The Kill List
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In Virginia, there is an agency bearing the bland name of Technical Operations Support Activity, or TOSA. Its one mission is to track, find, and kill those so dangerous to the United States that they are on a short document known as the Kill List. TOSA actually exists. So does the Kill List.
Added to it is a new name: a terrorist of frightening effectiveness called the Preacher, who radicalizes young Muslims abroad to carry out assassinations. Unfortunately for him, one of the kills is a retired Marine general, whose son is TOSA’s top hunter of men.
He has spent the last six years at his job. He knows nothing about his target’s name, face, or location. He realizes his search will take him to places where few could survive. But the Preacher has made it personal now. The hunt is on.
The battle of Shah-i-Kot started badly and then went downhill. Major Kit Carson of the US Marines, attached to the SAD, should have been on his way home when his unit was summoned to help out.
He had already been at Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban prisoners revolted and the Uzbeks and Tajiks of the Northern Alliance mowed them down. He had seen fellow SAD Johnny ‘Mike’ Spann caught by the Talib and beaten to death. From the far side of the vast compound, he had watched the British Special Boat Service men rescue Spann’s partner Dave Tyson from a similar fate.
Then came the storming surge south to overrun the old Soviet airbase at Bagram and take Kabul. He had missed the fighting in the Tora Bora massif when the Americans’ paid-for (but not enough) Afghan warlord had betrayed them and let Osama bin Laden and his entourage of guards slip over the border into Pakistan.
Then in late February word came from Afghan sources that there were still a few diehards hanging on in the valley of Shah-i-Kot, up in Paktia province. Once again, the intel was rubbish. There was not a handful; there were hundreds of them.
The defeated Taliban, being Afghans, had somewhere to go; their native villages. They could slip away and disappear. But the Al Qaeda fighters were Arabs, Uzbeks and, fiercest of all, Chechens. They spoke no Pashto, the ordinary Afghans hated them; they could only surrender or die fighting. Almost all chose the second.
The American command responded to the tip with a small-scale project called Operation Anaconda and it went to the Navy SEALs. Three huge Chinooks full of SEALs took off for the valley, which was thought to be empty.
Coming in to land, the leading helicopter was nose up, tail down, with its ramp doors open, a few feet off the ground, when the hidden Al Qaedists opened up. One rocket- propelled grenade was so close it went straight through the fuselage without exploding. It did not have enough time in the air to arm itself. So it went in one side, missed everyone and went out the other, leaving two windy holes.
What did the damage was the raking burst of machine-gun fire from the nest among the snowy rocks. It also managed to miss everyone inside, but it wrecked the controls as it ripped through the flight deck. With a few minutes of genius flying, the pilot hauled the dying Chinook aloft and nursed it for three miles until he could crash-land it on safer ground. The other two behind him followed.
But one SEAL, Chief Petty Officer Neil Roberts, who had unhitched his tether line, slipped on a patch of hydraulic fluid and slithered out the back. He landed unhurt in a mass of Al Qaeda. SEALs never leave a mate, dead or alive, on the field. Having landed, they came storming back for CPO Roberts. As they did so, they called for help. The battle of Shah-i-Kot had begun. It lasted four days. It took the lives of Neil Roberts and six other Americans.
Three units were near enough to respond to the call. A troop of British SBS came from one direction and the SAD unit from another. The largest group to come to help was a battalion from the 75th Ranger Regiment.
The weather was freezing, way below zero. Flurries of driven snow stung the eyes. How the Arabs had survived the winter up there was anyone’s guess. But they had and they were prepared to die to the last man. They took no prisoners and did not expect to be taken. According to witnesses later, they came out of crevices in the rocks, unseen caves and hidden machine gun nests.
Any veteran will confirm that battles quickly descend into chaos and Shah-i-Kot was faster than most. Units became separated from the main body and individuals from the unit. Kit Carson found himself alone with the ice and driven snow.
