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ABOUT TEN MINUTES after their meeting, Liam is sitting on a park bench in Farragut Square, one block away from the Hay- Adams Hotel. Next to him, Noa says sharply, “Did you hear the president back there? Did you?”
“I was in the room, right? Of course I heard him.”
“Help him and the empire? Empire? Do you remember taking an oath to defend an empire, Liam? I sure as hell don’t. And then he said something about the ‘ones fighting against me and our nation.’ You don’t think that’s odd, him identifying himself as being the nation? Like Louis XIV from France who said, L’état, c’est moi. Is that what we’re putting our asses on the line for?”
Around them pedestrians, tourists, and district government work- ers are strolling along, enjoying the sunny day and relatively dry air, and Liam feels the unseemliness of it all, that just a few minutes ago, they were in a nearby hotel suite, talking about destroying the nation’s enemies.
Liam says, “The boss was just exaggerating, that’s all. Lots of pundits and scholars say we’re an empire. Most are too polite to say it out loud.”
“The president of the United States shouldn’t be saying that, in private or out loud. And shouldn’t personally link external enemies to his own safety.”
Liam says, “At least he’s not using Twitter. Come on, you expect the president to be a constitutional scholar?”
“I expect him to do right, that’s what I expect. And not sound like he’s losing his grip on things.”
“And you’re the judge of that?” Liam asks.
“Somebody has to be,” she says. “You’ll keep on saluting and saying ‘yes, sir’ all the way to the congressional hearings, with your ass on the line, and me right next to you.”
Liam shifts so he gets a better look at her angry face. “All right, Noa, what’s your deal? What’s driving you? If you’re so straight, why in hell did you join the Agency?”
Noa says, “You’re ex-military. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me,” Liam says.
Noa says, “In this fight . . . I’ve always felt like we were the civilized
ones, fighting against the ones enjoying blowing up kindergartens, taking down civilian airliners, shooting up shopping malls.”
“The CIA psychologists would probably think that’s a simple and crude assumption,” Liam says. “Even though I tend to agree with you.”
“Do you think those psychologists know what ZAKA is?”
Liam thinks he’s familiar with the term but plays along for Noa’s sake. “Probably not. Tell me about ZAKA.”
Noa stares out over at the calm and peaceful park, and in a voice that’s now slight, tentative, she says, “I’ve gone back to Israel a few times to visit family. Twice I’ve seen ZAKA in action. They’re a volunteer group that responds with emergency personnel if there’s a terrorist bombing somewhere. But they don’t work to help the survivors or work on the injured. No, they volunteer to recover the smallest piece of flesh, bone, or brain, so that in the traditional Jewish way, it can be properly buried.”
Liam keeps his mouth shut. “So you have our enemies using our technology, from cell phones to bomb-making, and we—the civilized ones—respond by forming squads of volunteers to fulfill a burial obligation. More than two decades ago, the barbarians used the latest in aviation technology to attack this very city. But people forget. They’re still out there, waiting to strike again. They’ve killed your brother, and they killed my cousin Becky in Beirut, years back. And if, by joining the Agency, if I can help knock back the barbarians, I’ll work night and day to do so.”
“Nice point of view,” he says. “I grew up here in DC, long ways away from embassy row and fancy parties, with equally lousy schools. But my parents did the best they could, my dad working as a sergeant in the Capitol Police and my mom as an editor at the Government Printing Office. I saw from them what it was like to work with higher-ups who think they know it all, and I didn’t like it. Still don’t like it. Especially those bureaucrats who’ve never been in the field, have never seen what the bad guys can do.”
“Glad to hear that,” Noa says. “But what was that bit back there, about the vice president and the Russians and you?”
Liam says, “Need to know.”
Noa swears and says, “In case you haven’t figured it, chief, I’m handcuffed to you on this op. You and I are either going to get promoted, go to prison, or have a memorial star carved in a marble wall at Langley when this is over. I think I have a goddamn right to know.”
Liam looks around the crowded Farragut Square, wondering just how many of the people out there knew of Civil War Admiral David Farragut, who led an attacking Union force through Mobile Bay— the Confederacy’s last open port—and when he learned that the harbor was mined with objects called torpedoes at the time, issued that famous order.
“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
Damn the torpedoes, indeed.
He says, “My crew and I raided a Russian bot farm and took it out.”
“Where was it?” she asks. “Africa? Baltic States? One of the ’stans in Central Asia?”
“Just outside of Saint Petersburg,” he says.
“Saint Petersburg?” she asks with awe. “The one here or the one over there?”
