“James Phelan is one of the hottest thriller writers to arrive on the scene in years. His hero, Lachlan Fox, is just the kind of gritty man the world needs in a time of crisis.” Vince Flynn
Investigative journalist and ex-navy operative Lachlan Fox is holidaying with friends in the French countryside, ready for a well-deserved break. But when the extradition of an infamous criminal goes horribly wrong, and is somehow tied to the assassination of a Russian diplomat in Paris, Fox is forced back into action. Over one relentless day, Fox travels from Paris to Shanghai to unravel a 100-year mystery. With a price on his head, navigating between the FBI, the CIA and the French police, who can he trust? Racing against time, Fox is the one man who can stand in the way of a global catastrophe.
James’s other Lachlan Fox thrillers include FOX HUNT, BLOOD OIL, PATRIOT ACT and LIQUID GOLD.
Note: This is the 5th in the Fox series but you can read them out of order. 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…
In 1867 the United States and Russia signed a treaty. The signatories were William H Seward, US Secretary of State, and Eduard de Stoeckl, Russian Ambassador to the United States. The document contained the phrase: ‘His Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias agrees to cede to the United States, by this convention, immediately upon the exchange of the ratifications thereof, all the territory and dominion now possessed by his said Majesty on the continent of America and in the adjacent islands.’ The US copy is available for viewing at the Library of Congress.
Many international treaties have amendments, some of them secret. A famous example of this is the 1939 Treaty of Non- Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union, also known as the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, which had a secret amendment attached about how the two countries would divide up postwar Europe. In 1992, the document itself was declassified only after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. These treaty amendments are known as Secret Protocols.
It was his silence she could not stand. She heard him enter the house, pause for a moment in the adjoining dining room and then head straight for the drinks cabinet. When she’d first met him he’d gone through a bottle a day, sometimes more. After they were married, she’d got him down to just two or three measures and in ten years he’d gone from a mid-level foreign policy adviser in the Kremlin to ambassadorial postings in Portugal, Denmark and now France. If only he could understand the sound of her silent fury.
Katya was used to him not speaking, but today his silence made her angry. He was late, again. Important business. Important slut more like it. Silence. The bottle of Alsace riesling next to her was empty. She drained the last of her glass and wiped away a tear. It had taken this final straw in their relationship for her to understand how he must have felt to be stressed into drinking, lost to the numbing sensation that came with wanting to shut reality away.
He’d changed so much since they’d moved to this posting in Paris – she wondered if his mistress had noticed it, too. She thought she’d even seen her once, a lithe North African woman no more than twenty-five, as slim as she had been when they’d first met. That was years ago, when she’d had dreams and ambition and hunger, when she’d had the strength and belief to right this man. She’d dropped everything for him – and now this? Well, she had found someone else, too. It was the French way, oui, darling? And soon she would . . .
She heard the clink of bottles as he refilled his glass. Pig.
Even before the end of their first year here she’d been desperate to leave, but he’d always make her some promise so she’d stay. Then last month he’d started talking about going home, that there was big news he would soon share. News that would set him up in the party. They’d be made for life, he’d said. She suspected she knew this ‘news’ – she’d taken that old diplomatic diary to him in the first place; the diary that had started what would be the search for . . . What? She rubbed her temples, trying not to think so much about how he turned everything around to make himself the hero. He was such a clichéd part of the modern Kremlin machine in that way, spinning every lie into a convenient truth.
She heard him place the glass on the antique dining table. She figured he’d reek of that slut. It was everything she could do not to get up off the couch and slap him across the face – that was the French way too, non, darling?
He was going to Shanghai this weekend to meet with the Russian leadership. That was new. His tickets were on his study desk upstairs, first class on Swiss Airlines, paid for out of their personal account – strange, because it was the first flight not covered by the state and they’d never flown first class, either on the state or out of their own pocket.
