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Prominent U.S. Senator James Wyckoff hires former government agents-turned-private security consultants Janson and Kincaid to locate his teenage son Gregory. Gregory’s girlfriend Lynell has been found strangled in a Seoul hotel, and Gregory has fled the city to avoid being arrested for the crime. But Senator Wyckoff insists that his son is innocent, suggesting that Lynell, who was a translator, may have been murdered because of something she overheard at a recent international conference. And when Janson and Kincaid realize they’re being hunted by an assassin, they suspect that this crime–and the cover-up–were orchestrated by a shadowy unit of the U.S. State Department as part of a larger plot to provoke violence between North and South Korea.
If you look at satellite photographs of the Far East by night, you’ll see a large splotch curiously lacking in light. This area of darkness is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary
Lives in North Korea (2009)
Officers wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.
for Shackleton’s 1914
Dongchang Road, Pudong New District
Shanghai, People’s Republic of China
From the lobby of the boutique hotel across the street, Paul Janson surreptitiously watched three uniformed guards standing as still as statues just behind the main gate of the compound—not just guards, but soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army, protecting what Janson now knew to be a government complex housing the PLA’s Unit 61398, the bureau responsible for China’s systematic cyber-espionage and data-theft campaign against hundreds of private and state organizations spanning two dozen major industries across the globe, with a cost to the victims of hundreds of billions of dollars.
The center building of the compound, which served as Unit 61398’s HQ, stood twelve stories in height and contained over 130,000 square feet in space, enough to house offices for roughly two thousand people. Over the past six months, however, Janson had narrowed his interest to a single individual, a twenty-eight-year-old male who used the online persona Silent Lynx.
Lynx, like the wildcat common to northern and western parts of China, especially the Tibetan Plateau.
The pedestrian portion of the thick iron gate opened and the man Janson knew as Silent Lynx stepped past it, nodding back to one of the guards as he moved toward the second in a row of bicycle racks stationed just outside the compound. Lynx fished around the inside pocket of his jacket and plucked out a small key to open the lock on his bicycle, then walked the bike away from the compound before lifting his right leg over the frame and straddling it. As he slowly pedaled away, Janson exited through the hotel’s revolving door and waded into the sea of pedestrians.
After six months in Shanghai, Janson longed for solitude. The bustling, modern Chinese city of seventeen million people, home to some of the world’s tallest and most architecturally breathtaking skyscrapers, never failed to inspire awe in him, yet the constant traffic and its accompanying sounds—the honks of horns, the growling of engines, the squeal of brakes—actually made him nostalgic for past jobs on the Dark Continent.
As he strode along the pavement beneath the low gray sky, Janson remained hyper-alert, even as his thoughts repeatedly threatened to drift to his forthcoming holiday with Jessie on the Hawaiian island of Maui. His eyes flashed like a narrow beam of light on nearly every face that passed him. He searched for familiarity, for incongruity, for a gaze that turned too quickly from his own appraising glance.
Janson himself blended as well as anyone. With black dye he’d removed the salt from his salt-and-pepper hair and allowed it to grow to a length he hadn’t worn in decades. His wide Caucasian eyes were masked by a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers, his usual pink hue muted with makeup. Incredibly, even in China the American rarely earned a second look.
From his periphery he watched Lynx turn down Qixia Road toward the construction site. The hacker pedaled at a faster pace than was usual for him, and Janson silently willed him to slow down before someone took notice.
Meanwhile, Janson turned north on Dongtai Road in the direction of Lujiazui Park, suddenly wishing he had asked his associate Jessica Kincaid to remain in Shanghai until the mission was finished. Right now she’d be watching him through the scope of her sniper’s rifle from one of the observation decks in the Shanghai World Financial Center, whispering in his earpiece when she noticed something or someone out of place. But, no, Janson would have to do without his eye in the sky today. Jessie had done her job and deserved the extra time she’d spend in Hawaii.
It was Jessie, after all, who’d afforded Janson the opportunity to make contact with Lynx several weeks ago. Following months of surveillance both online and off, Janson had decided that the money-hungry, ego-obsessed Silent Lynx was ripe for recruitment. But how to get to him?