He saw another American – the head-dress, helmet against turban, gave the identity away – about forty yards distant, also alone. A robed figure came out of the ground and fired an RPG at the camouflaged soldier. This time the grenade did go off. It did not hit the American, but exploded at his feet and Carson watched him fall.
He took out the rocketeer with his carbine. Two more appeared and charged him, screaming Allahu Akhbar. He dropped them both, the second one barely six feet from the end of his barrel. The American, when he reached him, was alive but in a bad way. A white-hot shard from the rocket casing had sliced into his left ankle, virtually severing it. The foot in its combat boot was hanging by a sinew, tendon and some tendrils of flesh. The bone was gone. The man was in the first no-pain stunned shock that precedes the agony.
The smocks of both men were crusted with snow but Carson could make out the flash of a Ranger. He tried to raise someone on his radio, but met only static. Easing off the wounded man’s backpack, he pulled out the first aid wallet and shoved the entire dose of morphine into the exposed calf.
The Ranger began to feel the pain and his teeth gritted. Then the morphine hit him and he slumped semi-conscious. Carson knew they were both going to die if they stayed there. Visibility was twenty yard between gusts. He could see no one. Heaving the injured Ranger on his back in a fireman’s lift, he began to march.
He was walking over the worst terrain on earth; football-sized smooth boulders under a foot of snow, every one a leg-breaker. He was carrying his own 180 pounds, plus his 60- pound pack. Plus another 180 pounds of Ranger – he had left the Ranger’s pack behind. Plus carbine, grenades, ammunition and water.
Later, he had no idea how far he slogged out of that lethal valley. At one point the morphine in the Ranger lost effect, so he lowered the man and pumped in his own supply. After an age, he heard the whump-whump of an engine. With fingers that had ceased to feel anything, he pulled out his maroon flare, tore it open with his teeth and held it high, pointing it at the noise.
The crew of the Casevac Blackhawk told him later the flare went so near the cabin they thought they were being shot at. Then they looked down, and in a lull saw two snowmen beneath them, one slumped, the other waving. It was too dangerous to settle. The Blackhawk hovered two feet off the snow as two corpsmen with a gurney strapped the injured Ranger down and pulled him aboard. His companion used his last strength to climb aboard, then passed out.
The Blackhawk took them to Kandahar, now a huge U.S. air base, then still a work in progress. But it had a basic hospital. The Ranger was taken away to triage and intensive care. Kit Carson presumed he would never see him again. The next day the Ranger, horizontal and sedated, was on a long-haul to USAF Ramstein, Germany, where the base hospital is world-class.
As it happened, the Ranger, who was Lt-Col Dale Curtis, lost his left foot. There was simply no way it could be saved. After a neat amputation, little more than completing the job the grenade had started, he was left with a stump, a prosthetic, a limp, a walking cane and the prospect of a looming end to his career as a Ranger. When he was fit to travel, he was flown home to Walter Reed Hospital outside Washington for post-combat therapy and the fitting of the artificial foot.
Major Kit Carson did not see him again for years. The CIA chief at Kandahar sought orders from higher up, and Carson was flown to Dubai, where the Agency has a huge presence. He was the first eyewitness out of the Shah-i-Kot and there was a lengthy de- briefing with a gallery of senior “brass.” They included Marine, Navy and CIA interrogators.
At the officers’ club, he met a man of similar age to himself, a Navy commander on a posting to Dubai, which also has a US naval base. They had dinner. The commander revealed he was from NCIS, the Naval Criminal Investigation Service.
‘Why not transfer to us when you get home?’ he asked.
‘A policeman?’ said Carson. ‘I don’t think so. But thanks.’
‘We’re bigger than you think,’ said the commander. ‘It’s not just sailors overstaying shore leave. I’m talking major crime, tracking down criminals who have stolen millions, ten major navy bases in Arabic-speaking locations. It would be a challenge.”
It was that word which convinced Carson. The Marines come within the ambit of the U.S. Navy. He would only be moving within the larger service. On his return to the U.S. he presumed he would be back to analyzing Arabic material in No. 2 Building at Langley. He applied for NCIS and they snatched him.
