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Alex Garnett has spent his life in the shadow of his father, a former Chief of Staff and Solicitor General to two presidents who’s been responsible for getting Alex every job he ever had, including his latest: attorney for the CIA. However, a seemingly routine litigation leads to a series of unexpected events, including poison, kidnapping, torture and murder. As casualties pile up, it becomes clear Alex is the final target in someone’s blood-soaked attempts to cover their tracks.
With the help of a neurotic hacker, Alex unravels a conspiracy older than the CIA itself. The trail of clues reveals the presence of unseen forces that are bringing this nation to the brink of war — and Alex’s life is only one of many in danger.
The real rulers in Washington are invisible and exercise power from behind the scenes.
—U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter
OVER YAZD, IRAN
2330 HRS. ZULU
THE DESERT sand stirs for a moment before coiling up like smoke in the direction of the blowback created by the Sikorsky MH-53J’s titanium-and-steel rotor blades. The Sikorsky sails just a few feet above the sand dunes, flying low to avoid radar detection. In whisper mode, the helicopter makes a sound more evocative of a golf-course sprinkler than a 38,238-pound troop carrier. Inside, the men of the 21st Dust Devils Special Operations Squadron of the 352nd Special Operations Group wait without a word of chatter passing between them. This silence, however, is not tactically mandated. This silence is a function of the fucking heat. On a night like this, the stale, hot desert air can push the mercury well over one hundred degrees, which is uncomfortable, at best, when one is completely naked but almost intolerable when wearing thirty pounds of ordnance and Kevlar. Even with years of training, these soldiers have to concentrate simply to keep from passing out. That kind of effort takes focus that’s best not wasted on talking.
Not that the Dust Devils have much to talk about in any case. The pre-op briefing they received in Iskenderun has been repeated and reviewed so many times, the mission objectives are as familiar to them as their home phone numbers. These objectives were applied to the general insertion-and-extraction scenario the men have drilled on so often that muscle memory will do more than half the work for them. So long as the hostages are where the intel indicates they are, the Dust Devils think, this op will not be unlike going to the grocery store to extract a quart of milk, a confidence shared by every man in the unit, even the more historically fluent who recall Captain Edward A. Murphy’s famous remark “If anything can go wrong, it will.”
But then, Captain Murphy was air force, not Special Forces.
* * *
The Sikorsky’s two rear wheel sets kiss the roof of Ardakan Charity Hospital. A falling leaf makes more noise. Less than two seconds later, five pairs of boots spill out. In one fluid move, Sergeant First Class Robert Gundy takes the point as his men fall into a standard two-by-two cover formation behind him. The deployment is only slightly more coordinated than a ballet you might see on any given night at Lincoln Center.
Gundy shoots a look to his right to find that the roof-access door is precisely where the briefing given by his CO said it would be. With a sharp jab of his finger, he gives Sergeant Bellamy the signal to unlock the door, which Bellamy does with practiced efficiency and the aid of a hydrosulfuric acid mixture that bubbles and hisses through the lock like a destructive Alka-Seltzer. After a few seconds of chemical activity, Bellamy pops the lock as easily as if he were walking down a flight of stairs.
The Dust Devils navigate the utility stairwell, taking the steps two at a time, and arrive at their designated floor. Gundy places a gloved hand on the bar that their briefing indicated would open the door into the intensive care unit, the lone barrier now separating him and his men from the rest of a hospital staffed and occupied mostly by civilians. He hopes he won’t have to kill any of them but knows that such hope is futile. The thought gives him pause for maybe half a second.
Gundy pushes the door open to reveal the ICU. The room is both dark and quiet, two things no hospital anywhere in the world is. Shit’s wrong, Gundy thinks. Too damn quiet for a hospital. A hospital in the States, at least, he corrects himself. No electricity’s just SOP for a BFC like Iran. “Standard operating procedure” for a “backward fucking country.” He gives the signal for the men to don their AN/PVS-22 Night Vision goggles.
