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Red Right Hand
By Chris Holm
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- Trade Paperback $15.99 $20.99 CAD
- ebook $9.99 $11.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 10, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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When viral video of an explosive terrorist attack on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge reveals that a Federal witness long thought dead is still alive, the organization he’d agreed to testify against will stop at nothing to put him in the ground.
FBI Special Agent Charlie Thompson is determined to protect him, but her hands are tied; the FBI’s sole priority is catching the terrorists before they strike again. So Charlie calls the only person on the planet who can keep her witness safe: Michael Hendricks.
Once a covert operative for the US military, Hendricks makes his living hitting hitmen… or he did, until the very organization hunting Charlie’s witness — the Council — caught wind and targeted the people he loves. Teaming up with a young but determined tech whiz, Cameron, on the condition she leave him alone after the case, Hendricks reluctantly takes the job.
Of course, finding a man desperate to stay hidden is challenging enough without deadly competition, let alone when the competition’s shadowy corporate backer is tangled in the terrorist conspiracy playing out around them. And now Hendricks is determined to take the Council down, even if that means wading into the center of a terror plot whose perpetrators are not what they seem.
What if the breath that kindl’d those grim fires
Awak’d should blow them into sevenfold rage
And plunge us in the flames? or from above
Should intermitted vengeance arm again
His red right hand to plague us?
—John Milton, Paradise Lost
You’re one microscopic cog
In his catastrophic plan
Designed and directed by
His red right hand
—Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Red Right Hand”
SEVEN YEARS AGO
THE MAN STAGGERED into the lobby of the Albuquerque field office shortly after three a.m. His hair, black streaked with gray, was matted down by rain. His face was dusted with stubble and deeply lined. Tattered clothing clung to his lithe frame. His feet were bare and bleeding. Water, tinged red, pooled beneath him.
Special Agent Charlie Thompson glanced up from her paperwork in surprise. He hadn’t shown up on any of the building’s exterior surveillance cameras. If it weren’t for the sudden roar of the storm through the open door, she might not have noticed him come in.
Thompson had graduated from Quantico only a month before, but somehow she’d already managed to piss off her new boss. Yancey had her pulling overnights on the front desk all week. Truthfully, she didn’t mind. The odd phone call aside—conspiracy nuts, usually, too tangled up in their delusions to sleep—the graveyard shift was pretty quiet.
Tonight, though, a thunderstorm had blown in like the wrath of God. Lightning forked across the sky. Rolling thunder shook the building. Sheets of rain reduced the streetlights to blurry smears.
Poor guy’s probably just a vagrant trying to get out of the rain, Thompson thought—although for some reason, she didn’t quite believe it.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
Pale blue eyes regarded Thompson from bruised sockets. The man opened his mouth to speak, but all that came out was a dry croak. He swallowed hard, wincing, and limped across the lobby toward her. As he approached, she realized his knuckles were scraped raw. She flashed him a smile intended to disarm and surreptitiously thumbed the emergency-alert button on the two-way radio clipped to her belt.
When he reached the desk, he tried again. “I…need to talk to the special agent in charge.” The words came out thick and wrong. Dried blood was caked in the creases at the corners of his mouth, and his jawline was misshapen, as if he’d recently had teeth removed, and not consensually.
“What’s this regarding?” Thompson asked.
He fixed her with his cold, unblinking gaze. A crack of thunder rattled the windows. “I think it’s better for the both of us”—he breathed deeply—“if I save that information for the special agent in charge.”
“It’s late, sir. SAIC Yancey left hours ago. He’s probably asleep by now.”
“Then pick up the fucking phone and wake him up!” He banged a fist on the front desk to accentuate his point—and only then noticed the security guards.
There were four of them. They’d come running when they heard Thompson’s distress signal via their walkies. Three fanned out to flank him, guns drawn. One attempted to approach him from behind, his hand resting on his holstered weapon, but froze when the man wheeled on him.
“Don’t move,” one of the guards shouted. “Hands in the air!”
The stranger crouched into a forward fighting stance, his eyes darting from one guard to the next. Despite his age and his disheveled appearance, he was corded with lean muscle like a middleweight boxer. The guards tensed, their fingers tightening on their triggers.
“I’m not playing, asshole! Get on the ground—now!”
Thompson stood and put her hands up, palms out—a calming gesture. “Whoa! Easy, guys. Everyone just take a breath. I’m sure we can sort this out.”
In that moment, lightning struck the building. The thunder that accompanied it was immediate, deafening. The lobby plunged into darkness.
And the stranger made his move.