He didn’t tell her when he’d be back, just said, When Putin is ready to send me back. He’d stopped telling her all the details, stopped talking about the great new life they’d have. She knew why. He was going to offer it to his mistress instead. The life that he’d always promised her. No. It was not going to happen this way, not if she could help it. She’d seen a lawyer, taken steps to ensure she’d win. Her payday would come; she deserved it. Her hands wrung into tight fists and it was all she could do not to get up off the sofa and scream at him. She thought of a happier time.
She’d met with her lover this morning, spoken to him again about leaving his wife. He was close to doing it . . . But maybe she’d appeared too desperate. She’d told him about the diary, and how it might help set them free. She looked at her Nokia on the table in front of her – she wanted to hear from him now, his deep French accent telling her everything would be all right. His calming voice reassuring her he’d be there for her no matter what happened when her husband went to the safe and discovered the diary was gone.
She could feel him now, moving towards her, but she didn’t care. No matter what her drunk husband said or did, there was a man a few neighbourhoods away in this very city who loved her, truly loved her.
Today, she’d sent him that old diary from the safe, and he had promised to follow her instructions about giving it to a third party, someone her husband could not possibly know about, a safekeeper to buy them the time to follow their love.
Her eyes flicked to the American cop drama on the television, its story so violent yet so prudish. In the reflection of the display cabinet she could see his shape, sensed him staring at her.
Did he know? About her rendezvous today? She’d often wondered if he had someone from his staff follow her, but she was always careful, changing trains and taxis and routes. She had a pre-paid SIM-card she used in her phone to call her lover and – and it was still in her mobile now! She looked at it sitting on the table, realising she’d been willing it to ring all day and night and now it was still there and he was home and it would probably ring. She felt a drop of sweat roll down her temple to her neck, a tear of panic. How to do this?
The television show cut to a commercial break. She leaned forwards, put her wine glass on the table and picked up the phone, knocking her glasses to the floor.
She unlocked the keypad and held down the off button.
The television flicked to a scene with emergency lights flashing in a rainy street and she almost thought it was the cop show again, but when she squinted she could make out that the news tickertape was in French and bodies were being taken out to waiting ambulances . . .
It was a familiar street-scape; the footage was coming from outside the Russian Embassy. She picked her glasses up off the floor and put them on.
Her mouth opened to speak – she was about to turn her head to her husband – when she saw him on the television screen. He was being wheeled out to an ambulance – the blanket covering him had come loose from his face and the reporter on the scene said:
‘It’s confirmed: the Russian Ambassador has been killed in an explosion at the embassy, two others are missing in the blast . . . ’The screen went blank. She felt the bile well up in the back of her throat. Her back and face were sweating.
The man in the house – the man standing behind her now with the remote in his hand, the man who she could see in the reflection of the television cabinet – was not her husband.
Tyres screeched as the car swerved around him with a double blast of the horn and some familiar French swear words thrown from the open window for good measure.
‘Welcome to Paris . . .’ Fox said to himself, waiting for another car to zap by before crossing the cobbled street.
Lachlan Fox felt like a marked man, having already escaped death at the hands of lunatic drivers three, maybe four, times before the sun had come up today. If the Parisians had such weapons as the hatchback automobile when the Nazis were invading, they never would have needed bailing out by the Allies.
Early morning in Paris, a city that thrived on visitors’ enjoyment of its splendour, was proving more work than he’d imagined. It’d be easy to lay all blame on the maniac French drivers, but Fox knew that his rubbernecking at the scenery hadn’t helped. He’d let his guard down; having served as a special forces soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan and a frontline reporter on the War on Terror, he’d thought being a tourist should be easy.
At the next intersection he was stopped by a couple of uniformed cops who asked for his ID. He handed over his passport.
‘Ah, Australian,’ the shorter of the cops said, checking Fox’s passport was in order. ‘You ride kangaroos?’
‘Funny,’ Fox said. ‘You play with frogs?’
The cop looked to his partner, neither of them much appreciating the comeback.
