On a routine intelligence gathering mission in Tehran, Jack Ryan, Jr., has lunch with his oldest friend, Seth Gregory, an engineer overseeing a transcontinental railway project. As they part, Seth gives Jack a key, along with a perplexing message.
The next day Jack is summoned to an apartment where two men claim Seth has disappeared—gone to ground with funds for a vital intelligence operation. Jack’s oldest friend has turned, they insist.
They leave Jack with a warning: If you hear from Seth Gregory, call us immediately. And do not get involved.
But they don’t know Jack. He won’t abandon a friend in need.
His pursuit of the truth will lead him across Iran, through the war-torn Caucasus, and finally deep into territory coveted by the increasingly aggressive Russian Federation. Along the way, Jack is joined by Seth’s primary agent, Ysabel, a enigmatic Iranian woman who seems to be his only clue to Seth’s whereabouts.
Jack soon finds himself lost in a maze of intrigue, lies, and betrayal where no one is who they seem to be—not even Seth, who’s harboring a secret of his own that harkens back to the Cold War. A secret that is driving him to the brink of treachery.
Racing against the clock, Jack must unravel the mystery: Who is friend and who is foe? Before it’s over, Jack Ryan, Jr., may have to choose between his loyalty to Seth and his loyalty to America.
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TOM CLANCY was the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of more than a dozen books. He died in October 2013.
The New York Times–bestselling author of the Briggs Tanner series, GRANT BLACKWOOD is also the coauthor of the #1 New York Times bestseller Dead or Alive, with Tom Clancy, and The Kill Switch, with James Rollins. A U.S. Navy Veteran, Grant spent three years aboard a guided missile frigate as an Operations Specialist and a Pilot Rescue Swimmer.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
BE CAREFUL how you spend your time. You never get it back.
Of all the lessons he’d learned from his father, this one truly resonated with Jack Ryan, Jr.—no small feat, as he’d received the advice as a teenager with little more on his mind than girls and football games. Go figure, Jack thought.
In this case, with his lunch appointment predictably late, Jack was playing a round of “watch the watchers,” a game introduced to him by John Clark. His location, Chaibar, an outdoor café on a quiet Tehran side street, made the game more challenging. Nestled in the courtyard garden of a renovated villa, Chaibar was full of couples and small groups seated at wrought-iron tables. Jack caught glimpses of muted flowered murals behind potted plants and hanging vines. Overhead, boughs cast the courtyard in dappled sunlight. While most of the murmured voices were speaking in Arabic or Persian, Jack also caught snippets of French and Italian.
The premise of “watch the watchers” was a simple one: He’s in the field for Hendley Associates, aka The Campus. He’s under surveillance. But by whom? If you’re largely unfamiliar with the nuances of casual Iranian interaction, how do you spot that one pair of eyes paying too much attention to you, or someone whose mannerisms are out of sync with the surroundings? With this checklist in mind, Jack studied faces, body language, banter between this couple, or forced banter among that group.
Nothing, Jack thought. None of Chaibar’s patrons set off alarms for him. In real life, a good thing; for the purposes of this game, not so much.
If Hendley Associates, aka The Campus, were in fact what it seemed, a privately held arbitrage firm, Jack’s game would have been one of fantasy, but The Campus’s true purpose went much deeper, as it sat squarely in the grayest of areas in the espionage/counterterrorism world—an off-the-books intelligence group answerable only to the President of the United States. Where the CIA was a bazooka, The Campus was a stiletto.
“Pardon, sir. Another coffee, please?”
Jack glanced up. His waitress was a petite twentysomething woman in black-rimmed glasses, her hair completely covered by a light blue scarf. Her English was heavily stilted.
She wore no niqab. Perhaps Kamran Farahani wasn’t simply giving lip service to his administration’s moderate platform. Hell, even a year ago Chaibar might have been subject to a police raid; to the previous government, coffee shops were incubators for youthful subversives.
Jack glanced down at his empty cup. The shop’s version of coffee made a Starbucks dark roast seem like weak tea.
“No, thank you, two is enough for me. Hopefully my guest will . . .”
As if on cue, over his waitress’s shoulder, Jack saw a man with wild, curly black hair walking into the courtyard, his head turning this way and that. There was no mistaking that mop.
“Here he is,” Jack told her, raising his hand to get the man’s attention. “Give us a couple minutes.”
“Of course, sir.”
The man walked over to the table. Jack stood up, the iron legs of his chair scraping on the cobblestones. They shook hands, shared a quick bear hug, then sat down.
“Sorry I’m late, Jack.”
“I’m used to it. What would a lunch be with an on-time Seth Gregory?”
It had been that way since high school. If the movie started at seven-twenty, you told Seth seven o’clock.
“Yeah, yeah. It’s my only failing. And if you believe that . . . How’s the coffee?”
“It bent my spoon.”
“Puts hair on your chest.”
“How’ve you been, Seth?”
“Sharp stick, my friend, sharp stick.”
Jack smiled. This was Seth’s standard response to such questions. Translation: Doing better than if I had a sharp stick in the eye.