It got him out of the CIA and halfway back to the embrace of the Corps. It secured a posting to Portsmouth, Newport News, Virginia, where its large Navy hospital quickly found a position for Susan to join him.
Portsmouth also enabled him to pay frequent visits to his mother, who was in therapy for the breast cancer that took her life three years later. Finally, when his father General Carson retired the same year that he became a widower, he could be close to him as well. The general withdrew to a retirement village outside Virginia Beach, where he could play his beloved golf and attend veterans’ evenings with other Marines retired along that stretch of coast.
Carson spent four years with NCIS and was credited with tracking down and bringing to justice ten major runaways with crimes to answer for. In 2006, he secured his transfer back to the Marine Corps with the rank of Lt. Colonel and was posted to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. It was while motoring across Virginia to join him that Susan, his wife, was killed by a drunk driver who lost control and rammed her head on.
The third assassination in a month was that of a senior police officer in Orlando, Florida. He was leaving his home on a bright spring morning when he was stabbed through the heart from behind as he stooped to open his car door. Even dying, he drew his sidearm and fired twice, killing his assailant instantly.
The ensuing inquiry identified the young killer as of Somali birth, also a refugee granted asylum on compassionate grounds and working with the city sanitation department.
Fellow workers testified that he had changed over a two-month period, becoming withdrawn and remote, surly and critical of the American lifestyle. He had ended up being ostracized by the crew on his garbage truck as he had become so difficult to get on with. They put his mood change down to homesickness for his native land.
It was not. It was caused, as the raid on his lodgings revealed, by a conversion to ultra-jihadism, deriving, so it seemed, from his obsession with a series of online sermons that his landlady heard coming from his room. A full report went to the Orlando FBI bureau and thence to the Hoover Building.
Here the story had ceased to cause surprise. The same tale, of conversion in privacy after many hours listening to the online sermons of a Mideast preacher speaking impeccable English and an unpredictable, out-of-nowhere murder of a local notable citizen, had been reported five times in the U.S. and, to the Bureau’s knowledge, twice in the United Kingdom.
Checks had already been made with the CIA, the Counter Terrorism Center and the Department of Homeland Security. Every US agency even remotely dealing with Islamist terrorism had been informed and had logged the file; but none could respond with helpful intelligence. Who was this man? Where did he come from? Where did he record his broadcasts? He was only tagged as “The Preacher” and began to climb the lists of HVTs – the high-value targets.
The U.S. has a diaspora of well over a million Muslims, either first generation via their parents from the Middle East and Central Asia, and that was a huge pool of potential converts to the Preacher’s ultra-harsh Jihadist sermons and their relentless call for converts to strike just one single blow against the Great Satan before joining Allah in eternal bliss.
Eventually, the Preacher came to be discussed at the Tuesday morning briefings in the Oval Office and he went onto the “kill list.”
People cope with grief in different ways. For some, only wailing hysteria will prove sincerity. For others a quiet collapse into weeping helplessness in public is the response. But there are those who take their hurt away to a private place, like an animal his injury.
They grieve alone, unless there is another relative or companion to hold close, and share their tears with the wall. Kit Carson visited his father at his retirement home, but his posting was at Lejeune and he could not stay long.
Alone in his empty house on base, he threw himself into his work and drove his body to the limit with lonely cross-country runs and sessions of gymnasium work-out until the physical pain blunted the inner hurt, until even the base medical officer told him to ease up.
He was one of the founder thinkers of the Combat Hunter Program, whereby Marines would go on a course to teach them tracking and man-hunting techniques in wilderness, rural and urban environments. The theme was: never become the hunted, always stay the hunter. But while he was at Portsmouth and Lejeune, great events were taking place.
9/11 had triggered a sea-change in the American armed forces and governmental attitudes to any even remotely conceivable possible threat to the U.S. National alertness inched its way towards paranoia. The result was an explosive enlargement of the world of “intelligence.” The original sixteen intel gathering agencies of the U.S. ballooned to over a thousand.
