“James Phelan has produced a big, juicy, rollicking tale in the spirit of Robert Ludlum. We haven’t seen an international thriller like this for a long time. Let’s hope Lachlan Fox is planning on getting into more trouble in the near future!” Jeffery Deaver
Who is Lachlan Fox? Graduate of ADFA. Ex-Navy Clearance Diver. Served in Iraq, East Timor and Afghanistan. International investigative journalist. The right man for the wrong place.
Oil prices are rocketing. Terror attacks have destabilised the global economy. The White House believes the Nigerian oil fields are the key to safeguarding America’s future … but someone else sees them as an opportunity to increase their own power.
Travelling from New York to Nigeria, investigative journalist and ex-navy operative Lachlan Fox is hunting the story. He’s seen combat action before, but this time it’s personal. Wrestling with demons that push him right to the edge and leave him exposed like never before, will Fox uncover the truth in time? Or will his quest for revenge see him go too far?
James’s other Lachlan Fox thrillers include FOX HUNT, LIQUID GOLD, PATRIOT ACT and RED ICE.
Book 3 in the Fox series now includes a bonus sample of James Phelan’s new action thriller, The Spy, featuring Jed Walker.
Praise for The Spy:
‘Jed Walker is right there in Reacher’s rear-view mirror.’ Lee Child
READ BELOW FOR A SAMPLE…
Extraordinary Rendition: a term used by US intelligence and military personnel in reference to the abduction, transporting and detention of enemy combatants for interrogation purposes.
It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood.
OUTSKIRTS OF RABAT, MOROCCO, NINE MONTHS AGO
‘No, Daddy, don’t go!’ It’s this one line – four simple words spoken by his six-year-old daughter – that he hears now. It places him back in his home, in Paddington. He could still smell the dinner of roasted lamb that lingered in the air. The air that carried the sounds of central London going to sleep outside, hushed as if aware that his daughter was now past her bedtime, yet she always had that uncanny knack of knowing when he had to leave the house – often at any hour, at any time. Being an investigative journalist was like that, particularly for one who specialised in the Middle East.
Michael Rollins tried hard to keep the image of his family in his mind’s eye. His wife’s smile. The taste of her lipstick. That goodbye. Even the look that came when she noticed he had packed a Kevlar vest in his carry-all. Especially that look. It showed in every line of concern on her face, formed a map of her love for him. The contours of the life they had created. He looked back, from inside the black cab, and waved a final goodbye.
There are tears in his eyes now and the image blurs. It dissolves. Dissolves into a blinding white light. He wants to cry out but he can’t. Wants to cry but he won’t.
He strains to replay this memory.
The sounds that had come in through the open front door bounce around him. His daughter shuffling down the stairs. She is caught up in the arms of her mother on the landing. Each scene holds for no more than a second. The house. The door. The cab. Their faces. They both look at him – this was the goodbye. This is the image that is held in his mind. Burned into his memory. Forever. Was that forever? Or five seconds? It’s – what? It’s gone. Wait, how long was that? Where is it – where did it go? Come back. Come back. Come back . . .
He’s there again, at home. His back was to the door. He felt a presence there behind him. His wife. He turned – his wife? No. There was nothing to see. He looked for his wife and daughter – they had not moved. They were right there, just inside his home. But he cannot move. He looks down to his feet but can’t see them. Everything around him begins to spin out of focus. He sees his family through a tunnel of blurred vision. They’re disappearing. Who will look after them? He wills himself to go to them and feels that if he can just make it back through the door . . . Go through it again, make a different choice. Don’t leave.
He can’t even turn around now. Can’t move at all.
His last moments of time are caught in the eyes of the two women in his life. Then it’s all . . . it’s all gone
Gone . . . ‘My daughter…my wife…’
‘Good, Michael.’ The interrogator spoke close to him. If Michael could feel, he’d feel the man’s breath as he spoke. If he could smell, he’d smell coffee. ‘Your daughter, your wife. Do you want to see them again? Do you want to hold them?’
‘My daughter…my wife…’
‘That’s right,’ the interrogator said.
‘My daughter . . .’
The CIA man nodded to his counterpart. They left the small concrete room with the man shackled to a steel chair. The xenon lights in the ceiling came ablaze, the room as indistin- guishable as anywhere could be. This could be the surface of the Sun or the Moon or Mars. Anywhere unreal, unearthly. The sounds started up again. It might be music but it’s too loud to tell.