“Glad to hear it.”
“I’ve been here before; I know what I want. The asheh gojeh farangi—that’s a tomato stew with onions, meat, peas, spices. Delicious. Huh . . . still no alcohol on the menu, I see.”
“That might take longer. Farahani can’t shock the old guard too much, too quickly.”
The waitress returned. They both ordered the stew. “And we’ll share a basket of barbari bread,” Seth added. The waitress collected their menus and disappeared.
With elbows on the table, Seth reached across and gave Jack’s hand a couple of gentle slaps. “Jack, you look good! I’ve missed you. How ya doing?”
“I was surprised to get your call.”
“I was thinking we’d have lunch the next time you were in the States. I had no idea you were in the area.”
Seth shrugged, waved his hand. “How’s the family? Olivia? And El Presidente . . . Il Duce?”
“Fine, all fine.”
Jack had to smile, and not just because Seth was one of the few people who called Sally by her given name and refused to call Jack’s father by his correct title, but because this exuberant and near-frenetic questioning was pure Seth Gregory. His friend not only was the quintessential people person, but also suffered from ADHD—emphasis on the “hyperactivity disorder” part. Seth had struggled in school. Jack had been his unofficial tutor.
Jack had always sensed an undercurrent of sadness behind Seth’s gregariousness. Despite having known the man since St. Matthew’s Academy, Jack always felt there was a part of Seth he kept hidden not only from the world, but from Jack as well. Jack had few friends at St. Matthew’s, as most of his classmates had either shunned him as the stuck-up Golden Child of then CIA bigwig Jack Ryan or had been intimidated by the ostensibly lofty circles in which “Spy Boy” orbited. Of course, neither scenario had been true, and Jack had spent his first year at St. Matthew’s trying to prove so, to no avail. But Seth had accepted Jack for who he was—an awkward teenager just trying to find his way like everyone else. Looking back at that time, Jack knew Seth had saved him from withdrawing into himself and spiraling into self-isolation. Seth didn’t give a shit who Jack’s father was, or where he lived, or that he rubbed shoulders with foreign royalty and heads of state at grand dinner parties. In fact, invariably, Seth’s only question about such affairs had been whether there’d been any hot girls at the event and whether Jack had hooked up with any of them in some über-secret room at Langley.
Jack had always regretted not telling Seth how much his friendship had meant to him. Perhaps now was the time. Before Jack could do this, Seth continued his rapid-fire interrogation. Sometimes having a conversation with him was like being in the middle of a verbal tornado.
“What’s going on with Olivia?”
“Sally?” Jack replied. “You haven’t heard? She’s an astronaut.”
“What? Oh, that’s very funny, Jack. You’re quite the commode-ian.”
Jack laughed. “Man, you’re still saying that? It wasn’t even funny when we were fifteen.”
“Oh, it was funny, and you know it. So: Sally?”
“She just finished with her residency at Johns Hopkins.”
“Underachiever, that one. Are you still at that place . . . that financial group?”
“Right. Making tons of money?”
“Doing okay,” Jack replied. The true answer was yes. Though the investment side of Hendley Associates was merely a cover for The Campus, Jack and his cohorts had in fact made hundreds of millions playing the world’s markets. Of that revenue, only a fraction paid their salaries. The rest funded the off-the-books intelligence organization.
Seth said, “And how about—”
Jack laughed and raised his hands in mock surrender. “Enough, Seth. You’re wearing me out. Tell me about you.”
“Still consulting. Been on contract with Shell for the last eighteen months. I was based out of Baku until about eight months ago, when they moved me here.”
After high school Seth had snagged a Gus Archie Memorial Scholarship to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Engineering. Now, apparently, he was parlaying that into big bucks.
“I like it in Tehran, actually. My condo’s within walking distance of here. Great place.”
“What’s your specialty?” asked Jack.
“Mostly looking at drilling rigs and refining plants. It’s a nice gig. I spend most of my time in Central Asia.”
“Dicey areas.” Especially the two “stans” from which the Emir, aka Saif Rahman Yasin, sprang, Jack thought. Helping to nab that son of a bitch had been not only damned satisfying, but also Jack’s first foray into the world of field operations.
Seth said, “We get good training and plenty of security when we need it—Blackwater-type guys, mostly retirees from U.S. Special Forces. Nice guys. I’d hate to get on their bad side, though.”
A sentiment most bad guys share after receiving a visit from Navy SEALs or Army Delta Force, Jack thought.
“Got any investment advice for me?” Jack said.
“No. And you wouldn’t listen if I did,” replied Seth. “You’re a straight arrow, Jack, and you know it.”
Jack shrugged. “True enough. Plus, I’ve got a healthy fear of the SEC.”
Their food came and they ate. Jack followed Seth’s lead, tearing chunks off the barbari bread and mixing it into the tomato stew. It was delicious and filling.
“I was sorry to hear about your dad,” Jack said.
“Yeah. I got your card, thanks. Sorry I didn’t say anything.”
“How’s your mom doing with it all?”
“It’s been three years. Looking at her, you’d think he died last week.”