Ultimately, it was Jessica Kincaid’s charms that had opened the door. After tracking Lynx to a swanky Shanghai nightclub called Muse, Janson had Jessie make the approach. Following a few drinks and some not-so-subtle flirtation, she led him outside, toward the western bank of the Huangpu River, where Janson was waiting to pitch the twenty-eight-year-old hacker the deal of a lifetime. In exchange for specific intelligence concerning the operations of his cyber-espionage unit, Janson would provide Lynx with a new identity and enough currency to escape China and the People’s Liberation Army once and for all.
Today the parties would finally make the trade via two separate yet simultaneous dead drops, and Janson would leave Shanghai with hard evidence that the People’s Republic of China was responsible for stealing trade secrets around the world.
* * *
ONE OF UNIT 61398’S VICTIMS was the Edgerton-Gertz Corporation, an American biotech giant that had lost billions of dollars in trade secrets to cybertheft every year for the past six years. Edgerton-Gertz was Janson’s client and the reason he was now in Shanghai. CEO Jeremy Beck had been referred to Janson’s private security consulting firm CatsPaw Associates by someone in the upper echelon of the US State Department—Janson’s employer during the years he worked as a covert operative. Though his time in Consular Operations was falling ever further behind him, Janson’s memories of working as a government-sanctioned killer refused to fade. Which was why he’d started the Phoenix Foundation, his valiant attempt to save individual covert government operators whose lives were wrecked—their psyches shattered—by their covert government service.
Glancing at the second hand on his watch, Janson surmised that Lynx was approaching the empty construction site, future home of another neck-craning high-rise to add to Shanghai’s already über-impressive cityscape. There, just out of sight of the suit-and-tied swarms on the street, the Chinese hacker would find a marked brick-and-mortar concealment stuffed with the currency and identification he’d need to escape the People’s Republic for good. Unbeknownst to Lynx, tucked into the rear cover of his new South Korean passport was an ultrathin GPS device that would allow Janson to track his recruit should Janson be betrayed.
Janson turned left onto Century Avenue, one of Shanghai’s many tourist hot spots, rich with four-star hotels, restaurants, bars, and museums. As he fell in line with the mob passing Lujiazui Park, Janson felt a familiar sensation, his field instincts suddenly tingling. Was he being watched? And if so, by whom? The silver-haired Chinese woman seated alone on the park bench? The Northern European tourist with razor-sharp features, piercing blue eyes, and longish blond locks who was about to pass within ten feet of him? That young Middle Eastern couple sipping tea at the outdoor café?
Or am I imagining things?
Was that taxi at Janson’s seven o’clock moving slower than the rest of the traffic? And that Shanghai cop riding the Segway, had Janson seen him standing outside his hotel earlier in the day?
Before he had time to decide Janson shot a look across the street and spotted the mouth of the alley at the coordinates he’d been sent just before he left the hotel.
Slipping his hands into his pockets, Janson picked up his pace and crossed with the tide at the next intersection. Keeping his head low, he continued to scan the slow-moving traffic and the faces of the pedestrians who passed him. When he reached the far corner he lifted his eyes to the countless windows on the opposite side of the street. Within any of them there could well be a sniper with his scope trained on the alley or even on Janson himself. Scanning each window for a fraction of a second, Janson searched for a glare, for the subtle movement of curtains, for the muzzle of a rifle protruding through a sliced screen.
Ducking into the designated alley, Janson maintained his swift pace. The passage was long and narrow and smelled of sesame oil. Up ahead an older man in a filthy white apron stepped out of a rear screen door with two bloated black trash bags in each hand and a lit cigarette dangling loosely between his lips. He stole a fleeting glance at Janson, then turned and hurled the bags into an open royal-blue dumpster, snuffing out his cigarette against the graffitied brown-brick wall before swinging open the screen door and returning inside.
Counting his steps, Janson dug into his pants pocket and shoveled out an old BlackBerry with no battery. As he gazed down at the dead screen resting on his palm he suddenly fumbled the device, “inadvertently” kicking it toward the brown-brick wall as it hit the pavement. Lowering himself onto his haunches to retrieve it, Janson smirked at the unique concealment method that Silent Lynx had chosen: a gutted and freeze-dried rat that resembled roadkill.
Fitting, to say the least.