By 2012, accurate estimates put the number of Americans with top secret clearance at 850,000. Over 1200 government organizations and 2000 private companies were working on top secret projects related to counter-terrorism and homeland security at over 10,000 locations across the country.
The aim back in 2001 was that never again would the basic intel agencies refuse to share what they had with each other and thus let nineteen fanatics bent on mass slaughter slip through the cracks. But the outcome a decade later, at a cost that broke the economy, was much the same as the situation of 2001. The sheer size and complexity of the self- defense machine created some 50,000 top secret reports a year, far too many for anyone to read, let alone understand, analyze, synthesize or collate. So they were just filed.
The most fundamental increase was in Joint Special Ops Command, or J-SOC. This body had existed for years before 9/11, but as a low-profile and principally defensive structure. Two men would convert it into the largest, most aggressive and most lethal private army in the world.
The word “private” is justified because it is the personal instrument of the President and of no other. It can conduct covert war without seeking any sanction from Congress; its multi-billion-dollar budget is acquired without ever disturbing the Appropriations Committee and it can kill you without ruffling the even tenor of the Attorney General’s office. It is all top secret.
The first transformer of J-SOC was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. This ruthless Washington insider was resentful of the power and privileges of the CIA. Under its charter, the “Agency” needed to be answerable only to the President, not Congress. With its SAD units, it could conduct covert and lethal operations abroad on the Director’s say- so. That was power, real power, and Secretary Rumsfeld was determined to have it. But the Pentagon is very much subject to Congress and its limitless capacity for interference.
Rumsfeld needed a weapon outside Congressional oversight if he was ever to rival George Tenet, Director of the CIA. A completely transformed J-SOC became that weapon.
With the agreement of President George W. Bush, J-SOC expanded and expanded, in size, budget and powers. It absorbed all the Special Forces of the state. They included Team Six of the SEALS (who would later kill Osama bin Laden) the DELTA Force or D-Boys drawn from the Green Berets, the 75th Ranger Regiment, the Air Force’s Special Ops. Aviation Regiment (the Night Stalkers, long-range helicopters) and others. It also gobbled up TOSA.
In the summer of 2003, while Iraq was still blazing from end to end and few were looking elsewhere, two things happened that completed the re-invention of J-SOC. A new commander was appointed in the form of General Stanley McChrystal. If anyone thought J-SOC would continue to play a largely domestic in-homeland role, that was the end of that. And in September 2003, Secretary Rumsfeld secured the President’s agreement and signed the EXORD.
The Executive Order was an eighty-page document, and within its pages, buried deep, was something like a huge Presidential Finding, the highest decree in America, but without specific terms. The EXORD virtually said: do what you want.
About that time, a limping Ranger Colonel named Dale Curtis was finishing his one-year post-injury, paid sabbatical and convalescence. He had mastered the prosthetic on his left stump with such skill that the limp was virtually undetectable. But the 75th Ranger Regiment was not for men on prosthetics. His career appeared over.
But like the SEALs, a Ranger does not leave another Ranger in the lurch. General McChrystal was also a Ranger, from the 75th, and he heard of Col. Curtis. He had just taken command of the entire J-SOC and that included TOSA, whose commander was retiring. The post of Commanding Officer did not have to a a field-action posting. It could be a desk job. It was a very short meeting and Col. Curtis jumped at the chance.
There is an old saying in the covert world that if you want to keep something secret, do not try to hide it, because some reptile from the press will sniff it out. Give it a harmless name and a thoroughly boring job-description. TOSA stands for Technical Operations Support Activity.
Not even “Agency” or “Administration” or “Authority.” A support activity could mean changing the light bulbs or eliminating tiresome Third World politicians. In this case it is more likely to mean the second.
TOSA existed long before 9/11. It hunted down, among others, the Colombian cocaine lord Pablo Escobar. That is what it does. It is the manhunter arm called upon when everyone else is baffled. It has only 250 staff and lives in a compound in northern Virginia disguised as a toxic chemical research facility. No one visits.
