor just stared at the monitor and the man whom he had ordered to defend the honor of his state and country. The somber picture would grace many front pages that morning. Without a word, he stepped away from the monitor and began to push his way through the crowd that had gathered.

“What are you going to do, Mr Governor?” The shouts became louder and more insistent as he reached the double doors he had so nearly exited a few very different minutes earlier. He had insisted, despite Masters’ concerns that they make a big show of the National Guard. It hadn’t been needed of course. The police and border guards were more than capable of closing and securing the crossings in a far less ostentatious way. Eight fucking guardsmen. When that became public, he’d be a laughing stock.

One thing was for certain. Whoever the fucker was that had cost him the presidency was going to pay. It was a defiant Governor that turned to face the press.

“Gentlemen…Ladies,” he nodded to the two female reporters.

“I am going to make a call to our President and insist that we retaliate with the utmost force and speed to ensure that the perpetrators of this heinous crime are brought to justice.”

The Governor’s jaw wavered as he spoke, the anger and emotion clear for all to see.

“And when I say justice,” he looked directly into one of the main networks cameras. “I mean I will not rest until those murdering motherfuckers are dead!” he pointed violently towards the monitor depicting the scene on the bridge before turning and leaving the room.

When Sean’s cell phone began to ring just a few minutes after the governor’s speech, he wasn’t surprised it was Vincent. Although, as he thought about it, nobody else had his number, so it really couldn’t have been anyone else.

What did surprise him was the subject of the call. It was nothing to do with his request for the IMEI and SIM card numbers. Although with Luis sitting on the sofa opposite him, he would have to cancel that request as somewhat surplus to requirements.

“Sean, how are you?”

“I’ve got a new bullet wound!” replied Sean jovially.

“That’s nice,” replied Vincent, uninterested, his mind obviously elsewhere. “I’ve just had the President on the phone!”

Sean looked at the TV screen and the banner. 'Governor calls for death of murderers’. This seriously could not be happening to him. Why had he not just gone to the beach.

“Are you still in Laredo?”

“Yes and just been shot again!”

Vincent only heard the word 'yes’.

“Excellent. I told the President I had a man on location and we’d start hunting down these fuckers straight away!”

“Whoa, you do not have a man on the scene. For you to have a man on the scene would suggest you have an agent on the scene. You know a man at the rough location of the scene,” clarified Sean.

“Whatever,” he really wasn’t taking no for an answer. “Your country needs you Sean. We need to find these fuckers and bring home a world of hurt to them!”

“I have a boy to get back to his Mom and then I am hitting the beach. This is not my fight.”

“Neither is the boy but it’s the right thing to do, Sean. That’s what you do. You do the right thing!” argued Vincent very well.

“I’m sorry V,” replied Sean, the memories of two years earlier played hard on Sean. He would never forgive the man for letting him and his men down.

“I’ll have a team there in four hours. They’ll take over, I just don’t want the trail to go cold. Please Sean, we can’t let these bastards get away with this. We need to find them.”

Sean realized things were about to get seriously out of control. The team Vincent referred to was probably at least a C130 full of ex-Special Forces who would have just one order, do whatever it takes to get the bastards that killed our soldiers. Katie’s son, the son of a drug dealer being in peril would not make the best case for restraint.

“I’ll deal with it,” he said with some conviction.

“Sorry?” replied Vincent, taken aback at the speed of Sean’s U-turn.

“I’ll deal with it! You don’t need to send a team.”

“Did you see what happened?! How on earth are you going to deal with it on your own?”

“Because I already know who did it!”

Between Luis realizing what Sean had just said and Vincent screaming “you what??!!” in his ear, Sean struggled to know who to address first. He held his palm up to Luis. He needed to stop Vincent sending a team. He knew he’d never stop the military coming but at least they would stay within the US, whatever had happened, the US and Mexico would not be going to war. At least not unless Sean failed to calm the situation down. Whereas Vincent’s team could only operate outside the US and as such, Nuevo Laredo would be turned upside down and Katie’s son would be written off as collateral damage.

“I know who did it!”

“Were you there?” asked Vincent incredulous at Sean’s assertion.

“No.”

“So how can you possibly know?”

Sean stopped himself from telling Vincent about Luis and his uncle. Vincent would easily link them all together with the SIM and IMEI number Sean had given him earlier. Sean would not put it past Vincent or the Government to send a few cruise missiles in retaliation, ensuring Katie would most definitely be losing her son.

“Trust me, I’ll deal with it,” replied Sean through gritted teeth.

“The team will be there in four hours,” confirmed Vincent, not willing to move on sending his team.

“They’ll be an hour too late!” replied Sean ending the call.

As Sean lowered the phone Luis exploded. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“Saving the boy!”

“Not by giving them my uncle you’re not!” he spat. “You’re guaran-fucking-teeing his death!” He grabbed his mobile and began to dial.

Between Vincent and Luis putting pressure on an already precarious situation, Sean had had enough.

“Put the phone down!” he said evenly but with such menace that Luis almost dropped the phone. With the bodies of the men he had just killed littering the floor, it was not surprising that Luis took Sean’s change of tone with some concern.

“Sorry!” he offered clumsily, grasping the phone before it fell and making a show of clearing the number he had been dialing.

“I am not going to give them your uncle. I just want her son!” offered Sean. His voice remained an icy steel, as he looked at the devastated Katie. He really was pissed off now. A young boy’s life was in danger and he seemed to be the only person in the world, other than his mother, who gave a shit.

“But how?” asked Luis meekly. He had seen a strength and coldness in Sean that he recognized very well.

“With your help!”

“My help!” replied Luis almost squeaking the words.

“I need you to go to your uncle…”

“Are you out of your fucking mind?” Luis regained some composure as he weighed the balance between the menacing killer and his psychopath uncle. At least if Sean killed him it would be quick and painless.

Sean walked over to Luis and placed a reassuring arm around his shoulders and explained what he needed him to do.

Chapter 32

“I don’t understand?’ offered Borodin shaking his head.

Surkov smiled. “I wouldn’t expect you to.”

With that, Borodin jumped up from the sofa. He had had enough of the smart mouthed obsequious scientist. However, before he could cover the distance between the two sofas, Surkov moved with a speed somewhat belying his age and managed to avoid the mass of the General landing on him.

“You misunderstand me, I was not bating you comrade. I wouldn’t expect you to understand because you do not know what we do here at Grebnevo.”

Borodin picked himself up and looked Surkov in the eye for any sign of mischief. None existed, nor however was there any sign of fear. Borodin was a large man, far larger than the diminutive and aged Surkov. Throughout his career he had instilled fear in all before him, even presidents of Russia feared him and he would never throw himself in anger towards them. The more time Borodin spent with Surkov, the less he understood him and the more Borodin feared him.

“So what do you do here?” asked Borodin, retaking his original seat and mustering all of his composure.

“We will come to that. First, let us finish discussing the details of our Mr Fox.”

“Why is he a risk?”

“Now, General, you are beginning to ask the right question! We don’t know that he is but there’s a chance he may be.”

Borodin began to realize the chance of anything resembling a straight answer or explanation was unlikely.

Surkov could see the frustration building in Borodin and continued. He had already pushed him over the brink and was very close to alienating him. Something which he would rather avoid. The General was, after all, a useful ally but one that he wanted an upper-hand with.

“You were right when you mentioned we train spies here at Grebnevo. It’s just that is not all we do here. However let’s consider Sean Fox.”

“Sean Fox was a star even before he was born, his father’s career ensured Sean Fox would have the world at his feet!”

Surkov stopped talking and looked at Borodin, waiting for a reaction to what he had just said as if he had just solved the answer to life, the universe and pretty much everything that remained unanswered.

Borodin’s head tilted to the side, his mind was racing trying desperately to work out if he had missed something or if that was Surkov’s revelation. Sean Fox was destined to be a star!

“You don’t understand!” scoffed Surkov.

“What’s to understand? You haven’t said anything!” replied Borodin, even more confused.

Surkov’s eye’s raised to the ceiling in frustration. He had been informed Borodin had a superb mind. From all he had seen and what Surkov had told him, Borodin should have been able to understand Grebnevo. He was going to have to give him the foolproof tour.

“Come with me General and I will blow your mind!” offered Surkov, rising from the sofa.

Borodin followed and exactly two hours later was picking up Vasiliy from the coffee shop where he had been deposited earlier.

“General!” offered Vasiliy as he stepped into the Zil.

“Vasiliy,” replied Borodin. As Surkov had promised, Borodin was in a far better mood than he had been when Vasiliy had been left.

For the duration of their short trip back to the helicopter, neither spoke a word.

As they boarded the chopper and took off, Vasiliy waited for Borodin to unload but after a further ten minutes of silence could wait no longer, concerns of drugging his boss began to creep into his mind.

“Well?” asked Vasiliy breaking the silence.

“I’m still digesting what I have just witnessed!” explained Borodin the smile still affixed to his face.

“And?” prompted Vasiliy.

“Genius, utter and complete genius!” exclaimed Borodin.

Vasiliy waited for more, it wasn’t forthcoming. “What is?”

“Surkov, Grebnevo, Russia,” he said almost wistfully.

“General, are you OK?”

The concern in Vasiliy’s voice snapped Borodin out of his trance. “Of course, I am,” he said in his more usual gruff tone.

“Get me the Head of Spetsnaz team heading to Texas on the radio, I need to speak with him.”

“Whatever has happened?” asked Vasiliy trying to understand what was happening.

“He needs to understand his mission is the most important mission in a generation!”

Chapter 33

Luis looked into the calm of Sean’s eyes and took some comfort, although whether it was enough to pull off what Sean had asked him to do was another matter.

“Are you being serious?”

“Absolutely and more importantly, the clock is ticking. We have less than three hours before all hell breaks loose!”

“Fuck!” he exhaled as he picked up the phone. “Are you sure?” he queried once more before dialing.

A firm nod from Sean told him to hurry up.

El Jefe answered the call after two rings. “Que?” his only response.

Luis did as Sean had prompted. He didn’t ask if his uncle had shot the Colonel, he just assumed he had.

“Uncle, I need the rifle you used!”

A short pause by his uncle as he justified a response was all that was needed to prove they were right.

“Why?”

“You shot a Colonel! That has consequences beyond our control.”

El Jefe had realized almost instantly after his actions that the repercussions could be intense and had led to him sacrificing his own man. The fact that his nephew had guessed instantly it was him was no surprise. However, he was surprised at his nephew providing some kind of solution.

“What will you do?” he asked intrigued.

“The less we talk and you know the better,” replied a very confident Luis.

El Jefe was in no mood to argue. His actions of earlier were beginning to weigh rather heavily as the blood lust began to drain from his psychosis.

“OK, where are you?”

“On the other side!” replied Luis telling his uncle he was in the American Laredo.

“6.”

Luis shook his head as he answered. “No, 15!” he said with some conviction and added. “In forty five!”

In answer El Jefe ended the call.

“Let’s go!” said Luis as he removed the battery pack from another used cell phone.

Sean looked at him as though he were mad.

“I’m not going anywhere near your psycho uncle unless the boy is with him.”

“It’s your plan!” replied a somewhat less confident Luis.

“Exactly, you go get the rifle and I’ll do the rest!”

As Luis hesitated, Sean moved. He eyed up the small collection of corpses in an attempt to ascertain who his patsy was going to be.

“Miguel was the most experienced soldier,” offered Luis as he walked past Sean towards the door.

Sean looked at Miguel. He certainly looked the hardest and most convincing shooter but he had been killed some time before the Colonel had been shot. Sean needed a few days not a few hours to sort things out. The chances of the patsy being accepted had to fit the timeline.

Sean picked the larger of the two bodyguards that had accompanied Luis to the house. He certainly looked the part and was shot after the Colonel, which made him a far better candidate than Miguel.

“Be quick, the timeline for this is tight!” reiterated Sean.

Luis nodded his head nervously. He jumped into his car and sped off.

With Luis having left, Katie and Sean were once again alone in the house. Katie left the safety of the living room and walked towards Sean as he struggled with the bodyguard’s lifeless corpse.

“So who are you?” she asked candidly.

“My name really is Sean Fox,” replied Sean, lifting the dead weight up and onto his shoulder.

Katie watched as he struggled towards the door. The life that had flooded back into her on seeing Sean again had drained completely away. The loss of her son compounding the second loss of her husband was obviously a weight she struggled to bear. Sean dumped the bodyguard’s body in the trunk of his rental and despite his lack of time, returned to the crestfallen Katie. Small and vulnerable he wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms around her and make everything right. Something he knew he would try and do but to have that chance he had to ensure Vincent’s team of assassins stayed as far away from Laredo and her Mexican twin as possible.

“We’ll figure this all out, I promise.” He stood arms length away and held her as you would a child, somebody it was your job to protect and look after. He was treating her as someone he cared for and would save from harm. He hardly knew her but the look in her eyes said much more. She knew him, she read him like nobody had ever read him. She smiled, weakly but it was there, she believed him, she believed in him.

“Thank you,” she replied. “Now go!”

Sean kissed her on the forehead and ran from the house. He needed to get in position and that was not going to be easy.

Chapter 34

“Mayday, Mayday, Laredo tower we have an electrical emergency and request immediate clearance to land.”

Adam spat the French fry from his mouth as the radio burst to life. The word Mayday was even more shocking to him than the scene that had just played out on the TV that was keeping him awake for the graveyard shift at Laredo International Airport.

He grabbed the microphone and hit the communicate button.

“This is Laredo Tower, you are cleared for immediate landing on runway one seven lima. I repeat one seven lima. Please identify yourself.”

“Thank you. This is Aeroflot 321 heavy, in bound towards LAX.”

The Russian designation surprised Adam as he would have sworn the captain’s accent was American.

Adam turned to his radar. There was no sign of the inbound aircraft on the screen; the only sign of a plane was one small unidentified blip with no data. Had it not been for the emergency, he would have written the small blip off as a flock of birds due to how small it registered on his screen.

“Aeroflot 321, did you say you were heavy?”

“Correct. We are an Ilyushin 96.”

Adam stared at his screen. He knew an Ilyushin 96 was pretty much the same size as a Jumbo Jet and there was no way on this earth it was anywhere near Laredo. Its blip would have been screaming at him, not blipping dully.

“On final approach!” announced the captain.

Adam couldn’t help himself. There was nothing on his screen “To Laredo International?”

He didn’t need an answer as the powerful landing lights lit up the sky and the massive Russian airliner screamed overhead and landed on the runway ahead of him.

Adam looked up from under the desk and watched as the colossal airliner, far larger than any normal plane at Laredo, taxied towards the terminal building. Adam looked around wildly for the procedure manual. He was on his own and a large international flight had just arrived, claiming to be suffering from a malfunction of some kind. On finding the manual, he quickly realized the incident wasn’t covered, certainly not when the airport was effectively closed in the middle of the night and one member of staff was on duty.

Adam donned a high-vis safety vest, grabbed a torch, his cell and headed down to the chaos he expected below.

As he walked, he called the airport’s operations chief, his boss. He quickly explained what had happened to the somewhat sleepy executive and was informed he would be arriving there within the half hour.

As he approached the aircraft, the four main doors opened and an internal stairway began to appear from the hold of the aircraft and within five minutes, Adam was surrounded by over 300 bewildered passengers. None of them spoke English and from what he could tell, they had as much difficulty understanding the Russian stewardesses.

A few minutes later, as the chaos was beginning to reach fever pitch, the captain appeared at the top of the stairs and announced everything was OK, they had identified the problem and were good to go.

“Err, sorry,” coughed Adam as it appeared the captain was simply going to reload his passengers and leave.

“It was just a faulty fuse, all fixed,” he explained as Adam rushed up the stairs to stop them.

“You can’t just take off. We need to file an incident report, contact the FAA…”

The captain gave Adam his best poster smile. “Son, I’m the Captain with a staff of fourteen and three hundred passengers keen to get to their destination. You’re one little guy, now get the fuck off my steps before I throw you off!”

Adam looked at the smile on the captain’s face and suddenly realized there was a complete lack of any warmth behind it. As good as it looked, it was only skin deep. The menace in his voice had Adam retracing his steps and praying his boss arrived before the plane had a chance to leave. It seemed unlikely. An order was barked at the passengers that were milling around the aircraft and almost as one, they disappeared back on board. The stairway began to retract back into the hold and as the final door closed, the plane began to taxi to the runway. Without so much as a request for clearance, the plane powered up its four massive engines and shot into the sky. The final act of the bizarre scene being its somewhat magical disappearance as the lights extinguished almost the second it left the ground.

Adam was left looking into the blackness of an empty sky and wondering if he had just dreamed the last twenty minutes when the screech of his boss’ tires brought him back to reality.

“Adam, what the hell are you doing down here?” asked his confused boss, pointing to the control tower. “Get up there and help the plane down.”

“They’ve been down,” he said meekly and then launched into what had happened, from the first mayday to the captain threatening to throw him off the plane.

Unfortunately for Adam, there would be no evidence of any plane having landed. While he was distracted by the multitude of passengers, two technicians had made their way to the tower and successfully doctored any record of their landing at Laredo. Every detail was wiped, even down to the customer service webcam that broadcast the exciting movements on Laredo’s runway. If anybody checked the flight number, they would find it had landed hours earlier at LAX, without incident and was in fact an Airbus A330. No Ilyushin had been used on the LA route for many years.

To add to Adam’s woes, a small stash of extremely potent Marijuana had been left near his workstation.

What Adam would never know was that the Ilyushin was no ordinary Ilyushin and was in fact one of a few experimental and highly secret ghost planes developed by the Russian military. Only flown at night, the plane had a slightly more angular look to its fuselage and borrowed technology stolen from the US many years earlier. Both allowed the massive jet to have the ability to appear on radar, just as Adam had thought, as a flock of birds. The other most startling ability, which Adam had managed to miss, was how quiet the engines were, barely audible over a revving car engine, allowing the plane to land and take off without alerting the local residents. All in all, Adam was going to have a very hard job convincing anyone of the plane’s existence.

As for the plane itself, within ten minutes, it was back cruising at 40,000 feet and taking three hundred rather bewildered Venezuelan tourists back to Venezuela, after a somewhat shorter than anticipated and promised trip to America. It had also deposited ten of General Yuri Borodin’s most experienced Spetsnaz troops deep in the heart of Laredo. Fresh from jungle training in Venezuela, the soldiers were ready to serve their General and kill Sean Fox.

Chapter 35

Sean arrived at the rest stop, as directed by Luis. Sean had had many bizarre working arrangements in his time with the CIA but he had to admit working with the nephew of the boss of a major drug cartel to supply him with the contacts in order to secure the East coast drug distribution rights was pretty much out there. Not for the first time he chastised himself for not going to the beach. But then James would still have been kidnapped and Katie would have had no hope of ever seeing him again. He chastised himself for chastising himself about the beach. Whether Los Zetas or the Gulf got the contacts, someone would and in the end, what difference did it make? A huge one but he had to think of young innocent James and not the lives of all the drug users he was condemning. Shit, why hadn’t he just gone to the beach.

Thankfully, before he could continue his circle of self-flagellation, headlights lit up the darkness of the rest stop and Luis pulled up alongside. The first issue Sean noted was the unexpected passenger; it seemed Luis had gained another bodyguard. The second issue was the rather clever second bodyguard who had waited until Sean had been distracted by the arrival of Luis to appear and place his gun firmly against the back of Sean’s head, through the open window of the Corolla.

As Luis and the first bodyguard exited their car, Sean noticed that the beating Luis had received had been significant. At least he hadn’t been given up without a fight. His judge of character remained intact. If little else, it was at least one plus point. The second, most welcome plus point, was the look of surprise on the bodyguards’ faces when they recognized who Sean was. Luis had obviously not divulged Sean’s identity to his uncle. The two guards crossed themselves at the sight of the man they had witnessed El Jefe carve to pieces some months earlier.

And that was the final and third plus point. Their strong belief in God sent them straight to their maker. Sean didn’t need another invitation. With the gunman’s hands busy crossing himself, Luis’ Desert Eagle which had been sitting on Sean’s lap, blew a hole through the door of the Corolla and cut the guard almost in half. Before the second guard had a chance to finish his left hand cross, Sean had sent him to hell, heaven or wherever the scum prayed to go.

“Did you get the rifle?” asked Sean, ignoring the two guards had even existed. His mind was on the clock and time was running away.

Luis nodded and walked painfully back towards his car to retrieve the weapon. Sean wasted no time and jumped out of the Corolla, stepping carefully over the latest casualty of the drug wars and retrieved the corpse from his trunk. As he was about to dump the body into Luis’ trunk, he considered the options. He now had another two potential shooters to frame.

“Who’s the most experienced?”

Luis, clearly not able to talk, due to the pain pointed to the sneaky fucker who had caught Sean by surprise. With half his internal organs covering the rest-stop, Sean didn’t feel particularly inclined to use him.

“And between these two?”

Luis pointed to the fresher of the two corpses which, as far as Sean was concerned, was perfect. The closer the time of death to the time of discovery, the better. He threw the freshly selected body in the trunk, torched the rental and set off to protect the identity of the most wanted killer in recent US history.

As they pulled out of the rest stop, Sean hit the re-dial button and connected to a far more awake Vincent.

“I need you to re-instate me!” began Sean.

Silence met his request.

“I need you to re-instate me!” repeated Sean in case Vincent hadn’t heard him.

With more silence meeting the second request, Sean realized what he needed to do.

“I need you to re-instate me, please.”

“There, that wasn’t so hard now, was it?” teased Vincent.

“Well?” asked Sean.

“Done. What’s the plan?”

“I work for you for two hours and then I’m off the books again. I just need to make sure I don’t get arrested myself!”

“Why would you get arrested? What have you done?”

“Nothing,” replied Sean. Killing drug cartel members wasn’t an arrestable offence as far as he was concerned. “But you’ll soon see why. And whatever happens, I must be kept out the press. That’s a must!”

The change of tone in Sean’s voice ensured a firm response from Vincent. “Of course, anything I can do?”

“Just keep your guerillas away!”

Vincent’s lack of response unnerved Sean.

“Vincent! Tell me you didn’t send anybody.”

“It’s crazy down there!” replied Vincent apologetically. He had sent his men.

“Fuck! How many and where are they going?”

“Just five and they’ll be on site in a couple of hours. I thought you…”

“Turn them round V,” interrupted Sean, not interested in what Vincent thought.

“I can’t, it’s above my pay grade. Governor Brown’s going to be the next president!”

“That wasn’t the deal, V?” argued Sean, reconsidering his position.

“I’m sorry Sean, it really is out of my control, the pressure from on high is more than I’ve ever experienced.”

Sean had had enough, the arrival of the team would do nothing but aggravate an already precarious situation “Think of something. If you don’t call me back within ten minutes to say it’s taken care of, I’m out!” promised Sean before killing the line.

“Shproblem?” struggled Luis, the beating from his uncle had cost him at least three teeth and a serious amount of swelling.

“Maybe,” pondered Sean, not knowing what he would do if the CIA hit team were not stopped.

“Whatever happens, you need to get me upstream from Juarez-Lincoln Bridge.”

Luis nodded rather than speak in response. The longer he let his mouth heal, the better. He stepped on the gas and used a few lesser-known back roads to get them to the river just a half mile upstream from the bridge.

As they neared the riverside and the ten minute deadline passed, Sean’s cell was silent.

As Sean removed the corpse and slung the rifle over his shoulder, the cell remained silent. He had no option but to go through with his plan. Whatever happened, it would remove a hurdle to getting James back. He just didn’t need V putting more in the way.

“So you know what you need to do?”

Luis nodded.

Sean braced himself and walked towards the water line. Just as he was about to enter, his cell rang, twelve minutes late.

Sean answered and remained silent.

“I’ve stopped them!” said Vincent curtly.

“Stopped?” asked Sean.

“Stopped,’ he repeated. “Although there is one thing I need you to do for me,” said Vincent.

Sean didn’t quite know if Vincent knew what 'one’ meant. Everything he was doing was for Vincent, 'one more thing’ would have been more appropriate.

“What?” replied Sean unhelpfully.

As Vincent explained, Sean wasn’t comfortable but, at the end of the day, it wasn’t going to make too much difference to him.

“Fine but when you say stopped, where did you stop them?”

“Corpus Christi, best I can do.”

Sean didn’t say anything else. He was too pissed off. Corpus Christi. The fucking beach!

He threw his cell at Luis and, grabbing the corpse, he entered the cold waters of the Rio Grande, a world away from the warm gulf waters lapping at the white beaches of Corpus Christi.

Sean kicked off and was soon caught in the river’s current that would wash him down towards the Juarez-Lincoln Bridge and the scene of the earlier shootings.

Chapter 36

Katie Fox tried to sleep but it wasn’t possible. The day had started as they all had since Sean’s death, with tears soaking her pillow. From there it had quickly deteriorated to the worst day of her life, with the kidnapping of James. The miraculous re-appearance of Sean had brought joy and hope back into her life. Joy at his being alive and hope that with Sean back, she would get her baby back. Sean exuded a confidence like no man she knew. That same confidence had convinced her that James would be returned unharmed to her and their family would be perfect again.

The realization that the new Sean wasn’t her Sean had been devastating and almost as though she had once again lost her husband, the grief had passed only to return with the added loss of James. Tears began to flow freely as she reflected on the day, the kidnapping, the killings, the bodies, Sean. Sean, it didn’t make sense, he was exactly like her Sean, his mannerisms, the confidence, the power he exuded. Everything about him said it was her Sean but her Sean didn’t have a metal hip. Even if he had had one, there was no way in the space of three months it could have healed in the way the new Sean’s had. It wasn’t her Sean but everything else was the same. How could a man have an exact replica. Only twins could be identical but Sean didn’t have a brother and even if he did, nobody calls their twins the same name.

Just as sleep and some respite from the trauma began to descend, the creak of the front door being opened snapped her awake. She jumped from bed and rushed to the door, perhaps it was James. The sight of the facially battered Luis met her as she rushed towards the door. The sight of the bruising and lack of Sean by his side sent her in to a fresh round of panic.

“It’s OK,” offered Luis in an attempt to placate her. “Sean didn’t do this, it was my uncle!”

The thought that her son was with a man that did that to his own nephew, not surprisingly, did the exact opposite of what Luis was hoping. Katie began to struggle for breath as a full-blown panic attack washed over her tired and stressed body.

Luis ran to the kitchen and managed to find a brown paper bag, placing it over Katie’s mouth and guided her towards the sofa. Luis explained what was happening and that Sean and James were both fine, which immediately calmed Katie down.

“It’s probably best you get some sleep,” suggested Luis rising from the sofa.

An exhausted Katie could do little more than nod in agreement and force herself up from the sofa.

“What about you?” she asked half heartedly as she made her way towards the staircase.

“I have my orders, I have to clean this place up!”

“Your uncle wants my house cleaned up?” she asked somewhat startled that the madman would care if bodies and blood littered her house.

“No, Sean wants me to clean it up!”

Katie could not think of anything to say. The nephew of the leader of the world’s most feared drug cartel was now following the orders of her, she caught herself, the man who looked exactly like her dead husband. If the day could have got any stranger, she didn’t know how. However, the knowledge that James and the other Sean were OK helped her fall into a fitful sleep.

Chapter 37

Governor Rick Brown stared in dismay at the screen before him and listened as the commentators ridiculed his performance as they reviewed the footage of events unfolding. One commentator touched on the potential of his announcing his run for president, the rest broke into laughter at the mere suggestion. In the two hours since Colonel Masters had been killed, he himself had considered it the same, a joke. His presidency was dead before it was even announced. The revelation that only eight guards had manned the troop carriers hadn’t even come out. When it did, it wouldn’t just be his presidency that was over. Texans would be clamoring for a new Governor.

He changed to a more favorable news station but the comments were just as scathing and it seemed that their love affair with Governor Rick Brown was over. He switched the TV off. His wife had tried to prompt him to bed but he had wanted to be available for the press. None were calling, at least none that wanted anything more than to publicly humiliate him. He doused the light and headed towards the staircase. He’d see the lay of the land in a few hours. Resignation. He wasn’t going to wait for the calls. There really was nothing else to do. He’d announce it first thing in the morning before they even had a chance to ask him if he would be resigning. Rick Brown didn’t play catch up. He led from the front and the end of his political career would be no different.

He turned back to his office and didn’t even bother switching the light on. It seemed more appropriate in the dark. He hit the speed dial for his press officer. Even though it was after three, Rick knew he’d be awake. This was one of the biggest disasters of Rick Brown’s political career and his press officer had her heart set on riding the wave to D.C.. She would not be sleeping as long as there was a glimmer of hope of the big job. As the phone began to ring, Rick realized the sound was actually louder in his free ear. The answer appeared as his office door burst open and a smiling press officer rushed in, ignoring his ringing phone.

“What the hell?” exclaimed the Governor, startled by the explosive entrance.

“You won’t believe it!” replied an excited press officer, rushing past the Governor and hitting the power button on the TV control. The wall mounted TV burst into life, with a banner displaying 'BREAKING NEWS: GOVERNOR BROWN GETS HIS MAN’.

As the Governor struggled to comprehend what was happening, his press officer began preparing the Governor for the cameras. Straightening his tie and brushing at his hair.

“Come on, everybody wants a piece of you.”

“Whoa, can you please explain what’s happening?” asked the Governor, as the snippets of TV failed to explain exactly what the excitement was about.

“You’ve done in two hours what it took the federal government, ten years, thousands of lives and countless trillions of dollars to do.”

Still flummoxed, he looked at his press officer for more.

“You got your number one most wanted man. For the US it was Obama, for you the gunman who shot Colonel Masters and the guardsmen!”

'They’ve got the shooter?” The governor was stunned. Like anybody who knew Mexico, he knew his threat was empty. The chances of catching the shooter in Mexico was pretty much nil and even that was optimistic.

“You got the shooter!”

“Why do you keep saying me?”

“It was your guy that got him!”

“My guy?”

“One of the undercover operatives you have working in Nuevo Laredo to ensure the Mexican problem stays Mexican!”

The governor was tired but not so tired he had forgotten about a team of undercover operatives he had working in Mexico. There was no such team.

“Slow down and tell me exactly what has happened,” he demanded, removing the smile from his press officer’s face.

“I got a call. One of your men has just swum across the Rio Grande with the shooter. He caught him in the act and killed him at the scene. He has brought the shooter’s corpse and the rifle used by the shooter as evidence.”

On hearing the 'motherfucker’ responsible was dead, he couldn’t help but smile, although briefly as the words 'your men’ hit home again.

“You keep saying 'my men’?”

“He has reported that he’s part of an operation requested by you of the CIA and followed orders issued by the Governor to protect the great state of Texas from the dangers of the drug cartels.”

The Governor suddenly realized the presidency was back on, very much thanks to the CIA. A gift from them that would require some payback, should he be elected. And as his press officer had so succinctly stated, he had done in two hours what two presidents had spent ten years doing. He was a shoe in! The smile returned, the game was back on.

“Get my man on the phone!” he demanded, beaming his best election smile.

It had taken just ten minutes to float the body down into position. The hard part was yet to come, avoiding the lights and making it look like he had just entered the waters on the opposite side of the river, before swimming across to the US and not being shot by the trigger-happy and exceedingly nervous border guards. Of course, all of this was to be undertaken while having a 200-pound corpse and sniper rifle slung over his shoulder. Fortunately, he managed pretty much perfectly and was rewarded with excited shouts as he was caught in the act of pulling a corpse from the water by the ever vigilant border patrols.