Michael Rollins had worn a surgical mask, a black hood, orange overalls, shackles. Just the overalls and shackles remained now. He had moved but did not know how. He never felt the tranquilliser that entered his back four days ago. The plane flight strapped to a chair, the cabin chatter, all a blur, not even worthy of a memory. He just moved where herded, not the way a man moved but the way an eighty-kilo mass shifted from one position to another. His ears were ringing and his eyes saw spots of colour among the black and white. He remembered that his mouth was dry. It was dry. A memory. It was…
He’d been shackled to a metal chair, in this room, white on white. Blinding. He tries to close his eyes and wonders why he can’t. They’re taped open. So simple. But he cannot compre- hend that. Why think about reasons.
A smell lingers. The last thing he could make out as a smell. It’s gone – it’s there again. Familiar. Piss? He could smell his own piss and then taste the acrid air. Taste!
It’s through this and the dullest sense of pain from his crushed hands that he knows he is still alive.
He clings tight to these senses. Breathes them in, the short, shallow breaths of an asthmatic. Moves his hands so that they continue to crack and bleed at the puffy, broken joints. He almost laughs at the distant feeling – then it stops. It all stops.
It stops. It is gone. Gone. He is not sure if he still moves his hands, if his nostrils flare to take in the smells. He is trying to feel, isn’t he? Taste? How do you smell? It’s all gone now.
Tears stream down his face, although he doesn’t know it.
How? This final question is gone with as much alacrity as everything else. How? How? How . . .
Rollins gives out a croak, a long, soft, guttural cry that fades to a shimmering whisper. It is a defeated sound, a sign that he has just lost the last of what he had.
Michael Rollins is broken.
AFGHANISTAN, SIX MONTHS AGO
If it wasn’t for the loaded pistol pressed hard against his head, Lachlan Fox might have enjoyed this morning. He was kneeling in the loose gravel of an airstrip in Afghanistan. A vast open pasture surrounded him, as far as the eye could see, to rugged mountains and rocky outcrops topped with snow. Nothing but blues and greys. Lonely. The sun was just starting to rise. Cold mist hung over the whole valley. Clouds crept down the mountains like slow-moving fingers. There was something ethereal in the vastness of this place that made Fox feel as though he were a pilgrim kneeling in the cathedral. A slight breeze blew through wild poppy fields that rolled to the west, all reds, yellows and oranges moving like a sea. A nice place to be, until an insurgent held him at gunpoint.
‘More money, five million,’ the armed man said, holding out a satellite phone for Fox to place the call on. The guy, Afghani or Uzbek by his accent, was entrepreneurial enough to know an opportunity to make money when he saw one. He’d seen the million dollars in used US bills, the shiny new Gulfstream G650 private jet parked on the side of the airstrip, and decided that he could make more money out of this transaction.
Fox took the offered satellite phone.
‘Al,’ Fox said. ‘What’s the number again?’ To his left, also on his knees, was his friend Alister Gammaldi.
The two journalists were unarmed, as were the two pilots in the Gulfstream. Another insurgent, this one armed with an AK-47, covered the pilots, both of whom had their hands pressed up against the inside of the windscreen.
‘Ah, let’s see,’ Gammaldi said. ‘It’s – no, wait for it –’
‘The number!’ The insurgent cracked the pistol against the side of Gammaldi’s head as if it would rattle the information out. ‘Make the call! Five million dollars, US, or you all die here today!’
‘All right,’ Gammaldi said, getting his balance back. He looked up at the man. ‘I remember now. It’s one-eight-hundred, kiss – my – ass.’
Fox could sense the man moving the pistol to Gammaldi again and then heard what sounded like a loud, heavy-handed slap. The left side of Gammaldi’s face was covered with blood and gore. The insurgent fell to the ground between Fox and Gammaldi, half his head blown away.
By the Gulfstream, the gunman hadn’t seen what had happened to his comrade when he succumbed to the same fate. The pilots cringed as the man’s head seemed to vaporise.
Fox was to his feet and looked towards the two remaining insurgents. The one in the open, armed with an Uzi, stared uncomprehendingly at his fallen comrades. The other, behind the wheel of the old Land Cruiser, was panicked. Fox heard the engine start up and he pointed at the driver – a second later, just as the vehicle began to move, the windscreen shattered and was painted on the inside with blood.
The last man dropped his Uzi, turned and ran from the scene – he didn’t make it more than five paces.
The hum of the car engine was the only sound for miles as Fox helped Gammaldi to his feet.