To keep it even more secret, it keeps changing its name. It has been simply “The Activity” but also Grantor Shadow, Centra Spike, Torn Victor, Cemetery Wind and Gray Fox. The last title was liked enough to be retained only as the code name of the commander. On his appointment, Col. Dale Curtis vanished and became Gray Fox. Later it became Intelligence Support Activity but when the word “Intelligence” began to attract attention it changed again – to TOSA.
Gray Fox had held his post for six years when, in 2009, his chief manhunter retired, took a headful of really top secrets and went off to a log cabin in Montana to hunt steelhead trout. Col. Curtiss could only hunt from behind a desk, but a computer and every access code in the U.S. defense machine is quite a headstart. After a week, a face came up on the screen that jolted him. Lt. Col. Christopher ‘Kit’ Carson – the man who had carried him out of the Shah-i-Kot.
He checked the career list. Combat soldier, scholar, Arabist, linguist, manhunter. He reached for his desk phone.
Kit Carson did not want to leave the Corps for the second time, but for the second time the argument was fought and won above his head.
A week later, he walked into the office of Gray Fox in the low-rise office block in the center of a wood in northern Virginia. He noted the man who limped as he walked to greet him, the cane propped in the corner, the 75th Ranger tabs.
‘Remember me?’ said the Colonel. Kit Carson thought back to the freezing winds, the boulders beneath the combat boots, the gut-tearing weight on his back, the let-me-die- here-and-now exhaustion.
‘Been a long time,’ he said.
‘I know you don’t want to leave the Corps,’ said Gray Fox, ‘but I need you. By the bye, inside this building we use only first names. For the rest, Lt-Col Carson has ceased to exist. For the entire world outside this complex, you are simply The Tracker.’
Over the years the Tracker was alone or instrumental in tracing half a dozen of his country’s most wanted enemies. Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistani Taliban, despatched by a drone strike in a farmhouse, South Waziristan, 2009; Abu al-Yazid, Al Qaeda founder, financier of 9/11, taken out by another drone strike in Pakistan 2010.
It was he, with others, who first identified Al Kuwaiti as Bin Laden’s personal emissary. Spy drones tracked his last long drive across Pakistan until, amazingly he turned not towards the mountains but the other way, to identify a compound in Abbottabad.
There was the Yemeni/American Anwar al-Awlaki who preached online in English. He was found because he invited fellow American Samir Khan, editor of the Jihadist magazine Inspire, to join him in northern Yemen. And Al-Quso, traced to his home in south Yemen. Another drone launched a Hellfire missile through the bedroom window as he slept.
The buds were coming on the trees this April when Gray Fox came in with a Presidential Finding brought from the Oval Office by courier that morning.
‘Another online orator, Tracker. But weird. No name, no face. Totally elusive. He’s all yours. Anything you want, just ask for it. The PF covers every requirement.’ He limped out.
There was a file, but it was slim. The man had gone on air with his first online sermon two years earlier, shortly after the first cyber-preacher had died with five companions by the side of a track in North Yemen, September 2nd, 2011. While Awlaki, who had been born and raised in New Mexico, had a distinct American accent, the Preacher sounded more British.
Two language laboratories had had a go at trying to trace the voice to a point of origin. There is one at Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters of the vast National Security Agency. These are the listeners who can pluck any snatch of conversation by cellphone, landline, faxed letter, email or radio out of space anywhere in the world. But they also do translations from a thousand languages and dialects, and code-breaking.
The other belongs to the Army, at Fort Huachuka, Arizona. They had both come up with much the same. The nearest guess was a Pakistani born into a cultured and educated family. There were clipped word endings in the Preacher’s tone that smacked of the colonial British. But there was a problem.
Unlike Awlaki, who spoke bare-faced, staring into the camera, the newcomer never revealed his face. He wore a traditional Arab shamagh, but pulled the trailing end up across the face and tucked it in at the other side. Only the blazing eyes could be seen. The fabric, said the file, might distort the voice, making derivation even more of a guess. The computer codenamed Echelon, the identifier of accents worldwide, refused to be categoric on a source of that voice.