Sean quickly explained he was a CIA agent and the corpse was the shooter and the sniper rifle the one used to commit the crimes. Within minutes, he was being quizzed by pretty much any official who thought he was somebody in Laredo. The story leaked just as per Vincent’s request. Sean was an undercover CIA operative working on behalf of the Governor to protect Texas and the US from the cartels. Sean would be the unsung hero of the hour, while the Governor would reap all the reward. Sean couldn’t have been happier. Vincent’s goons would be sent back to Virginia and he could go about getting James back to his mother. Of course, he needed a little help from Vincent to get the US’s major drug dealers phone numbers but it was the least Vincent could do for him, particularly after gifting the Governor the presidency on behalf of the CIA.

“Interesting choice of hand gun you have their son?” offered Laredo’s chief policeman. At over 6 feet six and weighing in at over 270 pounds, he was an imposing figure with a voice that boomed even more imposingly.

Sean looked at the somewhat embarrassing mini cannon, a la Dirty Harry.

“Playing the part!” offered Sean half-heartedly.

“Hmmm,” replied the chief lifting the Desert Eagle.50 caliber pistol from the table. It looked like a normal pistol in the chief’s massive hands. He eyed Sean suspiciously. “Never met a professional that would have one of these anywhere near him!”

“Exactly why I carry one undercover,” replied Sean, quick as a flash. A phone ringing stopped any more probing by the less than convinced Chief.

“The Governor is on his way,” came a shout from where the phone had been answered.

Sean slipped from the table he had been perched on and made to leave. A clasp of a firm hand on his shoulder put paid to any such idea. The Chief wanted Sean to meet the Governor.

“Not so fast, I’m sure the Governor would like to congratulate his man personally,” he scoffed, not buying any of what Sean had said. It wasn’t often Sean was over imposed but the chief was talented at using his size and presence to maximum effect. Of course, had they been in a battle environment, things would have been very different. Sean had noted a number of weaknesses and areas to exploit, should the need arise and would have the chief debilitated or dead within a second. However, the chief calling him for the bullshit artist he was, was hardly grounds to kill the man.

“Of course, I just need to change out of these clothes!” offered Sean as an excuse for an exit, not something the chief could easily argue with. The Rio Grande was not what you would construe as a fresh water river. The water had been likened many times to an open sewer such was the stench as its waters flowed through the various shantytowns and villages that lined its banks.

“Vazquez!” shouted the chief.

“Yes chief?” A young officer rushed to the chief’s side.

“Get our savior here some clean clothes.” The word 'savior’ was heavy with sarcasm. “And best get the doc to arrange a few shots, God alone knows what he could have caught in there!”

With that reassuring endorsement, it was clear Sean was not going anywhere until the Governor had been.

“How long until he arrives?” asked Sean checking his watch, 3.15 a.m.. He had pretty much been on the go since leaving Afghanistan some 30 hours earlier.

Vazquez checked his watch before answering. “It’s over two hours by chopper from Austin, so at the very earliest, six a.m. But I would say nearer 6.30 a.m.”

“Do you have a shower here?” asked Sean looking around the border guards’ complex.

Ten minutes and a refreshing shower later, Sean was dressed and asleep, awaiting the arrival of Governor Rick Brown. It would be one of the most defining moments of Sean’s life and were he ever given the chance to relive it, he would vote categorically no!

Chapter 38

Katarina Guiterez was a rare Latino mix, thanks to the stationing of her Russian mother in Cuba. An intelligence officer with the GRU, she had met and fallen for Katarina’s father while working with Castro’s close advisors. Katarina, as a result, had inherited her mother’s blonde hair and blue eyes while her bronze skin struggled to hide her father’s Latin heritage. She was in any language stunning. She had the body build of an Olympic athlete and the grace of a princess and these, added to her beauty, ensured that pretty much anybody exposed to her was instantly captivated by her, male or female.

Her mother and father had fled to the US as a result of their union being frowned upon by their superiors. Their defection went unnoticed as neither held any real position of importance, power or information. New names were assigned and after a brief period of interrogation which uncovered exactly zero intelligence of any use for the US government, they were allowed to integrate into US society. A few years after the defection, the Berlin wall came down and as far as the US government was concerned, the history of the two defectors all but vanished. With a couple more name changes and the addition of Katerina, it would be almost impossible for the family to be traced back to their very un-American roots.

Katerina had long since changed her name to an American one. In fact, she herself had never once been called Katerina but deep down that was her name. Raised as an all-American girl, she had done it all and been accepted by everyone. Of course in a country where beauty was everything, this was no great issue for Katerina. Her mother had trained her well and before long, Katerina was using her womanly wiles to ensure she achieved what she wanted or needed. To her, sex was merely a means to an end. Her mother had been trained as a honey trap and it was only on meeting Katerina’s father that her role changed. Although in reality, meeting Katerina’s father and defecting were exactly the assignment she had been given. The love had come later, not that Katerina’s father ever knew that he had been used as a pawn in the GRU’s grand plan. His untimely death avoided him knowing about the plans in place for his daughter. Plans which, were he alive, he would never have approved or allowed. The untimely death itself was somewhat timely in Katerina’s mother’s eyes, or somewhat precisely timed to be more accurate.

Katerina had quite literally screwed her way to where she was. Men, women, straight, lesbian, it didn’t matter, whatever she required to do for her mother country she would do. Her mother had taught her the intricacies of pleasing her lovers, whether they be male or female, taping her exploits and analyzing them with her, pointing out areas to improve on her next conquest. Of which there were many.

Her beauty and overt sexuality ensured that whatever she wanted she got, whether it be information, jobs, promotions. Whatever Katerina wanted, Katerina could have. Her education matched her sexual ability, top of the class. She could have been a model on the front cover of every magazine in the land, a corporate executive earning millions, the world was her oyster. In fact, such was the training her mother had given her, she could even be the first lady.

Katerina re-read the message again on the cellphone that had been fedexed to her over a month ago. The instructions for delivery had been clear, only the addressee could sign for the package. Katerina had produced her American ID and ignoring the English language instruction manual that looked like any other new phone’s instructions, decoded the German. The message had arrived that morning; a rather innocuous text message inviting her to apply for a bank loan. On entering a special code, the true message came to life. Surkov had commenced the final stages of his plan. A generation in the making and Katerina had a major part to play.

Chapter 39

Major Andre Pushkin hit the dial button on an exact replica to the cellphone that Katerina had and was instantly connected to General Borodin. The state of the art handset piggybacked onto the Russian Glonass Satellite Navigation system and as such bypassed all American technology in favor of Russia’s own.

“Major, you received my message?” asked the General, no need for preamble.

“Yes Sir, General.”

“You understand the importance of your mission?”

“Of course, General!’

“Where are you now?”

“We are securing the property’s boundary and ascertaining the location of the target.”

“Is he not there?”

“It appears not, we have two heat sources on our infra red, one too small and the other has recently arrived and was not the target. We are assuming the wife and another unidentified male.”

“The child?”

“No heat source suggests a child is on site, General… wait a second, General…”

Major Pushkin listened to his number two report the news picked up by their radio operator.

“I’m sorry General we have reports coming through of a CIA assassin in the area having just competed a mission nearby. Our target perhaps.”

General Borodin almost choked on his vodka as the Major relayed the information.

“Sorry,” he spluttered. “You are picking up a radio broadcast of a CIA operation?”

“Sorry, we are not picking up a CIA broadcast, General. It is a local news channel reporting the information,” clarified Pushkin.

“Vasiliy get in here!” shouted Borodin for the world to hear.

“Pushkin, I’ll call you back!” informed the General before killing the connection.

Vasiliy rushed to his General’s command and stood ready for whatever he needed.

“I’ve just heard that the local news station is reporting a CIA assassin’s involvement in Laredo. I actually thought for a moment we were able to listen to encrypted CIA broadcasts but that’s another matter,” he digressed before coming back on subject. “ Find out what is happening!” he ordered.

“Of course, General.”

Captain John Kenny had been monitoring and analyzing the Glonass system pretty much since its reinstatement by President Putin as a top priority for modern Russia. The original system had caused great concern at the time of its inception in the late 70s and had been a fairly major priority for NSA at that time. Rooms of data on the structure and capability of Russia’s own network of Global Positioning Satellites had been filled many times over. However, with the fall of the wall and the downturn in the Russian economy in the 90s, it fell into disrepair. Putin’s reinvestment lifted some eyebrows within the NSA but nothing like the interest generated in the cold war era.

Captain Kenny was fascinated by the system and had pretty much followed it as a hobby during his normal duties at Lackland Air Force Base within the NSA’s Texas Cryptology Center. He was convinced the structure and original plans were to create something far more powerful than a simple navigation system. However until that night, he had not an ounce of evidence to support such a suggestion. In the previous two hours, all of that had changed. Two anomalies had occurred that had triggered a small program John had written to alert him to any such nuances. Two signals had been sent to the system that was far more advanced than anything that had ever been sent before and the signals had emanated not from Russia but from Texas itself. It seemed all his efforts to convince the hierarchy of an advanced communication tool, far beyond anything the US had even considered possible of the Russians, was a reality.

He grabbed his phone and immediately called the duty officer at Fort Meade, he needed to speak to Vice Admiral Kenyon, Head of the NSA immediately.

General Borodin picked up the new fangled phone and hit the dial button. He was connected to Pushkin almost immediately.

“You are right, it seems a CIA operative has been active in the area. Although our intelligence believed the target was no longer with the Agency. The coincidence would presume he is your target.”

“Do you have his new location?” asked Pushkin, keen to fulfill his orders.

“From the reports, he is in a police facility at the border.”

“What should we do?” asked Pushkin.

Borodin paused as he considered the options. Pushkin’s team was more than capable of taking out a police station; it was whether the situation required it.

“You said the woman was still there?”

“Yes, General.”

“He’ll come back, be ready when he does!” he ordered before killing the line.

As Captain John Kenny was being put through to a very sleepy and grumpy Vice Admiral Kenyon, his program reported a further nuance. Three in the space of two hours and two of those in five minutes.

“What in the name of God is it Kenny?”

“I was right Admiral, the Glonass is an advanced communication system!”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“The Russian equivalent of our GPS system, they are using it for communications.”

“And this couldn’t wait until the morning?!” he answered with some anger.

“Well that’s just it, Sir. They’re communicating from here!”

“The US?”

“Yes, the US, in fact right here in Texas!” explained Kenny excitedly.

“So you have hunch about a system developed in the eighties by the Soviets that it has some amazing uses nobody else agrees with and it just so happens the first proof you get is on your doorstep? Of all the places in the world the first location is where you are?!” The final sentence had Captain Kenny moving the handset away from his ear.

Before Captain Kenny could respond, the admiral hung up. The call was over and the duty officer came back on line.

“Hmm, I think you should start packing your bags, John. I would imagine your next post will be even more remote than Texas!”

“Just file my report!” demanded John as he himself hung up. He knew he was right, just as he had been three years earlier when his pestering had resulted in his transfer from Fort Meade to Texas.

The report of suggested advanced level Russian communications emanating from the state of Texas to the Glonass satellite navigation system was filed in the intelligence report for the day. Linked into the United States intelligence community network, it would be available for all 16 members of the community to view and cross check against their own reports and analyses.

The moment the reference to Russia and Texas hit the system, an alarm triggered at the CIA headquarters at Langley. A call was placed to the former Head of CIA’s Moscow office and friend of Vincent Black, Mike Ritter, who just two hours earlier had requested any information pertaining to Russia, Sean Fox or Laredo, Texas. On receiving Vincent’s earlier call Mike had climbed out of bed and on Vincent’s request had headed straight to Langley. Vincent wanted somebody with first hand knowledge looking into what the hell was going on. And as far as Vincent was concerned, nobody understood the region or its history better than Mike, having spent almost his entire career in Moscow during the cold war and beyond.

Chapter 40

With over three hours sleep, Sean felt invigorated, or at least he told himself he did. The governor’s chopper coming into land had awoken him to the frantic last minute preparations to welcome the governor’s arrival. The small office where he had been kept from the press’ prying eyes was the last to be visited by the welcoming party and on seeing he was up and awake, they swarmed in and tidied just about everything but the desk, chairs and sofa that had been Sean’s makeshift bed for the last two hours.

The Mayor introduced himself to Sean. He was a former FBI agent and was certainly not your average city Mayor. Both awaited the arrival of the governor with some small talk. Sean constantly had to change the subject as the mayor offered his extremely expert and experienced viewpoint and perspective on the warring cartels and the situations Sean and his team must have been facing working undercover.

Knowing approximately zero on the subject, it was one of the most difficult conversations Sean had ever undertaken. His knowledge of Nuevo Laredo was that it was the neighbor to Laredo, it had better whorehouses and Luis’ uncle ran one of the cartels. Fortunately for Sean, the governor made a beeline to his hero and insisted on meeting Sean before making any comments to the press.

“My man!’ beamed Governor Rick Brown as he entered the office.

Sean accepted the outstretched hand and introduced the Mayor.

“Great to meet you, Mr Mayor. Would you mind giving me a few minutes?” he offered the mayor with a smile and a handshake.

The mayor accepted the hint graciously and nodding his head to Sean, exited the small office and left the governor and Sean alone.

Silence followed as the Governor looked closely at Sean, a little too closely for Sean’s liking but he was about to be president, so he let it go.

“Have we met?” asked the governor after the rather awkward staring.

“Hmm, can’t say we have,” replied Sean, pretty certain they had never met before.

“I definitely recognize you and I never forget a face!” he continued to stare at Sean.

“Nope, can’t say we have,” replied Sean with some conviction, he had never met the man before, he was certain.

The governor shook his head and waved his finger at Sean. “It will come to me, it always does.”

Sean nodded half hearted at the governor’s playful promise.

“So, what the fuck are you playing at?” The smile was gone and the governor was bringing things back to business.

The change of demeanor, tone and friendliness in the bat of an eye, was, Sean thought to himself, impressive.

“Just doing a favor for a friend!”

“I thought we hadn’t met,” asked the governor confused by Sean’s answer.

“You’re not the friend I’m doing the favor for!”

“Oh, so who then?”

“Somebody at the CIA.”

“Your boss?”

Sean checked his watch. “Nope,” it had been over two hours since he had spoken to Vincent, so, technically, he was no longer a CIA operative.

“So who then?”

“A friend.”

“Does you friend have a name?” asked an exasperated governor.

“Yep,” replied Sean. He could keep this up for hours.

“Care to tell me it?”

“Nope.”

“You are a federal employee and I am a Governor of the United States of America, will you just tell me the name!”

“Actually, I’m not a federal employee.”

“I thought you were a CIA agent?”

“I was.”

“But you told the officers here you were a CIA agent, is that not true?”

“No.”

“So you lied?”

“No, not true, double negative, ” replied Sean.

“Jesus, are you going to give me a straight answer?”

“I have been,” offered Sean with no hint of sarcasm.

The governor pulled up a chair and indicated for Sean to do the same. Sean flicked the chair with his right foot and spun it in his left hand and planted himself just as it landed perfectly in line with the Governor’s.

“Oh my God” exclaimed the governor. “That’s how I recognize you, James Fox!”

Sean looked at him with utter confusion. The governor was the same age as himself. How the hell did he know his father?

“That thing you just did with your chair, your father used to do the same thing.”

Sean thought back and realized he was right. That was exactly what his father used to do, kick and spin the chair before planting himself to perfection on the seat. Sitting on the chair back to front.

“How did you know my father?”

“Uncle James, he visited us.” The governor thought back. “About three or four times a year.”

“Uncle?” exclaimed Sean.

“Well that’s what I called him, he was a good friend of my mom and dads.”

“But I never met your parents?”

“They didn’t travel much after dad’s accident. In fact, I think it was the time they spent in Washington before I was born that they met your parents. Dad was too ill to travel to the funeral when they died.”

“So you are James Fox’s son!”

“Yep, Sean, Sean Fox.” Sean offered his hand again for a more personal meeting. “Pleased to meet you, Governor!”

Governor Brown took the hand and shook at in a completely different way than before. The firmness and strength had been replaced by a warmer friendlier shake.

“But wait a minute,” the governor pondered. “Didn’t I read you had died, that’s why I didn’t recognize you straight away. I thought you were dead!”

“Another Sean Fox,” smiled Sean not particularly wanting to revisit that story.

“OK,” replied the governor. “So anyway, who is this friend?”

Sean laughed as the governor leaned in conspiratorially, saying he knew Sean’s father it seemed was all he needed to crack Sean’s resolve.

“I’m afraid not, Mr Governor…”

“Rick, please call me Rick!”

“I’m afraid not, Rick. Let’s just say he has your best interests at heart.”

“Worth a shot!” replied the governor with a shrug. He obviously hadn’t expected Sean to fold.

“So you’re not in the CIA any longer?”

“No, left about eighteen months ago and just picked up this job to help out a friend.”

“So what do you do now?”

“Up until about one day ago, bodyguard and exec rescue in Afghanistan.”

“Sounds dangerous!”

“Not nearly as dangerous as here!” muttered Sean under his breath.

“Sorry?” asked the governor not quite catching what he had said.

“Very, but paid very well.”

“And now that you’ve done your favor for your friend?”

“One more little job and then life’s a beach.”

The governor considered Sean’s answer far more than Sean thought it deserved.

“How long will your little job last?”

Sean hadn’t really considered how long it would take him to get James back but the more he considered it he realized it really needed to be soon. Too many variables were in play and the situation could get out of control at any moment. James’ life really was hanging by a thread.

“Hopefully, we’ll have it wrapped up the end of the day!”

“Perfect, we leave for Moscow in three days!”

“Sorry?” asked Sean perplexed by the statement.

“I have a trip scheduled to Moscow as part of my build up to announcing my presidency. I need a bodyguard and you obviously fit the bill. Perfect.”

“The Secret Service will protect you.”

“I’m not on their radar yet because I have not announced my intention to run. So although I’ll get some protection, I’d much prefer you by my side. In any event we can swap stories on your old man!”

The Governor did not wait for an answer. He thrust a card in Sean’s hand and told him to call and get the arrangements. Whatever his per diem rate in Afghanistan would be matched.

Sean stuck the card in his pocket and waited for the governor to take the podium in the main area before sneaking out the back door of the complex. It seemed he had three days maximum to find James or find a way out of the Moscow trip. However, in all honesty, his assessment of hanging by a thread rang true. He really needed to get James back long before then.

Chapter 41

“Luis!” screamed El Jefe as he stared at the TV news in disbelief.

Juan walked into the room as El Jefe threw his coffee at the screen. “He’s not here, El Jefe,” he offered calmly.

“I’m shouting at him not for him!” he barked in frustration as two men ran in and quickly replaced yet another TV screen.

Juan Torres, El Jefe’s number two in command, had been at El Jefe’s side since the two were children. They had joined and left the army together and had created one of the most powerful cartels in the world from scratch. Juan Torres was as ruthless a man as El Jefe but some said, more worryingly, without the temper. His composure never changed. From making love to a beautiful woman to carving a man into twenty pieces in front of his family, his expression remained the same. Where El Jefe shouted, barked and threw things around, Juan spoke evenly and calmly.

“I have just been updated on the evening’s events, El Jefe,” he said pouring himself and El Jefe a fresh cup of coffee.

“The fucking CIA!” screamed El Jefe. “He gave my rifle to someone in the fucking CIA.”

“Yes I heard the report on the radio in the car, it is rather strange but I am sure he knows what he’s doing.” Juan knew when he needed to calm El Jefe down and offering his support to Luis’ plan would instantly help. El Jefe knew Juan was not fond of his nephew but did appreciate that sometimes the boy knew what he was doing.

However, Juan himself was no fool and understood there was a political game being played across the river. For forty years he had followed El Jefe, knowing that with El Jefe, he would achieve everything in life he ever wanted. El Jefe was a natural born leader; men feared and admired him in equal measure. They would lay down their lives for him without a second thought. Juan was far brighter but was also bright enough to know this would not endear him to El Jefe and as such had downplayed his intelligence and instead persuaded and nudged El Jefe cleverly and helped create the most feared cartel in the world. Most of El Jefe’s greatest ideas and decisions had been Juan’s but such was Juan’s ability to manipulate El Jefe, nobody, not even El Jefe realized it.

The introduction of Luis to the mix, the educated nephew, had been a constant thorn in his side but one that he was managing. Luis controlled what Juan wanted him to control and even then most of that was a sham. When El Jefe had suggested Luis look after Intel, Juan had agreed but only after he had suggested that he would act as number two in that area also. El Jefe agreed, seeing no reason as to why it didn’t make sense and in reality, every item of information was relayed to Juan before it reached Luis.

The one thing that had slipped under his radar was the Fat Jake debacle three months earlier. From start to finish, it had been an utter disaster; none of it of his making. Luis had uncovered Fat Jake’s meeting place while Juan was out of the country and had taken it to his uncle. Between the two idiots, they had worked out they could increase Los Zetas’ profits. The idea, in itself, was not a bad one if the meeting was, at face value, as it seemed. However, Juan Torres was not a man who would have allowed Fat Jake to operate without good reason and that was Luis and El Jefe’s first mistake.

The East coast business was a complex set up. Los Zetas dealt with a middleman, Carlos. Los Zetas supplied drugs to Carlos, Carlos supplied Fat Jake and Fat Jake supplied the East coast dealers. Carlos’ end was minimal, his profit was nothing compared to Fat Jake’s. Unfortunately, El Jefe had killed Carlos in the process of uncovering that nugget of information. That had left them with no option but to try and take Fat Jake’s end. By the time Juan had found out what they were doing, it was too late. He knew they’d never get Fat Jake’s end and that was precisely why he had never rocked that boat. And of course, over the previous three months, he had been proved right.

The update of the previous night’s events, culminating with El Jefe’s target practice, had not gone down well and it had been a far calmer Juan that walked into the room with El Jefe. However, as he looked at El Jefe, all of the anger dissipated. El Jefe needed Juan to guide and assist him. Without Juan, he did crazy things. It had always been the same. Even as young boys, El Jefe was the loose cannon. However, with Juan by his side, he was lethal. They were a team, they were brothers and Juan loved him more than anyone else alive. He was the brother he never had. He was the brother who, when needed, was always there. He was the brother who would stand by his side to the death. He was the brother he would happily take a bullet for.

“You think so?” questioned El Jefe, not really understanding how the CIA having the rifle he used to kill a US officer could possibly be a good thing.

“I’m not entirely sure they’re being honest. There are politics at play, El Jefe,” he offered. “And your nephew would never do anything to put you in harm’s way!” he added sincerely.

“You’re right, Juan, as always,” replied El Jefe, as he accepted the coffee and relaxed for the first time in hours.

“Your plan to stop the meeting was genius, El Jefe!” offered Juan thinking it was in fact madness but it was done and they just had to move on. “Have we had any luck with the names for Fat Jake’s contacts?”

“Not yet but Luis assured me this morning he will have them within the next day or two!”

This was new information to Juan. Luis had not mentioned anything to him the previous evening when Juan had spoken to him.

“I have not heard how Luis has managed this, El Jefe,” he commented eliciting the desired response from El Jefe.

“When I spoke to him this morning and gave him the rifle, I may have been a little rough with him,” admitted El Jefe, to which Juan smiled inwardly. He always enjoyed when El Jefe did to Luis what he spent his day dreaming of doing himself. “ Anyway, Luis assured me he is nearly there and that was why he needed the rifle, it would clear the way to get us the contacts. We’re almost there, Juan!”

“Excellent,” smiled Juan warmly, wondering exactly what the little shit was playing at. Los Zetas, his baby, was at the mercy of Luis. It was anything but excellent. He could have added that 'there’ was where they were three months ago but of course did not.

Chapter 42

Luis loaded the last of the bodies onto the wheelbarrow and pushed it the length of the garden to the small rowboat that already held two bullet-ridden bodies. He had taken a roll of garbage bags from the kitchen as instructed along with a number of tools. The next part of the clean up was the one he looked forward to least, dissection of the bodies into parts and bagging them to be sunk in the lake behind the house. He had of course witnessed his uncle doing exactly the same to Sean’s look-a-like but never before had he wielded the implements and undertaken the task. Sean had been clear that to ensure the bodies remained at the bottom, just like in the TV show 'Dexter’, they had to be in bits.

Luis rowed the small boat to the center of the lake and began the macabre work with the jigsaw borrowed from the garage workshop. Fortunately, the darkness spared him the true horror of his task but after thirty minutes, he had thrown up twice and felt certain he’d be a vegetarian for the rest of his life. All in all, it took just over an hour to ensure the remains of his men would stay at the bottom of the lake.

Before setting back to shore, he stripped off his clothes and placed them in another bag and sent that to the bottom of the lake too. He then plunged into the dark waters and manically rubbed himself from top to toe. Sean had been explicit with every instruction he had given. The final instruction was to sink the boat. The jigsaw, despite being low on battery, had just enough power to ensure the boat would disappear by the time Luis had swum ashore.

Luis commenced the longer than he realized swim to shore as the final portion of the boat disappeared from sight. To say he had underestimated the distance was incorrect; it was more an over estimation of his swimming ability that nearly killed him. By the time he was a hundred yards from shore, his body was all but done. He had to stop and tread water to try and regain some energy.

Pushkin’s men who were responsible for watching the back of the property had watched with great interest as Luis had loaded the bodies and then rowed out into the small lake. They watched carefully for his return and wondered if in fact he had made it back. After 90 minutes, there was no sign of the rowboat returning. The noises that had drifted ashore of the buzzing tool had stopped some time ago and naturally they had expected the boat to return soon after. As the first rays of sunlight broke and the lake’s surface became more apparent, it was clear for all to see, the rowboat was gone. The male disposing of the bodies had obviously dumped them and gone to another location.

After three hours of not moving, all were pleased to be informed that they could stretch their muscles. The woman was asleep in her bed and no other person overlooked their location. The Spetsnaz troopers stood up and stretched their muscles. Not knowing how long it would be before they had the luxury of another break, all took full advantage of the situation.

As the six bushes apparently came to life, Luis almost choked. His mouth was barely over the waterline and as the small waves lapped at him, more often than not it was well under. The sight of the men who had obviously been staking out the house and had witnessed what he had done over the last couple of hours filled him with dread. Why federal agents had not intervened, he didn’t know. What he did know was that whatever they wanted, it wasn’t going to be in his, or his uncle’s best interests, nor for that matter Sean’s son, James. They had obviously assumed he had taken the boat across the lake. They didn’t know he was all but drowning within their sights. If he had anything to do with it, nor would they. What he did know was that he had to warn Sean what was happening which meant getting ashore unseen. Getting ashore in his current state was going to be difficult enough. The added complication of six heavily armed soldiers was a complication he could happily have done without.

It was only as he exited the guards’ complex that Sean realized he didn’t have any transport. The road South was gridlocked while the road North was empty. The border was still closed, despite Sean finding the shooter and from what he had heard, it would remain closed for the rest of the day. It was going to cause chaos but anything less would dishonor the brave guardsmen who had stepped up to defend their state and country. There was also the slight issue of proving the man Sean said was the shooter was indeed the shooter. Of course the rifle was correct, or at least Luis claimed it was. As for the identity of the shooter, they were just going to have to accept what Sean said.

Sean checked the time, 7.20 a.m.. The first rays of sunshine began to break the darkness. Not a cloud in the sky, it was going to be hot. Sean noted the plane coming into Laredo and knew the house to be a mile to the right. Fixing his bearings, he set off at a jog. He reckoned 6 miles and on flat tarmac, rather than Afghan mountainside, that should be less than 30 minutes.

Had he not taken two wrong turns, it would have been less than thirty he figured as he turned into the lakeside area and noted the familiar selection of street names all cleverly bearing the word Lake in some form.

A familiar house stood at the end of the road. From there, Sean just needed to turn left and another two hundred yards would see him back at Katie’s house. Someone, he realized, he was looking forward to seeing.

Luis managed somehow to get ashore; it took every ounce of strength his body possessed but he managed. The property he had come ashore at was a few hundred yards down from the troops and despite definitely being out of sight, he crawled on his belly from the shoreline to the safety of the house, just in case. Sitting in his boxer shorts, exhausted and dripping wet, he thanked God that the home owners hadn’t witnessed his sorry sight as they had exited their property, thankfully it seemed, running late, as they air kissed one another before jumping in their respective cars and screeching from the driveway.

It had been hours since he had left Sean at the riverside. He wondered if he had walked into the trap at the house. He realized then that he had become so embroiled in working with Sean, he hadn’t even considered the prospect that Sean had called in the troops. Sean had double-crossed him. Luis kicked himself for being so stupid. He was El Jefe’s nephew, what in the hell was he doing getting into bed with an ex CIA assassin? He needed to get out of there and alert his uncle to the scheming Sean Fox and his miraculous reincarnation. El Jefe would know what to do.

With renewed energy, Luis got up and edged himself to the side of the house. He looked carefully around the corner and fortunately could not see Sean’s house. He was out of the sight of the watchers but half naked and carless. He stepped back from the corner and tried the windows and doors of the house, all locked. The noise of a door opening across the street caught his attention. A young mother was struggling from her house with a stroller. With no one else in sight, he had his chance. He grabbed a rock from the garden and rushed across the street. The young mother’s car would be perfect as a get away car.

As Sean neared the street corner, the sight of a naked Luis racing across the street caught him somewhat by surprise. The rock in his hand and his focus on the young mother with her child were alarming. Fortunately, as she struggled with the door, her back to the imminent danger, she was unaware of Luis’ attack. Sean could have called out but that would have alerted the young mother to her peril and probably resulted in Luis’ incarceration and James’s death.

Fortunately, Luis had been so intent on the woman, he had not noticed Sean was barreling down upon him.

Sean launched himself at Luis and grabbed for his mouth as he tackled him from behind. The result was the two lying in a tangled mess at the bottom of the young mother’s drive, out of her sight behind her car. Sean’s hand was clamped across Luis’ mouth stopping him screaming with shock and alerting the neighborhood to his presence.

“What the fuck are you doing?” whispered Sean into Luis’ ear.

“Sean?” came the muffled and consumed response from Luis.

On answering yes, Luis immediately stopped struggling and relaxed.

As the mother went about finalizing the locking of her front door, Luis and Sean crawled out of her line of sight and hurried around into her back garden. Some clothes hung out to dry. The young mother’s husband’s clothes were a fairly good fit for Luis and as he dressed, he explained what had happened.

Sean nodded as he listened to Luis explain the moment the six soldiers had literally materialized from the ground. None of it was good.

“Is that everything?” asked Sean.

“Yes,” replied Luis thinking hard if there was anything he had missed.

Sean sent his fist into Luis’ face like a bullet, catching him square on the chin and depositing him straight on the ground. It was a short and fairly powerless jab but made a very important point.

“If I ever see you even look like you’re going to attack a woman again, I’ll kill you,” warned Sean with real menace.

Luis nodded in agreement, too stunned to argue.

Sean reached down and helped Luis to his feet. “Now let’s see what we are up against.”

“I need to borrow your phone,” said Sean holding out his hand.

“Where exactly did you figure I stashed that in my waterproof boxers?” asked Luis, not hiding his anger.