Fox wasn’t surprised by the visible police presence since he’d arrived in the country. There had been an explosion at the Russian Embassy just a few days before, perhaps an accident in the gas main, but possibly terrorists – definitely terrorists, if you read the right-leaning news commentators who were calling for a crackdown on immigrants. Perhaps these cops took Fox’s unkempt dark hair, deep tan and three-day stubble for something more sinister than an Australian tourist wandering alone in the breaking dawn. Fox was used to arousing the interest of security types – he couldn’t remember the last time he hadn’t been stopped and screened for explosives at a commercial airport. He knew he had that ‘don’t fuck with me’ air, that gait of military training, eyes that reflected all too well some of what he’d seen and done in his thirty-three years, and a physique and stance that showed he could handle himself. Why hide it?
‘What is your business in France?’ the cop asked him. ‘Holiday,’ Fox said.
‘Are you asking me out?’
The cop wasn’t amused. He gave Fox’s passport to the younger, taller cop.
‘What are you doing out so early?’
‘Where are you staying?’
‘A friend’s house, out of town,’ Fox said. ‘Giverny.’
‘Long way from here.’
‘My friend drove me in,’ Fox said.
‘Where is this friend?’
‘Where is this work?’
‘He’s a reporter at Le Figaro.’
‘His name?’ the cop asked.
Fox told him. Told him how he’d walked from Renard’s office on Boulevard Haussmann, down the Avenue de l’Opéra with its romantic nineteenth-century streetlamps. How a beautiful woman had jogged past, smiled at him, how he’d waved in reply – and a garbage truck rushed by in front of him. Look left, he’d reminded himself again as he crossed another street. Despite a couple of years living in New York as an investigative reporter specialising in covering the world’s flashpoints – rarely home, always somewhere overseas and dangerous – he was still used to a lifetime of vehicles driving on the left-hand side of the road. He gave the cop details and remained friendly.
The young French officer listened to him and watched, his right hand rested on his hip close to a holstered SIG Pro 2022, while his partner radioed in to check Fox’s details were bona fide.
‘Okay, we’ll see,’ the young cop said.
‘Welcome to Paris,’ Fox said again, this time under his breath.
‘Sorry?’ The policeman looked at Fox, hand still resting on the holstered pistol.
‘I said: I sure love Paris,’ Fox replied. Fucking French. When did they get guns?
A couple of minutes later Fox was handed back his passport. ‘You are Lachlan Fox!’ the short cop said. His previous sour expression had vanished, a cherubic grin in its place. He passed his mobile phone to his partner and pulled Fox in to have their photo taken. The younger cop was staring at them curiously and Fox looked down at the smiling Frenchman with his arm around his shoulder; a man who stank of stale coffee and garlic and cheap deodorant beamed up at him.
‘This man, hero!’ he said to his young partner, still in English for Fox’s sake. ‘Reporter – arrested Russian gangster Babich, yes? I read your stories!’
Fox nodded, and the other cop shrugged, motioned them to stand a little to the left for a better framed shot and snapped the picture.
‘Thank you!’ Fox’s new fan said, shaking his hand and then saluting.
Fox watched them walk off – the fan cop talking animatedly, trying to explain the situation to his buddy. They looked back, and waved. A bit further down the street he saw them stop a young Maghreb guy making him sit on the ground and empty his bag while they checked his papers.
Fox shook his head and continued on. Paris.
An inordinate number of buildings in this neighbourhood were masked by scaffolding. His journalist friend Renard had explained on the drive into town that morning the Parisian law requiring buildings to be cleaned every ten years. Tourism, Fox surmised, walking through the world’s most visited city, had made Paris into a romantic museum. He watched a sandblasting unit set up their crane, shifting their canvas canopy to protect passers-by from falling debris; the buildings to one side were a grimy brown with soot-coloured streaks, to the other side, creamy façades with glints of mica. They certainly looked after what they had around here. There was something soothing about watching a job being done that showed tangible results and it reminded him of his naively placed idealism when joining the military at eighteen.