Gundy taps a button and the view through his goggles shifts from murky blackness to the ethereal green light of infrared. Activating the infrared also toggles the settings on the mini-cam mounted to each man’s helmet, so the video feeds transmitted via WiFi back to the Sikorsky are simultaneously shifted to Night Vision. The Sikorsky, in turn, uploads the data—after encrypting it—to a KH-11 satellite flying in geosynchronous orbit directly overhead. It takes approximately 1.68 seconds for the bird to decode, re-encrypt, and relay the video back to Earth, where the data stream can be unencrypted yet again and displayed on an LCD flat-screen. “As good as the feed is, it’s not much good,” a professorial-looking Paul Langford mutters, scrutinizing the video.
Behind Langford, the Operations Center is abuzz with focused activity. A cadre of a dozen men, all wearing nondescript business suits, dutifully attend to their jobs at workstations consisting of computer displays, ebony keyboards, and touchpad interfaces. There is no reason other than personal habit that Langford is peering at the LCD monitor. The same footage plays on a matrix of flat-screens arrayed on the op-center wall, almost as large as a movie screen. With the overhead fluorescents dimmed, the green-tinted night-vision imagery provides most of the lighting in the room, casting the entire space in a ghostly emerald hue.
Watching the images come in from Gundy’s helmet cam, Langford takes all of eight seconds to verbalize his misgivings, which he does in three syllables: “Call it off.”
“Misplaced your balls, Paul?” William Rykman, a taciturn man five years Langford’s senior, says. He has a military bearing to go with his thick, marine-like physique. A Brillo pad of hair tops a severely angular face that frames eyes as cold as a New England winter. He’s got a knack for simultaneously criticizing Langford and challenging his manhood with the most economy of words.
Langford and Rykman aren’t on each other’s Christmas-card lists, but what they lack in friendship, they make up for in mutual respect. They share a bond that’s closer than blood, even closer than marriages lasting for decades. It’s the type of bond born of holding another man’s intestines inside his torso with your bare hand while concussion grenades explode over both your heads.
“Balls have nothing to do with it, Bill, and you damn well know that. Something’s not right here.”
“We’re not going to get another chance at this,” Rykman reminds him in a level voice.
“Jahandar got wise to what we’re trying to pull, Bill. It’s time to go to plan B.”
“Agreed. Soon as we get the men from plan A back.”
“Those men are acceptable losses. An entire division of Special Forces troops is not.” Langford tries to keep his voice as even as Rykman’s but can’t quite pull it off. At the end of the day, that’s what really distinguishes the two men: Langford’s heart may have grown cold decades ago, but Rykman’s has always been at absolute zero. Assuming he has one to begin with.
“I hope I don’t have to remind you that I’m in command here,” Rykman replies. “I make the tactical decisions. I define the acceptable level of loss.”
“Green light.” Rykman says this not to Langford but to Tyler Donovan, a short but stocky crew cut of a man who had any trace of independent thinking removed by time and training long ago.
Donovan glances over to Rykman’s seat, slightly removed from the table, before repeating the “Green light” order into the system that keeps him in real-time communication with the Dust Devils, half a world away.
Those two syllables are all Gundy needs. He flashes the signal to commence the next stage of the operation, extraction: His index and middle fingers in a V-for-victory sign, he points to his goggle-clad eyes and then pulls the fingers down. Night Vision off.
Bellamy is up next. He throws a flash-bang grenade down the hospital corridor. The hallway lights up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve, blinding and disorienting the armed guards keeping watch at the other end. It takes only three silenced shots—which sound like someone spitting out watermelon seeds—to send the guards to Allah. The corridor now secure, the Devils continue their practiced attack, moving down the hallway and into the room where their pre-op briefing told them the hostages would be.
Gundy switches on his Maglite, tacitly giving his men permission to turn on theirs. The high-wattage flashlight beams cut the room into sections. Light dances around before coming to rest on the faces of six men, all strapped to gurneys. Faces, however, would be inaccurate. One of the men has been relieved of his right eye. Another is missing a nose. A third has had his skin peeled off, and an eyelid, which exposes a milky white sphere that glows in the reflected light. The eye, like those of the other men, has no spark of life.