Sean smiled and let it go. He had humiliated Luis with the punch and let him have his little jibe in return. That, however, did not solve the problem of how to uncover what was happening further up the street. Sean set off at a pace that Luis struggled to keep up with. He worked his way through the rear gardens at the opposite side of the street from Katie’s. He had remembered that most, if not all, of the homes were empty. One in particular, diagonally opposite, wasn’t even complete. It would be the perfect location to see what was going on. Unfortunately, Sean was not the only person who had thought the same.

Chapter 43

After three hours of waiting, Borodin could wait no longer and hit the dial button on the phone that had been staring at him silently. Pushkin answered after one ring.

“General, I’m sorry no update,” he whispered.

Borodin hung up. He had never been a patient man but he couldn’t let his inability to control himself interfere with a mission.

“Vasiliy!” he shouted.

Vasiliy entered the office and thought twice of reminding the General of the small intercom button that negated the need to scream his name.

“Yes, General?”

“Any word from Surkov?”

Vasiliy could have said of course not, I would have told you if there had been but again went with the far less confrontational. “No, General, nothing yet.”

“Has the President called?”

Vasiliy was beginning to struggle. “No, General, sorry, he has not.”

“OK, thanks,” he waved dismissively for Vasiliy to leave.

Surkov had assured him things were in action that would necessitate his greater involvement imminently and to ready his assets. Either himself or the President would be in touch to discuss the next steps of their plan. Until then, he should sort out the Sean Fox problem and relax.

Ever since he had found out about what really was happening at Grebnevo, the one thing he most certainly couldn’t do was relax. It was not until then that he fully understood why Sean Fox was such an issue. As far as Surkov was aware, the other Sean Fox had died in a light plane crash five years earlier. The news that another Sean Fox had died three months earlier had therefore not fazed him in the slightest. However, news that another Sean Fox had risen from the grave was a very startling prospect. As far as Surkov knew, there were only two! Which meant there was every chance that the live one could have been his. Whatever the case, the danger was too great. Sean Fox had to be killed. If he was Surkov’s Sean Fox, he knew too much. Depending on which one was which, they may have told the wife and as a result that was why she also must be eliminated. After that, it had all got a little confusing, his Sean, the other Sean, Borodin began to lose track.

As he drummed his fingers on the table the satellite phone sprung to life. He grabbed it.

“Done?” he asked.

“Da!” was the succinct reply before the line went dead.

He hit the redial but nothing happened, the line was down.

“Vasiliy!” he screamed.

Vasiliy rushed to the General’s aid.

“This damn thing has cut out!” he shouted, throwing it at Vasiliy, clearly expecting him to fix it.

Vasiliy tried for a minute before calling in proper technical assistance. The chief designer of the system was rushed into Borodin’s office, from the technical department two floors below. He brought another sat phone just in case the problem lay with the General’s handset. It did not. Neither handset could connect to Pushkin’s.

“Well?” boomed the General pacing the office in an attempt to prolong his patience.

The chief designer called back to his office and had every system component checked and triple checked.

“Everything is working correctly, General…”

“Obviously fucking not!” he blasted, not allowing the designer the chance to finish his sentence.

“… so the problem must be with Major Pushkin’s handset,” he offered timidly.

“And?”

“We have sent an update to his handset. The next time it is switched on, it will connect instantly to us and if it is a software fault, we can fix it from here. If not, I’m afraid there is little I can do.”

Borodin turned and looked out of the window.

“Vasiliy get him out of here before I do something I might not regret!”

By the time Vasiliy had turned to the designer, his back was already disappearing out of the door.

As Vasiliy shut the door behind the designer, he asked what Pushkin had said.

“I asked him 'done?’ and he answered yes. Then the line cut.”

“So Sean Fox is dead?” clarified Vasiliy.

“Yes, I suppose he is,” smiled Borodin,

“Will I get Dr Surkov on the phone?” suggested Vasiliy.

Borodin’s mood turned full circle as he realized Vasiliy was absolutely right. Now he had an excuse to call Surkov.

“Excellent idea Vasiliy. Best use the old fashioned land line though,” he laughed.

Chapter 44

As he stepped down from the lectern, Governor Rick Brown smiled to himself. Even if he said so himself, that was the speech that would make him president. Shouts as to whether he was running were ignored. There were people whose loved ones had died. Next stop for the Governor was to pay his respects to the widows and children of the murdered guardsmen. Phone calls had already been made to the widows by his office and significant benevolent funds allocated for them and their children. None would ever need to work again or worry about how they would fund their children’s education. However, Governor Rick Brown would have done the same whether Sean Fox had saved his presidential chances or not. He lived by his father’s morals and always did the right thing. Those men died because of Rick Brown’s actions and their families would not suffer because of them.

The pictures of Colonel Masters’ wife hugging the governor like a long lost son as a result were just a fortunate by-product. But then that was what his father had always told him. Son, you reap what you sew! Rick Brown took responsibility for his actions and as a result was rewarded.

Vincent listened as Governor Brown regained his number one contender slot. Thank God it had paid off. As far as he was concerned, the number two was a nightmare and as for the Democrats, they had lost their way entirely. As far as the CIA was concerned, Rick Brown was the best candidate for the job and knowing he owed them was no bad thing. All in all a good morning’s work.

He clicked off the screen and returned to the rather more pressing matter of Mike Ritter and Captain John Kenny. The timing of their two reports was coincidental, but added to the report of an alleged Aeroflot plane landing at Laredo, it was, to say the least, concerning.

Vincent had been trying for hours to reach Sean but no luck, his phone rang unanswered. He had eventually resorted to calling Katie but that had resulted in nothing more than a tearful one-way conversation that he desperately tried to extricate himself from without sounding like a total and complete bastard.

Something big was going down and whatever it was, Sean was the key. For whatever reason, the Russians were interested in him. He just had to find out why. Of course the easiest solution to that problem was Sean but with no way of contacting him, it was down to Vincent to get every available resource to find out what was going on and whether, as Ritter had predicted, the cold war had merely thawed.

Before he could begin to think the worst, a knock on the door disturbed him. His assistant, Jane, entered.

“Sir, we’ve got a hit on Sean Fox’ name at the State Department.”

“It’s barely 8.00!”

“I know but a request has just been filed to allow him to accompany Governor Brown to Moscow as a bodyguard.”

Vincent didn’t know where to start with the number of points that concerned him with regard to the news. However, one did stand head and shoulders above the rest, Governor Brown was visiting Moscow?

“Find out when and get Ritter in here yesterday!” he barked, the sudden increase in Russian activity with the number one contender for US President about to visit the country was not sitting well.

“And keep trying to get me Sean Fox!” he shouted through the closing door.

A similar message hit General Borodin’s desk not long after Vincent Black’s. A flag for anything referring to the name Sean Fox was also in place. Due to the timescales of Governor Brown’s request, it was fast tracked by the State Department directly to Moscow for a special VISA to be authorized which would allow Sean Fox to be armed.

As Borodin read the request, a mild panic set in. “I thought Pushkin had taken care of this?” he asked Vasiliy as he finished reading the request.

Vasiliy was ready for the question as he himself had asked the same question on reading the request.

“Look at the timing of the request.” He leant over and pointed at the 7.03 a.m. time stamp on the original request.

“Ah,” the form had been sent before Pushkin had relayed Fox’ untimely death. “Well, let’s not disappoint them, issue the VISA with immediate effect,” he smiled, handing the form back to Vasiliy.

“Of course, General,” offered Vasiliy before leaving the office and returning to his desk.

Vasiliy picked up the phone and called the head of the VISA department.

“Gregor, issue the VISA with immediate effect,” he commanded.

“I’ll have it done by the end of the day,” replied Gregor cheerily.

“Sorry, Gregor, General Borodin said immediate,” emphasized Vasiliy, knowing that when Borodin said immediate he very much meant it.

“But we have standard checks and procedures to follow. What if he has a criminal record or is not fire arm trained?”

Vasiliy didn’t have time for this. “I expect a copy of his approved VISA within the next five minutes!” he barked, before ending the call.

It took less than three.

Vincent looked up as the knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. He expected to see Ritter. Instead, Jane rushed in.

“Sir, State Department have just called regarding the Sean Fox flag,” she said breathlessly.

“What now?”

“His VISA’s been approved!”

“Excellent,” he replied and returned his attention to his computer screen.

“But that’s the thing, that doesn’t happen.”

“They don’t approve requests?”

“Not in less than fifteen minutes.”

“How long do they normally take?”

“The quickest on record, a very rushed one with a personal request from the President was 36 hours!”

Vincent’s interest went from just over 0 to 100 % in an instant in what his assistant was saying, as did his concern for Sean’s wellbeing.

“Shit, did you get a hold of Sean?”

“No and no sightings since he left the border complex this morning.”

Vincent feared the worst. The Russians were sticklers for process and detail. The only way they would have happily issued a VISA was because they knew he wasn’t able to use it.

“What about the team at Corpus? Get me the team leader,” he snapped, his heart was racing as he feared the worst.

“I’ll try but they’re probably still in the air,” replied Jane, rushing back to her desk.

“Wait, what do you mean they’re probably still in the air? Who ordered them back?!!” he almost screamed as the panic of losing Sean again set in.

“Nobody ordered them back,” came an indignant reply. “You mentioned earlier you shouldn’t have stopped them at Corpus, so I assumed you wanted them at Laredo!”

After working for the man for over fifteen years she knew what he wanted sometimes better than himself.

“When?”

“Just after I arrived having been roused from my bed at a ridiculous time in the morning. About three hours ago.”

“Have I ever told you how amazing you are!” he rushed from his desk and kissed her on the cheek.

“Not often enough,” she blushed, as she turned his phone to herself and dialed the team leader.

“No answer,” she announced dejectedly, after listening to the phone ring and ring.

“No answer to what?” asked Mike Ritter as he walked through the door.

“The team I sent to Laredo!”

“What about Sean?”

“We were hoping they had him!”

“Oh,” Mike knew how close Vincent was to Sean. “I hope it’s a decent sized team!” he added with some concern.

“Why?”

“I just read the full report on the alleged Mayday at Laredo. Alleged my ass, the Russkies landed their equivalent of a jumbo.”

“You are fucking kidding me, how in the fuck could they get away with that?!”

“They’ve been working on some stealth technology and created a couple of stealth transporters. We’ve just checked, one took off from an airbase outside Caracas in Venezuela that fits perfectly with the Mayday in Laredo. Once in the air it’s pretty much impossible to track.”

“When you say Jumbo?”

“Over 400 passengers!”

“Oh good God, we’ve got a team of five!”

“We think at least two to three hundred passengers re-boarded when they left Laredo!” offered Mike as some comfort.

“Shit, so worst case there are two hundred to five!”

Mike shrugged at what could be the case.

“Jane, get me the President!” announced Vincent somberly.

“Don’t do that Jane,” instructed Mike.

“Why in the hell not?”

“Because we have not got one shred of verifiable proof and we are currently enjoying the best relations we’ve ever had with Russia.”

“But you just told me about the plane?” argued Vincent.

“I told you the information fits but there is no evidence any plane landed in the US other than a pot head kid who filed a report. A report that has no evidence anywhere in their logs to back it up.”

“The communication system being activated in Texas?”

“The guy that filed it is likely to be redeployed to Alaska anytime soon. He’s a genius but a genius who Vice Admiral Kenyon would happily shoot himself!”

“We can’t do anything?” pleaded Vincent.

“I agree! Look I need to run, I’m waiting on a call that may make some sense of all this.”

“Good or bad?” asked Vincent.

“Let’s just say I hope I’m wrong, because if I’m not, this could be very bad!” replied Mike heading out of the door.

“So what about the guys in Texas?” shouted Vincent at Mike’s back.

“Keep calling the numbers and hope someone answers!”

Chapter 45

Sean crawled towards the empty building. So far, so good, no hostiles. Which was just as well as neither himself nor Luis were armed. Vincent’s Desert Eagle was on its way to be analyzed as evidence that he shot the shooter, while Luis had dropped the rock that had not endeared himself to Sean. Surprise was their only weapon. From what Luis had told Sean, it seemed apparent that whoever the soldiers were, their interest was in Katie’s house.

Sean raised his hand and instructed Luis to stay where he was. He didn’t want Luis stumbling and alerting the world to the fact they were there, particularly as they were sitting ducks, unarmed. Sean raced across and lay prone under the window of the empty property. Plastic sheeting covered where the glass panes would finally finish the exterior of the property. It offered some cover in itself, as the sheeting was opaque but unfortunately that also meant Sean couldn’t see in. With three large windows and one main patio door to the rear of the property, Sean tucked himself under the windows of what he assumed was the kitchen and next to the patio doors belonging to either a living room or dining room overlooking the garden. He listened carefully but heard little more than the ruffle of the plastic as it undulated in the warm breeze.

Sean signaled for Luis to make the dash. As he waited for Luis, he crawled closer towards the patio door. The sheeting covering the patio door had been sliced along the wooden support. Of course, it could have happened anytime since the sheeting was installed but knowing the back of the Katie’s house was being watched, there was every chance it meant somebody was inside. He motioned for Luis to wait where he was, as still and silently as possible. Sean crept forward and listened, nothing. He edge forward and managed to look into the room, the sheet blew just enough in the wind to allow him a brief view into the room. A solid wall stared back, the room did not go right through and as such offered no view to the front. Even if there were somebody inside, it was likely they would be in the room beyond which would offer a view of Katie’s house.

Whatever the case, it was no place for a rookie. Sean signaled back for Luis to wait before slipping through the slit in the sheeting and disappearing inside. Sean remained on his belly as he entered the room. The bare floorboards were not going to hide even the softest of footwear. He pulled himself silently across the floor listening for any movement. As he reached the doorless doorway to the hall, he pulled himself up and braced himself against the wall, just in case anybody was in the hallway ahead. Nothing.

Taking the tiniest of steps he worked himself around the doorway and into the hall, the main door stood about twenty feet ahead. It was the only door that had been put in place. Another doorless doorway lay six feet ahead along the wall, it must be the living room thought Sean. If anybody were going to be anywhere, it would be in there or one of the rooms above. Sean shimmied along the wall as slowly as he could, ensuring not a sound alerted any potential hostile. As he reached the doorway, the room came into view. It was empty, at least the 80 % that was visible to him without entering the room fully.

He had two options, enter slowly and expose himself fully or roll into the room and take whoever may be there by surprise. With benefits to both, he chose the silent approach, figuring if you were watching the house, you’d choose the highpoint. He entered silently and was rewarded, the room was empty.

Sean crouched and worked his way along the wall to the main window that overlooked Katie’s house. As the sheeting blew in by the wind, he managed to dislodge a small portion which afforded the briefest of views of the street outside, it was empty. With the likelihood of any watchers focusing on Katie’s house, he peeled the sheeting back a little further. If there were anybody out there, they were very well hidden. Sean noted nothing untoward. The tiniest creak from the floorboard above him had him cursing his nosiness. Fortunately no further noises were made. They weren’t reacting to him moving the sheeting but one thing was certain. Somebody was upstairs.

Sean eased himself back to the hallway and checked for any kind of weapon he could lay his hands on, nothing. Unfortunately, whatever workmen had worked in the house were the tidiest he had ever known. Surprise was going to have to remain his best option. Surmounting a set of unfinished bare wood stairs was going to be pretty much impossible. Another solution was required. Sean crept back out to where Luis lay tight against the wall as instructed and surveyed the back of the house. The upper windows were just out of reach, even with Luis giving him a leg up. However, a length of board which must have been used as a ramp for running wheelbarrows into the house was perfect. He laid it against the wall and with Luis’ help was just able to reach the windowsill of the first floor window. A quick check suggested the window to his right would offer a better entry, as the hallway lay directly in front of the current room. A quick move to the right had Sean slowly peeling the plastic sheeting back and slipping into the room. It took him every ounce of his strength to maneuver himself in without so much as a pin drop to alert the watchers.

For the first time, Sean could actually hear the watchers. Although he was unable to make out what they were saying, he could hear a very low murmur as they talked to one another which obviously meant there was more than one. Why were things never simple he thought to himself.

With no time like the present and pretty much no other option, Sean crept across to the doorway and worked his way along the hallway until he was just out of sight of the watchers. As their murmuring never ceased, he assumed they were unaware of his presence. He readied himself and scratched his foot gently against the wall. The murmuring didn’t stop, so he tried again a little harder. The murmuring stopped and footsteps began to move across the floor. Just one set, as Sean had hoped. As the watcher approached the doorway, his focus was on the staircase ahead of him not on the doorway to his left. Sean wasted no time and grabbed the watcher by the throat and pulled him in close and marched him into the room, catching the watcher’s hand as he desperately grasped for his pistol which Sean extracted and was pointing at the watcher’s colleague before he had a chance to realize what was happening.

As Sean’s hand crushed the first watcher’s windpipe, the second stood like a rabbit caught in headlights about to receive a bullet through his temple. It was just as he had envisioned, right up until the muzzle of the third watcher’s gun pressed against the back of Sean’s head. There had been another watcher in the bedroom opposite.

Sean relaxed the grip on the first watcher’s throat but not so as to let him go. It was probably the only thing stopping number three shooting, the likelihood of the bullet killing both Sean and Number One were pretty much a given.

“Sean Fox?” asked Number Three, his accent was perfect East Coast American.

Sean nodded, perhaps they were on his side after all.

The muzzle was not removed. Round 2 to the watchers, they knew they had their man.

The sound of a digital code being dialed was the next thing Sean heard. He heard a gruff voice bark something on the other end before Number Three replied.

“Da!” and pulled the trigger.

Chapter 46

Arriving late at night, the CIA team had opted to bed down at the Naval Air Station where they had landed as a result of their last minute rerouting. None were overly impressed with their subsequent 5 a.m. start following the call from Jane, V’s assistant. However, with a former Seal in their team, a ride was quickly arranged for the team on one of the Coastguard’s Dauphin choppers. What was going to be a two-hour drive cross-country became a 50-minute hop. By 6.30 a.m., they were landing at Laredo and 'borrowing’ an unsecured airfield truck, they were on site less than fifteen minutes later. Not knowing what lay ahead, they had ditched the truck in favor of a silent approach from a couple of streets away. As they made their way through a number of gardens, their night vision goggles began to pick up a number of heat sources near the target property. Not knowing whether they were friend or foe, the Team Leader indicated towards the property diagonally opposite the house and it was in fact the CIA team that had slit the sheeting on the Patio door. As they worked their way through the house, they had regrouped in the upstairs bedroom and as sunlight began to break, they were about to report in to V.

The front door being opened downstairs deterred them from any such call and had them scampering for cover. The only cover they could find was the loft hatch and as the watchers who were obviously keen to hide in the daylight trooped up the stairs, the CIA team was silently slipping into the loft. It was only a matter of luck that they managed to secure the hatch before the first watcher had mounted the staircase.

Hearing the low murmur of the voices from below and with none of the insulation in place, the Team could do nothing but remain still and silent and certainly had no chance to make a call. The Team Leader reached for his phone, he could always send a text but it wasn’t in his pocket, it was in his pack which had been slung across the floor of the loft, with all the others, as they scrambled out of sight. He tried to reach out but the wood beneath him began to squeak. He signaled to his team. They all shook their heads, none could get to a phone without alerting the watchers below. They then had an added concern. What if somebody called them?

As the sun rose, the heat began to build. The un-insulated loft space was not where you wanted to be in the Texan sun. After less than half an hour, the temperature was easily touching a hundred in the confined and airless space and it wasn’t even 8.00 a.m. There was no way they could spend the day there, certainly not without water which was in their packs. Just as he was considering their next move, a noise from below had them all looking at one another. A scuffle followed by feet scrambling across the floor had them looking towards the hatch. Had they been detected?

The American accent saying Sean Fox had the nearest team member to the hatchway lifting it. As far as he was concerned, friendlies were below. After all, it was Sean Fox they were there to assist. As the hatch rose, he saw Sean with one man by the throat and a gun pointing at another. As he inched the hatch higher, a man with a phone to his ear and a gun firmly pressed against Sean’s head came into view.

“Hostiles!” muttered the hatch opener. He couldn’t do anything, both hands were holding the hatch and his body blocked the view for the others. He leaned back offering the second team member a view.

“Shit!” said team member two struggling to get his MP5 raised in the confined space.

“Only shoot if he’s in imminent danger,” warned the team leader as number two depressed his trigger. He was very certain he was.

Sean caught sight of the hatch opening just as he realized the guy was saying yes in Russian. More Russians, he thought.

The putt of an MP5 was unmistakable as was the wetness that hit Sean’s head. With Watcher Three dead, Sean squeezed Watcher One’s neck, snapping at least two vertebrae as he pulled the trigger that sent Watcher Two to an early grave. Three down in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, all weapons were silenced and nobody outside of the house were any the wiser, although as the CIA team with some relief climbed from the loft space, Sean suddenly remembered the phone.

“Shit!” he spun to the lifeless body that had threatened to kill him. The phone was half implanted in its head. The bullet had gone straight through the phone before killing him instantly. A bullet hole in the floor was testament to the fact that he had managed to pull the trigger to kill Sean before he died.

As the hot and extremely sweaty CIA team high fived Sean, the Team Leader looked at the two watchers killed by Sean.

“Was that really necessary?” he asked.

Sean kicked Watcher One over with his foot, a nine-inch blade was in his hand. From its positioning, it would have been pressed against Sean’s gut. He stepped over to Watcher Two and kicked him over revealing a KEDR B silenced submachine gun in his hand. The Russian equivalent of a Mac 10, its rate of fire and firepower would have killed Sean and the CIA team with one sweep of fire up and into the ceiling.

“Fair enough!” he replied. “So what’s happening?”

“I have absolutely no idea,” replied Sean sincerely, looking at the dead Russians. “There were a couple of Russians here yesterday but when they spotted me, they did everything they could not to kill me. These guys it seemed were absolutely intent on killing me!”

The three Russians wore ordinary American clothes, Levis jeans and polo shirts. Were it not for their speaking Russian and their arsenal of Russian weaponry, they’d never have known they were not Americans. The one with the phone had sounded absolutely American when he had said Sean’s name.

“Russian Mafia?”

“If they are, they’re young and exceptionally well trained,” suggested Sean. He hadn’t even noticed that Watcher One, whose throat he had crushed, had a knife in place, until the blade had touched his skin. It was a very slick move and as for the second watcher, the submachine gun had literally materialized in his hand. Had Sean not had the reactions he had, it would be one to the US and six for the Russians.

“We do keep hearing that they employ all the ex-Spetsnaz!” offered the Team Leader.

Sean wasn’t convinced. “We’ll find out soon enough. There are at least another three and I would assume more,” he offered, turning to the stairs.

“How do you know that?”

Sean thought for a second. How could he describe Luis. “Let’s just say an acquaintance of mine told me.” It was the best he could come up with off the cuff. “He’s out back, I’ll just go grab him.”

“Cool, we’ll grab our gear from the loft.”

An ear-piercing scream from outside stopped them all in their tracks.

Chapter 47

“Dr Surkov,” offered Borodin cheerily, as he finally got through.

“Good afternoon, General. I am very busy!” he replied as politely as the words allowed.

“I just thought I’d update you that Sean Fox had been dealt with!”

“Good, and his wife and son?”

“I presume so!” replied Borodin uneasily.

“You presume so?” questioned Surkov scathingly.

All Borodin had was the conversation, if you could call it that, with Pushkin, Done? Yes. Borodin thought back at the orders he had given Pushkin which were to kill them all and not just Sean Fox. “Sorry, yes, they have all been dealt with,” he replied more confidently.

Surkov paused before responding, leaving Borodin hanging.

“You’re not convincing me, General. You do understand how crucial your task is to Russia?”

Borodin bit his tongue. The prize was too great not to be part of it.

“Of Course,” he replied. “I will get clarification as soon as possible to you.”

“Good!” replied Surkov.

“I have not heard from the President, as yet?” added Borodin quickly.

“I told you, you would be contacted when the time was right. Under no circumstances do you discuss anything with anybody. Until you are contacted! And that includes the president!” instructed Surkov forcefully before ending the call.

Vasiliy who had witnessed Borodin’s side of the conversation had never before seen anything like it. Borodin was putty in Surkov’s hands. Borodin was the man that people feared, even the president dreaded a meeting with the over powering Borodin. Whatever Surkov had promised Borodin was something Borodin could only have dreamed of in his wildest dreams.

As Surkov considered the conversation that had just taken place, he began to worry. Sean Fox was a concern but General Borodin was slowly becoming a greater one. Surkov needed him. He needed the power that Borodin had within the military for the plan to work. There was no one more revered or feared within the military. Borodin was the modern Russian equivalent of Hoover. He knew all the secrets of anyone who was anyone in Russia. Surkov and Grebnevo had been under his radar. However, if it had fallen under his gaze, Borodin would have been dealt with.

Whatever the case, removing Borodin with so little time was going to prove troublesome. A suitable replacement would have to be found which might result in a delay.

As Surkov considered the options, he watched the secret courtyard that only his study had a view of. It was exercise time and two residents of Grebnevo were stretching their legs and catching some late summer sunshine. A generation in the making, it was not the time for indecision.

He picked up his phone and dialed a number that very few people on the planet had access to.

“Hello?”

“Mr President, Boris Surkov,” replied Surkov to Russia’s head of state.

“Ah Dr Surkov, you’ve come through on my private line.”

“Yes Sir, the day I briefed you on when you took office?” prompted Surkov without preamble, jogging the President’s memory.

The President did not need to be reminded; it was still the most intriguing briefing he had ever been given in the two years he had held office.

“Yes, I remember.”

“It has come Mr President. Are you free to visit us at Grebnevo?” inquired Surkov, knowing exactly how free the president’s schedule was for the next week. It was one of the quietest weeks in his diary in two years. Exactly as planned.

“We were due to meet in a few days anyway, I believe,” replied the President, referring to a presidential banquet arranged many months earlier.

“Yes, Sir. However, matters have become more pressing and this is not a matter for public consumption,’ alluded Surkov.

Surkov suppressed a laugh as the President made it sound as though he were squeezing Surkov in. Surkov even rejected the President’s first offer, two days away. The Borodin issue couldn’t wait that long.

“You couldn’t squeeze us in tomorrow, first thing, could you?” asked Surkov, adding. “It is really quite urgent!”

After a minute or so of humming and hawing. “I’ll shift a couple of things around and see you at eight?”

Surkov was hoping for later. He had a lot to organize in a very short period of time but didn’t want to push it.

“I look forward to it!” he replied sincerely.

“As do I Dr Surkov, as do I,” said the president.

Surkov very much doubted he’d feel the same when he found out what he had planned. He picked up his phone. He needed to let one very special person know that the timeframe had been changed.

Chapter 48

Sean knew instantly. The scream was Katie’s. He bounded down the stairs and screamed for the CIA team to follow suit.

“Our packs!” one of them shouted, looking up at the loft space.

“No time!” shouted the team leader. Sean was off and running and their job was to back him up. Sean had heard the initial shout and recognized the voice. Somebody would be getting a lesson in priorities as soon as he had the chance.

Sean crashed into Luis as he rounded the staircase. Luis had himself reacted to the scream by running into the house. Sean threw him aside, shouting “He’s with me!” to ensure the CIA team didn’t shoot Luis by mistake.

Sean burst out of the house and onto the street. Katie was surrounded by another three of the Russians. She had obviously surprised them as much as they had surprised her. All looked somewhat bemused as to what they should do, until that was, that they caught sight of Sean charging towards them. They all then had only one thing on their mind. As Sean raced towards them with the silenced Gyurza pistol raised in his hand, they raised their AS VAL rifles. Sean was woefully out-gunned and out of range and a good twenty yards ahead of the CIA team who were struggling to catch up with him. Continuing headlong towards them was suicide. As soon as their weapons were up, they would start shooting. They, unlike Sean and the CIA team, had no Katie to worry about. All that lay ahead of the Russians were hostiles.

Sean dived across the grass and rolled just as the Russians dispatched their first round of bullets. With Katie frozen to the spot in abject fear, there was little return fire either Sean or the CIA team could offer. Sean took aim as he rolled and sent a bullet a foot to the right of one watcher. It was as close as he dared aim as the three Russians crowded around Katie. The watcher didn’t flinch. They were very well trained.

The second burst of bullets came even closer to hitting Sean but a roll in the opposite direction caught them off guard and Sean narrowly escaped the second burst of fire. He wouldn’t avoid a third.

The CIA team had two options: charge headlong into the fire or stop and take aim. Their H amp;K MP5’s offered significantly better accuracy than Sean’s handgun. Sean was also offering an excellent target for the Russians to concentrate on and as such, he gave the CIA team an ideal opportunity to press home their advantage.

“If you have the shot take it!” screamed the Team Leader.

Four shots rang out and the two Russians farthest away from Katie fell. Again, the Russian didn’t flinch. Two of his team had just been taken out and he remained 100 percent focused on the job in hand. He grabbed Katie and using her body as a shield, he worked back towards the main door that Katie had come out of. Whoever the Russians were, Sean seriously doubted they had anything to do with the mafia.

“We don’t have a shot!” shouted the CIA Team leader, alerting Sean he was the only one with an angle.

Sean aimed at the fraction of body the Russian exposed from behind the much smaller Katie. He fired off a few rounds which barely missed Sean as his aim was hampered by holding Katie with one arm. Sean remained rock still as he waited for his chance. As they neared the house, he had all but given up hope when Katie winked at him as she slammed her foot into the Russian’s tibia. The Russian was caught by surprise but recovered almost instantly. Just not instantly enough. Katie’s wink had Sean ready. He knew she was going to do something. Sean fired and his bullet hit the Russian in the center of the forehead and he slumped to the ground, taking Katie with him.

Sean rushed to the house and pulled Katie from the dead arm, checking she was not hurt.

“You OK?” he asked breathlessly.

“I’m fine thanks,” she smiled and wrapped her arms around him.

“Thank God,” Sean breathed a sigh of relief. It was the most nerve-racking shot he had ever taken. It wasn’t that he hadn’t been in a similar position before. In fact, he had been in worse and had taken many more difficult shots.

“Sean?” interrupted the CIA Team Leader as he walked towards them. “Does she know if we are all clear?” he asked.

Sean turned to Katie for the answer, an action that saved his life and ended the CIA Team Leader’s.

Chapter 49

Vincent Black couldn’t sit still. They still had not been able to reach either the team or Sean. Jane had spoken to the base at Corpus Christi and they knew about the helicopter dropping them off but that had been hours ago. Vincent walked out of his office and over to Jane’s desk. “Any news?”

A short shake of the head had him walking back into his office. Another few seconds killed.

Jane followed him in. “You need to try and relax. Remember what the doctor said?” At times, she was the wife he never had. She knew everything about him, probably more than most wives. Dentists, doctors, she handled all communications and she knew the doctor had been worried about him. His blood pressure had risen dangerously, three months earlier. The death of Sean had hit Vincent Black harder than anything had ever hit him before.

He nodded and waved her away back to her desk. He was most definitely not in the mood to be nagged.

He opened the report that was scheduled to be delivered by him to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that afternoon but the words just looked back at him meaninglessly. His mind was only on one thing, what the hell was happening in Laredo?

“Jane!” he shouted, throwing the report onto the coffee table. “Get me the fastest ride you can between here and Laredo. I’m heading to the airport.”

“But the Select Committee hearing?” she protested having worked on it for weeks. But he was already out the door and halfway to the elevator.

As she moved towards the phone, it rang. Despite having supposedly not heard Jane shouting down the corridor to him. Vincent turned and ran back as Jane answered the call.