Most Parisians were still asleep as he reached the Seine, stood on the Pont Royal and watched the sun rise over the roof of the Louvre. This was a place that never ended, it seemed, the city of light as eternal as the river flowing beneath him. He followed the Right Bank crossing at the Pont de la Concorde, and was almost run over as a double-decker tourist bus flashed past, a giant La Perla advert on the back with a woman in lingerie blowing him a kiss over her shoulder. Ah, Paris . . .
Ten minutes later Fox sat behind the wheel of a dark silver VW Golf. He had the window down and the summer breeze rolling in – but since he’d exited the rental agency at Invalides Metro station he’d felt uneasy driving. Small cars hurtled by as if at the hands of stunt drivers and his eyes were constantly shifting from the road to his mirrors, scanning for street signs as he weaved his way from the Seine.
He reached across for his iPhone as it bleeped. The screen showed a cheesy picture of his mate, Al Gammaldi. They’d been friends since high school, through the Defence Academy, and to this day Gammaldi continued tagging along on Fox’s adventures without ever really being asked. Well, maybe he’d had to twist his arm once or twice.
‘Where are you?’ Gammaldi asked, his voice gravelly from their late night together.
‘Paris,’ Fox said, using the speakerphone. ‘Just picked up a hire car. You just wake up, lazy arse?’
‘I don’t even know if I’ve slept yet,’ Gammaldi replied. ‘When did you guys leave?’
‘Early,’ Fox said. It was dark when he’d left his friends behind at Renard’s farmhouse in Giverny. Renard had dropped him off in town before heading down to Dijon to chase a lead. He would be back in a few days, but he’d been good enough to let Fox have the run of the farmhouse for as long as he wanted. He’d stay at least until they wrapped their story together.
‘God, that Renard can drink,’ Gammaldi said. ‘I’m amazed he could drive this morning – he wouldn’t want to be pulled over and breathalysed.’
‘Yeah, well,’ Fox said, ‘I’m thinking that maybe they don’t have road rules in France.’
‘I think Renard would break them for you if they did; you’re like his idol or something.’
‘Yeah, right,’ Fox said. He hadn’t told Gammaldi about the investigative reporting piece he was working on here with their friend. Really, he should have accompanied Renard to Dijon, but circumstances had changed; he had to play tourist.
‘Where you headed?’ Gammaldi asked.
‘Grabbing us some supplies then coming back,’ Fox said. The streetlamps blinked out as the sun hit the road. One thing in his favour was that he knew exactly where he was going and his military-trained memory for maps was excellent. Resembling a snail’s shell, the city’s twenty arrondissements arranged in the form of a clockwise spiral made navigating easy. Relatively easy. It was the one-way nature of the streets that bugged him. The Rue Cler market was only a couple of minutes away – if he could zigzag his way through the one-way mess. ‘Kate up yet?’
‘I thought she was with you.’
‘No,’ Fox said as he zipped along the near-empty Quai d’Orsay, too busy taking in the view across to the Right Bank and trying to get the radio off what sounded like the worst of the Eurovision Song Contest to notice a driver in front had slammed on their brakes. Fox halted suddenly and the truck behind nudged into his bumper.
‘What was that?’
‘Nothing,’ Fox said. No damage done, but a few choice French words flew his way from both drivers. He wondered why he’d been the cause of both their anger: Oh yeah, they were French, he wasn’t. A few departing toots of the horn later and the traffic resumed its flow.
‘I haven’t seen Kate,’ said Gammaldi
‘She must be asleep still,’ Fox said, changing up through the gears. He and Kate had both been sleeping better since coming back together, the comfortable rhythm of having someone you love sleep next to you at night.
‘Well, don’t be stingy on the food shopping.’
‘Al, I could bring you back a shipping container of food and you’d still want more,’ Fox replied, overtaking a heavily laden truck. The Golf’s twin-charged 1.4-litre petrol motor didn’t sound like much on paper, but it had plenty of pick-up through the streets of Paris, plus quick reactions to his foot on the gas and good brakes, thank God. It was the other drivers out there who worried him. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, all hell- bent on dominating the road, all driven with fervour and with one purpose: getting moi to destination rapide.
Gammaldi started rattling off a list of items he wanted.