None of the Devils blanch. They’ve seen worse done to men, and worse still done to women and babies. If they have an emotional response at all, it’s not disgust or sorrow, but rage. And the rage is fueled not by the depravity done to their countrymen but by the realization that comes too late: They’ve been had.
* * *
Langford and Rykman watch the grainy video images being sent back by the Dust Devils and reach the same conclusion. The six hostages weren’t prisoners; they were bait. The epiphany hits hard, like a slap in the face from a betrayed lover.
Langford notices Rykman leering at the gory images. He’s made a habit of turning a blind eye to Rykman’s tendencies toward the sadistic. Instead, he focuses on the six dead hostages. It’s worse than he feared and just as he’d warned them all, but Langford doesn’t revel in being proved right. He’s not the type of man to celebrate, under any circumstances, the death of even a single American.
Nothing but the static from the Devils’ radios prevails, blanketing the Operations Center in a thick hiss that sounds like driving rain. After a few seconds—the kind of seconds that unfold with the speed of hours—Rykman takes a step toward the monitors that still display the video feeds of the mutilated hostages. He continues to stare at them, neither angry nor sad, like an auditor looking over a tax return. “All right,” he mutters, his voice barely above a whisper. “Let’s get them home.”
* * *
Gundy hears Donovan convey Rykman’s evac order. He raises his index finger in the air and whirls it around three times. “Bug out.”
Sergeant Murphy is the first to speak. “We taking them?” He points to the six dead hostages.
With that, the Dust Devils start to release the hostages from their confines. The men work quickly, each using his Colt Commander utility knife to slice gurney straps with the precision of a Japanese teppanyaki chef. With the hostages dead, there’s no need to be gentle about it. There’s no time to be either. “Two-six over,” Murphy calls out. They’re already twenty-six seconds behind their op schedule. Gundy doubles his speed, and as a result, he doesn’t see the wire cable that’s wrapped around the neck of the hostage he has in his arms. As Gundy lifts the dead man, the upward motion pulls the cable taut. Gundy barely has a second to register the cable’s resistance before it flies free of a hidden gas canister with the sound of a cork popping.
Then comes the screaming.
Olive-green gas carpets the entire room within seconds. Gundy takes a breath, and it feels like a colony of army ants lines his throat, each one trying to burrow its way through mucous membranes to freedom.
Murphy is the first to remove his goggles, revealing the cracked, blistering skin around his now-bloodshot eyes. There’s a deep, dark recess of his mind that has always been curious about what it feels like to have your face burn off. Now he knows. The agony continues for twenty seconds before he mercifully passes out. Death follows thirty seconds later.
Gundy is next to die. This can’t be fucking happening, he thinks over and over again as he suffocates. When he finally drops, the thirty pounds of equipment he’s carrying makes a resounding smack on the hospital linoleum.
A third Dust Devil, Roger Pruitt, places his SIG Sauer P226 under his jaw and fires a single, self-euthanizing shot.
With Pruitt’s death, Bellamy and a fifth Dust Devil, Edwin Hodge, are the last men standing. As the ranking officer, Bellamy should be the one to give the bug-out order, but it’s hardly necessary. In any case, he can’t speak with the fucking gas choking the life out of him. The two men make their way out of the hospital room and race back to the utility stairwell, where they take the steps two at a time up to the Sikorsky waiting on the roof.
The helo’s pilot sees the soldiers and notes they’re about three men and six hostages short of the group he’s supposed to be lifting off. But Bellamy barks at him, “Abort op! Abort op!,” which prompts the pilot to stab a series of buttons that start the copter’s twin props and readies them to fly the hell out of Dodge.
* * *
In the Op Center, Rykman turns to Donovan. “Cover our tracks.”
Langford looks to Rykman, who doesn’t meet his gaze.
Even Donovan, who always obeys without question, glances up at Rykman.
“Scorched earth,” Rykman confirms.