Tracker issued the usual all-stations, all-services appeal for even a sliver of information. This appeal would go to twenty overseas intelligence services involved in the fight against Jihadism. Starting with the British. Especially the Brits. They once ran Pakistan and still had good contacts there. Their Secret Intelligence Service was big in Islamabad and hand-in-glove with the even bigger CIA machine. They would all get his message.
His second move was to summon up the entire library of the Preacher’s online sermons on the Jihadi website. There would be hours and hours of listening to the sermons the Preacher had been pumping into cyberspace for nearly two years.
The Preacher’s message was simple, which could have been why it was so successful in achieving radical conversions to the cause of his own ultra-Jihadism. To be a good Muslim, he told the camera, one had to truly and deeply love Allah, may his name be praised, and His prophet Mohammed, may he rest in peace. Mere words alone were not enough. The True Believer would feel an impulse to turn his love into action.
That action could only be to punish those who made war on Allah and his people, the worldwide Muslim umma. And chief among these were the Great Satan, the U.S. and the Little Satan, the United Kingdom. Punishment for what they had done and were daily doing was their decreed portion, and bringing that punishment a divine charge.
The Preacher called upon his viewers and listeners to avoid confiding in others, even those who professed to think alike. For even at the mosque there would be traitors prepared to denounce the True Believer for the kuffars (unbeliever’s) gold.
So the True Believer should convert to True Islam in the privacy of his own mind and confide in no one. He should pray alone and listen only to the Preacher who would show the True Way. That way would involve each convert striking one blow against the infidel.
He warned against the devising of complicated plots involving many strange chemicals and many accomplices, for someone would notice the buying or storing of the components of a bomb, or one of the conspirators would betray. The prisons of the Infidel were peopled by Brothers who had been overheard, watched, spied upon or betrayed by those they thought they could trust.
The message of the Preacher was as simple as it was deadly. Each True Believer should identify one notable kuffar in the society in which he found himself and send him to hell, while he himself, blessed by Allah, would die fulfilled in the certain knowledge that he was going to paradise eternal.
It was an extension of Awlaki’s “Just do it” philosophy, but better put, more persuasive. His recipe for ultra-simplicity made it easier to decide and act in isolation. And it was clear from the rising number of out-of-nowhere killings in both target countries that even if his message resounded with only a fraction of one percent of young Muslims, that was still an army of thousands.
The Tracker checked for responses from every U.S. agency and their British equivalents, but no one had ever heard reference to any Preacher in the Muslim lands. The title had been given him by the West, for lack of anything else to call him. But clearly he had come from somewhere, lived somewhere, broadcast from somewhere, and had a name.
The answers, he came to believe, were in cyberspace. But there were computer experts of near-genius level up at Fort Meade who had been defeated. Whoever was sending the sermons out into cyberspace was keeping them untraceable and untrackable by causing them to appear to emanate from origin after origin, but then to whizz round and round the world, settling on a hundred possible source locations – but all of them false.
The Tracker refused to bring anyone, however security-cleared, to his hideaway in the forest. The secrecy fetish that motivated the entire unit had gotten to him. He also disliked going to other offices within the Washington sprawl if he could avoid it. He preferred to be seen only by the person he wanted to talk to. He knew he was getting a reputation for being unconventional, but he preferred roadhouses. Faceless and anonymous, both cafeteria and customers. He met the cyber ace from Fort Meade at such a roadhouse on the Baltimore road.
Both men sat and stirred their undrinkable coffee. They knew each other from previous investigations. The man the Tracker sat with was reputed to be the best computer detective in the National Security Agency, which is no small reputation.
‘So why can’t you find him?’ asked the Tracker.
The man from the NSA scowled at his coffee and shook his head as the waitress hovered expectantly, carafe poised for a refill. She drifted away. Anyone glancing into the booth would have seen two middle-aged men, one fit and muscled, the other with the pallor of offices without windows and running to fat.