“It’s understandable.” Seth’s father, Paul, had died of a sudden stroke. Seth’s mother had found him in the study. She’d never fully recovered.
“Man, I don’t know what to do for her,” said Seth. “My sister, Bethany—you remember Bethany, right?—lives about an hour north of her in Georgia. She took her to the doctor, who gave her some kind of prescription—Lamictal, I think.”
“Mood stabilizer and antidepressant,” Jack said. Half expecting Seth to have jumped to another subject, Jack was surprised he was being forthcoming with such intimate details. “How long has she been on it?”
“A couple weeks.”
“If it’s going to start helping, it’ll be any time now.”
Seth smiled. “The benefits of having two doctors in the family, huh?”
“Yep. Osmotic knowledge, I suppose.”
Seth dipped a chunk of bread into his stew, then popped it into his mouth. “So, what brings you to Tehran?”
“Scouting. Iranian markets are starting to open up. If Farahani keeps his course, there’s going to be a boom. Hendley needs to be ready.”
While this was true and was certainly part of the reason for Jack’s presence in the country, this was primarily an intelligence-gathering junket. While poring over the new media outlets blossoming in Iran was informative, there was no substitute for what John Clark, Hendley’s new operations chief, called a Mark I Eyeball inspection. It was a Navy term, Clark had explained. “Walk the streets and talk to people. Best tool in a spook’s arsenal.” So far Jack had neither seen nor heard anything to suggest Iran’s new president was anything but what he seemed—the first true moderate to hold office since the 1979 revolution. Whether he’d last was anyone’s guess.
Jack put that question to Seth: “You’ve been here awhile. What’s your take on all this?”
“Hell, Jack, I don’t know. I came here for the first time after the election. I can tell you this much: Nobody’s been anything but polite to me. I get dirty looks occasionally from some of the graybeards but that’s about it. No one’s ever called me ‘imperialist Satan,’ if that tells you anything.”
It does, Jack thought. Before Farahani took office, Seth would have had minders on his tail every moment he was outside his apartment. That would’ve been the best-case scenario. And with no reports of SAVAK-style crackdowns on the population, the fact that Seth—an American, of all things—could walk the streets unmolested suggested most of Iran’s citizenry was on board with Farahani’s reforms.
Ceaseless miracles, Jack thought.
They chatted for another hour and shared half a dozen cups of mint tea from a silver samovar the size of a small terrier until finally Seth glanced at his watch. “Shoot. I gotta go, Jack, sorry.”
Seth stood up. Jack did the same and extended his hand. Seth grasped it and then did something he rarely did: He held Jack’s gaze. “Really good to see you, man. I mean it.”
“You too, Seth.” Jack hesitated. “Everything okay with you?”
“Yeah, why wouldn’t it be? Hey, listen, my apartment’s about fifteen minutes from here.” Seth gave him the address. “It’s right off Niavaran Park. If you’re ever back in town and need a place to crash, it’s yours. Just use the key. There’re steaks in the freezer.”
“Thanks, man, that’s—”
“Travel safe, Jack.”
Seth turned and walked away, disappearing through a vine-wrapped arch.
Key . . . what key? Jack thought. He sat back down and reached for his teacup. Sitting beside it was a bronze key.
“What the hell was all that about?” he muttered to himself.
As the only member of her team to have spent time in the United Kingdom prior to the start of the job, Helen was unsurprised by the blitz of blinking lights and cacophony of voices filtering through the van’s half-open windows.
Yegor braked hard and the van lurched to a stop as a young man and woman, clearly inebriated, stumbled past the front bumper. The woman raised two fingers at Yegor and called, “Tosser!”
Helen saw Yegor’s jaw pulse with anger, but he did not respond, and instead waited for them to pass before easing the van forward. On either side of the street, similarly intoxicated youth staggered and weaved along the sidewalks. On the passenger side, outside Helen’s half-open window, a pub’s door burst open, issuing a stream of drunks and pulsing dance music.
“What’s a tosser?” asked Yegor.
Someone who desperately needs a girlfriend, Helen thought with a smile. “I’ll explain later,” she said.
“This is amazing. What are all these places?”
“Pubs,” Helen answered.
“All of them?”
“Pretty much. This is just one area. This is Rose,” Helen said. “It’s the most popular pub street for students.”
“All of these people are students from the university?”
“Most of them.”
“How do they function in the morning?” asked Yegor. “Don’t they have lectures to attend?”
Helen smiled at this. Ever the pragmatist, Yegor wasn’t so concerned about the immorality he was seeing but rather how it affected the revelers’ study habits.
“Coffee,” she answered. “And other things, I suspect.”
In the backseat, the other two members of the team, Roma and Olik, sat with their foreheads nearly pressed against the rear windows, their eyes agog. Where they came from, public displays like these were punishable by imprisonment. Or worse.
Of course, Helen reminded herself, Roma and Olik were men, and sheltered ones at that. Most of their astonishment probably stemmed from the sea of exposed female skin passing before their eyes. Not to mention the physical intimacy couples showed each other on the street. Snogging was the term here. At home, neither of these were seen ou...
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