Donovan types in a string of commands that send a concert of electronic signals into space to be retransmitted back down to the Sikorsky…
* * *
It takes only one pound of military-grade M112 C-4 plastic explosive—the same explosive al-Qaeda used to bomb the USS Cole in 2000—to cut a one-inch-thick piece of steel in half. The belly of the Sikorsky is packed with almost thirty pounds of the stuff, needing nothing other than Donovan’s signal to ignite it. Within milliseconds, the signal reaches the receiver hidden away in the Sikorsky’s bowels and triggers the C-4. The chemical reaction that occurs releases a cornucopia of gases. The nitrogen and carbon oxide storm expands so fast that the force released is the equivalent of a car slamming into a concrete wall at 300 miles per hour.
Bellamy, Hodge, the Sikorsky’s pilot, and the Sikorsky are ripped apart in seconds.
The return-trip jet fuel joins the gas and chemical orgy, the whole thing blossoming into a fireball that consumes the upper six floors of the Ardakan Charity Hospital, destroying all evidence of both the Dust Devils and the six hostages they were charged with recovering.
* * *
“We’ll need cover stories for the hostages,” Rykman says. “Car accidents, house fires, whatnot.”
“What about the op team?” Donovan asks.
Without waiting for confirmation from Donovan, without exchanging a glance with Langford, Rykman turns and marches out of the room. He’s barely at the door before all thoughts of the Dust Devils, the hostages, and the Sikorsky are expunged from his mind. There are more pressing matters to deal with. Langford was right about one thing: His enemies figured out what the hostages, Rykman’s assets, were doing in Iran in the first place. As Langford said, it’s time for plan B.
* * *
Rykman pushes open the steel door and is greeted by a thick blast of humidity. He takes a deep hit, filling his lungs before slowly exhaling in a practiced attempt to clear his mind. He’s not troubled by what just happened—no more than an oncologist is troubled by a spot on an x-ray of a patient he’s just met—but he wants to give himself one last reprieve, a few more seconds of calm reflection, before pulling the trigger on the decision he made in the elevator ride up from the Op Center.
Rykman takes one look at the nondescript industrial park surrounding him—gray warehouses with gray doors and gray roofs, a monument to the unexceptional—and removes his phone from his pocket. The custom firmware on the phone’s touchscreen scans his thumbprint and biometrically confirms it belongs to General William J. Rykman, U.S. Army, retired.
The phone on the other end of the line rings only once before Rykman speaks. “Rykman. Ident code six-niner-alpha.” A series of harmonics—three overlapping chimes—indicate acceptance of Rykman’s call. Seconds later, a voice drier and more world-weary than Rykman’s croaks out a simple question: “Yes?”
Rykman pauses. The encryption needs a second to work its magic, so it’s best not to reply too quickly lest he cut the other caller off. In that brief moment, Rykman reflects on the fact that while the man’s question—“Yes?”—may be simple, the answer is anything but. The answer is damn complex and nuanced, as all good answers are. But that will be fodder for a different conversation in a secure location swept of any electronic eavesdropping devices. For now, pure naked information will suffice: “Vanguard’s dead.”
“All of them?”
“All of them.”
“Any consideration given to replacing the assets?”
“It took thirteen months to set Vanguard’s cover. And the target blew through it anyway.”
“We go with plan B, then. Solstice.”
“Green light?” Rykman asks, more out of habit than a genuine need to confirm.
The line goes dead. Rykman swallows another gulp of humidity before he makes a new secure call. The voice on the other end is female and unfamiliar. He’s fallen behind on his review of the personnel files of his ever-growing staff. Again. He makes a mental note to catch up—tonight, over a glass of Macallan—before acting on his elevator-ride decision. “Send a cleaning crew to eight sixty-three M Street, Georgetown. Langford, Paul.”
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
4:03 P.M. EST
JESUS PENA leans back on the metal chair he’s sitting on, glances over at his attorney, and then returns his attention to the bandage on his hand. He picks at it, giving it a flick, flick, flick with the nail of his index finger, as if to suggest he’s far more interested in whether the bandage will stay on than in how many years of his life he can expect to spend in prison. In addition to the bandage, Jesus wears a bright orange DC DOC jumpsuit. The outfit would have had the effect of making him look nonthreatening, bordering on silly, were the sleeves not rolled up to expose the intricate multicolored tattoos covering both arms. They complement the two additional tattoos in the shape of teardrops under his right eye. The face tats, each the work of a different prison artist, represent two different murders. However, neither homicide is the reason Jesus is sitting in the concrete-floored jailhouse conference room.