The traffic was not yet heavy but it reminded Fox of London, where tiny streets not designed for the car caused chaos. He waited his turn and took off up a cobbled street, catching sight of some little dogs getting at it while their owners kissed in greeting. A Smart car flashed past at warp speed, lights off, barely noticeable were it not for its blaring horn and some French cursing directed at Fox for missing his stop sign.
‘Al, just text me what you want, I’m getting off the phone to concentrate.’ He ended the call. Turned up the news on the radio: the G20 summit was underway in Shanghai. Listening to the politicians’ smug tones reminded Fox why he’d bugged out of the Navy job. Well, he hadn’t had much choice in leaving what had been a promising but short-lived career, but the choices that had led to his discharge were all his, and he had learned to sleep soundly at night because of them.
‘Not that soundly,’ Fox said out loud, catching his tired eyes in the reflection of his rear-view mirror. More soundly than he would have if he’d not taken action when he’d felt he had to. A sense of knowing more than the bureaucrats, a belief that politics and power were too self-serving to do what was right, had always been with him and he was amazed he’d ever been accepted by the military in the first place. Maybe they’d wanted to diversify. Probably they’d just been desperate to fill recruitment quotas. Still, following a big turn-around in second year thanks to a decent officer telling Fox and Gammaldi to pull their socks up, he’d managed to finish second in his academic class and fifth overall in his graduating year.
He turned onto Rue de Grenelle and pulled into a parking space near the closed street market. The car parked itself, parallel, not something he’d let it do again.
Since he’d left the Navy, Fox had been recruited into the dream job of an investigative reporter with the Global Syndicate of Reporters (GSR). He had his pick of assignments, headed the military bureau, made a nice salary, had bought a good apartment in SoHo in Lower Manhattan . . . What was not to like? Why did he feel so uneasy? He felt he knew: it wasn’t really his calling. To seek out the truth? Maybe, or some variation thereof. But to disseminate that to an increasingly uninterested public via syndicated news items? What was next?
He knew what was bringing all this uncertainty to a head: Kate re-entering his life. He was at the tail end of a six-month enforced sabbatical that had been driving him nuts, and hanging out with her was becoming more and more desirable.
Women . . .
He reached down for his iPhone as it bleeped, and clicked on the text message: it looked like a shopping list for a month’s supplies.
He typed a reply: Jesus Al, that’s like two of every animal . . . You building an ark?
Locking the car, he walked towards the busy market, where Saturday shoppers were already snapping up the best produce. He waited at a café window that faced the intersection, the smell of good coffee making his stomach groan. There was the rumble of an aircraft overhead, louder and louder. He looked up as he neared the front of the queue, ordered his triple-shot café au lait, looked back up to the sky; a massive A380 was banking overhead.
Al’s reply blinked through: Making cassoulet. Don’t forget the confit duck. CONFIT!
OK MOFO! he replied and put the iPhone in his back pocket. He looked back at the café window as he crossed the street and entered the market, checking the reflection behind him.
There were a few tourists among the locals buzzing about, and plenty of vans dropping off fresh produce with FedEx-like speed and precision. Hard to make out on the busy side of the street, but at least two figures sat in a blacked-out Peugeot sedan, parked a few spaces down the road from where he’d left the Golf. They were watching him. He’d seen them earlier making the same turns, driving after him.
He bought a newspaper from an old man on the corner. A familiar face looked back at him from the front cover of The International Herald Tribune – Roman Babich, headed for trial at last. A quick skim of the article revealed that the corrupt Russian oligarch was being transferred soon, that his first trial was expected to take place in Rome in the coming month, and that the Russian judiciary were cooperating with the FBI and Interpol in providing damning evidence against the man who, until recently, was one of their vaunted business kings.
As Fox turned to the market he glanced back across the intersection, at that black Peugeot 607 – still with the outlines of two figures just visible behind a half-open tinted window. Watching him, waiting.
Fox went on his way, the back of his neck prickling with sweat. He was beginning to feel it was the start of a very long day…