He lunged at the nearby guard, his left hand extended. A flash of gunfire lit the room—blinding Thompson momentarily—as one of the other guards discharged his weapon. The bullet zipped through the space he’d just vacated and dimpled the far wall. Then the web between the man’s thumb and forefinger connected with his quarry’s throat. The guard gurgled sickeningly as his airway collapsed. He would have fallen had the man not grabbed his trachea in a pinch grip and yanked, twisting his wrist so that the guard’s back wound up pressed to his chest—a gasping, wheezing human shield.
The man drew the guard’s sidearm and opened fire.
Thompson saw the rest unfold in freeze-frames, the darkness punctuated by lightning and muzzle flashes. One guard’s knee exploded, and he went down screaming. Another took rounds to the shoulder, the wrist, the hip. The last guard standing rushed the man and tried to tackle him. The man released his human shield—who slumped, unconscious, to the floor—sidestepped the assault, grabbed his would-be attacker by the hair, and drove his knee into the man’s nose. Then he yanked the guard upright—blood spraying in an arc from both nostrils—and tossed him through a glass display case.
Less than thirty seconds had elapsed since the storm had knocked out the building’s power. Thompson clutched her shiny new sidearm in trembling hands and waited for the lightning to reveal her target.
The emergency backup lights kicked in, illuminating the fallen guards. Their assailant was nowhere in sight. Thompson, feeling suddenly exposed, took cover in the foot well of the desk.
For a long while, nothing happened. The only sounds she heard were the static hiss of rain against the windows and her own shallow, panicked breathing. Eventually, she mustered up the courage to climb out from beneath the desk and look around.
But when she emerged, she felt a gun barrel, still warm from firing, press against the back of her head.
“Put your weapon on the ground and get up slow.”
She did as he instructed, her hands raised, her heartbeat a manic drumroll in her chest.
“Listen very carefully,” he said. “I don’t give a flying fuck what time it is. Get your goddamn boss on the line and tell him that the Devil’s Red Right Hand would like a word with him.”
JAKE RESTON’S GAZE traveled from the yellowed photo in his hand to the squat brick structure of Fort Point jutting into San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge looming above it. Then he frowned and shook his head.
His wife, Emily, sighed. “Still no good?” Their youngest squirmed in her arms and let out a cry. Emily rocked her idly to settle her. “Sophia’s hungry. She’s going to get cranky if I don’t feed her soon.”
“We’re getting closer,” Jake replied. “Looks like we’re maybe ten yards off—twenty at most.”
“You said that half an hour ago,” Emily said wearily. She looked as tired as she sounded. Her face was pale and drawn. Dark circles framed her eyes. She’d been averaging an hour or two of shut-eye a night since they left home a week ago. Apparently Sophia didn’t sleep well in hotels—which meant neither did Emily.
“I know. I’m sorry. This time, I mean it.”
Emily pursed her lips but said nothing. Hannah—their eldest, at thirteen—rolled her eyes and plucked her cell phone from her pocket. Jake struggled to tamp down his frustration at their lack of enthusiasm. He couldn’t blame them, really; this was taking way longer than he’d anticipated. At least their middle child, Aidan—who was, at present, twirling in place with his arms out while making airplane noises—seemed content to let his dad fritter away the last Saturday of summer vacation.
“Just a little longer, guys—I promise.”
“Uh-huh,” said Hannah without looking up from her phone.
“You know,” he said, gesturing toward the crowded overlook behind them, “some people actually come here of their own accord.”
“They’re probably just waiting to see somebody jump,” Hannah muttered.
Aidan stopped spinning. His face lit up with glee. “They let you jump off the bridge into the water?”
“No!” Jake and Emily said in unison, a moment of parental telepathy.
“Your sister was just kidding,” Emily added, flashing Hannah a stern look.
“No, I’m not.” She waved her cell phone at her mother. “Says here sixteen hundred people have leaped off it to their deaths since it first opened. A record forty-six in 2013 alone.”
Aidan’s expression turned worried. “Wait—the people who jumped died?”
“Don’t listen to her, buddy—she’s just messing with you. Hannah, stop being morbid. C’mon,” Jake said, heading farther down the path, “I think the photo was taken over here somewhere.”
The photo was of Jake’s parents—Jake’s favorite picture of them, in fact. Forty years ago next month, they’d driven down the coast from Eugene on their honeymoon and asked a passerby to snap the shot. Over time, the colors had washed out, lending the photo a slightly magical quality, and their pose—his father’s hands thrust into the pockets of his jeans, his mother clinging to his arm, their hair mussed by the breeze—exuded effortless cool. The photo felt like a secret window to a foreign land, and the people in it were so young and hip, Jake had trouble reconciling them with the hopeless squares who’d raised him. Looking at it, he couldn’t help but wonder how he must appear to his own children.