Jesus looks up from his bandage again, this time to eye-fuck the prosecutor, Sandy Remz, although he knows the man only as “the DA motherfucker.” Remz is sitting across from him at the bolted-to-the-floor metal table. He has the kind of smug look that comes with knowing he has Jesus dead to rights. It’s a look Jesus has daydreamed at length about wiping off the DA motherfucker’s face from the skin on down ever since first meeting him at his arraignment six months ago. It was at that hearing that the prosecutor argued, with the kind of fire-and-brimstone self-righteousness you’d expect from a southern preacher and not from some 50K-a-year civil servant, that Jesus was a flight risk and should therefore be left to rot in jail until he was convicted. And that, Jesus recalls with venom, is why he’s wearing this fucking orange jumpsuit and why he has already served six months for a crime he hasn’t yet been convicted of.
Worse still is the fact that Jesus has had to spend those six months in jail instead of prison. Prisons, at least the kind of prisons Jesus is accustomed to, are built to house inmates serving sentences measured in years if not decades, and they have the facilities to meet those needs. Jails, however, are designed for housing misdemeanors, people serving out sentences of 365 days or fewer, and those awaiting trial, like Jesus. As such, their amenities are minimal and their cells small, which makes jail a much deeper circle of hell than the worst of prisons.
“Murder two. Fifteen to thirty,” Remz throws out.
“Man two,” Jesus’s state-appointed attorney counters, as if the two men are dickering over a used car. “Seven and a half to fifteen.”
Jesus regards his lawyer, a chill enough guy named Alex Garnett. When Jesus first met him, he got up in Garnett’s grill. “You my lawyer, you figure out a way to get me off. ’S’not my problem no more,” Jesus hissed.
But Alex didn’t back down the way most civilians did. He just shrugged his shoulders with the same kind of apathy Jesus prided himself on. “Actually, it is your problem, ’cause I’m not the one facing life in prison. You wanna go in for all day, that’s cool. I get paid either way, man.” It was a show of sack that Jesus could respect.
Remz scoffs theatrically at Alex’s offered plea bargain and turns to his partner for confirmation that the public defender is barking up the wrong tree. The partner, whom Jesus has come to think of as “the bitch DA,” is much younger and more attractive than the DA motherfucker. She shakes her pretty little head. Her wholesome expression is contradicted by eyes that are a little more come-hither. She catches Jesus looking at her, not for the first time. He puckers his lips in response. He knows from long experience that she’s only pretending it doesn’t make her want to vomit as she keeps a dead stare on Jesus’s smug face. “Mr. Pena shot a man in cold blood.”
“Point of fact,” Alex counters, “his running buddy did. This accomplice—a Mr. Luiz Grenados—already pleaded to man one and is currently serving a fifteen-year sentence in one of our finer correctional institutions.”
“Mr. Grenados’s plea arrangement doesn’t interest me,” Remz rebuts. “That deal was negotiated by a different—and clearly more accommodating—assistant district attorney. More to the point, who fired the fatal bullet is irrelevant due to the application of the felony murder rule.”
“Bonhart issues,” Alex says with a dismissive wave. “I can get past felony murder. Plus, the vic was another gangbanger. So I could go self-defense.”
A felony repeater of some years, Jesus has enough experience with the criminal justice system to detect public-defender bullshit, the same way a meth head can tell if the crystal’s been cut with too much baking soda. That experience, however, tells him that PD bullshit won’t get it done. Not this time. Not with all the evidence, both forensic and ballistic, plus an eyeball witness, to say nothing of Luiz’s testimony against him. The bitch DA is pointing out exactly that as Jesus commits to doing something he’s not so much daydreamed about but planned. It’s a strategy he started formulating shortly after his arrest, on the ride to Central Booking in the squad car with the busted shocks, his hands still cuffed behind his back with the metal bracelets digging into his wrists. Its penultimate step was cutting his right palm on a cell-made shiv this morning. The jail infirmary bandaged it up, but Jesus has kept at the wound enough to prevent a scab from forming. Now, it’s oozing just a bit. Just the right amount.