“I’m sorry, I can’t understand you. Just calm down,” said Jane, flustered by the call and obviously listening as hard as possible. As Vincent heard what was being said, his heart began to race.

“Katie, please, I can’t hear what you’re saying,” repeated Jane, sounding as concerned as Vincent had ever heard her. Vincent wanted to grab the phone from Jane but stopped himself.

“Did you just say they’re all dead?” asked Jane, her voice breaking.

Vincent’s heart pounded harder as his stomach lurched into his mouth. Jane nodded her head to Vincent, a pain shot through his left arm and a sweat instantly covered his body.

“Oh my God, was that an explosion?” were the words that sent Vincent crashing to the floor.

The look of horror on Katie’s face was the first sign for Sean that anything was wrong. He had turned from the Team Leader and as he faced Katie, her face contorted. Sean reacted instantly, diving and body tackling Katie through the open front door. A barrage of bullets thudded silently into the doorframe as Sean, pulling Katie tighter and tighter towards him, rolled over and over down the hallway, away from the immediate danger.

“Do you know how many there are?” he asked as he rushed her towards the basement door.

Katie shook her head violently. “I only went to pick up the newspaper and noticed a man hiding by the side of the house. I screamed and the next thing there were three!” Her voice trembled throughout as she struggled to control her fear and the shock of what she had just witnessed. Sean grabbed the phone from the hall table as he pushed her into the basement, he dialed the only number at Langley he knew off by heart, Vincent’s office number. He hit the dial button, gave Katie the phone and shut the basement door in her face, with clear instructions to lock it and only open it to him.

With Katie as safe as he could make her, he could concentrate on the remaining Russians. His major problem was he had no idea how many there were. The why would have to wait. He checked the Gyurza’s magazine, still 16 rounds left. As he realized Katie had seen what had become of the CIA team and he should have asked her, the Russian voices at the doorway gave him the answer. He checked the basement door was shut and fired two bullets into the doorway. If nothing else it would stall the ones at the front door.

Sean considered a number of options, making a break out the back of the house and circling round but there could be many more out there. Luis had seen six earlier. It would also leave Katie at the mercy of the guys from the front if they kicked in the basement door. Of course, charging the front meant again leaving Katie exposed to those who may come in from the rear. The one thing that seemed to be a common factor was that he wasn’t going to take the risk of leaving Katie. Which left one option, stand and fight. From the voices, he at least had one piece of information. There were at least two Russians left or one that talked to himself with different voices. Unlikely.

Sean rolled across the hallway floor and took up position in the living room which gave a slightly better angle to the doorway and protected him from the rear windows. It also offered him one of the most wonderful sights he had ever seen. One of Luis’ men’s AK47s lay propped against the wall of the living room. Sean reached over and grabbed the assault rifle, a little more firepower was never a bad thing in a tight situation.

He heard the first footsteps enter the hallway from the front door. He spun towards the doorway of the living room and prepared to enter the hallway selecting full auto on the AK47. Hopefully, one long blast would kill everybody in the enclosed space. Before he made it to the doorway, the back door crashed open and his position became completely exposed. He had no option but to change tactic and dive back into the living room as a hail of bullets raked the doorway. As the first of three flashbangs were tossed into the room all Sean could think, as he waited for the blinding flash of light and shockwave of sound that would disorientate and blind anyone within its range, was who the fuck was he up against?

Their maneuver had been timed to perfection and superbly done, entering a split second earlier from the front door had drawn Sean out and exposed him to the team from the rear. They were among the best Sean had seen and certainly had orchestrated the move quickly and effectively and with little time to plan. They knew what they were doing. The flashbangs also suggested that either they wanted Sean alive or evidence that it was definitely him that was dead. Otherwise, it would most certainly have been fragment grenades that had been thrown into the living room. Although Sean was under no illusion, he was aware of his ability to turn thoughts into actions almost instinctively. On tests of clicking the button when you see the item appear, he scored almost instantaneous times. Had his reaction times not been off the charts, they’d have already killed him twice over. They wanted him dead and they wanted proof.

Sean had practiced for years in kill rooms. As much as you prepared for a flash bang, without the correct equipment, you were going to feel the effects. He dropped the AK, placed his thumbs in his eardrums and covered his eyes with his fingers.

The bangs exploded milliseconds apart, one he could have coped with having experienced it so often before but three was overkill. Or exactly the amount you would use for somebody that had experience of flashbangs. These guys were exceptional.

Sean grabbed the Gyurza pistol, the AK47 was too cumbersome in the living room. He made out the image of the first Russian into the room, his weapon up sweeping the far side of the room. Sean tried to raise the pistol and aim at the mass but his balance had gone. The second Russian entered immediately behind his colleague, his weapon swept towards Sean. Sean’s mind screamed for his hand to move up and to the right but his body wasn’t really sure where right was. He pulled the trigger anyway. The gun went off and the Russian spun around. He had hit him. Sean’s gun wasn’t even aimed at the Russian. It didn’t make any sense. Sean watched as the Russian spun but didn’t fall, his weapon tracked back out the door. Somebody had come in behind them. Sean in his present state was not as pressing a threat. Sean screamed at his body to control its actions and for his mind to take control. They figured Sean would be out of it for a few seconds. A few seconds on a room breach was like a few minutes any other time.

Luis had pulled himself from the floor and rushed to the door of the empty house just in time to see the CIA Team Leader’s head explode next to Sean. A fraction of a second later, three more CIA team members were down. Not one shot had rung out. They hadn’t stood a chance nor did the fifth and final team member. He stood up, caught in the middle of the driveway, desperately trying to see where the threat had come from. His body rocked one way then the other as two bullets landed one from either side a fraction of a second apart. Luis tried desperately to see what had happened to Sean and Katie but they were nowhere to be seen. They must have made it into the house he thought.

As Luis watched, two pairs of men appeared from either side of the house and congregated at the door. The four carried rifles with thick barrels which Luis assumed must be some type of silenced sniper rifle. Luis watched as they huddled and conversed while they swept their weapons covering every angle. Twice he moved away from the tiny crack in the door that he was watching them from, despite the fact he knew they couldn’t possibly see him from that far away. A few nods suggested they were doing something, two split off and went back around the rear of the house.

Luis pulled away from the door. Sean was a dead man, he thought. Whoever those guys were, they knew what they were doing. They were far better than anybody his uncle employed, that was for sure. Luis stood up with every intention of getting out of the slit in the back patio door and hightailing it as fast as he could to whatever border crossing he could get back into Mexico from. He stopped at that thought. He had promised his uncle the contacts; it was the only reason his uncle had stopped beating him when he gave him the rifle. Sean Fox was probably the only man alive that Luis knew that could get him the contacts within the timescale he had promised. Luis, without them was as good as dead. He looked back at the house, two men were ready at the front door and probably just waiting on a call from their colleagues at the rear. What could he do though? He looked around, nothing, no weapons. He ran up the stairs where the men had rushed down from and sent him flying and found the gun that looked like a MAC 10. Rushing back down he skidded to a stop as he neared the door. What in the hell was he doing? He’d never killed anyone before and these were the best trained men he’d ever seen. Well that wasn’t quite true. Sean Fox was at least as god as these guys. He peaked through the gap as the men moved in to the house across the street. He was running out of time.

Luis ripped the door open and sprinted as fast as his legs would carry him. As he neared the front door, the thunderous bang had him thinking it was too late. He tried to stop but his momentum was too great and as he careened towards the doorway, failed to notice the CIA Team Leader’s body, tripped and crashed headlong into the hallway of the house. As he skidded across the polished wooden floor, his finger pulled inadvertently on the trigger of the machine pistol as he tensed and braced for the impact of the far wall. The small gun deposited its thirty round magazine down the length of the hallway in less than a thirtieth of a second. No matter how good the Russians were, none had anticipated Luis’ freak maneuver.

The two Russians guarding the hallway soaked up a third of the bullets and crashed to the floor. The other two already in the living room and about to end their mission, spun towards the most pressing danger, the hallway.

Sean had a lifeline, a fraction of a second, to act. The Russians’ attentions were diverted but Sean couldn’t do it. His thoughts and actions were not in synch. He tried desperately to raise the pistol as the Russians quickly moved back towards the hallway, covering one another. Whatever had diverted their attention was about to be countered. Sam’s mind suddenly comprehended who that could have been, Katie. She was in the basement. She could have come at them from the basement door. If he didn’t act she would be as good as dead.

He couldn’t, wouldn’t let that happen. He focused his mind like he had never before and raised the pistol. His actions were beginning to work in synch. He fired and caught the nearest Russian in the ankle. He crashed to the floor, dropping his weapon. The other instantly reacted and spun again to the most pressing threat. But Sean was back, the action of the recoil, pulling the trigger, whatever it was, his mind cleared, his reactions returned. He raised the pistol as the Russian desperately swung his rifle. The pistol was far easier to maneuver and with the range less than ten meters, just as accurate as the rifle. Sean pulled the trigger and shot him straight through the heart, killing him instantly. Despite losing most of his ankle, the other Russian desperately scrambled to retrieve his weapon. With the possibility of Katie in the hallway and in range, Sean didn’t hesitate as he put a second round straight through the Russian’s head.

With his sense restored, he pulled himself to his feet and rushed to the hallway. Katie was nowhere to be seen. Luis was pulling himself up opposite the front door, the MAC 10 style machine gun at his feet. Luis had saved his life. That certainly was unexpected thought Sean.

“Any others?” asked Sean looking at the two Luis had killed in the hallway.

“There were four,” replied Luis nervously seeing the two dead in the hallway and realizing he had killed them.

Sean indicated nonchalantly behind him. “The other two are in there.”

Sean bent down and picked up one of the AS VAL rifles and tossed it to Luis.

“Protect that door with your life,” he pointed to the basement door before slipping carefully out of the back door.

Five minutes later he appeared back through the front door, pleased to see Luis standing in front of the basement door, his gun at the ready.

“It’s fine we’re all clear,” he said, walking towards Luis and taking the rifle from his shaking hands. “Go sit down,” he ordered, indicating towards the kitchen.

He knocked on the basement door and got no response. “Katie it’s me, Sean!” he said loudly and heard the click before the door burst open and Katie launched herself into his arms. “You’re OK?!!” she said tears streaming down her face.

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“Sean, Sean is that you?” Sean heard a muffled voice saying his name. “Sean?” it said it again. He noticed the phone in Katie’s hand and took it from her.

“Hello?” he said.

“Oh, Sean, thank God you’re OK!” Sean recognized Jane’s voice instantly.

“I’m fine Jane, is V there? I need to speak to him urgently!”

“Oh God Sean something terrible has happened!” she managed before she burst into tears.

Chapter 50

As Governor Brown returned to his official mansion, he looked down from the chopper to what looked like every TV news crew in Texas. The frenzy had started. Texans loved nothing better than a strong Republican President. When he was one of their own, the love affair became an obsession. He had discussed all of the options with his campaign manager, press secretary and major contributors on a two-hour conference call on the ride home. They were all agreed, the return from his Moscow trip after meeting the Russian President was going to be the time to announce. He would never look more presidential, particularly as he would be disembarking a private Boeing 747, very like Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base. A refueling stop that wasn’t actually necessary had been planned and that was where he would announce, before flying back to his home state to kick off his campaign.

The invite from Moscow to visit had been arranged many months earlier and to say the timing was opportune would have been an understatement. Moscow had initially sent a half-hearted invite to The White House giving the date of a state banquet to be hosted by the Russian president. The guest list read like a who the hell is that of state leaders. Unsurprisingly, the US President declined. Governor Brown received his immediately after the president had declined and was advised within his team to accept. To say the list of attendees had transformed would have been an understatement. The question on every other leader in the free world’s lips was why had the US President declined to attend when everyone else it seemed had accepted. Only a British royal wedding could have outshone the event that the Russian President was hosting and the US attendee at the State banquet of the year was going to be Governor Rick Brown.

As the chopper landed, the Governor was met by his Chief of Staff running towards the helicopter. The same Chief of Staff who had failed, very uncharacteristically, to dial in for the conference call. Rick expected a huge smile and hug of congratulations. They were nearly there, years in preparation were finally about to pay off. The look was anything but congratulatory. In fact, it was the most somber look he had ever seen on his Chief of Staff’s face. Rick instantly thought back to Laredo, the CIA had screwed him, it was all a play to destroy him and not in fact to help him. Jesus, he suddenly realized all the news crews could be there to destroy him, not anoint him and of course, it explained his Chief of Staff’s absence from the conference call.

“Jesus what’s wrong?” asked Rick. “Have the CIA fucked us?”

His Chief of Staff shook her head, her blond hair swooshing as perfectly as any TV model promoting the next best hair product. The sun caught her tanned and sallow skin and it shone with a luster that even cosmetic companies would die for. She was the single biggest weapon in Rick Brown’s campaign and over the years had destroyed every contender who stood in Rick Brown’s way. As smart as she was beautiful, few could compete with her intellect and even fewer with her beauty. TV loved her, voters loved her, even the politicians she had destroyed loved her. Fortunately, Rick Brown’s wife, Nicole, a former Miss Texas could match her on the beauty stakes and loved her also. Unbeknownst to all but the two women, a little too much. Initially threatened by his choice of Chief of Staff, it had not taken long for Nicole to be won over. Particularly as it appeared the Chief of Staff was more interested in her than Rick.

A tear rolled down her cheek.

“Jesus, Katherine, what then?” he shouted over the chopper’s noise.

She took his arm and guided him away. This was not a message to be shouted.

“There’s been a terrible accident, it’s Nicole.”

Rick disengaged from Katherine and rushed towards the house, Katherine caught him and stopped him.

“I’m sorry Rick, it’s too late, she’s dead.” Katherine watched the man crumble before her. She couldn’t help but think this was not a smart move. But Surkov’s message had been clear, the wife was to die and the governor must still travel to Russia.

The freak accident of the Governor’s wife slipping on the wet bathroom tiles after stepping out of the shower was a lesson to all. The sale of anti slip mats and anti slip tiling would explode in Texas. Of course, there had been no such accident. Katherine had secretly joined Nicole for a very private meeting, as she did whenever the Governor was not around. After a very enjoyable love making session the two had enjoyed a shower together, after which, Katherine, with an extremely heavy heart, had killed her lover. A trip backwards at exactly the right point and guiding the base of her skull towards the step ensured a quick and painless death. Staging the scene had been easy. Particularly as she would be the one who would find Nicole.

Katherine took no pleasure in any of it. Nicole had been a very beautiful woman and exceptional lover. She would miss her dearly. But orders were orders. Her task now was to ensure the trip to Moscow went ahead. It wasn’t going to be easy but whatever Katherine wanted Katherine got.

Chapter 51

“What’s happened?” asked Sean, instantly thinking James had been killed. He looked at Luis, ready to pounce.

“It’s Vincent, he’s had a heart attack,” she cried.

Sean couldn’t believe that he actually felt some relief. She hadn’t said he was dead and just as importantly it wasn’t James.

“How is he?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” her voice quivered. “They’ve just rushed him by helicopter to Bethesda.”

“He’s a tough old goat, it’ll take more than a heart attack to kill him, Jane!” comforted Sean. He knew how much she cared for the old tyrant. The only person that didn’t was Vincent. Sean had tried to tell him in the past but Vincent had brushed it aside as nonsense.

Jane sniffed loudly before she responded, regaining some composure. “The last thing he said before he was wheeled away and I had to promise before he would let them take him away is that I was to tell you he was sorry!”

She started to cry again. “But he never said what for!”

Sean knew exactly what for, not going to his funeral, or what he thought was his funeral.

“Not going to the funeral,” he replied. “Seriously Jane, he’ll be fine. Vincent Black will not tolerate a heart attack being his cause of death!”

Jane actually managed a laugh at the thought of Vincent saying exactly that and brightened slightly, until she realized what the next topic of conversation needed to be. “Katie said our team are all dead?”

“I’m afraid so!” he confirmed.

Jane, at that point couldn’t speak, the tears flowed, it had been her that sent them to Laredo, nobody else. Vincent hadn’t thought of it himself, another sign he had not been himself. She should have seen just how unwell the worry was making him; his level of agitation had been greater than she had ever seen before. If she had noticed earlier and tried to calm him, he may not have had the heart attack. If she hadn’t sent the team to Laredo, six lives in one morning would not have been extinguished and it was all her fault.

“I sent them!” she blubbered.

Sean just made out what she had said. “Well in that case, thank you. They saved Katie’s life and mine and as a result young James’s too.” He knew the latter was not a given but he’d do everything in his power to make sure it was.

“Sean?” a voice replaced the blubbering Jane, a voice that Sean had never heard before.

“Yes, who’s this?”

“Mike Ritter, I was working with Vincent this morning,” he replied.

“OK, anything I should know about?”

“Lots!” replied Mike, very much surprising Sean. He had only been in the country for 24 hours and was no longer a member of CIA.

“Sorry?” questioned Sean, wondering if he had heard Mike correctly.

“I need you to get to Langley,” ordered Mike, adding firmly, “ASAP.”

Sean looked at Katie. He had business to finish in Laredo. He wasn’t going anywhere until James was back safe in his mother’s arms.

“You do know I’m no longer a CIA agent?” clarified Sean.

“Yes,” replied Mike.

“So why the hell would I come to Langley?”

“Because, if I’m right, you may be our only hope in stopping the next world war!”

Chapter 52

“What the hell are you talking about?” replied Sean skeptically, comments like that weren’t exactly rare at Langley.

“We don’t have time for this and this line is not secure. There’s a flight from Laredo at…” His voice became muffled. “Jane, what’s the first flight we can get Sean on?” Before returning to Sean. “Jane is just checking…”

“Just slow down a little,” suggested Sean calmly. “I have unfinished business here!”

“It will have to wait…” replied Mike, his voice becoming agitated.

“No,” interrupted Sean angrily. “It won’t. Whatever little crisis you’re computer models have told you are on the horizon, will have to wait. I’ve got business to resolve here!”

“We have very little time,” pleaded Mike.

“And thousands of agents to help you solve your problem, remember I’m not even one of them!”

Mike took a breath, he was getting nowhere.

“Sean,” he said, his voice more relaxed. “I can’t emphasize how important this is, we really need your help.”

“OK, let’s start this conversation again,” offered Sean reasonably. “Hi Mike, I’m Sean Fox, I’ve retired from the CIA.”

Mike realized what Sean wanted. “Hi Sean I’m Mike Ritter, the former Head of Station in Moscow. I’m also retired from the CIA.”

The realization that Mike was like Sean, not an active CIA staff member, only added to his credence as far as Sean was concerned and had Sean far more intrigued.

“That was unexpected and I have to say, somewhat surprising.”

“V called me last night and I came in. There are some very disturbing incidences occurring, obviously quite a few around yourself and if I’m right, this is massive!”

“And what does V think?” asked Sean, far more receptive to the conversation.

“I was on my way to bring him up to speed when he collapsed. He doesn’t know.”

“So who does?”

“Nobody but me and I don’t have the evidence to take it anywhere!” replied Mike exasperated.

“I’m sorry Mike but I really do need to sort something out here first. A young boy’s life is hanging by a thread,” explained Mike to help him understand he was not being awkward.

“Vincent had given me some background as to why you were there. How long will it take?”

“Without Vincent, it could be a few days!”

“Sean, if I’m right and I hope I’m wrong, we don’t have a few days!”

“Seriously Mike, are you not being a little over dramatic?”

“No!” replied Mike succinctly. “How was V going to help you?”

Sean explained what he had asked Vincent to get him. Mike listened despairingly. There was absolutely nothing he could do to help. His entire working life had been spent overseas. He had few if any contacts and certainly nothing like the network Vincent Black had built up over the years.

“You’re talking DEA and FBI, I’m sorry Sean I can’t help,” replied Mike dejected at the prospect of any hopes of stopping what was happening slipping through his hands. First Vincent collapsed and then Sean was stuck in Laredo.

“I’ll be as quick…”

“Sorry, Sean,” interrupted Mike. “Jane wants a word.”

“Sean, it’s Jane,” she offered unnecessarily but one thing was clear she had regained her composure. “Whatever’s going on, it’s put Vincent in hospital. You tell me what you need and I promise I’ll move mountains to get it for you.”

Sean explained half-heartedly that it needed Vincent. There was no way that without his clout they’d be able to get what he wanted.

“OK,” she said noting down every detail. “Give me an hour or so!” she said confidently.

“An hour?” asked Sean bemused. Vincent was going to spend the day calling in favors across Washington to get what Sean needed.

“Or less. Now, if I can get this in place by this afternoon. Can you do what you need to, this evening?”

“I suppose!” offered Sean. If she could do that in a few hours how could Sean say no.

“Good, I’ll have a company jet waiting at Laredo for you from midnight tonight,” confirmed Jane before hanging up. To be honest, keeping busy was about the only thing that would keep her going and Sean’s list of requirements certainly fitted the bill.

Jane clicked open her contacts list. First up, the personal assistant to the Attorney General of the United States, responsible for both the FBI and DEA. Sean was about to discover where the real power lay in federal government.

Chapter 53

A shout of “Oh my God!” from Katie had Sean rushing into the kitchen, the small screen she was staring at had Breaking News flashing in the top corner of the screen. The story of the Governor’s wife dying had been made public.

Sean could hardly believe it himself. He had just met the governor less than hours earlier and he had quite possibly been one of the happiest people he had ever met. The poor guy had no idea what that day would bring. Sean suddenly thought of Vincent. What if he wasn’t strong enough to pull through the heart attack? He shook his head. If Sean knew one thing, it really was that Vincent Black wasn’t going to let a heart attack get the better of him.

“Looks like I may not be going to Moscow after all!” said Sean, more to himself than to Katie.

“Sorry,” she asked.

“The governor wanted me to go to Moscow with him,” explained Sean.

“What about James?” she asked, despite the fact that Sean had said he probably wouldn’t be going.

“I was only going if we had him back,” explained Sean.

“But should we not talk about things like that before you say yes?” she asked.

Sean suddenly realized she was talking to him like he was her Sean. She had so easily slipped into the comfortable world of him being there for her. The strangest part for Sean was that he actually thought for a second that maybe he should have spoken to her first. He really needed to get James back and to get to a beach very soon.

A thud from the living room allowed him to change the subject. “Any idea of when the builders are likely to return across the road?”

Luis was struggling to empty the house, for a second time, of its bodies. This time, however, there were far more and thanks to the daylight, they would not be unceremoniously dumped in the lake. Sean had already cranked the air conditioning in Katie’s garage as low as it would go and had laid his fallen colleagues carefully side by side, covering each with a blanket or sheet. They would be picked up later by a local coroner, courtesy of the CIA, to be flown to their respective families.

Luis was rounding up the Russians and loading them into the wheelbarrow to be stored within the empty house across the street. A specialist had already been dispatched to deal with the bodies. As far as anyone was concerned, within twenty-four hours, there would be no evidence that any Russian had ever been in Laredo, or the US, for that matter. Although Luis bitched about his role in cleaning up the mess, he was delighted that was all he was doing. If he heard another electric saw in his life, he wasn’t sure how he would react.

As Sean helped him load the final body into the wheelbarrow, the phone rang. Sean checked his watch, only thirty minutes had passed since he had spoken to Jane. Katie rushed into the hallway and grabbed the phone, looking at the caller id, 'withheld’.

Sean shook his head. Jane’s number would have shown up. He looked at Luis who shrugged.

Katie answered. “Hello?”

“Luis!” barked the caller.

Katie ran over to Luis with the phone outstretched to him, desperate for him to tell her what was happening.

“Uncle!” he answered.

“No, Juan!”

The fall of Luis’ face had Katie panicking. Sean grabbed her, as much to comfort as to quieten her.

“I believe you have sourced the contacts?”

“It’s in hand,” replied Luis as confidently as he could.

“Excellent, I have convinced your uncle that to ensure we do resolve this matter that you should point out to whoever it is helping you, that we have set a deadline,” he paused. “We wouldn’t want them to start stalling and playing silly games! Of course your uncle agrees.”

“Of course not, everything is on schedule,” said Luis his confidence wavering.

“Excellent, I’m delighted to hear that. I wouldn’t want to have to kill the boy just because you bullshitted your uncle!”

“Never!”

“Good, by close of business, five pm we’ll have our contacts or the boy is delivered to his mother in a coffin, closed of course!” spat Juan.

Luis replaced the handset and looked at Sean in despair. He knew if the boy died there was little hope he would survive.

“What?” rushed Sean.

“It was Juan, my uncle’s right hand man.” Luis began and saw the look of desperation on Katie’s face.

“A big deal we are working on, it is nothing to do with this!”

“But you look very worried?” pleaded Katie, not believing him.

“He is a very difficult man to work with!”

“Worse than your uncle?” scoffed Sean.

“Yes!” replied Luis.

“He must be some piece of work,” offered Sean. “Now come on, we need to move these bodies before anyone sees them,” he continued disengaging from Katie, again.

As they stepped out of the house and out of Katie’s earshot, Luis whispered. “That wasn’t quite true!”

“No shit,” replied Sean, amazed that Luis thought he had believed him. “ Why do you think we’re out here, what did he really say?”

“If you don’t get them the contacts by five this afternoon, they’ll kill the boy!”

“I can’t tell you the pleasure I’m going to take killing your Uncle!” replied Sean furious at the course of events and how little control he had.

“I would advise against it!”

“So he can protect you?” exclaimed Sean, ensuring Luis realized that was not on his radar.

“I’ll already be dead. If I fail, Juan will make sure I pay as well! My uncle is a fighter, a very good one, in fact as good if not better than you. He is also a psycho. Juan is a fighter but he is also a strategist. Everything he does is done because he has calculated all the possibilities and probabilities. My uncle does what he thinks is right and because if he does this, that will happen.”

“I’m not quite getting your point?” interrupted Sean as he scooped up the last of the Russians and deposited him in the wheelbarrow.

“My uncle’s psychotic tendencies keep Juan at bay. He manipulates my uncle but he is limited as my uncle only operates on the one level, one action one result.”

Sean shook his head, it was as clear as mud.

“Juan plans at a much higher level than my uncle can comprehend. He will do one thing, because that will cause something else to happen, that will then cause another thing to happen and so on until the result he wanted in the first place happens. My uncle can’t be manipulated at that level, he’s not smart enough and it holds Juan back.”

“And I give a shit because?”

“Two reasons, he loves my uncle more than life itself and if you killed my uncle you’d better kill Juan. Otherwise, he would have every resource at the disposal of Los Zetas hunting you down for the rest of your life.”

Sean shrugged, non-plussed by the thought. “And two?”

“With my uncle’s constraints no longer holding him back, Juan will wipe out the other cartels and have Mexico under his de facto control before you know it. Which I’m sure would not be good for America, nor more importantly Mexico.”

“Sounds like a scary guy,” mocked Sean shuddering.

“If he says the boy will die at five, it will be five, not one minute past, not one minute to. Exactly on the stroke of five, his throat will be slit,” warned Luis.

Sean lost the smile and considered the time. He sped up and they dropped the final of the Russian bodies in the empty house. He checked the street. There was no sign that less than an hour earlier an all out battle had taken place and fifteen lives had been lost. Silenced weapons and stealth had played its part, as had the solid structure of Katie’s house in limiting the effects of the flashbangs on the local area. Even then the nearest neighbor was a street away and had left for work before the action kicked off.

A police car pulled into the street as they closed the empty house’s door. Sean paused, this was not good. The cruiser worked its way slowly down the street, checking each of the properties. Sean’s heart almost stopped. This was the last thing he needed. He nudged Luis to walk with him, as naturally as possible, as if it was just an average morning. The officer dipped his hat as he cruised past Sean and Luis and continued on down the street. As he turned out of sight, both breathed a huge sigh of relief.

As they walked through Katie’s door, Sean’s cell rang. Only one person had the number and he was in hospital. Sean turned and headed back out. He wanted some privacy.

“Hello?” answered Sean.

“Hi Sean, it’s Jane.”

Sean checked his watch, forty minutes. Not possible he thought.

“I’ve just heard from the hospital, Vincent is stable and comfortable.”

“Excellent,” replied Sean. The wave of relief that flooded over him made him realize just how worried he had been.

“Although, the first twenty fours are crucial,” she cautioned, he wasn’t out of the woods yet.

“But it is good news!”

“Definitely.” Sean could almost hear her smile through her answer.

“Anyway, lots to do, talk soon,” she chirped.

“Any luck on that other stuff?” asked Sean hoping he had caught her before she hung up.

“Oh yes, that. But it’s only been forty minutes!” she teased. She had had no intention of hanging up.

“Timescales have become more pressing,” he explained seriously.

“Pressing how?”

“5pm!”

“Jesus!” exclaimed Jane, not the answer he had hoped for.

Chapter 54

For five months, Special Agent John Fellows of the DEA had been watching the New York headquarters of the Gandolini family. They were the most powerful family within the state of New York and responsible for almost the entire drug trade. Whether it be supplying direct to users or to other suppliers, if a drug were on the streets of New York, the chances were at least some of the profits funded the Gandolinis. You would not find a law enforcement officer in the state of New York who would doubt that to be the case. Unfortunately, neither would you find a law enforcement officer with one scrap of evidence to support that in court. And in the five months he and his team had been watching the Gandolinis, he had not found anything that would change that.

In the twenty years he had been on the force, he had spent almost seven years watching the Gandolinis. He knew every one in the family intimately. He knew who was screwing whose wife and who was a closet homosexual. None of that however would put the scumbags away. Meanwhile, the city he had been born and raised in, fell deeper and deeper into the mire because of these scumbags.

The knock on the rear door of the van caught him off guard. It was thirty minutes before he was due to be relieved. He opened the door tentatively. One of his colleagues had been beaten a few months earlier, in a similar scenario. Two badges were thrust in his face as he opened the door, both identifying their carriers as two of the more senior FBI agents in the New York area.

“Agent Fellows?” the more senior of the two asked.

“Yes!” he confirmed.

“If you wouldn’t mind shutting your equipment down for a few minutes, it would be greatly appreciated!”

“Sorry?”

“Your recording equipment, cameras, microphones etc. Can you shut it all down.”

Fellows had been in the job long enough not to be intimidated by senior officers from other agencies.

“On whose authority?” he asked, making it clear he wasn’t doing it just because they had asked him.

“The Attorney General of the United States of America,” he replied taking his cell from its belt holder and threatening to call.

“Have you got it in writing?” asked John, unimpressed. If something happened while the equipment was off, it was his ass on the line.

“Trust me son, none of what is about to happen is in writing!” offered the FBI agent in a we’re all in this together manner. The official tone had been dropped.

“You really going to call the big boss man?” asked John looking at the cell.

“If I have to, he’s cancelled meetings to ensure he can take our calls!”

“Calls?” queried John.

“Same thing is happening from here to Miami! I’d rather not call him but he said he’s there if I need him.”

“What about my boss? Why’s he not here?”

“I assume he doesn’t need to know and trust me this is very need to know. I’ve got my orders which I’ll fulfill but have no idea why or what happens after I get them done!”

John looked at the agent and accepted the sincerity of what he was saying. He turned to his equipment and one by one shut it down.

“Thank you. Now please don’t take this the wrong way but this young agent…”The senior agent turned to a far younger FBI agent behind him. “Will ensure it stays off for the duration.”

John huffed a little as the young agent joined him in the truck, turning her nose up at the dank sweaty smell. After five months, it wasn’t the most salubrious of locations.