Jake thought it would be cute to stop off on their way home from Disneyland and re-create the photo as a video to wish his parents a happy anniversary, but it had proved harder than anticipated. First, they got stuck in the Bay Area’s brutal traffic. Then the city was socked in with morning fog. Once the fog burned off, Jake had trouble finding the right spot. It was no wonder Emily’s patience was wearing thin.
Now, though, things were looking up. The day was clear and bright. The sky behind the bridge was a field of blue, unbroken save for the gulls that circled overhead. A lone tugboat chugged across the choppy bay. The temperate ocean breeze blunted the sun’s rays and dashed the surf against the rocks. Sea spray filled the air with saline and cast fleeting rainbows at the water’s edge. It looked like a postcard come to life.
Jake raised a hand to halt his family and checked the view against the photo again. This time, he smiled.
“Gather up, guys—we’re here!”
“Finally,” Hannah said.
“Hannah!” her mother chastised, more out of reflex than disagreement.
“What? We’ve been walking forever.”
Jake patted his pockets, looking for his phone. It wasn’t there. He cursed under his breath.
Emily shot him a look that could have stopped a city bus. “Don’t tell me you left it in the car.”
“Okay,” he said, flashing her a crooked grin. “I won’t tell you.” Normally, she found his goofy sense of humor charming. Today, though, she didn’t seem amused.
Hannah held her cell phone out. “Here, use mine. Your camera app sucks anyway.”
“Thanks, kiddo,” Jake said—not remembering until her expression darkened that she’d asked him not to call her that anymore. It seemed like only yesterday that she was greeting him at the door when he came home from work with a squealed “Daddy!” and a knee-height hug.
He opened her camera app and toggled it to video. Then he took a big step backward, trying to fit everyone into the shot. “Aidan, squeeze in closer to your mom. Em, Sophia’s got her fingers in her nose again. Hannah, no bunny ears, okay? Once I start recording, I’ll count down from three, and we’ll all yell happy anniversary!”
“Dad,” Aidan said, “aren’t you going to get in here with us?”
“I’d love to, buddy, but somebody’s got to work the camera!”
“But Nan and Papa had a stranger take their picture.”
You know, Jake thought, the kid had a point. He looked around for someone to hit up, but his prospects were slim. A trio of cyclists rode past, headed toward the bridge. A teenage couple sat hand in hand to one side of the trail, staring moonily into each other’s eyes. A woman jogged by in a blur of neon green, her face flushed, her exposed skin gleaming with sweat. None of them looked as if they’d welcome the interruption.
Then Jake spotted an older gentleman moving their way. His face was pallid, his gait halting. Despite the day’s warmth, he wore a tweed driving cap and khaki trousers, an argyle sweater over a collared shirt. His clothes hung baggily around his scrawny frame, like dry-cleaning on a wire hanger. Jake thought he looked lonely—the kind of guy who might feed pigeons in the park.
“Excuse me, sir? Would you mind holding my daughter’s phone so my family can record an anniversary message for my parents? It’ll only take a second, I swear.”
The man looked at the phone and then at Jake. His eyes were the pale blue of faded denim. “Sorry,” he said, “but I ain’t much for gadgets. I got no idea how to work that thing.”
“That’s fine—I can press record. All you’ll have to do is point it.” He thumbed the button on the screen and held the phone out to the man.
The man hesitated for a moment, as if searching for some way to decline politely. Then he shrugged and shuffled over. When he took Hannah’s ridiculous, bedazzled phone from Jake, he did so gingerly, as if it might break.
Jake trotted over to his family. Tousled Aidan’s hair. Turned to face the camera. Put his arms around Hannah and Emily. “Are we all in the shot?”
The old man peered into the phone’s camera lens as if it were a viewfinder. “I dunno,” he said, “I can’t see shit.”
Aidan giggled. Emily reddened and gave Jake a gentle elbow to the ribs. Jake forced a smile and said, “I think you’re holding it backward.”
“What? Oh, hell.” He turned the phone around. “There you are. Wait—does that mean I’m on your video now?”
“Don’t worry—we can cut that bit when we get home. Ready, guys?”
One by one, all save the baby murmured their assent.
But they never did record their message.
Because that’s when the tugboat slammed into the bridge’s south tower and exploded.
MICHAEL HENDRICKS TOSSED back his drink and slammed the shot glass onto the dark-stained bar. “Hey, barkeep: another whiskey.”