‘Because he’s freaking clever,’ he said at last. He hated to be eluded.
‘Tell me,’ said the Tracker. ‘Layman’s language if you can.’
‘He probably records his sermons on a digital camcorder or laptop PC. Nothing weird about that. He transmits on a website called Hejira. That was the flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina.’
The Tracker kept a straight face. He did not need explanations about Islam.
‘Can you trace Hejira?’
‘No need. It’s just a vehicle. He bought it from an obscure little company in Delhi which is now out of business. When he has a new sermon to transmit worldwide, he sends it on Hejira but he keeps the exact geo-location secret by causing it to emanate from origin after origin, whizzing round and round the world, bouncing it off a hundred other computers whose owners are certainly completely ignorant of the role they are playing. Eventually, the sermon could have come from anywhere.’
‘How does he prevent tracing back down the line of diversions?’
‘By creating a proxy server to create a false internet protocol. The IP is like your home address with postcode. Then into the proxy server he has introduced a malware or botnet to bounce his sermon all over the world.’
The man from the NSA sighed. He spent his entire life talking cyber-jargon with colleagues who knew exactly what he was talking about.
‘Malware. Mal as in bad or evil. A virus. Bot, short for robot, something that does your bidding without asking questions or revealing who it is working for.’
The Tracker thought it over.
‘So the mighty NSA is really defeated?’
The government’s computer ace was not flattered, but he nodded.
‘We will, of course, keep trying.’
‘There’s a clock ticking. I may have to try some place else.’
‘Be my guest.’
‘Let me ask this. Control your natural chagrin. Just supposing you were the Preacher. Who would you absolutely not want on your tail? Who would worry the crap out of you?’
‘Someone better than me.’
‘Is there any such someone?’
The NSA man sighed.
‘Probably. Somewhere out there. I would guess from the new generation. Sooner or later, the veterans are overtaken by some beardless kid in every walk of life.’
‘Do you know any beardless kids? Any specific beardless kid?’
‘Look, I’ve never even met him. But I heard at a recent seminar and trade fair of a youngster right here in Virginia. My informant said he was not at the trade fair because he lives with his parents and never leaves their home. Never, not ever. He’s peculiar. In this world he’s a bundle of nerves, hardly talks. But he flies like a fighter ace when he enters his own world.’
‘You have a name? Even an address?’
‘I figured you might ask.’ He took a slip of paper from a pocket and passed it over. Then he rose. ‘Don’t blame me if he’s no use. It was only a rumor, in-trade gossip among us weirdos.’
When he had gone, the Tracker settled for the muffins and coffee and left. In the parking lot he glanced at the paper. Roger Kendrick. And an address in Centerville, Virginia, one of the myriad small satellite towns that had sprung up in the past two decades and then exploded with commuters since 9/11.
All trackers, all detectives, whatever and wherever the hunt, whoever the quarry, need one break. Just one. Kit Carson was going to be lucky. He was going to get two.
One would come from a strange teenage boy too frightened to leave the attic bedroom of his parents’ backstreet house in Centerville, Virginia; and the other from an old Afghan peasant whose rheumatism was forcing him to lay down his rifle and come in from the mountains.
“Forsyth has always been a no-nonsense writer, eschewing flashy prose in favor of documentary realism, incorporating real-world elements into his stories. No one writes them quite like Forsyth, and this more than meets his usual high standards.”—Booklist
“[Forsyth] powers his plot with a clean efficiency, providing an absorbing account of the clockwork moves and split-second decisions required to close in on and dispatch the enemy. Strong descriptions of the settings add to the book's appeal.”—Kirkus
Praise for Frederick Forsyth
“There are writers in the intelligence genre who make a point of knowing something about their subject matter before sitting down to write. The king of the pack is Frederick Forsyth.” —The Washington Times
“Forsyth’s ability to create a believable character achieving unbelievable things is enthralling.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Forsyth [has a] flair for realistic thriller scenarios.”—Entertainment Weekly