“Thanks. By the way, you may want to step outside, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this!” he said with a twinkle in his eye. He turned to his deputy and said, “Go, you have a go!”

It took thirty seconds but when it started it was an impressive sight. Three SWAT tanks raced down the street with two helicopters above, snipers hanging from their running boards. It was a sight to behold and a reminder to the gangs of the power of law enforcement. Fifty fully armed and equipped agents stormed the building and soon emerged with the father and son, the two leading members of the Gandolini family.

As two of the Gandolinis enforcers rushed out of the building to their bosses’ rescue, four of the FBI agents stepped up with riot batons and with far greater force than required put them down. The Gandolinis protested and screamed that they’d sue every last one of the team that had taken them.

“Good luck with that,” shouted one of the agents as he swung the baton and hit Gandolini junior across the back of his legs, sending him unceremoniously crashing to the ground.

Gandolini senior looked on in disbelief. This didn’t happen in his city. “Have you guys lost your fucking minds?!!” he screamed. “You can’t fucking do that. That’s fucking assault!”

“So sue us,” laughed the agent with the baton, the riot gear covered everything except their eyes. As far as the FBI was concerned, this operation wasn’t happening. The agents were untouchable.

Fellows watched, unable to control the smile on his face, it wasn’t much but it was something.

“OK, enough,” said the senior agent to the deputy, who broadcast orders to the SWAT team.

The bosses were quickly handcuffed and despite their protestations as to their rights, black hoods were placed over their heads. A limousine appeared almost from nowhere, picked up the two senior agents who nodded their thanks to Fellows before entering the car and picking up the two mob bosses.

Within a minute, the street was devoid of any sign of the SWAT team and as Agent Fellows returned to his van and stakeout, even the young FBI agent was gone.

As the limousine made its way to Kennedy airport the two bosses screamed constantly that somebody was going to pay and this wasn’t right. Eventually when they realized it wasn’t getting them anywhere, they calmed down.

“Where are we going?” asked Gandolini Senior, the ultimate boss of the family.

“I don’t know,” replied the senior agent honestly. All he knew was that he was to drop them at Kennedy at a private hangar. Beyond that, he had no idea.

“What the fuck do you mean you don’t know?!!” screamed the younger Gandolini, a swift kick from his father shutting him up.

Gandolini Senior was intrigued. They had gone to a lot of trouble for whatever they were doing. Nothing much surprised him in life anymore. They weren’t going to kill them. You only put hoods on people so that when they got back they didn’t know where they had been.

“It’s not fucking right, Dad,” whined Gandolini junior, interrupting his father’s thoughts.

“Shut up Jimmy,” instructed his father as the car drew to a stop and the door of the car was opened. He instantly recognized the sound of an airplane engine. What the fuck was happening was all he could think, as he was led from the car and guided up stairs.

“Gentlemen, please take a seat!”

The Gandolinis were shown to a seat and the seat belts buckled for them.

“I think we can remove the handcuffs and hoods now.”

As the hoods were removed, both blinked and looked around the small cabin, all of the blinds were down, offering no view out of the plane. They were seated at a small table facing a middle-aged man, well dressed and from his demeanor, very confident that the Gandolinis without handcuffs were no threat to him. The Gandolinis were violent men and that confidence they knew was not something that came unless it was warranted. Both remained where they had been seated.

“Gentlemen, my name is Mr Smith and if you don’t mind you are going to help us with a little problem we have,” offered agent James Smith politely.

Gandolini senior smirked. “What’s in it for us, buddy?”

“This plane has two destinations programmed, one will take us to where we want you to help us. The other is an island in the Caribbean but trust me it’s not a holiday island!”

“We’re not fucking terrorists!” exclaimed Gandolini senior angrily, knowing exactly where Mr Smith was referring to. “You can’t fucking do this!”

“Mr Gandolini, we are the CIA and you are quite frankly exactly what we say you are!”

“People know where we are, our lawyers will be all over you!” argued Jimmy Gandolini.

“Let’s clarify a few points so we can get past this nonsense. Nobody knows where you are. The team that picked you up this morning doesn’t exist. This plane doesn’t exist. The limo that brought you here doesn’t exist. As of this moment, as far as anybody is concerned, you don’t exist. I’m giving you the opportunity to exist again. Take it or not, I’m not losing any sleep!”

Jimmy opened his mouth but his father kicked him under the table. It was not the time for Jimmy to fuck things up.

“Can you tell us more about what you want?”

“Not until you agree and sign these papers!” said Smith pulling two documents from the chair beside him and placing them on the table.

“I’m not signing no papers!” said Jimmy pushing his away from him.

Gandolini senior was more intrigued and read the form in front of him. Short and to the point, it took him less than a minute to look up in astonishment. “You’ve got be fucking kidding me?!”

“What, Pa,” asked Jimmy, reaching for his own form.

Gandolini Senior stopped Jimmy reading his. “We do what they want under the condition that if we ever tell anyone, these fuckers will have us hit!”

“Hit?” questioned Jimmy, this was the government after all.

“To put it succinctly you are signing an acceptance that should you fail to maintain your end of the bargain. That is, keep your fucking mouths shut, we will terminate the contract with extreme prejudice and you will be assassinated! You’re fucking with the big boys now!” smiled Smith.

“This can’t be legal,” said Gandolini pushing his form away.

“Who said anything about legal, we’re the CIA.”

“So we do this and keep our mouths shut or Guantanamo for how long?”

“There’s no how long, it’s just Guantanamo, period!”

Gandolini shook his head “This is so fucked up, you can’t do this.”

“We can and we are! Gentlemen, we are on a clock here, either sign the document or I leave the aircraft and next stop is Cuba!” threatened Smith.

“And what you want us to do won’t hurt us?”

“There’s a reason the CIA don’t want you to talk to anyone, you’ll gain from this.”

“Fuck it!” Gandolini senior pulled the form towards him again and continued reading. “What the fuck, 20 % of additional profits to be paid into an offshore account!”

Smith nodded his head. “Additional!” he emphasized. “Get it? This will make you more money.”

Gandolini senior smiled. They had no idea how much he made, it was an empty condition.

“Fine!” he said waving his hand for Smith to give him a pen.

Smith didn’t give him a pen, instead he slipped a note across the table, a number written clearly on it.

Gandolini senior looked at the number and recognized it easily. It was the profit he had made the previous year, not the profit that everyone including his son thought he had made but the real one, the one with all the action that nobody knew he had a piece of.

“Fuck! How did you get that?” asked Gandolini in awe.

“Mr Gandolini, you are fucking with the big boys now, we know everything. Rest assured, we know what the additional take will be, failure to keep your end, will result in termination of contract. You don’t want that. So if you sign, remember your end! And junior, when you step in for daddy, this continues!” he warned handing over the pen.

“Additional on top of this?” he queried pointing to the number.

“No, additional as a result of what we do today. If one of your other businesses tanks, you don’t offset against this. We clear?!”

Gandolini nodded. “Crystal!” and signed the form. Jimmy followed his father blindly and signed his.

“Excellent, next stop. Mexico!” announced Smith, retrieving the signed contracts and checking his watch. 3pm in New York. 2pm in Laredo and it was just over three hours flight time. They would land just after five!

Chapter 55

Mike had sat for three hours as he waited for a chance to speak to Vincent. He needed to bring him up to speed. Jane had worked wonders on Sean’s requests. In fact, probably too well. There were a number of points that were probably going to see Vincent back in hospital when he found out what had been done. Partly Mike’s fault, he had made it clear to Jane that having Sean back was a matter of National importance on a scale not seen since the darkest days of the cold war. Jane, taking Vincent’s stress into account and his resultant heart attack, believed Mike and did whatever it took, no matter how distasteful the consequences to clear the way for Sean to resolve his problem.

The only positive was the 20 percent take that would help fund some of the CIA’s less public activities. Something that Mike was sure would temper at least some of Vincent’s anger.

“You can go through now, Mr Ritter,” offered the consultant, his tone clearly unhappy.

Mike walked into the room and was shocked to see how pathetic Vincent looked. Just four hours earlier, he had been the powerful, untouchable and impressive boss of one of the CIA’s most powerful and important divisions. Now he was an old man in a hospital bed, wired to a gaggle of machines, beeping and blipping almost continually. An oxygen mask covered his mouth as if even breathing were beyond his capabilities.

Vincent smiled weakly and pulled the mask aside. “Mike,” he struggled.

Mike smiled and suddenly realized he was on his own. There was no way he could bring Vincent up to speed in his current condition. Hearing what he and Jane had done would most likely kill him.

“Some good news,” he offered. “Sean is OK!”

Vincent nodded slightly. “That boy’s invincible, didn’t doubt he wouldn’t be.” He waved Mike closer.

“Get me out of here!” he pleaded.

Mike stepped back and looked at him like he was mad.

Vincent lifted his hand and caught Mike’s arm and with the strength of a paraplegic pulled him closer again.

“They’ve pumped me full of drugs! There is too much going on, my mind needs to be clear!” he struggled to form half of the words.

“How are you, Mr Black?” announced the doctor loudly as he entered the room.

Vincent let go of Mike and looked him directly in the eye. Vincent’s stare was as deep and as intense as ever. His mind was working just fine, the link between his mind and his actions were the problem. The medication.

“Fine,” replied Vincent.

“Hmm,” scoffed the doctor as he checked the charts and readout. “You have had a heart attack, I’m not sure I’d define that as fine!”

“Doctor, when will Vincent be fit to leave?”

“The first twenty four hours are critical. If he makes it through that and with no complications, I’d say maybe a week or so!”

“I’m not sure we can manage without him for a week!” Mike was being egged on by Vincent, behind the doctor’s back.

“No,” the doctor laughed. “That’s out of hospital. He won’t be back at work for the next six weeks. You’ll need to work out how to manage without him!”

Vincent pulled a face behind the doctor’s back that had Mike biting his tongue not to laugh. He wasn’t sure Vincent would be able to remove it quickly enough should the doctor have turned around.

One thing was very clear, they needed Vincent back and from his antics, he needed to be back. However, there was absolutely no way Mike was going to argue against the twenty-four hour critical period. Jane, Sean and himself were on their own at least until the next day. He just hoped none of them ended up in prison before Vincent could protect them and even then, he might even decide to put them in prison himself.

Chapter 56

Sean looked hopefully as Luis tried the number again. Jane had given Sean an update, three flights would be arriving between 5.15 and 5.45 at Quetzalcoatl International Airport, the airport that served the Mexican side Nuevo Laredo. He had taken Luis back across to the empty house, the CIA equipment was still in the loft and he did not want to risk Katie overhearing anything.

Luis nodded, Juan had answered. Finally. It had been over an hour.

Luis spoke quickly in Spanish and from his demeanor, Sean knew it was not good before he ended the call.

“Five pm!” Luis shook his head despondently as he said it. He knew Juan would not change the time. Once Juan had said 5pm, no matter what, he would never back down. In his eyes it would show weakness.

“Did you tell him I’ll turn the planes around?”

“Yes, he said that would be a mistake!”

“A mistake how? He has nothing else!” said Sean, a knot forming in his stomach. “Fuck!”

With more than thirty years service in the force, Sergeant Hector Martinez was looking forward to his retirement. He had already found a small home by the beach near his ancestral Mexican home. His American pension would go much further South of the border and allow him a far better standard of living. With only a week and counting, he was not going to be rushing towards any dangerous calls.

A few calls had come in throughout the day from the Lakeside area. Each time a car had been dispatched but it had quickly been recalled by the senior despatcher. Martinez had a fair idea the despatcher was working for somebody that wanted something covered up which, around these parts, was the cartel. The power of the cartels had grown exponentially over the last few years and Martinez was delighted he was getting out. He had had enough and seen enough for a lifetime. Ten years ago, he would have been marching into the dispatcher’s office and arresting the son of a bitch but not anymore. With a week to go, he was keeping his head down.

The call that diverted himself to Lakeside was not a welcome one but one that he could not refuse. He was still on the payroll and had to obey. He took it easy as he drove down the street. A few people were around but there were no obvious signs of a disturbance. Whatever the calls had been for earlier that day had obviously been resolved. After a few tours of the area, he spotted his opportunity. The two men had come out of the address and walked across the street. He drove to the end of the block and watched; one week was all he could think. Don’t get yourself shot Hector, he told himself.

He gave it another five minutes but he was delaying the inevitable. He selected 'Drive’ on the gearshift and drove towards the house. The new hybrid cruisers allowed for almost silent driving at speeds less than twenty, the tiniest of hums announced his arrival at Katie’s house. As he exited his cruiser, he kept his eyes peeled on the house across the street. As he stepped up to the front door, his hand reached automatically for his gun. The door was riddled with bullet holes. He eyed the door across the street, still no movement. He knocked on the bullet-ridden door, careful to avoid the splinters. The footsteps announced the arrival of the lady of the house, the sharp crack on the floor was a heel no man would wear.

“Mrs Fox?” inquired Sergeant Martinez.

“Yes,” she offered tentatively, conscious of exactly how the door must have looked.

“Would you mind coming with me, Ma’am?”

“Why?”

“Your son!’ said Sergeant Martinez.

Katie Fox’s face fell, fearing the worst.

“No, no, he’s fine. I’m going to take you to him!”

Katie rushed from the house and jumped into the open door of the cruiser. “We just need to pick up Sean, he’s over there,” she said, beaming from ear to ear.

“No problem,” he smiled, shutting the door and hitting the send button on the text message he had already drafted. The smile was a very warm smile, a smile that had just received a cash boost of $50,000 dollars into its pension fund, courtesy of Juan Cortes of the Los Zetas cartel. Sergeant Hector Martinez had survived the last ten years because he knew who had the power and the money. The small house by the beach was listed at $4.5 million, Cancun wasn’t the cheapest place to live but with the money he had made over the last ten years and stashed offshore, it was a steal.

He sprinted out of the empty house just in time to see the taillights of the police cruiser. He rushed across the road, bursting into Katie’s house, almost removing the door from its hinges.

“Katie!” he shouted, over and over. Nothing, the house was empty.

Luis caught up. “What? What’s happened?” he asked panting.

“The reason Juan didn’t answer! He was waiting to hear his guys had snatched Katie!” Sean punched the wall in frustration. “Fuck!” he screamed.

It was almost 3pm, just over two hours until James would be killed. His mother would survive as long as Sean delivered the contacts, not that she’d want to. Sean wasn’t certain but the loss of James might tip her over the edge. He had failed, allowing Juan the extra leverage had put him in the driving seat. He could show how serious he was by carrying out his threat knowing Sean would still deliver in order to save Katie. Otherwise, he may have had to back down and agree to a change of timeline. Katie changed everything. Luis was right, Juan was smart. There was however one thing that Juan hadn’t factored into his little masterplan. Sean!

Chapter 57

Sean tightened the strap that held the Ka-Bar knife holster against his thigh. He cocked the MP-5 and chambered a round, just as he had with the Gyurza. Sean had found the Russian pistol surprisingly good and had opted against the Glock.

“Describe the ranch again!” he instructed Luis as he snapped more ammo to his belt. The CIA packs had held enough gear to start a small war, which was just as well as it seemed from Luis’ description it was going to take at least that to pull off the rescue of James.

As Luis eventually finished describing the list of defenses, Sean couldn’t help but feel he should just strip the gear off and forget the whole idea. It seemed El Jefe had covered every angle. That was of course if Sean could even trust what Luis was telling him. Ultimately, Luis was only playing ball with Sean in order to retrieve the drug trade that had dwindled since the untimely demise of Sean’s lookalike. As the contacts that would save his life with his uncle neared, Sean trusted him less, according to the law of diminishing returns. For Luis there was less and less to gain from pleasing Sean and more and more from pleasing El Jefe and now Juan.

“OK, I’ll come in from the South East wall and will have a few seconds as the sentries patrol behind the white Barn. And James is housed in the small outhouse to the West of the White Barn?”

“Correct,” nodded Luis.

“You know what you need to do?” asked Sean.

Luis nodded.

“Say it,” said Sean.

“I am to arrive at the ranch at 4.45 and transport Juan and my uncle to the secret meeting. I am instructed that we have to leave immediately and will receive communications on the way. I have to inform them that we are being monitored and if we try to communicate or alert reinforcements, the meeting is off. I am to tell them these are the dealer’s instructions and not yours. I’ll try and uncover where Katie is and using the code, let you know when you call. We go to the airport and meet the dealers at 6 pm unless you find Katie first and if that’s the case I drive and meet you at alternate B. Plan B, you kill my uncle and Juan and I meet the dealers myself.”

The last part of the plan was all Sean could think that would convince Luis to give his uncle and Juan up. To say he had jumped at the chance would have underplayed his eagerness to be the boss. It would also prevent a void in power, something Iraq and Afghanistan were perfect examples of why you don’t want to leave somewhere leaderless.

“Our chances?” asked Luis confidently.

“To be honest,” he thought out loud, shaking his head. “Not good.”

Luis laughed, which surprised Sean.

“Better than I expected,” he said, explaining his laugh.

Sean remained silent. He had lied. There wasn’t a chance in hell the plan would work.

Sean and Luis synchronized their watches. It had taken them just over an hour to negotiate the tunnel under the Rio, another one of Los Zetas’ supply routes. From there, a short hike to the nearest road and with Luis’ scary contacts, a ride into Nuevo was secured with little effort. Sean kept his head down and the weapons well hidden in their packs. Once they had secured their own ride, Sean had started to kit up in the back.

“Four thirty, in 3, 2, 1, check,”

“Check,” said Luis in time with Sean, having been well trained in time checks over the previous hour.

“Pull over!” ordered Sean. “Right, you’re on your own from here!”

Luis nodded.

“And remember one thing.”

“Yes?” asked Luis, nervously.

“Screw me and I will hunt you for the rest of your very short life. And trust me what your uncle would do to you would pale into insignificance!” smiled Sean and with his pep talk over, he disappeared into the shrubbery at the side of the road. The ranch lay just over a mile away and James’s life was ebbing away.

Chapter 58

As the final police crime scene unit pulled out of the drive, Katherine turned and walked back towards the Governor’s office. As she entered the room, she could see he hadn’t moved. Just as he hadn’t over the previous three hours. The glass of whisky she had poured for him, remained grasped in his hand untouched, as he sat in his sofa staring at the empty fireplace. How on earth she was supposed to get him to Moscow in forty-eight hours, God alone knew. He had always been immune to her womanly charms and was the sole reason she had taken Nicole as her lover. If she couldn’t have him, she’d have the only thing that kept him from her. It helped but she had to admit the fact he didn’t want her, made her want him all the more. None of this was helping work out how she would get him to Moscow but with an extremely high sex drive, she was going to need to replace Nicole somehow and soon and discretely. She had to leave the option open for the Governor just in case.

“How are you Rick?” she asked, extracting the glass carefully from his hand.

“I can’t believe it!” He shook his head in despair and a tear trickled down his cheek.

She took him in her arms and sitting on his lap began to rock him gently. She knew Nicole used to do this for him. She had done it for Katherine.

He rocked gently with her and soon the sleep came, just as Nicole had said it would, before joining Katherine for one of their wonderful love making sessions. How Rick had never guessed, she’d never know and with Nicole up for trying a threesome, he had no idea what he had missed out on. But anytime Nicole had broached the subject with him of them trying something different, he had shot it down before she had a chance to try. They had thought of letting him walk in on them but Nicole had worried that rather than join in, he may have stormed out and never gone back.

As he slept on his office sofa, Katherine sent a message to Surkov. There was no way she’d get him to Moscow.

The answer bounced back almost instantly. He didn’t care; she had to make it happen.

Governor Rick Brown had to visit Moscow.

The doorbell interrupted her train of thought, not that it was doing her any good.

She arrived at the door just as the courier was handing the package to another member of staff.

“I don’t know, it’s from Washington,” said the courier in answer to whatever question the other staff member had asked.

“I’ll take it,” demanded Katherine, taking the package noting the Russian embassy stamp.

She returned to the study and checking the governor was still asleep, she moved across to his desk and using the letter opener, sliced open the package. A number of documents were enclosed. The documents, passes and details of their trip to Moscow. The photo id for Nicole Brown fell on the desk, her beautiful eyes stared back at her lover and killer. Katherine turned the pass over. The next document detailed the latest itinerary. There had been a couple of minor changes but nothing of any real note. The final document was one she knew nothing about.

An emergency VISA in the name of Sean Fox. Expedited that day and already at the mansion. Katherine looked at the photo, handsome guy but she had no idea who he was or why all of a sudden he was in the party. As she read on, the VISA detailed him as a bodyguard and Katherine lost interest, probably just a replacement for some other State Department security guy.

“Nicole, is that you?” asked a weary sounding Rick Brown.

Katherine dropped the documents and rushed to remind the Governor of his wife’s death. It was bad enough telling him once, enough already. Her guilt and sympathy had waned. Katherine after all had a reputation to uphold, whatever she wanted and she wanted the Governor to go to Moscow.

Mike’s arrival back at Langley coincided with the first call in relation to Jane’s foray into cross agency co-operation. A very flustered Jane thrust the phone at Mike as he entered the office.

“Hello?” said Mike into the mouthpiece.

“Vincent, is that you?” screamed a voice. Mike looked at Jane as she scribbled 'FBI Director’ on a pad.

“I’m afraid there’s been a ter…” Jane hit his arm and scribbled I’ve not told anyone about heart attack.

Mike couldn’t believe it and had no idea what to do. “I’m sorry he’s not here at present,” he mumbled and promptly hung up.

“You realize we are totally fucked,” he concluded succinctly sitting on the end of Jane’s desk. The phone rang. They both looked at it and ignored it.

“We need Vincent!” they both concluded as one.

They both smiled. Vincent, they knew, would smooth things over. They just had to get through the rest of the day.

“Wait a minute,” thought Mike. “What have you told people about Vincent?”

“He’ll be back tomorrow and is out for the rest of the day!’ she said.

“But the air ambulance and being stretchered out?”

“We’re on the exec floor at the end of the corridor, there’s a chopper pad out that door,” she pointed half way down the hallway. “Most of the other execs are out today, nobody knows!”

“And if he’s not here tomorrow,” queried Mike intrigued how far ahead she had planned.

“Let’s not go there,” she suggested with a look of concern.

“He has had a heart attack!” exclaimed Mike.

“I know Vincent, he’ll be in here tomorrow,” she said taking $20 from her purse and slapping it on the desk.

Mike looked at the offer of the bet. “Are you mad? I’d be as well throwing my money out the window!” he smiled.

The phone rang again. They both looked at each other before grabbing their jackets and left the office and phones as they closed the door.

“Where to?” asked Mike.

“I’m going to Bethesda,” announced Jane.

Mike smiled knowingly.

Jane caught the smile. “Have to make sure the old goat’s here tomorrow to save our asses!”

Mike’s smile instantly disappeared. He hadn’t made any of the calls, what did she mean our asses!

Chapter 59

As the day had progressed into the evening, Borodin’s mood had darkened. He began to fixate on the phone. Willing it to ring. Willing Pushkin to call and confirm that Sean Fox and his family had been dealt with. He hadn’t and they had not.

After four hours, he assumed the worst and after six hours stopped even looking at the phone. The added issue of the VISA played on his mind. How on earth was he going to explain that one to Surkov? Instead of eliminating the Sean Fox, he had in fact authorized his VISA to attend the state banquet. Not only that, he had authorized for him to be armed.

After nearly eight hours of no contact, he was about to head home. He buried his head in his hands as Vasiliy entered with another vodka. He had told Vasiliy he needed at least one every 30 minutes. Both had stayed on into the night, just in case. However, the chances of not receiving a call after a successful mission by this hour from at least one of the ten-man team was inconceivable. The mission had obviously failed.

Vasiliy laid the glass of vodka down tentatively and remained standing. Borodin looked up. The concern on Vasiliy’s face was not comforting.

“What?!” barked Borodin, grabbing the vodka and downing it in one gulp.

“Dr Surkov is on line 2!”

Borodin looked over at his phone and noted the flashing line and checked the time, it was almost 2 a.m. “Shit, what did you tell him?”

“That I’d see if I could locate you!”

Borodin considered being unlocatable but that would be delaying the inevitable.

He waved Vasiliy out and lifted the handset and, taking a deep breath for confidence, hit the flashing button.

“Dr Surkov!” he offered pleasantly.

“Ah General, I see your assistant managed to locate you, how fortunate!”

“How can I help you, Doctor, at this very late hour?” asked Borodin.

“Yes, it is rather late to still be in the office. You don’t have a crisis, do you?” asked Surkov suspiciously.

Borodin considered being upfront about the Spetznaz apparent failure but decided to see what Surkov knew.

“Not at all, just busy. How can I help you?”

“I have the president coming to Grebnevo in the morning, be here at 10 a.m.”

“Of course, Doctor,” replied Borodin smiling, things were finally happening.

As he replaced the handset, he realized for the briefest of moments that he had forgotten about Sean Fox. Something had to be done. His future was in jeopardy as soon as Surkov discovered his failure. Ten Spetznaz troops! How could they possibly fail? He had no assets on site, other than, he remembered, he had sent the assassin to deal with the SVR agents. He picked up the phone. There was still a chance Surkov would never know.

Surkov sat at his desk contemplating the conversation he had just had with Borodin. He had been trying his home number for some time, when on a whim he had tried the office. Borodin’s assistant had answered the phone as though his life depended on it. It was 2.00 a.m. in Moscow. What could be so important that Borodin was waiting for a call in the office? Surely they would call him at home. Unless they didn’t have his home number or were in another time zone, many hours behind. A time zone where a certain Sean Fox was a problem that Borodin should have dealt with. Or hadn’t he? A feeling of unease swept over him. The more he considered the call with Borodin, the more he realized something was wrong. Sean Fox, was he dead or not? Was he still an issue?

Surkov’s Sean Fox was an issue. The American one was not. But he had no idea which the live one was. When his Sean had escaped Grebnevo all those years ago, they thought he had died during the escape. He knew the plan intricately. He knew what they planned to do. He knew everything. He had also scoffed at the whole idea and laughed at how ridiculous Surkov was to believe it could even happen. He never believed in the ideology. He had embraced the American lifestyle too readily.

As events unfolded and lives progressed, Surkov’s Sean had become surplus to requirements. His life became a mirror of the real one, with no real purpose. Surkov should have seen it coming but was too busy with his other projects. The excitement of Sean’s real life was too much for Surkov’s Sean and he had escaped the confines of Grebnevo and fled. Surkov had always loved Sean like a son and had been devastated by his loss but relieved that the secrets of Grebnevo would remain protected. Until three months earlier, he had remembered Sean fondly. The realization that he could still be alive had rocked him to the core. With just about every block having fallen perfectly into place, a project only dreamt of over six decades earlier was becoming a reality.

Surkov’s move in eliminating the Governor’s wife would be a clear sign to his Sean that Surkov’s crazy plan was actually about to go into action. Sean Fox and the wife had to be killed. Whether it was his Sean or not, it was the other’s wife. By elimination, either it was Surkov’s Sean or it was his wife. It had to be one of them, either way, one of them would be aware of what was happening.

Surkov picked up his communication device and sent a message to the one woman he knew had never failed at anything she was ever tasked with, Katherine. She would find out once and for all if Borodin had succeeded and if not, deal with it once and for all. He hit 'Send’ and went to bed. It was going to be a very busy morning and the beginning of a new dawn was just on the horizon.

Chapter 60

Sean crept through the shrubbery that circled the base of the hill that led to the ranch. So far, Luis had been truthful. The pressure sensors were there and had he not known about them, he would have most certainly had the cartel’s foot soldiers crashing down the hill towards him. He reached the point as described by Luis that offered the best approach and again it seemed to be correct. Luis was a little more ruthless than Sean had realized. He obviously wanted to rule the roost and Sean was his key to doing it. Sean checked his watch. Luis should be arriving and insisting they leave immediately.

Luis did as Sean instructed. He raced his car into the forecourt and ran into the house. Drama would sell urgency. Urgency would make them move first and think second.

Luis brushed past the crowd of guards who were desperate to know where their friends were. Luis decided against explaining he had chopped them to pieces and sent them to the bottom of a lake and instead opted for the sullen silent approach as he pushed through. The noise had alerted El Jefe to Luis’ arrival and he stood at the main entrance to the ranch, Juan by his side.

“Luis, where is your friend?” asked El Jefe putting a menacing emphasis as he said friend.

“He is not a friend uncle but he has arranged for us to meet the men we need to meet?”

“We do not need to meet anyone,” announced Juan to the men that were watching the interaction and scoring a point with El Jefe.

“Of course, forgive me, he has arranged for a meeting with the men that wish to meet with us!”

“Excellent, when will they arrive?” he made a show of checking his watch.

“I am to take you to them,” explained Luis his resolve was beginning to falter; this had not gone anywhere near as easily as Sean had suggested it would.

“Surely they come to me?” announced El Jefe, strongly and received a cheer from his men.

Juan watched as Luis squirmed. He knew there was no way on earth the men would come to them.

“May I speak with you privately, Uncle?”

“Whatever you have to say, you can say to my men!” he announced to another cheer.

Juan leant into El Jefe’s ear and whispered something to him. Luis did not hear but a nod from El Jefe resulted in Juan walking to Luis and pulling him aside.

“OK, what is the plan?” he asked quietly.

“I’ve to get El Jefe and yourself into the car and we will be given directions to the meeting. Once you are happy with the contacts, we have to release the boy and then after the meeting, if we are happy, the woman.”

“We both know there are at least two problems, the boy will be dead in sixteen minutes and myself and El Jefe will not be getting in your car.”

“But they have got your contacts for you?” pleaded Luis.

“And I gave them a deadline, I will not renege on a deal, I never have and never will,” he smiled. His word was his bond.

Luis hadn’t discussed the prospect of failing to get both in the car with Sean but figured if it was going to be anybody, best he removed El Jefe.

“Well I better get going, I have a deadline to keep too,” smiled Luis. “I’ll just grab El Jefe,” he moved to go past Juan.

Juan stepped in front of Luis. “El Jefe!” he shouted. “I will go with Luis and meet with these men that wish to deal with us!”

El Jefe waved in agreement and received another cheer from his men.

Luis walked back to his car. Juan turned to one of his men and whispered in his ear, the man listened and ran off at a sprint. Juan ignored Luis’ offer of the front passenger seat and instead opened the rear door and took a seat in the back.

Luis was being put in his place.

As Luis took his place behind the wheel, Juan leant forward. “Not so fast, we have another passenger coming,” he said as Katie came into view and was torn away from her son, James, before being thrown, kicking and screaming, into the back of the car, next to Juan.

“You don’t want us to hurt him, do you?” suggested Juan menacingly, sending a very clear message to Katie to calm down. She did instantly but her tears and whimpering did not.

As they began to pull away, Juan tapped Luis’ shoulder indicating for him to stop. He indicated for his man to come to him. The message he passed on was simple but deadly. “Five o’clock exactly!” Juan said, before tapping Luis’ shoulder once more.

Luis looked at the little boy crying for his Mommy and couldn’t think but wonder what the hell he was doing with these people.

Sean checked his watch, ten minutes to go. The cheers from the courtyard ahead had been good cover and allowed him to make better than expected progress. He was almost at the back of the white barn.

He had watched the car disappear down the hill. Three bodies were inside which was encouraging; it seemed Luis was coming through. He pulled out the cell and hit the dial button.