‘Well, that was the second most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen,’ Gammaldi said, dusting himself down and wiping off the collateral gore that had resulted from being close to a high- calibre head shot. ‘Did she have to do that?’
Some six hundred metres away to the west, a woman emerged from the cover of the poppies, a silenced Accuracy International sniper’s rifle in her hands. A man with a spotting scope followed her towards the airstrip. Both wore the camouflage uniforms of US military.
Fox opened the rear door of the idling Land Cruiser and helped a man out. Dressed in faded orange overalls, hands tied in front of him, Michael Rollins emerged from the car wide- eyed. Fox untied his hands and the Englishman embraced him.
‘Lachlan – thank you,’ Rollins managed to say. There were tears in his eyes and he started to weep. ‘How long have I been . . .’
‘Three months,’ Fox said. ‘Come on, we’re taking you home, to your family.’
He led Rollins slowly towards the Gulfstream. GLOBAL SYNDICATE OF REPORTERS was stencilled down the fuselage. Fox and Gammaldi helped the weak Rollins up the stairs and the jet engines started up. The two GSR security members were the last aboard. Rollins shook their hands, shaky but smiling, as introductions were made.
‘Thank you, Alister, thank you, Emma, thank you, Richard,’ Rollins said. Exhausted, he settled back into a chair and drank from a bottle of water.
As the passengers strapped in, the aircraft turned and took off at full thrust.
‘What the hell happened last week?’ Fox asked Rollins.
The Englishman shook his head, summoning back the memories. He wiped a hand over his beard and through his hair. ‘They broke us out,’ he said, pointing back at those at the airfield. ‘Attacked the camp. Killed a couple of CIA guys, put us in a truck. Later that night I convinced them I was worth more alive.’
‘So you told them to call us?’ Fox asked. ‘It was your idea to do a cash trade?’
‘Yes,’ Rollins said. He peered out the window at the countryside that grew smaller below them.
Fox looked out the window too and they all settled into post-adrenaline sombreness. A squadron of coalition fighter jets soared off to the edge of the sky, only their slipstreams visible.
Rollins said quietly, almost to himself, ‘Sometimes, it’s hard to know who you can trust.’
PORT HARCOURT, NIGERIA, PRESENT DAY
Pre-dawn in the oil strip. Clouds began to be lit from below and behind, shades of grey gilded in the reds that preceded the sun’s first rays. Birdlife from the delta chorused their morning song. The two-million-plus population were awakening.
In the white Ford courier van Musa Onouarah was on his way to make sure the entire city heard his wake-up call. The van rode low on its axles, a thousand kilos of ANFO explo- sives in the load area. Battle-scarred hands steered the vehicle through the checkpoints. He waved to the soldiers who stood sentry behind Jersey barriers; they nodded and motioned him on as if he were their boss. Today, at least, he was.
He drove up to the main Western oil company building. A big blue glass structure that reflected the sky, twenty storeys high. Shiny steel mullions held the glass curtain that wrapped around a steel and concrete frame. It was dark within – too early for most staff. Only a handful of fluorescent office lights were on. Too late for anyone who happened to be in there.
Onouarah parked at the front entrance, shut the diesel engine off and set the handbrake. He looked out at the street – a small sedan motored by. A couple of white men jogged through the grassed park opposite. Onouarah snapped the key off in the ignition, got out the door, locked it by hand and shut it again.
He walked back down the road, went across the street, stood behind the glass-fronted corner of a convenience store. He scanned the oil building and its surrounds – all the CCTV brackets were empty.
In his hand, a radio control. A small black plastic box, two buttons and an antenna. He braced himself, just clear of the shop window, and pressed the detonator.
Half a second later the van was a fireball, its sheet-metal rupturing and being swallowed by the exploding mass. Flames ate at each other as it grew and grew, the destruction radiating. The thunderclap that rang off the buildings in the neighbour- hood was deafening. Windows absorbed the shockwave and shattered, showering the street with glass.
The shop-front laminated glass that Onouarah was behind cobwebbed but held. He went around the corner to see what was left of the building. The entire facade, gone. The concrete floors, crumbling. Pieces of rock and dust and paper and glass and insulation filled the air.
A gas main erupted in a secondary explosion, blowing him flat on his ass as it snaked under the road and sent manhole covers clear into the sky. The steel discs flew like coins at a toss, landing half a foot into solid pavement and road.
His work done, Onouarah got up, dusted himself off, and left the scene of the crime.