“Don’t be silly,” he says. “The one over there.”
Noa lets out a low whistle. “That’s some damn impressive shootin’ there, cowboy. How did it go?”
“Went off fine, without a hitch,” he says, and then, correcting himself, adds, “One small hitch. Ops like that one tend to lend themselves to last-minute complications.”
“When you say ‘raid’ and ‘took it out,’ mind clearing away the sterile language and telling me exactly what happened?”
Liam says, “We got there, pretending to be a domestic package delivery outfit. About a minute before knocking on the door, one of my guys disabled their electronics, surveillance gear, and communications. We then went in and killed everybody in the building, and then set off thermite charges to burn everything, including concrete and steel.”
Another low whistle from Noa. “You overseas boys sure don’t mess around.”
Liam says, “This bot farm was run by the Russian GRU and was responsible for that civil war in Myanmar last year, the one that killed thousands, and also responsible for fouling up that special Senate race in Montana. We also left a calling card. A pistol and charred notebook indicating the raid had come from the KDB in Belarus. Shed no tears for them, Noa.”
“I won’t,” she says. “What was the hitch?”
“The GRU tends to be a chauvinistic unit,” he says. “Every GRU officer in there was male and got two taps to the head and one to the chest...except for a young woman, hiding out in a bathroom. Maybe nineteen years old. Twenty.”
Noa says, “Shit.”
“Yeah. We had strict orders. No prisoners, no wounded GRU officers, no witnesses. But the orders didn’t say anything about a scared teenager hiding in a WC.”
Noa says, “Must have been hard, doing what you did.”
Liam is surprised. “How do you know what I did?”
“You outlined your rules of engagement. You don’t get to where you are by ignoring them.”
Liam says, “You’re a cold one.”
“If so, we’re both hanging out in the same freezer. So answer the question.”
Liam says, “She was in a military uniform, in a military facility, and she pulled a pistol on me and a fellow operator.” “Then you did your job,” she says.
Noa says, “Well, we’ve got a new job now, friend.” “What’s that?”
“Keeping an eye on POTUS, along with me,” she says. “He says he chose us for particular reasons, to do what’s right. Okay, so far, we’ve signed off on his targeting plans. They may be a stretch, but they’re legitimate. But you know what they say about absolute power and how it corrupts. At some point, we may get a target from Barrett that’s not legitimate. What are we going to do then?”
“No, that’s what we’ll do,” Liam says. “Like LBJ said last century, better to be on the inside of the tent pissing out, than outside and pissing in. He’s trusting us, he’s liking what we’re doing, and we can be in a position to gently steer him away if he gets too enthusiastic.”
“Too enthusiastic? Or too much of something else?”
“Like it scares me to say it out loud,” Noa says. “You have to admit that what he’s doing isn’t normal.”
“Jesus, Noa, what’s considered normal when it comes to a president. Do I have to remind you of—”
“No, you don’t,” she says. “At least this boss stays off Twitter and doesn’t claim to be a stable genius. But you and I, we’re in a privileged spot.”
“No argument there,” he says. “And I’ll talk to you if I’m concerned about an op or issue, if you promise to do the same.”
“Deal,” Noa says. “But we’ve got to prepare for something that’s coming our way, Liam. We and our teams are disappearing a number of opposing units. One of these days, our enemies are going to take notice, and they’ll respond.”
Liam thinks for a moment and says, “Like what we did after we armed the jihadists in Afghanistan when they were fighting the Russians. We walked away from the wreckage we helped cause, and that helped breed the Taliban and al-Qaeda.”
“We’re causing chaos now, Liam, we need to be eyes open for what happens next.”
Liam nods. “Blowback.”
Noa says, “Blowback like we can’t even imagine.”
James Patterson's Best Thriller in Years
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A brilliant American president is also a psychopath. He has his finger on the red button. And he’s about to start a world war with our most dangerous enemy. Put your finger on the order button. Push it to read James Patterson’s best and scariest novel yet.
“Pure Patterson… Blowback asks us to imagine what would happen if a narcissistic psychopath were elected to the White House [and] to experience the terror of the world hanging in the balance at a moment when only a handful of determined patriots can save us.” –Ron Charles, Washington Post
US President Keegan Barrett has swept into office on his success as Director of the CIA. Six months into his first term, he devises a clandestine power grab with deadly consequences.
Barrett personally orders CIA agents Liam Grey and Noa Himel to execute his plan, but their loyalties are divided. The CIA serves at the pleasure of the president, yet they’ve sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
When the threat comes directly from the Oval Office, that’s where the blowback begins.