“Are you on your way?”

“Yes,” replied Luis.

“Put me on speaker,” demanded Sean. If they were on speaker it would sound like Sean didn’t trust Luis.

“No,” replied Luis, they weren’t on speaker.

Perfect. Sean could talk freely “Have you got them both?”

“No!”

“But there are three in the car.”

“Yes,” replied Luis.

Sean thought quickly. He couldn’t ask too many questions otherwise he’d expose Luis.

“Male or female.”

“Did you say first and then second exit?” confirmed Luis.

Male and a female. It had to be Katie. At least he knew where she was and wasn’t being used in one of the cartel’s whorehouses, as so subtly suggested by Luis earlier.

“Your uncle.”

“No, sorry, I didn’t catch you the lines not great.”

“Juan?”

“OK, yes, got it.”

Juan being with Luis was not great news. He would see through things far more readily than El Jefe. Thank God the meetings were real thought Sean. How they had managed, he didn’t know but he had a lot of thanking to do if he managed to get out of this alive.

The noise from the courtyard had died and the men that guarded the ranch house had returned to their milling around or the barracks that housed them while on duty. Sean squatted by the white barn, just out of sight. The small outbuilding that housed James lay just to his right but there was no way to get to it without exposing himself. Time was not on his side, two minutes to five.

He waited for a moment when none of the men were watching the 20-yard gap but nothing. The sight of the Mexican walking towards the outbuilding sharpening a knife with barely a minute to go made any decision with regard to staying out of sight irrelevant. They really were going to kill the boy at five, for absolutely no reason, other than they had said they would. Sean had never before met such a ruthless bunch of bastards in his life and he was including the Taliban in that list.

Being spotted was an irrelevance, he wasn’t going to be able to stop the man and save the boy without alerting everybody to his whereabouts. Sean lay his ammo on the ground before him, along with the Gyurza and lined up the would-be child killer in the sights of the MP-5. There was little or no chance he’d manage to save himself and James but he’d take as many of them with him as he could.

He pulled the trigger and the silenced shot took out the Mexican’s kneecap, a second shot took out the other and a third hit him in the gut, all delivered in quick succession. By the time the Mexican screamed, all three rounds had hit. It would take him hours to die in agony. Sean grabbed the ammo and as heads turned to the screamer, he raced to James’s outbuilding. The maid who was looking after him was startled as Sean burst through the doors but not as startled as young James to see his dad before him.

As the realization of what had happened hit the courtyard, weapons began to train on the outbuilding. Sean suggested that the maid might want to take her chance to leave. She didn’t hesitate and rushed out of the door away from the large American. The hail of bullets that cut her down as she rushed from the outbuilding only emphasized how screwed Sean and James were. Particularly as with James clamped to Sean’s leg, there was very little he could do anyway.

As the screams of the would-be child killer filled the air, bullets began to ping off the outbuilding’s structure, which was sturdier than it looked.

The small outbuilding was stone built with two small windows and a solid wood door. They were going to need heavier weapons or storm the building thought Sean. He managed a peek through the window and watched as both seemed likely. A rocket launcher was being passed forward while another group looked as though it were readying for an assault. Luis was right again. The guards were ex-military and knew what they were doing. He raised his MP-5 and shot off a couple of rounds through the window. Two hit target while the rest went wayward as Sean was pulled off target by James pulling at his leg and calling him 'daddy’. Sean thought better of pointing out he wasn’t his daddy as it seemed likely the point would be moot soon enough. There were at least forty soldiers surrounding them and from the sounds of it, more were coming.

His cell rang and was a welcome distraction. “Hello?” he answered, keeping an eye on the movements outside.

“Where now?” asked Luis. He was driving aimlessly and Sean should have called.

“Just head to the airport and make sure you get Katie to the CIA, please,” replied Sean, squeezing off a round and stopping the first semblance of an attack.

“OK!” it was as close to a question as Luis could manage, given what he was hearing. It didn’t sound good.

“Not really. Bit of an issue with a few pissed off Mexicans!” replied Sean.

Suddenly the noise outside stopped. Silence had descended. Sean struggled to see why. Then he saw a man walk through his troops in a white vest, muscular and covered in tattoos. He fitted the description of El Jefe, although, he was surprised that nobody had described how ugly he was. It would have been his first word in describing the man that commanded his troops’ silence.

“Come out!” he commanded.

Sean looked down at James whose head was buried deep in his thigh. He owed him a last try and to fight for their lives.

Sean remained silent and made no move.

“Come out and I’ll let the boy live!” was the next offer.

Sean didn’t think it likely but it was a far better prospect for James than was currently facing him.

Sean opened the door, dropped his gun and swinging his leg with James attached to it, he walked out into the courtyard to more than a few gasps.

Chapter 61

Luis pulled into Quetzalcoatl International and drove straight for the private hangars. An area he was well acquainted with as Los Zetas owned more than its fair share of the jets stored in the area. It was of course the first time that Luis had realized how poor a venue the airport was. There were at least ten Los Zetas men permanently on duty protecting and directing Los Zetas products and aircraft.

Juan instructed him to slow down next to one of Los Zetas’ own hangars and instructed the guards to watch the woman. He would call and instruct them when he was ready. He signaled for Luis to continue and Luis drove towards the private apron where two of the three jets had already landed. The third was powering down the runway to land and, thanks to favorable wind, all had landed early.

Agent James Smith waited aboard the second jet. His phone wasn’t ringing. Without orders to the contrary, he was to proceed as agreed. He opened the door and nodded at Luis in the car.

“Tell him to bring the men to that hangar!” said Juan pointing to one of the Los Zetas hangars.

“We are both supposed to board the jet,” argued Luis.

“We’ll do it my way or no way. I am not getting on an American jet!”

Luis exited the car and walked alone towards Agent Smith.

“Is he not coming?” he shouted nodding towards Juan.

“He will meet in that hangar over there or not at all.”

Smith looked around; the area was devoid of any activity. His orders were to allow the meeting to happen on the plane, get the woman and get out. He did not have instructions to allow the meeting to happen elsewhere. He shook his head.

Juan opened the window and held up his phone. “If I don’t give the OK in,” he checked his watch, “two minutes, the bitch dies! Your call!”

Smith looked helpless but the voice in his head saved his indecision and said OK.

***

“Look unhappy and nod half heartedly,” said the voice in Agent Smith’s earpiece.

The Team Leader of the CIA hit squad sent to assassinate the Los Zetas bosses and the majority of the East coasts drug dealers, checked the infrared scope again. There was nobody in the hangar. No bright spots to indicate anything other than an empty hangar.

While the FBI and DEA were rousing the drug dealers, the CIA team was being quietly parachuted into a location as near to the airport as they dared. They had spent the afternoon securing the best sniper spots and checking the lay of the land. Nobody outside of the CIA was aware of the plan. The other agencies leaked like a sieve when it came to information regarding the cartels. The CIA was on foreign ground, Mexican ground and with five of their men down, there was a serious thirst for blood. This was their fight and their fight alone.

“Tell them they need to give us the woman and then we’ll send them in.”

Smith relayed the message but got a negative response; the woman would only be let go only after the meeting was over.

“Team 2, do you have the woman in sight?”

“Negative.”

“Thirty seconds!” shouted Juan. The Team Leader heard him loud and clear.

“OK, we’re going to kill the fuck anyway. May as well not lose the woman,” said the Team Leader in Smith’s earpiece.

Luis stood between the car and the jet as Juan dictated how things would be done.

Surprisingly, the CIA guy accepted and the two large Italians disembarked from one jet while four disembarked from another and another five from another. Eleven men in total walked towards the hangar. Luis noted that Juan made no attempt to move and realizing, he wasn’t going to exit the car, Luis ran back and drove Juan to the hangar. Juan remained seated as Luis first had to stop, exit the car, open the hangar door and finally drive in.

As the men started to enter the hangar, the first and most worrying thing Luis noted was the warmth in the greetings between Juan and the East coast drug dealers. These were men with whom they had had no contact since Fat Jake had been the intermediary. These were men who every time they had been contacted had suggested that there was a contact that supplied their product and they would need to speak with him first.

It seemed Luis knew the contact very well after all. Juan Torres was the East coast contact they had been trying to find for three months. It all became clear. Fat Jake was just a patsy who worked for Juan. Juan was skimming billions from Los Zetas and making up for El Jefe’s inadequacies.

Juan looked at the open mouthed expression stuck on Luis’ face.

“It doesn’t mean I love him any less!” promised Juan. “I just needed a fairer cut. After all, I made Los Zetas what it is!”

Luis couldn’t argue. Not because he agreed but because of the bullet that hit him right between the eyes.

Juan lowered the silenced revolver he had slipped from his belt and turned to his customers.

“Gentlemen, I suggest we board as a matter of urgency!” he indicated towards the aircraft that lay with its engines exposed.

They looked at him with some confusion but he herded them on. Walking to each of the engines, he pushed the tool carts aside and flipped the switches that lowered the engine covers.

Within a minute, he had them aboard and was preparing to start the engines. He picked up the cell and called his men.

“Take her out with all your men and release her. As soon as she is about to board the aircraft shoot her!”

“Of course, Mister Torres.”

“I’ll wait on the phone as you do it.”

The first sign that their plan had gone to shit was when the ten men appeared with the woman at gunpoint. The Team Leader watched in despair as she was let go and all ten Mexicans trained their weapons on her. It was a long walk to Smith’s airplane.

The sound of the jet engine kicking to life in the hangar was when he really knew he was screwed. He didn’t have enough men to protect the woman and stop a plane. He wished she would run but she had been clearly told that wasn’t an option. She walked slowly and carefully as though her life depended on it which was probably exactly what she had been told.

When the hangar doors opened, the Mexicans raised their weapons and assumed a stance that suggested they were about to fire. Ten shooters against five snipers. They didn’t stand a chance but he had to save the woman. That was his first order of duty. As it became apparent they were about to shoot, he had no option but to issue the order to shoot.

He instructed Smith to scream at Katie to get down. At least if any of them pulled the trigger, she’d hopefully get out of the way. As Smith screamed and Katie fell, the jet shot out of the hangar faster than the Team Leader thought possible. He would later discover that the plane was fitted with rocket boosters, allowing it to use much shorter runways than otherwise expected for a Citation X, perfect for picking up drugs in deepest darkest Columbia.

As the last of the ten Mexicans fell, each of the snipers rushed to catch the jet but it was already up and tearing into the sky. They lost the Los Zetas boss and every one of the East coast crime lords. Not only that, Katie remained stationery, flat on her face where she had fallen.

“Fuck!” screamed the Team Leader almost bursting Smith’s eardrum.

Chapter 62

El Jefe crossed himself as the ghost of the man he had killed all too easily stood before him.

A few of his men, those who had witnessed El Jefe carve the man to bits, stepped back; it had to be a devil of some sort.

Sean saw the fear in their eyes and realized this was going to end badly, just because they thought he was a ghost. Rifles were twitching and there was every chance that James was going to be killed just because of some silly superstitions.

“It was my twin!” shouted Sean. “My brother, identical twin!”

Those who understood English well enough translated and an audible sigh of relief circled the group. El Jefe was less convinced and strode towards Sean, eyeing him closely. He circled him two or three times before jutting towards Sean unexpectedly. Sean moved with lightning reactions, swinging James out of danger and readying for an attack.

El Jefe smiled warmly at Sean’s move and nodded his head approvingly.

“You are indeed a different man!” he announced confidently.

Sean bit his tongue. Of course he fucking was. The other Sean was in bits in an evidence box.

“The man that I thought you were when we first met.”

They had just met thought Sean. Luis was right his uncle was a psycho.

“I will offer you the same deal I offered that night!”

Sean waited, nothing came. He actually believed Sean knew what the deal was. He really was mad.

“What deal?” asked Sean quiet enough for only El Jefe to hear.

“We will fight to the death. If you beat me, my men will let you leave here alive!” he announced to the group of soldiers.

“Can you repeat that a little louder, the guys at the back didn’t hear?” asked Sean.

El Jefe ignored him. He didn’t repeat orders, he didn’t need to.

“Take the boy!” he shouted to one of his soldiers.

The soldier stepped forward and carefully extracted James from Sean’s leg and took him back into the outbuilding.

El Jefe ripped off his vest to expose his bare chest and received a huge cheer from his men. A circle formed creating a ring for the fight.

Sean took up a stance and as El Jefe came to him, easily dodged his first attack. The second was not as easy to dodge and he received a punch to the side of the head. Fortunately, it was a glancing blow and had little effect. A backward swipe almost caught Sean after the initial attack but he again just managed to avoid any contact. There was no doubt El Jefe was good, quick and intelligent. His moves were designed to expose a weakness if the first attack didn’t land, allowing a second strike in quick succession to land. Sean soaked up a few of these moves and El Jefe landed a few half punches much to the delight of his men. After a third punch landed, Sean was left shaking his head to clear it.

El Jefe danced on the spot. His men cheered and hollered with delight while Sean regained his composure. El Jefe could not have been happier with himself. He grinned from ear to ear. Sean was moving like a pro and as well as anyone El Jefe had ever encountered before. Not an ounce of fat showed on his torso and not a drop of sweat had formed on his body. El Jefe could keep the pace for hours. Tiring him out wasn’t going to be an option. Sean looked at the men that formed the ring. He really did not believe they would let him go if he beat El Jefe.

“Your men will really let me go if I kill you?” asked Sean spitting some blood from his mouth.

El Jefe laughed as he bounced. “My men will let you and the boy walk out of here over my dead body!” he shouted and waited for his men to acknowledge.

“Fair enough,” replied Sean, pulling himself up to his full height and preparing for El Jefe’s next move.

El Jefe came at him as before. Only this time, Sean knew exactly what he had planned. Sean ducked, twisted and delivered a stunning blow to El Jefe’s kidneys. The shock alone could have killed him, such was the difference in Sean’s demeanor and movement.

Sean smiled to the quiet crowd as El Jefe screamed in pain.

Sean stepped back and egged El Jefe towards him. El Jefe went for the move that had caught Sean twice already, glancing blows but this time, threw everything behind it. Sean moved with a speed that belied his size and far faster than he had earlier.

As El Jefe was left mid swing and totally exposed, Sean delivered a powerful punch to El Jefe’s jaw. The crack was not just two bones connecting but El Jefe’s jawbone snapping. El Jefe stumbled back unable to scream as his jawbone failed to function. He looked at Sean with some bemusement.

“What can I say, your decidedly average!” offered Sean, resulting in El Jefe charging at him in a total rage.

Sean moved and delivered another crushing blow. A short kick with his leg as he sidestepped El Jefe was timed to perfection and snapped El Jefe’s kneecap from the leg, his leg twisted at an impossible angle as he fell to the ground.

“I was merely sizing you up. You know, like the Princess Bride when the swordsman confesses he’s actually left handed!”

El Jefe looked at Sean like he was crazy as he struggled to hobble onto his good leg.

The one good point and so far encouraging was that, despite obviously beating the shit out of their boss, his men had honored his instruction. He may just manage to survive after all.

Sean was thinking best to end it quickly despite the fact El Jefe deserved to suffer a lot more. As El Jefe came at Sean again, he side stepped easily and with a little mischief sent a short sharp punch into El Jefe’s throat. It was a killer blow but not instant. He would suffocate over the next couple of minutes. Time to feel a little more pain, thought Sean. He could have gone for many more humane methods but quite frankly the guy didn’t deserve it.

As El Jefe crumpled to the ground, his men stepped back and allowed Sean to walk to the outbuilding.

Sean strode confidently into the small building, scooped up James and walked towards the main gate. He couldn’t believe it. As he neared the gate, they really were going to let him leave. Right up until the cell rang in the crowd, that was.

Sean could almost hear the scream from the caller from forty yards away. It certainly had the fifty or so soldiers rushing towards their weapons. Sean ditched the confident walk and ran towards the gate. If only he could get over it, he had a chance, but it was too far. There was no way he’d beat the bullets.

The rocket thruster took the jet from zero to take off speed almost instantaneously; it really was a most remarkable piece of equipment thought Juan, as he guided the jet into the sky. He would drop the East coast bosses off at the nearest commercial airfield and then head back by car. The Americans would probably be dissecting how they had failed so miserably. They thought they had been smarter than Los Zetas. They had learned a very important lesson that day. Do not underestimate Juan Torres who, with the irritating Luis out of the way, could resume his position with El Jefe unabated.

El Jefe would be disappointed Luis was dead but Juan would use it to his advantage, turning El Jefe’s anger on whoever seemed a reasonable target. He’d also engineer a new patsy to replace Fat Jake. He probably should have done it sooner but Juan enjoyed El Jefe’s displeasure at Luis’ failure to secure the contacts. He realized a lot of his issues were jealousy when it came to El Jefe and Luis but whatever it was, the issue was resolved once and for all. He hit the speed dial button. He had to tell El Jefe his plan had worked but he had some dreadful news. He practiced his voice ensuring all happiness was excluded.

The words hit him like a freight train.

“El Jefe is dead. The American killed him!” answered the soldier at the ranch.

“Did you kill the American?” he screamed.

“No!”

“Kill him!!!” His eyes almost popped from his skull, such was his fury.

“El Jefe said we have to let him go!” replied the soldier meekly.

“I am El Jefe now, kill him!” he demanded.

As Katie moved for the first time, the Team Leader breathed a huge sigh of relief. He had at least succeeded in one part of his mission.

“Team Two?” he called. “Los Zetas has escaped, I repeat Los Zetas has escaped.”

“Team One, we have a situation here, will update shortly, out.”

“Team Two, what is your issue?”

The line was dead.

A few seconds later. “Fire!!!” came through clearly on the Team Leader’s headset.

With James in his arms, Sean sprinted for the gate.

'Kill him!!!” came the scream from behind him as Sean leapt for the gate.

Bullets began to fire but none came near, heavy gunfire, M60, if he wasn’t mistaken. Sean knew his weapons.

As he reached the gate and threw James unceremoniously over it, he looked around as he vaulted over himself. The Mexicans were falling and squirming on the ground.

As he reached the other side, a soldier almost invisible in camouflage fatigues held James safely in his arms, while another trained his machine gun on any threats from the other side of the gate. A burst of fire ensured another threat was eliminated for good.

“Afternoon, Sean,” offered the soldier holding James, a man Sean had known for many years.

“How long have you guys been here?” he asked, irritably.

“Long enough, obviously,” replied the agent, not really answering Sean’s question. “Katie’s OK also,” he added, ending Sean’s interest in how long they had been there, or for that matter, how many were in Team One. And more importantly, who had authorized Team One. He had specifically told Mike not to endanger the boy’s life by sending a second team to the ranch. But then if the ten-man Team Two hadn’t surrounded the ranch, Sean and James would have been dead. Sean decided to let Mike off, at least on that occasion.

As Sean offered to take James from the soldier, he was handed a cell phone instead.

“Sean,” the voice was very weak but Sean recognized it straight away.

“Vincent, how are you?”

“More worried than I have ever been in my life!” he replied.

“Jesus a heart attack isn’t going to kill you,” laughed Sean.

“Not me you idiot, Mike’s just taken me through his findings and he was right, we are fucked. You need to get back here asap before you head to Moscow.”

“I’m going to the beach, V. trust me I deserve it.”

“Sean, this is about you!”

“About me?”

“Have you ever heard of Dr Joseph Mengele?”

Chapter 63

Sean knew the name. Hell, everybody recognized the name but what the hell did it have to do with him? Vincent wouldn’t explain any more over the phone. Sean was just to get to Langley asap.

“Grab some of those Lexuses, we need to get to the airport,” shouted Sean.

As they careened their way down the hill, the Team Leader contacted his counterpart at the airport to tell them they were on their way.

James was laughing and bouncing on Sean’s knee as the Lexus clambered over the rough terrain. Their off-roading abilities were severely impacted by the weight of their armor.

As they neared the outskirts of the city and bumped onto tarmac, the ride improved, as did the speed of the small three-car convoy. The heavily laden Lexuses were not the most agile but on a straight road and given space, the speed certainly did improve.

“I’ll pass you over!” said the Team Leader, handing his headset to Sean.

“Where are you?” asked a voice Sean recognized.

“About two minutes out,” he replied, as the fencing surrounding the airport came into view. “Who is this?”

“Agent Smith,” replied Agent James Smith who had met Sean at the airport the previous day. The sound of gunfire at Agent Smith’s side of the conversation interrupted the introductions.

“Turn around, it’s not secure here!” Another burst of gunfire highlighted the point perfectly.

As Sean looked towards the access road to the airport, a convoy of pick up trucks was leaving, all filled with men carrying weapons.

“We’re leaving now!” shouted Smith above the engine noise of the aircraft. “We’ll pick you up at Laredo!” he managed before the line went dead.

Sean watched as a jet shot down the runway.

“Turn around!!!” he screamed as the first bullets began to ping off their armored plating.

James laughed as the bullets pinged against the windshield in front of him. Sean took him off his lap and handed him to the agents in the back where he was promptly strapped in.

Sean looked back as the chasers closed. The Lexuses were too slow. Their only hope was to get to the border before the pursuers got through their armor.

As they turned onto another road, two trucks barreled towards them. Their only option was to turn down another road, a narrower road where even more armed men lay waiting.

“What the fuck is going on?!!!” screamed one of the agents, verbalizing what everybody else was thinking.

“They’re corralling us to where they want us!” realized Sean. This was one very coordinated and impressive maneuver.

With each street, the chasing pack became larger; it was like some weird 'B’ movie where everybody had been infected by a homicidal virus. It seemed every living soul in Nuevo Laredo was determined to help kill them.

“Split up?” asked Sean to the team leader.

“Worth a try,” he replied and barked the order to the other two cars. At the next junction they split three separate ways. Sean watched as each and every car ignored the other two Lexuses and followed his.

“Shit!” he exclaimed, much to James’s amusement and warning that Mommy would be angry. Sean didn’t feel she’d be overly concerned given the current circumstance.

As they rushed towards another junction, another makeshift roadblock was forcing them right. The truck that blocked their way had left a small gap at the rear.

“Keep going for that gap and hold tight,” ordered Sean.

“That gap’s half the width of this car!” shouted the driver, in a panic.

“Yep, and hit the gas,” screamed Sean.

They hit the truck and spun it out of the way. The weight and momentum of the Lexus were too much for the empty truck.

“Jesus, if that had been fully loaded, we’d be dead!” screamed the Team Leader at Sean in frustration.

“And the back axle would have been riding much lower,” replied Sean confidently. Although he had no idea how low or high the axle rode on that truck. He just knew they were no longer going where the pursuers wanted them.

The road sign indicated 2 miles to the border. Sean looked back and could see that their maneuver had generated a little extra distance between themselves and their pursuers and hopefully enough to see them to the border.

“Fuck!!!” screamed the driver, standing on the brakes.

Sean whipped round as the Lexus struggled to stop against the momentum it had built up. The queue of traffic stretched off in to the American distance.

Sean yanked the steering wheel to the left and the Lexus bounced across the median to the oncoming lanes, empty thanks to the closed border. The driver floored it again. As Sean checked behind them again, the pursuers remained close behind. They were going to follow them all the way. Sean suddenly realized that there was no guarantee they’d actually stop at the border.

“Shit!” the driver shouted as he once again applied the brakes.

Sean turned expecting a queue of traffic, instead it seemed their pursuers had upped their game. The sight of a helicopter hovering ahead was bad enough but the two ominous pods protruding from either side had even the heavily armored Lexus petrified. The rockets would tear through it like a hot knife through butter.

“Fuck!” he added much to James’ amusement.

He watched in the mirror as the pursuers stopped a couple of hundred yards back, clearing the way for the helicopter. It really was a proper Mexican stand off thought Sean. Before he had a chance to crack a joke, the Team Leader was handing him his headset.

“It’s for you!” he said.

Sean took the headset and popped in the earpiece.

“Where are you?” asked Smith.

“In a bit of a situation at the moment!”

“We’re at Laredo, you need to get your ass here. I’ve to get you to Washington yesterday!”

As Sean kept an eye on both the chopper and the pursuers, he noticed the trucks and cars filled with gunmen began to close the distance. As they neared, so did the chopper. They were moving in for the kill.

“Any idea why everyone wants us dead?” asked Sean. At least he could die knowing why.

“About 25 million!”

“Sorry?” replied Sean. They didn’t know him well enough, even people who knew him for a lifetime couldn’t think of that many.

“Dollars. The new boss of Los Zetas it seems is very upset with you!”

“Shit!” shouted Sean as the rocket pods lit up on the chopper and began to spew their deadly fire. However, instead of tearing them apart, the pursuers began to explode in his mirrors.

“Jesus!” shouted Smith through the headset. “What the fuck is that?”

Before Sean could answer. “Is that the gunship the Mexican army sent to help you?” asked Smith.

“Floor it,” screamed Sean to the driver and thirty seconds later, they entered US soil, under the protection of the Mexican army gunship.

Chapter 64

James raced across the tarmac and jumped into Katie’s arms, the tears streaming down her face as she almost squeezed the life out of the son she feared she’d never see again. She mouthed a thank you to Sean who bowed his head as he accepted her gratitude. As Sean made his way to one of the sitting jets, James disengaged from Katie and raced to join him. “Where are we going, Daddy?” he asked as though the previous few hours and months had never happened.

Sean looked forlornly at Katie who stood next to a team of agents who were sworn to protect Katie and James until the US Marshalls who were relocating her to Austin arrived.

Sean lifted James in his arms and took him back to Katie.

“Daddy needs to go to work baby, he’ll be back soon!” promised Katie, a tear ran down her cheek which Sean wiped away carefully.

He leant forward and kissed her on the cheek and James on the forehead, before turning and rushing back to the waiting airplane.

“Be safe!” shouted Katie.

“Come home soon Daddy!” shouted James.

Why the fuck didn’t I just go the fucking beach, thought Sean as he boarded the plane, trying desperately not to look back. But couldn’t not. He had to see them one last time.

“Lovely family!” offered Smith as the aircraft door closed.

“Yes,” replied Sean returning James’ excited wave. The poor boy had lost his dad once and he had just lost him again. Having lost his own dad he knew how hard that was going to be.

“We should arrive in Washington at around midnight local time. I’ve to get you straight to Langley from there. Is that OK?”

Sean nodded, as the jet rushed down the runway and Katie and James disappeared into the distance. He was surprised just how much of an impact that was having on him.

“Drink?” repeated Smith, having been ignored on the first asking.

“Sorry, yes please.” Sean shook himself back to the real world.

Smith gave him the drink and after two sips Sean was sound asleep. He woke with a start four hours later with Smith staring at him. “Are you ok?” he asked.

“Fine,” replied Sean defensively, his body was covered in sweat.

“You were moaning and squirming in your chair,” offered Smith as an excuse for his concern.

“You ever heard the name Dr Joseph Mengele?” asked Sean, realizing Smith was on his side.

“Sure, Angel of Death, wasn’t he?” replied Smith, referring to Mengele’s nickname from Auschwitz death camp.

“Well I just dreamt I was on his operating table!” replied Sean, even mentioning it caused a cold shiver to pass through him.

“Welcome to Washington,” announced the captain through the tannoy system, thankfully interrupting the conversation.

As the plane stopped, the steps were lowered, a car pulled up and the door opened to reveal an elderly gentleman.

Before Sean had a chance to exit the plane, another two cars approached at speed and cut in front of the original car. The doors burst open and four men jumped out, their badges in their hands and held aloft.

“Sean Fox, FBI, you are under arrest!” informed the agent, who, Sean assumed, had the greatest seniority.

The elderly man stepped forward. “What in the hell is the meaning of this?”

“This is FBI business, Sir, please stay back,” instructed one of the agents as two of his colleagues placed Sean in handcuffs.

“That man is helping us on a matter of National Security,” he protested.

“You are?”

“Mike Ritter, CIA!” replied Mike forcefully.

“He’s on the list,” shouted one of the agents leading Sean to one of the FBI cars.

Mike was promptly arrested and both were transported in separate cars back to the FBI’s field office.

The first sign that things were seriously worrying was the line of cars outside the FBI office. It would have looked more appropriate at a movie premier. Despite their limitless resources, Sean was certain that chauffeur driven limousines had not become the new fleet car at the FBI. There was some serious muscle inside the building and it was almost midnight. Not good.

Sean was shown straight through and placed in an interview room. The sound of raised and exceptionally angry voices echoed down the corridor and as the door closed, they instantly stopped. The room was very well sound-proofed, another bad sign. He looked up at the camera that watched him. The table and four chairs. The red light was extinguished. The recording had been stopped. He tried to check the time but his hands were still cuffed behind his back. He closed his eyes. He may as well take advantage of the downtime he thought.

Obviously that wasn’t what his captors had in store. No sooner had he closed his eyes than the door burst open and two exceptionally pissed off suits stormed into the room.

“Do you have any idea what you have done, Son?!” demanded the grey haired suit slamming his hand on the table.

“Become the most wanted man on the Los Zetas Cartels hit board?” asked Sean.

To say that took the wind from their sails was an understatement. Neither had considered the position he had ended up in himself, just the impact his plan had had on their investigations. Both knew just how vicious and ruthless Los Zetas were and neither would want to spend their lives in Sean’s shoes with the bounty on his head.

“Hi, I’m Sean,” Sean pushed his shoulder out in place of his hand that remained cuffed behind his back.

Both interrogators looked at each other and shrugged. “Jack Anderson, DEA,” and pointing to his colleague, “Howard Franks FBI,” replied Jack, taking a seat.

“You realize you have broken God alone knows how many federal laws?” asked Howard taking the seat next to Jack.

“I also saved a little boy and his mom from some very dangerous men. And not forgetting ridding you of the Los Zetas crime boss,” confirmed Sean, adding up the positives.

“The only problem with that is that his replacement is far more worrying, I’d take El Jefe over Juan Torres every day of the week,” replied Jack, adding, “And let’s not forget, you’ve exposed every ongoing investigation into the East coast crime bosses and their families and given those same crime bosses direct access to the Los Zetas cartel. Which will increase their profits and ultimately their power.”

“You have set back our war on drugs by years!” argued Howard. “And somebody has to pay!” he added looking directly at Sean.

Sean was confident it was all bluster, just to put CIA back in their box. He really didn’t have time to listen to anymore.

“Charge me or release me!” he said with real conviction, confident of the latter.

Howard stood and shaking his head left the room. One minute later, he returned with two other officials, one from Homeland Security and the other from the US Marshall’s office.

Homeland got to go first and the list of charges was impressive. The US Marshall was next. Sean thought their exclusion from the initial meeting gave them both first dibs. Five minutes later and with the four law enforcement agencies wrapping up their list of charges, the door flew open. An unsteady and less than healthy Vincent Black stood in the doorway. There was a man that Sean had not seen so pissed off since Sean had totaled his car when he was eighteen.

Sean sat back. Vincent on a roll was a thing to behold and he was about to rip these guys some new assholes.

Vincent turned to the law officers. “Gentlemen, would you mind giving me a moment with Sean,” he asked very politely.

Sean also noted that he had said Sean, not his agent, not his man, Sean.

Vincent turned to Sean and let loose a torrent abuse that between the f’ing this and f’ing that he struggled to actually work out what was being said. One thing however was very clear. He was not on Sean’s side and in Vincent’s own words “he would be standing back while he was prosecuted to the full extent of the law!”

With that, he stormed from the room and all but removed the solid soundproofed door from its hinges, as he slammed it behind him.

