By Jeff Abbott
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Sam Capra and his thirteen-year-old son, Daniel, are living a quiet life in Austin, Texas, where Sam continues to run his collection of bars and nightclubs around the world. He's had no recent contact with his former partner, Mila, and is working for America's most secret espionage agency, known as Section K—all while trying to be a good suburban dad.
Suddenly, Sam is approached by a fellow spy with an incredible revelation: Markus Bolt is missing. Bolt is the last American traitor, who had turned over allied agent names and military secrets to the Russians. He fled to Moscow when he was discovered, but now a trusted source inside Russia tells Section K that Markus Bolt has vanished from Moscow—and the Americans need to find him before the Russians do.
Sam is charged with making contact with Bolt's abandoned American daughter, Amanda, and determining if she's had any contact with her father. He must discover the reason behind Bolt's unexpected run and protect Amanda from the killers hunting her father.
But as Sam's search for Bolt grows more dangerous, Sam faces a rising threat born of long‑ago secrets—one that could change his and his son's lives forever.
SAM CAPRA WATCHED THE ASSASSIN enter the middle school gym.
Screams and cheers erupted as Sam’s son Daniel sank a basket. An excited dad next to Sam slapped his shoulder but Sam kept his gaze on the assassin. He watched the man scan the crowd—both teams’ supporters were on one set of risers on one side of the gym—and the man was careful not to look directly at Sam.
He’s here for me.
There was no other explanation for this man to be in the Austin suburb of Lakehaven. Sam was the only reason.
Sam watched the man wait until the action had moved toward the opposite basket, and then move quickly to take a seat on the third row. Sam was certain the assassin had seen him, probably through the glass doors before entering the gym, and would not telegraph a look toward Sam. He wore a gray-and-red polo, close to the colors of Lakehaven Middle School, same as Sam and many other parents there. Trying to blend in. Not be noticed.
Strike and leave.
“Your boy’s on fire!” crowed the hearty dad, Matt, and Sam just nodded and smiled. He saw Daniel glance at him—Dad, are you watching?—and Sam nodded and smiled again.
He glanced at the game clock. Two minutes left in game time. If the assassin was going to make his move, he’d wait for the crowd to thin—the players’ parents, and the team itself, were the last to leave. Sam would have to get Daniel and everyone else clear of danger, see if another parent could take Daniel to their house, manufacture a quick little lie. Stay behind and get rid of this guy.
Or Sam could walk out right now; the killer would follow surely. And then the departing crowd might find the man’s body in the parking lot. It wasn’t enough time to dispose of a body. He was unarmed at the moment, but he had a Glock and a combat knife hidden in his SUV.
But the man might not take the bait, and other parents would wonder why he was bolting at the end of such a close game.
Lakehaven down by two points. Daniel stole the ball and drove toward the basket, got it stolen right back from him. Daniel’s face wore that look of frustrated concentration that Sam knew well.
The other team scored; one of Daniel’s teammates and best friends, James, responded with a fast score. Down two again. A foul against the other team, but the shooter missed the free throws. Sam risked a glance toward the assassin.
The man remained in place, apparently mesmerized by a middle school basketball game.
Who sent you?
Thirty seconds left. Two points down. His friend James stole the ball, drove, scored. Tied game.
Next to Sam, Matt, who was James’s dad, whooped as if he were at the Super Bowl and not watching a bunch of thirteen-year-olds.
Sam’s gaze locked on the assassin. Worst case: Sam killed him in front of people. It would mean the end of their lives here in Lakehaven, being resettled elsewhere by the government, uprooting Daniel’s life and explaining finally to him what Dad really did for a living. He watched the assassin lean toward another parent, say something, laugh.
Ten seconds. Daniel had the ball. Attempted the shot. The ball bounced, rolled on the rim… and went in.
The Lakehaven crowd erupted into cheers; Daniel was mobbed by his teammates. In the heady celebration of victory, of the first time he’d ever made the winning shot, he turned to see his father not looking at him but staring somewhere else, lower on the stands.
“He made it!” Matt yelled in Sam’s ear.
Yes. Sam calculated the odds. That meant people would be around his son—coaches, parents, excited players, and students. That meant the assassin couldn’t get near Daniel. So Sam could lure the man outside into the darkness.
Now the two teams lined up for their handshakes.
Sam watched the assassin stand, clapping like the other adults. Now the man looked up at Sam. Gazes met. Then the assassin looked back at the court, stopped clapping, crossed his arms.
Crossed arms made it slower for him to produce a weapon. Sam stared.
“Wow, Daniel’s improved so much,” Matt said to Sam. “Did you get him a private coach?”
Sam kept his gaze on the assassin. “No, we just practiced more when I was home,” Sam said. Matt was patting Sam on the back, as if Sam had scored the points.
The two teams did their walk-by handshakes. Daniel didn’t look up at Sam as his team retreated to a corner of the gym and had their postgame meeting with their coach. Most of the crowd began filtering out of the gym. The assassin stayed put, no one interacting with him.
Sam let the words of the other parents wash over him: the excitement, the complaining about the coaching, why hadn’t so-and-so gotten more playing time (it never failed to amaze Sam what parents would say in front of each other when it came to sports). One of the moms started talking to Sam, reminding him he was due to work the concessions booth next week at the A team game (Daniel was on the B team). He turned, smiled, nodded, started making his way down the risers toward where the assassin stood.
Get him out, away from everyone. On the opposite side of the parking lot was a pedestrian exit that fed out to a tree-covered hillside. Dark, quiet. He glanced over at his son, who had his back to him, and thought: This will not be the last time I see you.
The assassin walked toward him. Now with both hands full. One holding a red-and-gray pom-pom some of the students had been waving during the game, the other hand holding an envelope.