Quickly Janson lifted the rat and gently tore open the Velcro strip along its stomach. He dug his fingers inside and closed them around a tiny black flash drive before resealing the Velcro and setting the rat back in its place. He picked up the useless BlackBerry, stuffed everything inside his front pants pocket, and continued up the alley, which opened onto a small unnamed road behind Jinmao Tower.
He turned left, then left again, placing him back on Dongtai Road, where he rejoined the hustle and bustle heading toward Century Avenue.
As he reached the corner of Dongtai and Century, a teeth-rattling report sounded from a few blocks away, startling him. Some of the pedestrians spun their heads in the direction of the noise; others dismissed the bang as a car backfiring. All continued walking without pause.
Janson, of course, knew the sound, had felt it in his stomach. It was the sound of a .38, and after a moment it fired again—from the direction of the empty construction site where Janson had made his dead drop.
Turning left onto Century Avenue, Janson did his best to lose himself in the throng, his heart suddenly racing, his breathing unusually heavy. Silently, he mouthed his longtime mantra—clear like water, cool like ice—and carefully considered his next action. Lynx had undoubtedly been made—and murdered—which meant that Janson couldn’t return to his hotel.
Time to move to Plan B.
Which meant hailing a taxi and immediately heading to Pudong International Airport.
As he pushed toward the taxi stand on Century Avenue, Janson glanced at his watch and imagined himself squarely in the scope of a PLA sniper’s rifle. If the sniper was merely waiting to get off a clean shot, Janson knew he’d be dead in a matter of seconds.
Sweat dripped from his hairline; his stomach tightened.
Clear like water, cool like ice.
Moments later he’d managed to control his breathing. But for the first time in the six months he had been in the city, Janson felt dizzyingly unsure whether he’d make it out of Shanghai alive.
Ducking into a taxi, Janson shouted his destination in Chinese. Then thought better of it. Keeping his head low while trying not to make it look too obvious, he instructed the driver to make a right on Zhangyang, followed by a sharp left onto Fushan Road.
Moving along streets on which Janson knew traffic would be thinning out, the driver made the peculiar turns and zig and zags without comment.
After fifteen minutes of directing the driver through a complex maze around Shanghai’s cityscape, while surreptitiously watching the rearview mirror for a tail, Janson finally felt comfortable enough that they weren’t being followed.
In Chinese he thanked the driver for his cooperation. He pushed himself up on the cracked vinyl backseat and asked the driver to take him to his final destination.
Although his pulse slowed, Janson wouldn’t feel entirely safe until takeoff.
The Senator’s Son
Joint Base Pearl Harbor–Hickam
Adjacent to Honolulu, Hawaii
Ten minutes after the Embraer Legacy 650 touched down at Hickam Field on the island of Oahu, Paul Janson stepped onto the warm tarmac and was immediately greeted by Lawrence Hammond, the senator’s chief of staff.
“Thank you for coming,” Hammond said.
As the men shook hands, Janson breathed deeply of the fresh tropical air and savored the gentle touch of the Hawaiian sun on his face. After six months under Shanghai’s polluted sky, smog as thick as tissue paper had become Janson’s new normal. Only now, as he inhaled freely, did he fully realize the extent to which he’d spent the past half year breathing poison.
Behind his Wayfarers, Janson closed his eyes for a moment and listened. Although Hickam buzzed with the typical sounds of an operational airfield, Janson instantly relished the relative tranquility. Vividly, he imagined the coastal white-sand beaches and azure-blue waters awaiting him and Jessie just beyond the confines of the US Air Force base.
Hammond, a tall man with slicked-back hair the color of straw, directed Janson to an idling olive-green jeep driven by a private first class who couldn’t possibly have been old enough to legally drink. As Janson belted himself into the passenger seat, Hammond leaned forward and said, “Air Force One landed on this runway not too long ago.”
“Is that right?” Janson said as the jeep pulled away from the jet.
Hammond mistook Janson’s politeness for genuine interest. “This past Christmas as a matter of fact. The First Family vacations on the windward side of the island, in the small beach town of Kailua.”