The young woman to whom he’d spoken looked up from the table she was wiping clean and replied, “I’m not a barkeep—I’m a waitress.”
He squinted dubiously at her. She was in her late teens or early twenties. Her freckled face was free of makeup, and her brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She wore a heather-gray T-shirt with the restaurant’s logo on it, and jeans cuffed high enough above her ballet flats to show her ankles. “You’ve been pouring me drinks all afternoon, haven’t you?”
He yawned and scratched idly at the scruff on his jawline. It’d been weeks since he’d last shaved. “Then I fail to see the difference.”
“The difference is, I’m not a barkeep—I’m a waitress. I’m just covering the bar until our real bartender comes in at five.”
Hendricks peered around the dining room. Its walls were adorned with lobster traps and colorfully painted buoys, lacquered stripers, and woven fishnets dyed green-brown by use. The tables were empty. A few still needed tidying, but most were reset for dinner already—flatware wrapped in white cloth napkins, clean water goblets waiting to be filled. The lunch rush, if you could call twenty-odd patrons that, had cleared out hours ago. “I’m sorry—is my drink order pulling you away from all your other customers?”
“Nope. I’m just saying drinks aren’t really my area.”
“Ain’t like shots of whiskey are difficult to make.”
“Apparently, they’re easy enough to drink.”
Her sarcasm wasn’t lost on Hendricks. “Ah. I see. You think I’m hitting the sauce a little hard.”
“Not my business,” she replied.
“No disagreement there.”
“I mean, it’s a little early, is all. Most folks aren’t even off work yet.”
Hendricks went to check his watch, only to discover that he wasn’t wearing one. His eyebrows gathered in obvious puzzlement. “Yeah, well, I’m retired.”
“Retired from what?”
From running false-flag missions for the U.S. government, he thought. From killing hitmen for a living once he got back home. “From giving a shit about what anybody thinks of me getting drunk in the middle of the day,” he said.
She sighed and changed tactics. “How about a bite to eat, at least?” Her tone was solicitous and optimistic. Hendricks pegged her for a chronic overachiever, unaccustomed to failure.
“How about you pour me another goddamn whiskey?”
“Fine.” She ducked behind the bar, fetched a bottle of Early Times from the well, and refilled Hendricks’s shot glass. Then she poured him a cup of coffee from the thermal carafe beside the register. “On the house,” she said.
“Cameron,” she said.
“Look, Cameron,” he corrected himself, “I appreciate the effort. But you don’t know me, and you couldn’t begin to understand the shit I’ve been through. You’ve got no idea why I’m here or what I’ve lost.”
“I’ve also got no idea how you’re still upright. Just take the coffee, okay?”
Hendricks picked up the coffee and took a sip. It was lukewarm and tasted of plastic. He made a face and set it back down. Then he raised the brimming shot glass in Cameron’s direction.
“Cheers,” he said. But before he brought the drink to his lips, she shook her head and stormed away.
He watched her round the corner at the far end of the bar and disappear from sight. Seconds later, he heard the kitchen’s swinging double doors bang open. Once they’d clacked shut behind her, leaving Hendricks certain she couldn’t return without him hearing, he dumped the shot into the potted ficus tree beside him.
He’d been coming to the Salty Dog—a quaint, clapboard-sided seafood joint overlooking Long Island’s Port Jefferson Harbor—for three weeks, always parking his ass on the same stool from noon to closing. In that time, the ficus had been outdrinking him three to one. He was amazed he hadn’t killed the thing by now. Every once in a while, he made a show of spilling a shot across the bar, in part to establish himself as a sloppy drunk, and in part to explain the smell this corner had taken on. It must’ve worked, because no one in the place had said five words to him until today, when the new girl decided to take pity on him—and even she’d been here a week before she gathered the nerve.
Hendricks figured she was just some overzealous undergrad, bright-eyed and idealistic, who’d yet to learn that the broken people of the world rarely wanted to be fixed. And although he was plenty broken, it was a life of violence—not booze—that was to blame.
The shot disposed of, the waitress gone, Hendricks watched the anchored sailboats bob like seabirds on the bay. He was happy for the momentary quiet. It didn’t last.
A shadow fell across the restaurant’s storefront. Hendricks swiveled in his stool and saw a black Range Rover roll to a stop at the curb. A spray-tanned side of beef in wraparound sunglasses climbed out of the backseat. Then he pushed open the Salty Dog’s front door and stepped inside.
He wore a polo shirt two sizes too small for him and a pair of garish madras shorts. Canvas loafers, each the size of a rowboat, encased his feet. If his getup was intended to help him blend in with the yacht-club set, it fell well short of that goal. His nose was misshapen; his ears were cauliflowered. There was no doubt in Hendricks’s mind that he was hired muscle.