Sean sat totally bemused by what had just happened and began to consider the distinct possibility that he may be spending the rest of his life in a federal penitentiary. He began to wish he had just gone to the… but stopped himself. He was happy he hadn’t. He had saved Katie and James’ lives. What would be, would be.

Vincent plucked up every ounce of strength as he walked from the room housing Sean to the room watching Sean. It was the who’s who of law enforcement bosses right up to the Attorney General. Jesus, he thought. Jane and Sean had really pulled something off. He could hardly get these guys in the same room after 9/11 and certainly not in universal agreement.

It took just over thirty minutes of begging and promising before Sean would be released into his custody. With the express guarantee that if Sean were not produced after his mission, Vincent himself would accept all of Sean’s charges and simply plead guilty. As utterly ridiculous as it sounded, it seemed they were deadly serious and were not budging unless Vincent accepted.

As he walked Sean out by the arm, still in his cuffs, Sean couldn’t help but notice how much Vincent was using Sean’s arm to stay upright. Mike joined them as they walked out and seeing Vincent struggle, took his other side and helped him into the waiting car.

Sean waited for another tongue-lashing but it never came.

“Sorry about that in there!” offered Vincent, catching his breath.

“Not at all, I knew you had to,” replied Sean and received a look from Vincent that reminded Sean who he was trying to bullshit.

No one in the world could read Sean as well as Vincent and no other man on earth could put the fear of God into him.

“OK. OK. I thought you were being legit,” accepted Sean, embarrassed.

“I knew I had you going, I haven’t seen you that worried since you crashed my car! I even thought your lip started to quiver!” teased Vincent. He was getting his strength back and the lighthearted banter was helping.

“It is going to be a problem though. They are seriously pissed off with you and have decided that you,” he looked at Sean, “are going to take the blame.”

“You can sort it out!” replied Sean confidently.

“To be completely honest, I’m not sure I can Sean. This is way beyond my pay grade!”

“So I manage to go to the top of both the government and the bad guys’ hit list on the same day, go figure?!” asked Sean in frustration.

With no traffic on the road it took less than ten minutes to pull into Langley. Jane was waiting nervously for them as they stopped in the executive car park. She had a wheel chair for Vincent, something he had initially refused but realized he needed. As they exited onto the top floor, a nurse and doctor were on station and a bed was in place, within Vincent’s office. She couldn’t keep him in hospital but she’d make sure he was still under their care. After a quick check of his condition, Vincent dismissed his carers and called the meeting to order.

“Mike, do you want to bring Sean up to speed, starting with Mengele’s protege, Dr Boris Surkov!”

“What I am about to play you is a translated transcript of a secret recording of Dr Boris Surkov, from a lecture he gave to the KGB before the fall of the wall!”

Mike pressed play and waited for the gasps.

Chapter 65

Katherine had spent the early evening re-arranging the governor’s schedule to take account of Nicole’s death and issuing thank-you letters for condolences received by the Governor. By the time she realized what time it was, it was almost midnight. The governor had long since retired to bed and left her to it. He was a little brighter but was going to take every ounce of Katherine’s wiles to ensure he was on the plane to Moscow. That, however, was tomorrow’s task. As she shut down the computer and gathered up her things, for the first time in hours, she noticed Surkov’s phone. More importantly she noted a new message awaited her. How had she missed it? It had to have been when she had received the parcel at the door she thought; that was the only time she had been out of earshot of the device.

She opened the message and quickly deciphered it. The name Sean Fox hit her like a freight train. She knew that name and thought back to the same parcel that had meant she missed the message. She was tempted to rush up and ask the Governor there and then who this Sean Fox was and why was he on his list but that would expose her. However, it was more than just Sean Fox. Surkov wanted Katie Fox dealt with as well. She checked the time, late but not too late.

She picked up the phone and dialed the Chief of Police in Laredo.

“Hi, my name is Katherine and I’m the Governor’s Chief of Staff. I was wondering if you could help?”

“Of course, terrible news today, please pass on my condolences,” offered the Chief. “Just saw the Governor this morning as well!”

“That’s why I’m phoning. Sean Fox?”

“Rings a bell, that name,” replied the Chief.

“Did the Governor not meet him this morning?” she prompted.

“I don’t know who he met, some secret agent type fella, big guy, knew how to hold himself.”

“That’s him,” assumed Katherine, nothing else made sense. “Anyway I’m trying to track him down or his wife?” she asked. “The governor needs to update his travel plans.”

“Not sure I’ve got any details, what was her name?” he asked.

“Katie, Katie Fox,” she replied.

“I’ll call you back,” he announced.

Katherine sat impatiently waiting for him to ring back. After five minutes, the phone rang.

“Well it’s a strange one alright. I recognized the name because a Sean Fox was murdered 3 months ago here in Laredo. That same Sean Fox changed from being a corpse to being alive yesterday morning. I remember that case and that boy wasn’t coming back to life even with divine intervention.”

Katherine let him ramble on.

“Anyway, the wife lived in Laredo but looks like she’s moving up your way. US Marshalls just picked her up and are relocating her to Austin. No address listed, I’d imagine they’ll stop in a hotel and find her somewhere in the next couple of days,” he concluded.

“That’s very helpful, thank you Chief and I know the Governor will be very grateful for you assistance.” Not so sure Katie Fox will, but that’s another matter, she thought.

Katherine replaced the handset. She knew a young and impressionable US Marshall and quite frankly that was exactly what she needed.

Two hours later, the two were naked and soaked in sweat and the Marshall was begging for more, offering anything for more of Katherine. That anything just happened to be the hotel the local US Marshalls used for people under their protection. After another thirty minutes of passion, the young Marshall fell asleep before he collapsed from exhaustion. Katherine slipped into her clothes and made her way back to the mansion. She had a busy day ahead of her and needed to get some sleep. She had a lot to organize before they left for Moscow. She sent a message to Surkov, confirming he was correct in his suspicions and assured him she would deal with the matter, before turning out her light and dropping into a deep and restful sleep.

Chapter 66

Surkov was barking orders from 6.00 a.m. He hadn’t slept at all that night. He was like a child eagerly expecting Santa Claus, unable to contain his excitement. However, having waited all his adult life for this moment, it was hardly surprising that he was worked up.

As the President’s helicopter came in to land on the lawn, Surkov waited patiently for the blades to stop before walking forward and greeting President Alexey Gagarin, son of the famous cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, born just days after his father’s tragic death. Surkov greeted him warmly and guided him towards Grebnevo, a secret that the young president had been keen to uncover since his inauguration some two years earlier.

His presidency was more akin to a coronation. His name, handed down by his hero father, lived on in the hearts of every Russian and it was, when he began to show an interest in politics, more a case when and not if he would become President. Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Gagarins had benefited from financial support and through various anonymous benefactors, the young Alexey wanted for nothing and received fully funded scholarships to the best schools around the world. Little did he know that Surkov and his benefactors had been behind his education, that he’d been chosen from a select few and that the chance meetings that had directed his life had been engineered to perfection. From the day he was born, the young Alexey’s life was plotted and planned precisely. Right up until the moment he stepped off the helicopter and accompanied Dr Boris Surkov into his office. Surkov instructing his bodyguards to wait outside.

“So, Dr Surkov, you have me intrigued,” said the President, taking a seat on one of Surkov’s two sofas.

Surkov poured the tea just as he knew the President liked it. There was nothing Dr Surkov did not know about the young President. He knew his favorite meal, he knew his favorite TV shows, he knew he liked to play video games. He knew who he trusted and who he disliked in his cabinet. He knew more about the President than he probably knew about himself.

He carried the tea over and handed it to the President and joined him on the opposite sofa.

“Let me tell you a story about a young boy in Auschwitz who met a doctor who changed his life forever…” he began as the President took his first sip of tea.

A beep interrupted the proceedings but it was a beep that Surkov had been expecting. He excused himself and checked the message from Katherine. Borodin had failed.

“Everything OK?” asked the President, sensing something was wrong.

“Of course, everything’s fine.” He turned to see the President drink the last of his tea. Any thoughts of a change of plan were gone. He’d just have to hope Katherine succeeded where Borodin failed.

Just as he was about to rejoin the President, he noticed the message box still indicated one message. Katherine must have sent two in quick succession. He opened the second one and had Borodin been in the room, he would have happily gutted him with the blunt letter opener on his desk. It certainly wouldn’t have been the first time Surkov had gutted somebody with a letter opener.

“Are you sure everything’s OK?” asked the President, the back of Surkov’s neck was almost bright red.

Surkov noted the President was beginning to slur his words. There was no turning back, no more delays. The time had come. As the President’s eyes closed, Surkov opened the door into his secret study. The world was about to see a new dawn.

Chapter 67

As they approached the outskirts of Grebnevo, Borodin waited for the instruction to land but it never came. His helicopter was allowed through and it set down next to the President’s. Borodin exited the helicopter and marched proudly ramrod straight towards Surkov and President Alexey Gagarin who awaited his arrival. A warm welcome from both men had the General excited about his request to attend on such short notice.

“Shall we take the meeting inside?” asked Surkov, offering for the President to take the lead.

Borodin had only met the President on a few occasions and had spent little time with him on a one to one basis. All he knew of him really was what he had gathered from the President’s stance on various issues and from what he had read in the papers. His green agenda had upset more than a few of the oligarchs and it seemed he had a fairly liberal view on most things.

After just ten minutes in his company, Borodin realized that the President had the slickest propaganda machine he had ever experienced. The man before him bore little resemblance to the public persona. He oozed a strength that Borodin had craved for in his leaders. He wanted a military that would help stem the flow of resources from the country. The oligarchs’ days were over. Their billions would help build a strong Russia, a Russia they could be proud of again. The mafia and her bosses’ days were over. The tide was about to turn and he wanted to know if Borodin was his man to help. Borodin could hardly contain his eagerness to be part of what the President wanted to do.

“Excellent! I will announce your appointment as my Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces before the banquet this week,” announced the President with a finality that ended the discussion.

General Borodin left the room and was accompanied by Surkov. The general was walking on air until Surkov cut him down.

“You misled me about Sean Fox, General,” he announced coldly.

Borodin stumbled for an answer. He had noted the chemistry in the room. It was only after Surkov had nodded that the President had offered him the role. Surkov had promised him the role and Surkov had delivered the role.

“I was misinformed, Doctor. I promise I did not intend to mislead you, I have somebody dealing with it as we speak,” he replied conspiratorially.

“I assume that’s before he attends our state banquet?!”

Borodin couldn’t understand how Surkov could know about the VISA.

“I assure you that the VISA was issued on the basis that he had been killed. Had we thought he was alive of course it would not have been approved!”

“And that, General, is the only reason I believe you. You are not that stupid!” replied Surkov as they arrived at the General’s helicopter.

“Make us proud, Marshall Borodin,” said Surkov patting Borodin on the back as he climbed into the helicopter. Marshall, the highest rank in the Russian Military, a rank that had not been in use for a number of years.

“I will see you in two days at the banquet, Doctor,” saluted Borodin, unable to contain the grin on his face.

“Two days, Marshall,” winked Surkov.

Surkov waved the helicopter off, so far so good. The biggest hurdle was yet to come but one major one had been crossed.

Borodin couldn’t believe it, Marshall. It didn’t even cross his mind to consider what was to become of the incumbent Chief of the General Staff.

Vasiliy sat in the seat next to Borodin and had watched the interaction with Surkov, unable to hear but witnessing both men’s facial expressions. Borodin was putty in Surkov’s hands and Surkov knew it. Vasiliy had the uneasy feeling come over him again. Every time he was around the man, he felt as though somebody had walked over his grave.

“Was the meeting OK?”

“Very good!” beamed Borodin.

Vasiliy did not like it. The General had never been so secretive in all the years he had known him.

“And the President?”

“Let’s just say I had misjudged him. The man has balls after all, massive ones. His plans for Russia are fantastic!”

Knowing where Borodin stood on Mother Russia, what he had just expressed was the single scariest thing he had ever said. Vasiliy knew Borodin would not be happy until Russia had regained her power from the height of the cold war. Anything less he considered weakness. However Vasiliy struggled to understand how President Alexey Gagarin, a man who had won the election on an economic ticket was all of a sudden winning over General 'give me more power’ Borodin. The two should have been as different as apples and oranges.

Again, the influence of Surkov hung in the air. Nothing good was going to come of the General’s involvement with, Vasiliy had to admit, the scary Dr Surkov.

Dr Surkov thanked the President again as he boarded his presidential helicopter for his trip back to Moscow.

The President smiled down on Grebnevo as he left what was a truly wonderful home and after a short flight back to Moscow was met by his wife, Yolana at the helipad. She rushed across and hugged him as though he’d been gone for months rather than the three hours that he had been. As they walked back to their private quarters, it took all their resolve not to rip each other’s clothes off in front of the staff. As the door closed, they launched into each other’s arms and fucked like they hadn’t fucked for twenty years which was in fact just less than it had been. Yolana, finally, had her first true love back.

Chapter 68

Sean had listened to the transcript almost in disbelief. He asked for clarification more than once that it had been recorded in the eighties and not the thirties. The hate and rhetoric were like nothing he had heard since Nazi Germany. Mike had explained that he had obtained the recording first hand. He had heard it first hand and he had struggled to believe it first hand. Recorded in a university auditorium that of course the KGB had no knowledge was being surveiled by the CIA. Mike had never forgotten the day or the name of the doctor. When Vincent had explained what had happened with Sean, the memory of Dr Boris Surkov came flooding back.

Little was known of the doctor other than what had been gleaned from the transcript. What was uncovered after exhaustive investigations was little other than confirmation that a Boris Surkov had in fact studied under Joseph Mengele. Surkov was listed as a young hospital assistant at Auschwitz and thereafter popped up in a number of facilities linked with Mengele. He had then effectively disappeared from the face of the earth until he delivered his speech to the KGB hierarchy. This fact alone was concerning, the list of attendees at the speech meant that Surkov was connected at the highest level and his work was classified as extremely important. The fact that the CIA had no knowledge of such an important project, nor could they subsequently find any, caused even greater concern. The CIA knew everything, or so they had thought.

The uncovering from his investigations that Dr Boris Surkov was due to be the guest speaker at the upcoming State banquet meant only one thing. He had instigated the project which he had promised would deliver Russia back to her former glory and beyond. As far as Mike was concerned, the Sean situation proved his work had been successful and the subsequent determination to eliminate him, proof that something had gone wrong. President Alexey Gagarin, son of one of Russia’s greatest ever heroes, was quite frankly the single best vehicle Surkov could have picked with which to launch the new Russia.

As far as Mike Ritter was concerned, it was their only hope to stop something before it started. Quite frankly, it was the first time in fifty years they even knew where to find him.

The inclusion of Sean in the Governor’s party was a Godsend and his lightning fast VISA approval, yet another sign that pointed back to Dr Boris Surkov’s original plan.

As Mike was about to continue, Jane raised her hand to interrupt.

“There’s one little problem with that plan,” she offered cautiously.

“What?” asked Mike looking at the diagrams and names he had detailed on the board. He had spent every waking hour over the last day working through his conclusions.

“The Governor’s wife!”

“Yes?” he asked impatiently.

“She died this morning. I’m not sure he’ll be going anywhere!”

Mike looked at his ramblings on the whiteboard. “How did she die?” he asked.

“A freak accident I believe, slipped in the shower, or something like that, I just caught it on the late news. I can’t believe we missed it!”

“Neither can I!” said Mike. His level of agitation had just increased as he grabbed his laptop and typed away furiously.

“What?” asked Vincent.

Mike waved his hand to stop anyone speaking. He was working through a theory. As Jane, Sean and Vincent waited, Mike tapped wildly and scribbled notes like a man possessed, none of them dare speak.

Finally, after twenty minutes, he dropped his pen and looked at them in horror.

“Oh my God, its brilliant!” he exclaimed.

“What’s brilliant?” asked Sean.

“Surkov, I mean his plan. Oh my God, why didn’t I see it before!”

“See what before?” asked Sean frustrated at Mike’s rambling.

“It’s because I came at it from the wrong agenda!” he chastised himself.

“Jesus, Mike, will you try and explain what you’re thinking,” said Vincent, breathlessly.

Mike did and watched the color drain from each and every one of their faces.

Chapter 69

Sean woke up as the CIA jet touched down in Austin. It had been a long night planning exactly what they needed to do. Unfortunately, 'they’ had very quickly become Sean. He was the only one who would have access to the banquet and as such, the ability to stop Surkov. Of course, all of that was on the basis that he managed to convince the Governor to still attend despite his wife’s death and without divulging what they believed. While in Russia, if he did pull off the miracle of getting the governor to go, he was not to allow the governor out of sight while ensuring that he dealt with Surkov. How he was going to succeed with that part of the mission was beyond him, unless of course he just pulled out a gun and in front of the Governor and shot Surkov. But then the Governor was to be kept blissfully unaware of Sean’s real mission at all times. So even that didn’t work.

This was, of course, all for a country who had four law enforcement agencies who wanted him to spend at least the next few decades of his life in prison. Vincent had promised, as a reward for saving the world from Surkov and his plan for world domination, he’d make sure the other agencies backed off. However, the lack of conviction and belief in what he was promising had Sean more worried than anything else they had discussed that night.

Sean checked his watch and adjusted the time zone again, it was nearing lunchtime and he wondered how Katie and James had fared last night. He had Katie’s number but it wasn’t for social calls. Katie and James needed to move on with their lives. Sean was a reminder of a huge void in their lives that would cause them nothing but upset. He retrieved his new CIA smartphone from his pocket and called the number the US Marshall had given him the night before.

“Hi Tom,” said Sean as the Marshall answered. “Just wondered how the guys were doing?” he asked as casually as he could, just in case Katie was to overhear.

“Hi Sean, actually I’ve just left them.”

“They’re on their own?” queried Sean instantly concerned.

“All set up in a new apartment, she didn’t waste any time, 7 am this morning she was pounding the phone.”

“Fantastic, nice place?”

“Not bad, nothing like the place she left, mind you.” Tom had picked up a few of Katie and Sean’s personal items before leaving Laredo. Sean had made it clear she was not to go anywhere near the old house, too many dead bodies and memories for her and James.

“I’m sure they’ll be just fine,” concluded Sean, surprised at how quickly they had moved on. Austin had been chosen as Katie had lived there before Laredo and knew the hospital where she had worked previously were always hiring.

“You’re not kidding, she’s some lady, even got herself a job by 10 o’clock!”

“Thanks for helping them out Tom, much appreciated,” said Sean as he ended the call.

As he waited for a cab to take him to the Governor’s mansion, he couldn’t help smile at the thought that he had given James back to Katie. Fuck the consequences he thought. What will be, will be.

Katherine had been up and about for hours, she had a busy day ahead and some minor miracles to achieve. Top of the list was convincing the governor of the national, no, international importance, of his Moscow trip. Statesmen had to put country before personal. She had been trying lines all night and nothing worked. It all sounded cliched. She had the rest of the day to think of something. The flight was scheduled to leave early the next morning.

As she made her way into her office, the secretary caught her attention. “I have a call for you Katherine,”

“Who is it?” she asked.

“Sean Fox,” was the reply that inwardly floored her. Katherine’s face remained unchanged, a wonderful ability her mother had taught her. Katherine rarely showed emotion and even then never spontaneously.

“Thank you, just put him through, please,” she asked politely.

She closed the door to her office and took the seat at her desk. She composed herself as the light flashed highlighting Sean was holding.

“Mr Fox, how can I help you?” asked Katherine as she took the call.

“Sorry I thought I was holding for Governor Brown?” replied Sean.

“As you can imagine the Governor is taking some time to mourn,” she replied sincerely.

“I’m scheduled to be joining the Governor on his trip to Moscow, he hasn’t cancelled, has he?” asked Sean a little too desperately, showing his hand a little more than he would have wished to.

Katherine liked the sound of what Sean wanted. It was exactly what she wanted, the Governor on the plane to Moscow.

“I’ll see if I can get…”

“Actually, it’s OK, I’m just pulling up outside as we speak, I’d rather see him face-to-face, thanks,” interrupted Sean, handing twenty bucks to the cab driver.

“Of course, that’s fine,” she replied calmly, while her mind raced.

She walked through to the entrance hallway and watched as Sean grabbed a bag from the trunk of the cab and walked into the mansion. Katherine watched Sean carefully as he first opened the door and walked into the hallway. Her mother had shown her every little detail to be aware of. To date, she had never been wrong. Katherine could identify exactly how to work a man from his physical actions and facial expressions within the first few seconds of meeting him.

Katherine walked over and offered Sean her hand. “Katherine, I’m the governor’s Chief of Staff,” she offered.

“Sean,” replied Sean, looking around the mansion’s stunning hallway in an attempt not to stare at what had to be one of the most beautiful women he had ever met. “Lovely,” he said. “A stunning room,” clarifying he meant the room and not Katherine.

“Thank you,” she said, knowing exactly what he meant. She watched Sean as his eyes had devoured every inch of detail in the hallway. It had taken him the briefest of sweeps but his eyes had moved far quicker than required, checking and double-checking before evaluating the next obstacle or exit. To the untrained eye, he was any other guy entering a hallway. To Katherine he was a finely tuned killing machine, who was aware of his abilities but not over confident. Tall and powerful, but walked like a man half his weight, lightly and easily. Minimizing the sound of every step he took.

Katherine dropped her pen and Sean’s hand reached out and caught it easily. His actions were so smooth, they belied their speed. The fluidity of the motion proved just how in tune Sean was with his body. His reaction time was exceptional, hand to eye coordination must have been off the charts. Katherine made an executive decision. There was no way her assassin could deal with Sean. He was going to have to be dealt with in Moscow. It also ensured she had an ally in helping secure the Governor’s agreement to visit Moscow, never mind the chance for her to bed what she concluded was quite an exceptional specimen. A tingle of excitement, one that she had not felt for many years, brought an unexpected smile to her face.

Sean smiled in return, a cheeky smile that suggested he was reading her just as she him.

“I’ll just see if the governor can see you now, if you wouldn’t mind taking a seat,” offered Katherine.

As Sean took the seat, he watched Katherine as she walked back to her office. Her body was toned to perfection. He knew because her shirt and blouse hugged every part of her tightly leaving nothing to the imagination. As Katherine had given him credit for, he had identified every risk and safe point within the hallway. If a gunman were to run through the door, Sean knew exactly where and what he would do. But when it came to Katherine, the only thing that had crossed his mind was what she would be like naked and exactly what he would do to her. After all he had been in Afghanistan for over a year and available women were not exactly falling out of the trees, not that there were many trees and that was the point. A year, first Katie and now Katherine, two beautiful woman and a year’s worth of pent up frustration. He spotted the water fountain and poured himself a drink. He needed to refocus his mind.

Katherine closed the office door and rushed to her telephone device. She dialed Surkov’s number. She didn’t have time to wait for a text reply.

“Katherine, my dear,” answered Surkov.

“We have a problem,” she was in a rush. “Sean Fox has arrived and I’m not sure I can deal with him before the trip.”

Surkov remained silent. Katherine continued, realizing he would hear her out.

“I don’t think the man I have locally is capable of dealing with Sean and, more importantly, it seems that Sean is going to help me convince the Governor to come to Moscow. If he does and then he subsequently dies, I can guarantee the Governor will be going nowhere. You can arrange for him to be dealt with in Moscow, no?”

Surkov digested every word and kept coming back to the same ones 'going to help me convince.’ Why on earth would he want to do that, thought Surkov. The question of which Sean Fox still survived suddenly became more intriguing. If he were his Sean, there was no way he would encourage the Governor to travel to Moscow and if he weren’t his, why would he care? Surkov loved it! “Fine, let him come, we’ll deal with him here! Just hold on a second.”

Surkov had realized there was one other potential wrench in the works. He called Borodin.

“Dr Surkov,” answered Borodin cheerily, still walking on air from his upcoming promotion.

“Call your man off Sean Fox,” ordered Surkov.

Borodin did not answer.

“What’s wrong?” asked Surkov.

“You may be too late!” replied Borodin cautiously. It seemed when it came to Sean Fox, he never got it right.

Surkov slammed down the phone and returned to Katherine’s call.

“It seems Borodin’s man may be an issue!” offered Surkov.

“Fox is here just now, it’s fine, just get Borodin to call off his man. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Katherine ended the call and replaced the device in the hidden compartment of her handbag. She checked her make up in the mirror on the wall and opened her door to see Sean Fox tearing out of the main entrance.

When Sean’s phone began to ring, he dug it out of his pocket and fully expected Vincent’s dulcet tones. When he saw the caller id said Katie, a smile instantly filled his face.

“Hi Katie!”

“Hi Sean,” she replied nervously, a wobble in her voice that instantly had Sean on edge. “Where are you?”

“I’m in Austin, what’s wrong?” he said, standing and looking out the window, irrationally hoping to see something.

“How would you like to pay us a visit?” she asked, trying her best to remain calm. Sean could almost see the vision of James being held while Katie tried desperately to sound normal.

“Of course, when should I come?”

“Now would be good!”

“I’m on my way!”

Katie gave him the address. “Oh and Sean,” she added. “Please don’t bring anyone else!” she pleaded.

He was already out of the Mansion’s door by the time he had ended the call. The governor’s car sat ready should the governor wish to go anywhere. Sean jumped in and gave the driver two choices. The driver seeing Sean’s size and agitated state took the healthier one and hit the gas.

Chapter 70

Sean quizzed the driver how far they were from Katie’s address. Just over 10 minutes he had thought. Sean used the time to check the weapons he had packed for his trip to Moscow, as the governor’s bodyguard. He replayed what Katie had said in his mind, over and over again, 'don’t bring anybody else’. Her final warning. Nothing, although she hadn’t said 'anybody’ she had said 'anyone’, one. She was telling him there was only one guy.

One thing was certain, whatever happened, it seemed that Katie Fox was in danger. They had assumed that with Sean leaving, she would be fine but that had obviously been wrong. He was going to have to arrange alternative arrangements ongoing but first things were first. He needed to rescue them.

The Governor’s driver pulled into the hospital parking lot. He explained to Sean that the apartment block he needed was just around the corner in the street. Sean thanked him and climbed out. His weapons bag clunked as the magazines Sean had prepared in the car cracked together. An MP-7 and H amp;K UCP had been his weapons of choice for protecting the Governor — a small submachine gun that offered decent firepower along with a highly accurate pistol that shared the same ammunition. He took out his smartphone and hit the maps button. A map of his location with a blue dot highlighting where he stood appeared. He selected 'satellite 'and the image changed to an actual overhead view of the street and building, again highlighting his position.

Sean looked at the building pointed out by the driver as the target and decided he had little choice but to enter from the front. He took what he needed from the bag and began the walk towards the block. Had he misread Katie’s warning, there was every chance he could be dead already but the more he thought about it, the more he was convinced she was telling him just one. If there were just one, he’d be in the apartment waiting, gun to James’ or Katie’s head. Sean wanted to crush the fuck’s throat with his bare hands, the more he thought about it. The anger swelled as he drew closer. He knew he had to remain calm but after yesterday and getting James back to his mom, the thought of anyone else threatening the boy infuriated Sean like he had never felt before.

He entered the building. So far, so good. Katie had said the third floor, apartment five.

Sean walked towards the door, careful to make no noise. No peep hole, good and bad. They couldn’t see him but he couldn’t see the movement that would tell him if they were behind the door. He stood to the side of the door and knocked loudly.

He heard footsteps approach the door, one set, not light not heavy, Katie’s. The guy was holding James at gunpoint. Motherfucker. Sean’s blood was boiling. Sean heard the door unlock and it began to open.

The explosion caught them all by surprise.

Sean burst through the door, he had done it many times before, clearing rooms in hostage situation, hard and fast. As Katie had opened the door, before it was open even an inch, Sean had the flashbang in the hallway. He burst through the door, knocking Katie clear across the room and saw the man holding James by the throat at the end of the hallway. His hand had gone to protect his eyes but far too late. Two taps on his trigger and the man was down. Hard and fast, no mercy.

Sean checked the other rooms just in case but just as Katie had warned there was just the one. James detached himself from the gunman and ran to Sean and latched onto his leg.

Katie picked herself up and looked at Sean with some confusion.

“What the hell was that?” she asked, recovering from the effects of the flashbang and being hurled against the wall.

“Don’t mention it,” said Sean having just saved their lives.

“What if there had been four or five of them, how the hell did you know there was only one?!”

Sean suddenly realized what could have happened and just how reckless he had been. Jesus, what if there had been three or four, he thought. None of that, however, would calm the current situation.

“Heat sensor,” he said, lying through his teeth. Three heat sources, one small,” he said, pointing down at James. Then, pointing at Katie, “A medium one and a big fat dead one,” he pointed to the gunman.

Katie gave him a look that made it clear she’d believe him but wasn’t convinced. Jesus, she really could read him like a book.

“Any idea who he was?” asked Sean checking the gunman for id and finding none.

“He made me call you and said little else. I think he was going to kill you the second you showed your face though.”

“It’s got that effect,” he said but it obviously wasn’t a time for jokes. Katie frowned and removed James with some effort from Sean’s leg.

“So what now?” she asked, taking Sean into a small bedroom away from the body.

“I make a call and you cease to exist!”

Chapter 71

Vincent promised to make the call and place Katie and James within the Witness Protection Program. How he was going to achieve that was another matter. The wife and son of a drug dealer with nothing to offer in return for their expensive and lifelong protection were not the usual beneficiaries of the service. Vincent used every ounce of his charm and when that failed miserably, he offered to allocate funds in excess of the actual cost to the US Marshalls for doing him the favor.

An hour after Sean had arrived at the apartment, the full force of the US Marshall’s relocation and witness protection program rolled into action. Katie and James Fox were swept away and would, as far as the world outside the US government was concerned, no longer exist.

Sean watched the car drive off into the distance before walking back to the hospital to find a cab. The governor’s driver sat waiting and waved to Sean. He folded the newspaper and started the engine, as Sean walked towards him.

“What are you still doing here?” asked Sean quizzically, as he climbed into the car.

“Katherine told me to wait and bring you back,” he replied, selecting 'Drive’ and pulling away. “And trust me, what she wants I give her!” he said with a wide grin.

Sean gave the driver a look, the look that men know, the look that said, you are fucking kidding me. The driver was in his fifties overweight and had not been blessed with looks.

“Fuck no, man, but I can dream!” he laughed.

With a few minutes to spare, he called Vincent.

“Sorry I never asked, how are you feeling?” asked Sean.

“About a million times better than yesterday,” he replied, the strength had still not returned to his voice.

“You really should be taking it easy, V,” replied Sean. Vincent may have been a million times better than the day before but he was still a million times worse than he’d been the day before that.

“There’s too much to do, Sean,” replied Vincent.

“Let somebody else deal with Surkov!” he argued.

“I can’t Sean. There’s just not enough evidence to convince anyone, we’ve lived it, we know it’s real. Other than that, what do we have? Mike’s been retired since the cold war and to the boys on the Russian desk, he’s a dinosaur. Christ, half of them don’t even know who the KGB were they’re so fucking young now!’

“OK, OK but please, just try to take it easy. It would be good if you were still around when I got back from Moscow,” suggested Sean. “Look, I’m at the mansion, I need to go.”

Vincent replaced the receiver and stared at the handset.

“What’s wrong?” asked Jane, rushing over.