The three remained silent for the rest of the ten-minute drive. Janson’s original plan upon leaving Shanghai had been to land at nearby Honolulu International, where he’d meet Jessie and be driven to Waikiki for an evening of dinner and drinks and a steamy night at the iconic Pink Palace before boarding a puddle-jumper to Maui the next day. But a phone call Janson received thirty thousand miles above the Pacific changed all that.
Janson had been resting in his cabin, on the verge of sleep, when his lone flight attendant, Kayla, buzzed him over the intercom and announced that he had a call from the mainland.
“It’s a US senator,” Kayla said. “I thought you might want to take it.”
“Which senator?” Janson said groggily. He knew only a handful personally and liked even fewer.
“Senator James Wyckoff,” she said. “Of North Carolina.”
Wyckoff was neither one of the handful Janson knew personally nor one of the few he liked. But before Janson could ask her to take a callback number, Kayla told him that Wyckoff had been referred by his current client, Jeremy Beck, CEO of Edgerton-Gertz.
Grudgingly, Janson decided to take the call.
* * *
AS THE JEEP PULLED into the parking lot of a small administrative building, Janson turned to Hammond and said, “The senator beat me here?”
The flight from Shanghai was just over nine hours and Janson had already been in the air two hours when Wyckoff phoned. From DC, even under the best conditions, it was nearly a ten-hour flight to Honolulu, and Janson was fairly sure there was snow and ice on the ground in Washington this time of year.
“The senator actually called you from California,” Hammond said. “He’d been holding a fund-raiser at Exchange in downtown Los Angeles when he received the news about his son.”
Janson didn’t say anything else. He stepped out of the jeep and followed Hammond and the private first class to the building. The baby-faced PFC used a key to open the door then stepped aside as Janson and Hammond entered. The dissonant rumble of an ancient air conditioner emanated from overhead vents, and the sun’s natural light was instantly replaced by the harsh glow of buzzing fluorescent bulbs.
Hammond ushered Janson down a bleak hallway of scuffed linoleum into a spacious yet utilitarian office in the rear of the building, then quietly excused himself, saying, “Senator Wyckoff will be right with you.”
Two minutes later a toilet flushed and the senator himself stepped out of a back room with his hand already extended.
“Paul Janson, I presume.”
“A pleasure, Senator.”
Janson removed his Wayfarers and took the proffered seat in front of the room’s lone streaked and dented metal desk, while Senator Wyckoff situated himself on the opposite side, crossing his right leg over his left before taking a deep breath and launching into the facts.
“As I said over the phone, Mr. Janson, the details of my son’s disappearance are still sketchy. What we do know is that Gregory’s girlfriend of three years, a beautiful young lady named Lynell Yi, was found murdered in the hanok she and Gregory were staying at in central Seoul yesterday morning. She’d evidently been strangled.”
The senator appeared roughly fifty years old, well-groomed and dressed in an expensive tailored suit, but the bags under his eyes told the story of someone who’d lived through hell over the past twenty-four hours.
“The Seoul Metropolitan Police,” Wyckoff continued, “have named Gregory their primary suspect in Lynell’s death, which, if you knew my son, you’d know is preposterous. But of course my wife and I are concerned. Gregory’s just a teenager. We don’t know whether he’s been kidnapped or is on the run because he’s frightened. Being falsely accused of murder in a foreign country must be terrifying. Even though South Korea is our ally, it’ll take time to get things sorted out through the proper channels.” The senator leaned forward, planting his elbows on the desk. “I’d like for you to travel to Seoul and find him. That’s our first priority. Second, and nearly as important, I’d like you to conduct an independent investigation into Lynell’s murder. Now may be our only opportunity. I’m a former trial lawyer, and I can tell you from experience that evidence disappears fast. Witnesses vanish. Memories become fuzzy. If we don’t clear Gregory’s name in the next ninety-six hours, we may never be able to do so.”
Janson held up his hand. “Let me stop you right there, Senator. I sympathize with you, I do. I’m very sorry that your family is going through this. And I hope that your son turns up unharmed sooner rather than later. I’m sure you’re right. I’m sure he’s being wrongly accused, and I’m sincerely hopeful that you can prove it and bring him home to grieve for his girlfriend. But I’m afraid that I can’t help you with this. I’m not a private investigator.”
“I’m not suggesting you are. But this is no ordinary investigation.”