Thanks to the natural selection of the street, most gangbangers, including Jesus, have the bodies and reflexes of at least farm-team-level athletes. That’s why it takes only three seconds for him to vault over the metal table, hockey-check aside the DA motherfucker, and get his arms wrapped around the bitch DA. Both prosecutors, completely unaccustomed to dealing directly with any type of violence, are frozen by the sudden display of aggression. All they can manage to do is suck in huge lungfuls of air. This paralysis buys Jesus the half second he needs to rip off the infirmary’s bandage, exposing the gash on his palm he’s so carefully maintained over the past few hours. Another half a second is all he needs to claw the side of the bitch DA’s face with his fingernails. It’s a pretty face and it’s a damn fucking shame to mess it up like this—it’s like keying the side of a brand-new Escalade—but drawing blood is the important element, the critical element, of his plan.
It takes three tries to open the bitch DA’s skin because she’s so busy crying—Jesus can’t believe she’s crying already—and the tears have made her cheek slick. Complicating matters further is the fact that she’s screaming—hysterically—practically in his goddamn ear. The DA motherfucker is screaming as well, starting with “Get away from her!” and then, perhaps realizing it will take more than that, turning away and yelling, “On the gate! On the gate!” He’s not shouting to the door but rather to the guards he hopes are within earshot beyond. If they are, they’re ignoring him, because no guards come in.
Jesus grips the female prosecutor tighter and raises his voice. “I’m positive. HIV, hoss. You lemme outta here or I’ll do her!” Then, as if more explanation were required, Jesus brings his bloody palm dangerously close to the girl’s bleeding face.
- "Politically savvy . . . This is a spy thriller for people who don't ordinarily like spy thrillers. . . . The book is a paranoid's delight."—Mystery Scene
- "Overwatch doesn't just bring together the legal and espionage genres. It merges family problems with professional ones, swirls in a major helping of murder and mayhem, and with a deft touch, reminds us why politics is--always--personal."—Brad Meltzer, author of The Fifth Assassin
- "The best thriller writers are always storytellers first and Guggenheim is, quite simply, a terrific storyteller. Part legal thriller, part espionage page-turner... If you ever wanted to know what the marriage of Clancy and Grisham would look like, devour Overwatch."—Derek Haas, author of The Right Hand
- "Over the years I've used many hyphenated adjectives to describe lawyers (i.e., "soul-sucking," "bottom-feeding"). Now, thanks to Marc Guggenheim's debut novel, I can add a new one to the list: "bad-ass." Overwatch is a brilliantly-paced novel with the brains of a legal thriller, the testosterone of an action movie, and white-hot paranoia of a 70s conspiracy flick. Not only is Alex Garnett one of my favorite new heroes, but Guggenheim has also created a seriously warped villain - frightening not only because of what he does, but because you get the sinking feeling he might be alive and working in D.C. right now."—Duane Swierczynski, author of Point & Shoot
- "Alex Garnett is the perfect contemporary 'stranger in a stranger land'--a good man trying to maintain a dignified perspective within the moralistic marshes of Washington DC. And now he's also stumbled upon what he believes to be a substrata of lawlessness that makes the Old West look like an afternoon tea party. With a magnificent interweaving of law, history, and good ol' knife's-edge suspense, Guggenheim spins out a gem with Overwatch." —Wil Mara, author of Frame 232 and The Gemini Virus
- "It's spy-vs.-lawyer in the tightly drawn thriller Overwatch. Marc Guggenheim knows exactly which laws are broken by the nation's most secretive agencies: all of them. Insider detail, accelerating tension and the highest stakes possible make this novel impossible to put down."—Mike Cooper, author of Full Ratchet and Clawback
- "Marc Guggenheim is a monster talent, able to go from TV to film to novels with an ease I envy, and the skill of a master storyteller."—Ed Brubaker, author of Fatale, Criminal, Captain America, and Sleeper
- On Sale
- Apr 15, 2014
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Mulholland Books