“The call I had with Justice this morning, they are serious. They are going to throw the book at Sean. I thought they might have calmed down overnight but not a chance. They have a team of prosecutors gearing up to hit him with everything and anything they can think of. They warned me to say goodbye to my boy, I’ll not be seeing him for a very long time.”

“But it wasn’t just Sean, I made the calls!” she said. “We should all be in trouble!”

“You’re a CIA employee, they wouldn’t dare. Same with Mike, he was being paid for his work”

“Say Sean was working for you!” she countered logically.

“He’s already told everyone he’s not a CIA employee,” replied Vincent, shaking his head.

“They’re going to charge him with smuggling on a national scale and for hooking up the cartel and the East coast suppliers!”

“You’ll think of something,” smiled Jane.

“Quote 'you can’t get him out of this V, drugs are the President’s big thing’ and that’s straight from the Attorney General, the childhood friend of the President! He’s about to risk his life for a country that wants to lock him up and throw away the key. That same country who protected the Senator that nearly got him killed!”

“Tell him not to go!” she said defiantly. “Fuck them all!”

Vincent stared at Jane in shock. In all the years he had known her, she had never once blasphemed, never mind use the F word.

“I can’t, it’s the same country I would give every last breath to protect!”

Chapter 72

Katherine led Sean through to the Governor’s study where the Governor sat, despondently staring into space.

“Good afternoon, Governor Brown,” said Sean, taking the seat next to him.

Katherine waited until Sean looked at her, took the hint and left.

“I’ll leave you to it,” she said, closing the door behind her.

Sean had a list of things he had been told not to discuss with the Governor. Specifically anything to do with Surkov and what they may or may not think he was up to, along with the Russian President. As they had been warned previously, relations with Russia were at an all time high. It was not the time for the next US President to storm into Russia and declare their president was hooked up with a lunatic of world ending proportion.

The man was broken. Nothing Sean said was going to change that. And nothing he said was going to get the Governor on a plane to Moscow any time in the near future. He stood up and patted the man on the back before joining Katherine in the hallway.

“Well?” she asked

Sean began to shake his head but stopped as he considered what he had been through the previous day. Five CIA agents had given their lives and all because of Dr Boris Surkov. For all they knew, it was Surkov who had had the Governor’s wife killed.

“Just give me another minute,” said Sean, before rejoining the Governor.

Katherine paced the hallway as Sean did whatever he was doing. After ten minutes, a cry came from the study. “Katherine!” had her rushing into the room.

She looked at the sofa where the governor had become a feature. He wasn’t there. She looked at his desk where the Governor stood, reviewing his diary.

“What time are we leaving?” he asked, all business.

“Five pm Sir, in just over three hours.”

“Anything in the diary for this afternoon?”

'No I cleared it,” replied Katherine.

Governor Brown looked over at Sean. “Well, I don’t see any reason to wait, let’s go now! It’s not like we’re flying commercial,” he announced.

As the Governor marched out of the room, Katherine looked across at Sean, hoping for some inkling as to how he pulled off the impossible.

Sean shrugged in response. It was bad enough he had spilled his guts for the Governor, he wasn’t about to do it for Katherine as well.

“Oh, and Katherine,” the Governor paused at the door. “Get the FBI to investigate Nicole’s death more fully. I want a full report on my return!”

“Of course, Sir!” replied Katherine, remaining as calm on the outside as her body would allow. Tricking the Austin police force with her killing was one thing, the FBI was another.

She immediately turned back to Sean who gave her a 'what can you do’ shrug, as he followed the Governor into the hallway.

Katherine went to the desk and picked up the phone. If she called the FBI, they wouldn’t rest until they found something. Her affair with Nicole might even be uncovered if they decided to look deep into Nicole’s life before her death. The local police had not done any of this, accepting, as expected, the tragedy at face value.

She hovered over the telephone, the FBI could destroy everything she had spent a lifetime preparing. Involving them now couldn’t be undone. But nobody would know but her, she realized. They were about to leave. The FBI wouldn’t arrive until after they had left in any event. And after Moscow, well none of it would matter, she thought. The White House and first lady remained the goal.

Chapter 73

Surkov received the update from Katherine and was, as ever, amazed at how she achieved the seemingly impossible. Not only was the Governor coming but he was coming early. Remarkable, just like her mother, he thought. He remembered her fondly, a beautiful child whose beauty had grown throughout her life. However, that had never been in question; her breeding and selection had been very specific. Katherine’s mother was pre-ordained to be the beauty she had become. The training thereafter allowed her to become the seductress that would best serve her country. Katherine was not her only child. While still within the confines of Grebnevo, she had given birth to another daughter, just as beautiful as Katherine but world’s apart in looks. Katherine’s sister looked more at home in Moscow. Her blonde pale skin and beauty had made her the pin up girl of the moment, Yolana, the First Lady of Russia could do no wrong.

Leaving her daughter Yolana in the hands of Surkov and his team, Katherine’s mother had embarked on her ultimate mission. The trip to Cuba secured the man that would help her defect. Their low-key and legitimate entry ensured the unborn Katherine would inherit an American passport and citizenship. In the land of the free, it meant nothing would stand in her way. Born just eight months after they first met, the dark haired beauty captivated everyone whose eyes fell on her, none more so than her father. The more he stared at her beauty, the more he wondered how he had created such a beautiful creature. Katherine’s mother would look at him staring and lived in fear that one day he would realize she wasn’t his. Inseminated before leaving Russia, there had never been any doubt just how potent a weapon Katherine would become.

In less than twenty-four hours, Surkov would secure the final piece in his jigsaw and the work he had commenced a lifetime earlier would enter a new and exciting phase. A phase that would create a world Surkov wanted to be part of, a world he had known only too briefly many years before.

Chapter 74

Jane fussed alongside Vincent all the way to the Director’s office. Had he not stopped and insisted she wait for him outside of the office, she would have followed him in.

“Remember if you even feel the slightest unwell, just give me a call and we’ll get the doctor here,” she whispered in his ear as she handed him his file.

“Ah Vincent, you made it!” chastised the director of CIA, Vincent’s boss.

“Yes Charles, sorry I’m late,” he offered taking a seat next to the other directorate heads.

After a perfunctory run through of previous meeting action points, they moved on to new business. Each ran though their current areas of concern and issues they believed needed to be brought to the group. Vincent considered, as it neared his turn, alerting them to, if Mike were correct, the greatest risk to democracy since, well, ever. However, as the Director of the Intelligence Division took the floor, all hell broke loose. Yet another disaster in the pass-off of intelligence from the CIA to Homeland and the FBI had resulted in a terrorist cell fleeing the country. The CIA Director adjourned the meeting and headed for the phone. He’d spend the next few hours in heated debates with the Head of the FBI, Homeland and would no doubt involve the President. If nothing else, to cover his ass.

Jane stood and rushed over as Vincent exited the office. He threw her a look of don’t even think about it, as she was going to offer him her arm for support. He handed her his file to cover her action.

“Any news?”

“Sean called, they’re about to board the flight!” she replied.

“How did he manage that?” asked Vincent.

“He said he charmed him!” said Jane with a smile, believing Sean could charm anyone. Sean in her eyes could do no wrong.

“Bullshit, he bloody well told him!” replied Vincent.

Jane looked at him as though he was being unfair.

Vincent nodded to the clock on the wall. “They weren’t scheduled to leave 'til five. They’re leaving two hours early! He’s definitely told him,” he explained.

“What’s next?” he asked.

“Rest and the doctor!” she replied firmly.

“I don’t think so!” he replied. “There is far too much happening!”

She left his side and walked back to the Director of the CIA’s PA, a good friend of hers. “Hi Shirley, can I have a quick minute with Charles, please?”

“Of course,” she began to check his diary and eyed Vincent carefully.

Vincent caught her eye and accepted her terms. She won. If he didn’t, she would be in telling Charles about his minor heart attack and would be out the office for at least a month on doctor’s orders. He didn’t have time to be sick.

“Oh, it’s OK Shirley, he’s busy, another time,” she said with a smile.

“Are you sure, Dear, I’ll get you in there!” she promised throwing Vincent a look of disgust.

Jane caught the look and suddenly realized Shirley must have thought she wanted to complain about Vincent’s behavior. Why else would she be wanting a meeting with Charles?

“Good God, no!” she laughed patting Shirley’s arm before catching up with Vincent and leading him back to the office.

“Sean’s on an eleven hour flight and you are going to sleep for each and every one of them,” she ordered. Closing the blinds in his office as the doctor checked his heart rate and blood pressure.

As the fussing stopped, he closed his eyes and was rewarded with the sound of his office door closing. Peace at last he thought. Eleven hours to work out how he was going to keep Sean from prison. A prospect that was dwindling. An email had arrived from the US Attorney’s office, detailing the name of the prosecutor who would be leading the case and requesting a time and date for Sean to be arrested on his return from Moscow. The speed with which they were moving was stunning and added credence to the warning he had received earlier, to say his goodbyes to Sean. All of this was, of course, academic. Unless he succeeded in Moscow.

Chapter 75

The Boeing 747–800 VIP was Governor Rick Brown’s latest toy. As a man with more money than sense, the aircraft was the ultimate gadget for the billionaire and Sean tried his best to keep his cool. It was a truly amazing piece of equipment and should, as everyone expected, the Governor win the election, totally surplus to requirements. Despite being newer and far more luxurious than Air Force One, it had none of the hi-tech defensive or command structure capabilities that made Air Force One unique.

Sean jokingly offered to look after it for the governor for the four or eight years he wouldn’t be needing it. The governor thanked him but pointed out that leasing it while not in use actually made him a tidy profit and by tidy, he meant a few million.

Money did beget money thought Sean, it really was true.

As they settled in for the flight, the Governor caught Sean’s eye and nodded towards his private study. As they made their way towards the door, Katherine stood up to join them.

“Do you mind, Katherine?” asked the Governor, guiding Sean in. “This is rather personal,” before shutting the door on his Chief of Staff.

Personal, thought Katherine as she retook her seat. She had a few hours and a night flight to get to know Sean a lot better. She’d find out soon enough what was being discussed. She sat back and relaxed.

“Sean please take a seat,” suggested the Governor, the friendliness in his tone had become slightly more business like.

He handed Sean a sheet of paper and waited for Sean to read through it.

The header was not one Sean was overly pleased to see.

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v’s MR SEAN FOX

Sean scrolled down the list of charges that had been leveled against him. Drug smuggling being possibly the only one he actually had any idea of the seriousness of.

“Quite a list!” said Sean.

“Indeed, is it true?” asked the Governor.

“Technically, yes!” replied Sean shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

“Jesus,” and I’ve taken you on this trip. “I’ll get crucified by the press!” The Governor had put his grief aside until after Moscow and as such was very much back in work mode and work mode at that time meant campaign mode.

“I can explain,” offered Sean.

“I’m tough on crime, especially drugs. It’s why they love me, Sean. I can’t help you with this!” he said shaking the sheets of charges.

“I’m not asking you to,” replied Sean indignantly which caught the Governor’s attention.

“OK, go, explain!” he suggested, taking a seat opposite Sean.

Governor Rick Brown stayed silent throughout, although his facial expressions gave away plenty. Sean detailed everything that had happened to him since arriving home.

As Sean stopped talking, the Governor remained speechless, not knowing what to say. Sean sat in anticipation before the Governor finally spoke.

“Holy shit, that is some explanation!” he offered shaking his head. “I’m not sure a jury in the land will believe it, mind you,” he added.

“But do you?” asked Sean.

“Yes!”

“Thank you,” replied Sean.

“Sean, they’re going to throw away the key!” he offered as a friend.

“We’ll see. What will, be will be.”

“And this Torres guy, the new boss, he still wants you dead?”

“Yep, I believe after they missed me in Mexico, he raised it to $30 million bucks. I don’t think I’m his favorite person,” smiled Sean.

“These guys come and go,” offered the Governor as some reassurance.

“This guy’s smarter than average. Trust me, he’s ensured that even when he’s dead they’ll still be hunting me down!”

“Sorry?”

“Escrow fund, pays on proof of my death!”

“Jesus, he is a smart cookie, so even you killing him doesn’t stop it!”

“Exactly, in fact killing him ensures it can’t be stopped! I think that’s one of the reasons the government’s so pissed. I’ve put this guy in charge and he is way smarter than them.”

“You’re remarkably calm for a man with one of the world’s most dangerous cartels after his head,” said the Governor.

“They have to be alive to collect and they’re going to get one hell of a fight from me. We’ll see how their resolve holds up after I’ve stopped a few!” replied Sean confidently, leaving the Governor in no doubt that he meant it.

The Governor got up. The chat was over. Sean got up and as he walked to the door, the Governor added. “Obviously, with all this, you can’t possibly accompany me to the Kremlin. We’ll get you a flight back when we land!”

Sean had the handle of the door in his hand as the Governor delivered the news. News that meant he’d get nowhere near Surkov nor be able to keep an eye on the Governor.

Sean released the handle and returned to the Governor’s desk.

“Do I just dial normally?” he asked as he picked up the phone.

The Governor nodded. Sean was, after all, a big powerful guy. If he wanted to use your phone, you’d let him.

Sean spoke first before handing the phone to the Governor. A heated conversation ensued before he thrust the handset towards Sean and stormed out of the room.

“Vincent, are you still there?” asked Sean.

“Yes, he doesn’t like not getting his way,” he said with a laugh.

“So what’s happening?”

“You’re back on. I told him if he refused I’d inform the Russians your plane had been hijacked and was going to be used as a weapon against the Kremlin!”

“Bit extreme?”

“So’s worry about fucking votes with Surkov around!” exclaimed Vincent.

“You realize when we land, the threat’s gone?!”

“Don’t worry about that. I also suggested I’d release details of a sordid affair to the papers!”

“Jesus,V, is that why he stormed out!” realized Sean.

“Partly, it was when I mentioned it would be with a guy that he lost it!”

“He’s going to be the next President!” reminded Sean.

“And if we’re right, it’s a presidency he would never want to win!”

Chapter 76

Thanks to Vincent’s foray into team building, the remainder of the flight was uneventful. The Governor went to his room and didn’t surface until the captain announced they were twenty minutes from landing. Sean similarly crashed out. Having slept little, he fell into a deep and all consuming sleep. He had imagined a tap tap tapping at his door at some point during the night but it wasn’t until he received an exceedingly cold reception from Katherine that he realized it hadn’t been a dream. He had missed out on, he admired the view, something truly exceptional. He dropped hints about how deeply he can sleep when he is in safe areas but she wasn’t biting, a woman scorned.

As the wheels touched down, Sean took up his position next to the Governor. A position he would remain for the next twenty-four hours.

“Sean!” said the Governor.

“Governor,” replied Sean.

“Would he really have done it?” he asked.

Sean didn’t know whether he was referring to the terrorist threat or the affair. “Definitely!” replied Sean. Vincent would have done both in a heartbeat.

“Jesus, he’s some guy,” replied the Governor, shaking his head.

“To have on your side!” defended Sean.

The Governor considered Sean’s point and smiled. He clapped Sean on the back. “Let’s do it!” he said exiting the plane to a sea of photographers.

Katherine breathed in the Moscow air as she exited at the back of the entourage. After all these years, her motherland. She wanted to bend down and kiss the tarmac but smiled warmly just in case any of the paparazzi caught her. She had an image to portray and as much as her heart leapt, she had to remain calm and lady like.

Sean had instructed the other bodyguards to fan out. He alone remained next to the Governor. If anything were to happen, he didn’t want anyone getting in his way; particularly guys he didn’t know. The drivers took a circuitous route to the Kremlin; obviously the impressive route, as each building outshone the previous before they finally reached the Kremlin.

Katherine sat and soaked in the images that her mother had described to her as she grew up. It was everything and more that she had promised. Katherine was home, her real home. Her part meant she would never get to know her home. Her sacrifice to her homeland was never knowing her homeland. As Katherine’s breath was caught by the beauty and splendor of the Kremlin, she almost asked herself if it was worth it.

“Have you been before?” asked Sean, as Katherine’s face lit up.

Katherine was too engrossed in the view and didn’t hear Sean.

The Governor, nudged her, “Sean’s asking if you’ve been before!” he repeated.

“No but…” she caught herself. “I’ve read about it, it’s beautiful.”

Sean thought he was getting the serious silent treatment when she hadn’t answered but the twinkle in her eye as she answered him, suggested she hadn’t heard him and more importantly there was still a chance, thought Sean.

“What about you, Governor?”

“Never, I’m really looking forward to meeting President Gagarin as well. I’m a bit of a techy and space geek.”

“I’d never have guessed,” replied Sean hiding his sarcasm. He’d just stepped off the ultimate gadget!

As the cars pulled into the Ritz Carlton’s entrance, the entourage and their baggage filled the entranceway.

“You staying for the month?” asked Sean looking at the number of items in Katherine’s bundle as he walked the Governor to his suite.

“One never knows what to wear!” she joked.

Sean checked the suite and allowed the Governor to enter; it was stunning and just a little smaller than the plane thought Sean, but not by much. Five minutes later, with her bags safely in her room, Katherine joined them to run through the final itinerary. Room Service delivered a lunch Katherine had ordered and the three sat blankly as the Russian-speaking waiter tried to explain what each course was.

“I had the same problem ordering,” laughed Katherine. “I’ve no idea what anything is!”

Whatever she had ordered went down very well and, as the three sat back for coffee, Katherine felt a slight vibration in her bag. She excused herself and headed back to her room where she removed the telecoms device and called Dr Surkov back.

“Katherine, my dear,” said Surkov, struggling to hide his excitement.

“Dr Surkov, I cannot believe I am finally here,” Katherine was just as excited. “I just wish my mother could have shared it with me.”

As much as Surkov loved Katherine’s mother, he was not a man who indulged in sentiment.

“You are scheduled to arrive at 6.30 and we’ve arranged a private meeting for the Governor at 6.45 with President Gagarin in the State Drawing room. Thereafter, both men will walk to the George Hall and make a grand entrance. If you can be by the Governor’s side, it will make for excellent photos for the press. My two girls Yolana and Katherine side by side with the two most powerful men in the world.”

“God, I hadn’t even thought, I will meet my sister tonight!” exclaimed Katherine, giggling.

“Anything else we may have overlooked?” asked Surkov. Giggling wasn’t his thing.

“Sean Fox,” replied Katherine sourly. She wouldn’t forgive the man for the previous evening.

“We’ll deal with him when it is convenient, before the banquet will cause problems, after is much easier.”

“He is stuck to the Governor’s side,” she warned.

“Not during the private one to one?” asked Surkov questioningly.

“Of course not,” she answered but was less than convinced. She wasn’t sure Sean would let the Governor go in a toilet cubicle on his own. That, however, was Katherine’s job. She just had to make sure the Governor was left to have the meeting in private.

“Good, and you brought the clothes?” asked Surkov.

“Yes, dropped off as requested.”

“Excellent, we will make history tonight, or should I say we will start history tonight!” said Surkov proudly and hung up.

Chapter 77

They pulled up outside the Grand Kremlin palace at 6.29pm and again were met by a sea of photographers. Governor Rick Brown, the future US President, was going to be the biggest news story of the year. His attendance, despite the loss of his wife, was going to have the press and pundits around the world debating appropriateness. However, one thing was agreed, it certainly proved without a shadow of a doubt that the man was strong enough to lead the free world.

Sean was the only one of the Governor’s armed bodyguards allowed within the palace walls and as such guided the Governor quickly through the mob.

As Katherine stepped into the light and allowed the Governor and Sean the first proper look at her in her gown, both gasped. “Wow, stunning!”

“Thank you,” she smiled.

Sean looked at the palace. “Oh sorry, I meant the palace, but you’re lookin OK!” he said looking at her more closely and laughing.

As they walked up the steps and into the palace itself, a line of security scanners were checking everybody that entered. Sean stepped up to one, withdrew his weapon and placed it in the small tray along with his cell and other metal items. He showed his permit and VISA and stepped through the scanner. On the other side he reached down and discovered his pistol had been removed. The Governor looked on from an adjacent scanner and shrugged.

“Sorry, I’ve got a permit for that!” said Sean pointing to his gun been taken to the security room.

“Not inside!” replied the guard, drawing a line at the door.

Sean nodded, realizing he wasn’t allowed the weapon inside the palace building. On looking at the decor, he could hardly argue; it was breathtaking and a bullet hole would probably costs millions to repair. He decided, if nobody else had one, he wouldn’t need one. If worst came to the worst, he’d find something. He caught up with the Governor and Katherine and checked the time, ten minutes before the Governor was due to meet the President. Katherine had her arm around the Governor.

“How are you feeling?” asked Sean, jovially joining the pair.

“Sad, Nicole would have loved this,” replied the Governor as a wave of grief hit him. He had just been sharing with Katherine how much Nicole had loved architecture and had been looking forward to the trip.

Katherine gave Sean a look that could kill and led the distraught Governor towards the restrooms.

Sean followed a few paces behind and considered explaining that he had actually been referring to the fact that the Governor was about to meet Yuri Gagarin’s son and President of Russia but thought better of it.

Yolana Gagarin was beside herself with excitement. It wasn’t just that she would be meeting her sister. She would get to know about her mother. A mother she had heard so much about but new nothing of. Katherine, although ripped from her motherland, was never taken from her mother. Yolana had the motherland but never a mother.

Surkov entered the state drawing room from the adjoining state bedroom. The two rooms were stunning in their grandeur and would have been the Czar’s personal rooms for any state occasion held within the Palace. He could not think of a more fitting venue as he checked every last detail. Alexey sat statesmen like in a large sofa by a roaring fire, while Yolana sat on the arm of the sofa by his side.

“When he comes in, Yolana you greet him and introduce him to Alexey and then take Katherine out to show her the palace. When you come back, we will be done and the four of you will walk majestically into the George hall and our lives will never be the same again!”

Receiving nods from them both, he walked back to the state bedroom and waited. Five minutes to go.

Sean waited as Katherine escorted the Governor into the restrooms to freshen him up before the meeting. Sean had pretty much caused a full-blown melt down with his insensitivity or whatever Katherine had accused him of.

It really was a stunning place, he thought, as he waited. The restrooms were at the corner of the building and Sean had a view down two long corridors, one back the way they had come and the other down towards another large hall from what Sean could make out.

It was only as he looked off down the corridor that he realized he hadn’t even secured the restroom before the Governor and Katherine had entered. He really had relaxed and far too much. As he turned to enter the restroom, he caught sight of a head appearing from a door further down the hallway. Sean checked back to the restrooms’ door. It couldn’t have been but it wasn’t that far; the restrooms must have another door. As he pushed to go in, a gruff voice stopped him.

“That’s for ladies and men with no pee pees!” laughed the large and overbearing soldier. Sean guessed he was a soldier because he was wearing a uniform with lots of medals on it and had a ceremonial sword swinging from his belt.

“Just going to check on someone,” said Sean.

“Ah American,” he said, offering Sean his hand. “General Yuri Borodin.”

“Sean Fox,” replied Sean taking the hand which had seemed to stop mid shake and remain awkwardly motionless.

Borodin’s smile dropped just for an instant but was back as he recovered his composure. Although the reaction was quickly covered up, Sean knew that Borodin was familiar with his name. Too familiar.

Before Sean could ask, the Governor reappeared, refreshed and once again looking presidential with Katherine at his side. He tapped his watch. It was time for the meeting.

“Oh General, do you know where the drawing room is?”

“Of course, second door down on the right,” replied Borodin, raising his eyebrow at the Governor and Katherine’s exit from the Ladies restroom. The door he had pointed to was the one beyond where Sean thought he had seen the Governor.

Sean led Katherine and the Governor down to the door as directed by the General and knocked. The door opened to reveal a stunning woman, blonde and perfect in every way. Sean bowed and stepped aside to allow Katherine who, Sean noted had a tear in her eye, to enter first. The Governor followed behind. Sean managed to see the room was otherwise empty.

“I’ll just wait down here,” said Sean, pointing to a row of chairs that lined the corridor a few yards further down.

“Of course,” replied the Governor.

Yolana Gagarin shut the door, Sean just hearing her explain how Alexey had just nipped to the restroom before the solid wood door drowned out any further conversation.

As Sean made his way to the chairs, a young waitress ran past as fast as she could, holding herself, and disappeared into the Ladies at the far end of the corridor. She reappeared, only a minute later, and walked gracefully back towards him, as though nothing had happened. She walked past the first door and then the second door.

Sean thought back to what he had seen earlier. The head coming out of the door nearer him. If that were the Ladies, the waitress would have taken the first door, it was a good 15 yards closer to her. Even if she hadn’t, she would have used it on her way out. Sean stood up and walked towards the first door and without knocking, turned the handle and pushed it open.

Alexey Gagarin rushed through the state bedroom, almost knocking Dr Surkov over as he ran desperately into the en-suite bathroom. He had been like this most of the day, public speaking had never been his thing and he was due to deliver one of his most important speeches, to the biggest audience he had ever addressed.

As he emerged from the bathroom, he noticed the bedroom door to the hallway open. He turned to see who would be coming through the door. He immediately turned to Dr Surkov, who was also staring at the door along with Rick.

“Oh my God, Sean, where have you been?” said Rick rushing towards Sean.

Alexey, seeing Rick’s reaction did the same and rushed past Surkov. “Jesus, Sean, how the hell are you?!”

“Alexey, Rick, stop!” commanded Surkov.

As the door opened, Sean recognized two of the three men in the room. The Governor was talking to an old man. While the president of Russia, a man he recognized from TV, was exiting the bathroom pulling up his zipper.

As they had heard him open the door, they had all turned to see who was coming in. Initially, silence filled the air before the Governor and the Russian president began rushing to him. There was one major problem, however, that required a significant amount of explanation.

They were all speaking to him in what sounded like Russian! And he had never met President Gagarin but he had just said Sean’s name and was rushing to him like a long lost brother.

As the old guy shouted something to Alexey and Rick, he pulled out a pistol and pointed it at Sean and motioned for him to take a seat.

Chapter 78

Vincent couldn’t get the thought of Sean and his imminent incarceration out of his mind. He had called just about every Senator and Congressman that had owed him a favor, which was not an insignificant number, but the message was the same every time. There was nothing they could do. The US Attorney was on the warpath and Sean was in his sights; all had been warned to stay well clear.

Vincent buried his head in his hands. He had reached the end of his call list. Sean, it seemed, was destined for prison and certain death. The $30 million bounty offered by the Los Zetas was going to ensure Sean did not last long, wherever he was incarcerated. That concern had also fallen on deaf ears. The government, once it got its guilty verdict, would not afford Sean any special dispensation.

“The Director’s secretary just called, they’re waiting for you,” buzzed Jane, interrupting Vincent’s thoughts.

Vincent stood up and despondently grabbed his jacket and headed to the daily briefing and no doubt another jibe at his being late from Charles, his boss, the Director of the CIA.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t the case. Vincent joined another heated discussion, which appeared to be a continuation from the previous day’s disaster. All hell had broken out with each agency blaming the other for the mess. From what Vincent could work out, it seemed that a terrorist cell had been identified by the CIA. The CIA had asked the NSA to track all calls and they had then passed back information, which ultimately led the CIA to uncovering a domestic terrorist base in Chicago. The CIA has passed the information to Homeland who had liaised with the FBI and local agencies. From there, everything had fallen apart with various agencies fighting for ownership and initiating surveillance, which ultimately spooked the terrorists and none had been seen for days. They had literally disappeared into the wind.

As the meeting was drawing to a close, a phone call was put through. An extremely pissed off President was put on speakerphone.

“Mr President, you are on speaker with my team,” offered Charles, alerting the President to the other attendees.

“Team of what?” asked the President sarcastically. He was not a happy man.

“Sorry, Sir?” asked Charles surprised.

“I’ve just had Homeland and the FBI in here telling me about the screw up in Chicago, six fucking terrorists escaped under our noses!”

Charles shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He didn’t expect his counterparts to sink so low as to try and blame him for their screw up.

“Mr President, we did everything we could, Sir. We passed on the intelligence as soon as it fell outside of our jurisdiction!”

“I don’t fucking care whose fault it was, Charles,” shouted the President. “You guys cost me billions, fucking countless billions and you can’t catch the guys with their fucking home addresses! We can catch Bin Laden in fucking darkest Pakistan but we can’t catch six guys in fucking Chicago??!!!”

“But we can’t operate on US soil!” argued Vincent, he was fed up with the injustice.

“That’s all I get! We can’t do this, we can’t do that! I’m fed up with it! FBI and Homeland will be contacting you. And don’t worry, I tore them new assholes as well. I want to start hearing what we can do, not what we fucking can’t do! This shit stops now!”

“Of course, Mr President!” replied Charles to a dead line. Charles turned to his team for ideas.

“He’ll be gone in 6 months!” offered the Head of the Intelligence Division. Everybody knew the President had no hope against Governor Brown at the upcoming election

“And so will all of us. He’s ruthless. When he tells you to figure it out, you figure it out or you’re gone!” replied Charles sternly.

“But we can’t operate on US soil, even if we wanted to!” said Vincent. “I’ve got the best operatives in the world, they piss all over what we have domestically but we’re restricted by statute!” argued Vincent, defending his team.

“I know, I know,” replied Charles. He knew there was nothing they had done wrong but unfortunately Homeland and the FBI would be finding anything they could to redirect the blame. “Anyway, to find a solution, we need to look at the process as a whole, so let’s go through exactly what happened,” suggested Charles, handing over to his Head of Intelligence Division

Vincent sat back and listened as the Head of the Intelligence Division detailed the process and paperwork involved in passing information across to other agencies on an ongoing investigation. The list of procedures and checklists was endless. He actually wondered how they ever managed to achieve anything with such a ridiculous amount of bureaucracy and red tape.

After over two hours of discussion and analysis, they came to the conclusion that there was little they could have done differently. The problem wasn’t at their end. The FBI and Homeland had dropped the ball; it was their asses on the line and not the CIA’s. It was their procedure and their ass covering that had alerted the terrorists. Problem solved. At least for everyone at the CIA perhaps but Vincent was thinking of someone outside of the CIA. A thought that might just make save a number of people’s jobs.

As the group stood up to leave, Vincent stayed seated. “Charles, would you mind if I just run something past you?”

“Of course,” replied Charles, herding the others out the room.

Vincent waited until the door closed behind his colleagues and he and Charles were alone.

“What if we had an operative planted so deep domestically that he didn’t even know he was there himself?” he began.

Chapter 79

Yolana excused herself as she heard the raised voices from the adjoining state bedroom. The Governor and Katherine nodded, before Katherine asked, “Is there a restroom in there?”

“Of course,” said Yolana. “Come with me!”

Katherine joined her sister and walked into the state bedroom and found Sean surrounded and Surkov covering him with a gun.

“Don’t panic Katherine,” said Sean, as Katherine entered the bizarre scene, “I’ll get us out of this, somehow.”

Katherine laughed and began talking to the others in Russian, a language she had pretended earlier she didn’t speak. Sean was beginning to think he was losing his mind.

When Yolana seemingly introduced Katherine to the Governor, it took on an even more bizarre twist as they kissed on each cheek and looked at each other as though they had never met before and began conversing rapidly in Russian.

“Will somebody tell me what the fuck is going on here?” said Sean cutting across all of the Russians talking.

Dr Surkov held up his hand to silence everybody.

“You are a very lucky man, Sean Fox. You are witnessing the take over of the world’s two super powers!”

“Sorry?”