“Please, Senator, let me continue. I’m here as a courtesy to my client Jeremy Beck. But as I attempted to tell you over the phone, this simply isn’t something I can take on.” Janson reached into his jacket pocket and unfolded a piece of paper. “While I was in the air, I took the liberty of contacting a few old friends, and I have the names and telephone numbers of a handful of top-notch private investigators in Seoul. They know the city inside and out, and they can obtain information directly from the police without having to navigate through miles of red tape. According to my contacts, these men and women are the best investigators in all South Korea.”
Wyckoff accepted the piece of paper and set it down on the desk without looking at it. He narrowed his eyes, confirming Janson’s initial impression that the senator wasn’t a man who was told no very often. And that he seldom accepted the word for an answer.
“Mr. Janson, do you have children?”
As Wyckoff said it there was a firm knock on the door. The senator pushed himself out of his chair and trudged toward the sound.
Meanwhile, Janson frowned. He didn’t like to be asked personal questions. Not by clients and not by prospective clients. Certainly not after he’d already declined the job. And this was no innocuous question. It was a subject that burned Janson deep in his stomach. No, he did not have children. He did not have a family—only the memory of one. Only the stabbing recollection of a pregnant wife and the dashed dreams of their unborn child, their future obliterated by a terrorist’s bomb. They’d perished years ago yet it still felt like yesterday.
From behind, Janson heard Hammond’s sonorous voice followed by a far softer one and the unmistakable sound of a woman’s sobs.
“Mr. Janson,” the senator said, “I’d like you to meet my wife, Alicia. Gregory’s mother.”
Janson stood and turned toward the couple as Hammond stepped out, closing the door gently behind him.
Alicia Wyckoff stood before Janson visibly trembling, her eyes wet with mascara tears. She appeared to be a few years younger than her husband, but her handling of the present crisis threatened to catch her up to him in no time flat.
“Thank you so much for coming,” she said, ignoring Janson’s hand and instead gripping him in an awkward hug. He felt the warmth of her tears through his shirt, her long nails burrowing into his upper back.
If Janson were slightly more cynical, he’d have thought her entry had been meticulously timed in advance.
Wyckoff brushed some papers aside and sat on the front edge of the desk. “I know your professional history,” he said to Janson. “As soon as Jeremy gave me your name I contacted State and obtained a complete dossier. While a good many parts of the document were redacted, what I was able to read was very impressive. You are uniquely qualified for this job, Mr. Janson.” He paused for effect. “Please, don’t turn us away.”
“Turn us away?” Alicia Wyckoff interjected. “What are you talking about?” She turned to Janson. “Are you seriously considering refusing to help us?”
Janson remained standing. “As I told your husband a few moments ago I’m simply not the person you need.”
“But you are.” She spun toward her husband. “Haven’t you told him?”
Wyckoff shook his head.
“Told me what?”
Janson couldn’t imagine a scenario that might possibly change his mind. He’d just left Asia behind. He needed some downtime. Jessica needed some downtime. In the past couple of years they’d taken on one mission after another, almost without pause. Following two successive missions off the coast of Africa, Janson and Kincaid had promised themselves a break. But when Jeremy Beck called about the incessant cyber-espionage campaign being perpetrated by the Chinese government, Janson became intrigued. This was what his post–Cons Ops life was all about: changing the world, one mission at a time.
Wyckoff pushed off the desk and sighed deeply, as though he’d been hoping he wouldn’t have to divulge what he was about to. At least not until after Janson had accepted the case.
“We don’t think Lynell’s murder was a crime of passion or a random killing,” Wyckoff said. “And we don’t think the Seoul Metropolitan Police came to suspect our son by themselves; we think they were deliberately led there.”
Janson watched the senator’s eyes and said, “By who?”
Wyckoff pursed his lips. He looked as though he were about to sign a deal for his soul. Or something of even greater importance to a successful US politician. “What I say next stays between us, Mr. Janson.”
The senator placed his hands on his hips and exhaled. “We think Gregory was framed by your former employer.”
Janson hesitated. “I’m not sure I understand.”
“The victim, Lynell Yi, my son’s girlfriend, is—was
- On Sale
- Jun 2, 2015
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Grand Central Publishing