The man took off his sunglasses and looked around the restaurant. Hendricks feigned indifference, swaying drunkenly atop his stool and idly spinning his empty shot glass on the bar like a top. The man eyed Hendricks in his frayed khaki shorts, rumpled button-down, and sweat-stained Titleist ball cap and apparently dismissed him. Hendricks looked like half the drunks in every ritzy-zip-code bar from here to Hilton Head.
The man flipped the sign in the front window to CLOSED, shut the curtains, and took up a position by the door. Another guy of the same make and model entered and headed toward the kitchen without a word. Along the way, he rapped on the restroom doors and checked inside. When he entered the kitchen, Hendricks heard the chef’s surprised tone quickly give way to friendly recognition. They conversed a moment—Hendricks couldn’t make out the exact words, but by the sound of it, the chef was introducing him to the new girl—and then he returned to the dining room and gave his buddy a nod.
The man beside the door parted the curtain slightly and gestured to someone outside. The door swung open once more. Hendricks half expected another spray-tanned goon, but instead in walked a handsome thirty-something man in a linen shirt, seersucker shorts, and leather flip-flops. His complexion had a Mediterranean cast, and his high cheekbones, tousled hair, and cultivated stubble made him look as if he’d stepped out of a men’s magazine. Once the door closed behind him, the Range Rover pulled away.
“Good afternoon,” he said to Hendricks. “My name is Nick Pappas.”
“James Dalton,” Hendricks lied. “But my friends call me Jimmy.” He’d taken the name from Patrick Swayze’s character in Road House as a nod to an old friend. Hendricks never used to put much effort into coming up with aliases, but his buddy—and former partner in crime—Lester had always taken great pride in it. Every one of ’em was an in-joke, a reference.
Lester had been murdered almost a year ago. Keeping the tradition going was one way Hendricks chose to honor him. Waiting in this upscale tourist trap for Pappas was another.
“And what should I call you,” Pappas asked, “James or Jimmy?”
“The jury’s still out on that,” Hendricks said. “After all, we just met. But I’ve got to hand it to you, Nick, you make one hell of an entrance.”
- NOMINATED FOR THE ANTHONY AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL
- One of the Best Books of 2016 - The Boston Globe
- "A one-sitting, extravagant, mind-blowing reading pleasure. Chris Holm has created a story of rare, compelling brilliance, with a concept so high you'll need oxygen to finish it."—David Baldacci
- "In his second Michael Hendricks thriller, Holm performs authorial acrobatics, elegantly and nimbly leaping between various locations and voices to produce not just a suspenseful tale kicked off by a San Francisco terrorist attack, but one imbued with multiple fine characters to boot."—The Boston Globe
- "Thumbs up, we say. Thumbs up, then lick those thumbs and use them to turn the pages--quickly now, to find out what happens next."—Wayne Alan Brenner, Austin Chronicle
- "Holm succeeds in developing Michael Hendricks as a complexly conflicted protagonist, while keeping the level of action and intrigue running high. Smart, unpredictable, and well-constructed... a satisfying thriller on its own terms and likely a harbinger of pulse-quickening adventures still to come." —Portland Press Herald
- "A crackerjack read . . . Pretty darned good"—Winnipeg Free Press
- "Explosive and timely . . . Holm expertly balances weighty issues of national security with more intimate personal losses, and makes it clear that the best stories happen in the gray area between good and evil."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
- "This follow-up to the acclaimed The Killing Kind is a real thrill ride. Jeff Abbott fans and adrenaline fiction junkies will appreciate how vividly the shadowy world of military contractors comes to life in Holm's skillful hands."—Library Journal (starred review)
- "This story fairly leaps from the blocks. . . . The Killing Kind earned a stack of plaudits, but Red Right Hand is the rare second entry in a series that actually rivals its predecessor."—Kirkus Reviews
- "The novel brims with nice turns on genre conventions. . . . Good story, good action, some startling turns of phrase."—Booklist
- "A fast-paced, action-packed adventure, with several surprising twists to add to the excitement."—CentralMaine.com
- "Like most people in Crime Fiction Land, I've been hearing about the talented Chris Holm for some time--and now I understand why. Red Right Hand is a rare treat--a tightly constructed, crisply written, fast-as-hell thriller. Strap in tight because the chapters whip by in a blur. Such is the view from a roller coaster."—Gregg Hurwitz, New York Times bestselling author of Orphan X
- On Sale
- Oct 10, 2017
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Mulholland Books