A peace sign.
Sam stepped toward him, away from the other parents, no one paying attention to them now.
“Mr. Capra,” he said.
“I know what you are,” Sam said, putting a cordial smile on his face.
“Do you?” He had a low, careful voice. Vague accent, the kind an American who lives in Europe for a long time tends to pick up.
“I saw you. In Paris. Six years ago. We were both dispatched for the same job due to crossed wires with intel agencies. You got to the target first.” He shrugged. “Clean, efficient job you did.”
The assassin’s smile didn’t waver, and he didn’t seem upset Sam mentioned such a delicate subject in a crowded high school gym. He was about ten years older than Sam, gray touching his black hair. “I moved into management in Section K, I don’t do… that… anymore… Like you, I am now a fixer of problems. I need your help.”
“I’m not sure I believe you. I’m leaving now with my son. Do not follow us. If Section K needs me, they can contact me through regular channels.”
“Actually, they can’t, Sam. Not this time. Because there can’t be a trace of what this job is about. No records, no communications, no history. Completely dark.”
“You show up at my son’s game and you want to talk shop?”
“Get your son settled for the evening. And then walk down to your neighborhood’s mailbox station. We need to talk. I mean you and him no harm.” He held up the pom-pom. “Your boy’s got a nice shot.”
The assassin turned and left.
SAM WATCHED THE (FORMER) ASSASSIN head out to the parking lot through the gym doors.
The postgame meeting was done and Daniel walked up to his dad. Daniel let Sam put his arm around his shoulders, pull him close.
“Proud of you,” Sam said. “Great game.”
“Thanks,” Daniel said, not looking at him. Sam hugged him tighter than usual and could tell it was embarrassing Daniel, so he let his son go.
“You can call your grandparents when we get home. I know they’ll be sorry they missed it.” Sam’s father, Alex, had just been released from the hospital, and he and Sam’s mom, Simone, had not come to the game.
“Okay.” Now Daniel glanced up at him. “Are you all right?”
“Yes. Fine. Super proud of you.” He ruffled his son’s hair.
“Sam?” Matt came up to them, with James, his son. He high-fived Daniel. “I got video of Daniel’s last shot, since James passed it to him… if you want it, I can air-drop it to your phone.” He smiled brightly.
“Sure, thanks,” Sam said. He was sure to bring out his “dad” phone from his pocket. He had another phone in his pocket that would not accept files from a stranger, that was armored and a veritable digital fortress. That was the work phone Section K had given him.
Matt sent the video file to Sam’s dad phone, and they watched it.
“Great pass, James,” Sam said to James, who smiled.
“I knew if I could get it to Daniel, he’d score. He was on fire tonight.”
“Well, thanks for this. His grandparents had to miss the game and I know they’ll be thrilled.”
Another parent, a mom Sam didn’t know well, hovered nearby.
“Hi,” Sam said.
“Hi, I’m Annie, Hunter’s mom. Great game.”
“Quick question, we’re organizing an end-of-season party for the team—can you or your wife help with that? Should I talk with her?”
“I’m a widower,” he said, and Daniel looked away.
“Oh. I’m sorry.” Always the slight look of shock, because Sam was only in his mid-thirties.
Sam nodded, to ease the awkwardness. “But yeah, Annie, can you please e-mail me the details and I’m happy to help. I do have to travel a fair amount for my work, and sometimes unexpectedly, but I can do the lifting on parts that aren’t as time-sensitive.”
“Sure. What’s your work?”
“I own a number of bars and nightclubs.”
“Oh, cool, here in town?”
“No. All over. America, Europe, Asia.”
“Oh. Wow. How interesting.” Annie gave him a cautious smile. “Well, I’ll be in touch for the parent party committee, then. You seem to be a natural choice for that.”
Sam fake-laughed. “Yes. We’ll all need a libation at the end of the season.”
“Well, great game, Daniel. Nice to meet you, Sam.” Annie sailed off to recruit her next volunteer.
“C’mon, James, let’s get you to the burger joint,” Matt said. “Y’all coming?”
“Oh, is the team going?” Sam asked.
“We don’t have to go, Dad,” Daniel said.
“Matt, could Daniel ride with you? I have to make an overseas business call and it might take a while.” As a dad, he should go. The dads and moms would sit at a separate group of tables, bond, chat about their kids. Part of the experience. Normally he went, but he’d only been in town for three other games.
Unfortunately, a (former) assassin awaited.
“Sure,” Matt said. “No problem. I can bring him home if you don’t make it to the burger place. School night, so we’ll be quick.”
“Thank you. Daniel, you got money?”
“I’m covered,” Daniel said. He seemed relieved.
Sam watched them leave, gave them a little last wave. Hamburgers and milkshakes. This was the settled life he’d wanted for his son, the one he’d never gotten in his own childhood.
Then he went to meet with the killer.
THE MAILBOXES FOR THE WHOLE street Sam lived on stood together, in a station in front of a densely wooded entrance to the neighborhood’s greenbelt, which led down to a large creek and a wildlife preserve. The neighborhood was on the edge of Lakehaven, closer to Austin than the outlying suburbs.
He’d called his boss in the government unit he worked for: the Federal Intelligence Analysis Office. A man named Seaforth, who had pulled Sam from the wreckage of his post-CIA life and given him a purpose. The Federal Intelligence Analysis Office supposedly existed to help federal agencies better understand their data. It did that important work, but behind its quiet statisticians and unassuming, bland office space in DC, it also served as a front for a top-secret intel agency code-named Section K: a team of fixers, of former CIAers, of intel misfits who needed a second chance to serve their country.
“I got approached by a guy I recognized,” he said to Seaforth. “The kind who fixes problems with an extremely direct approach.”
“Woodruff,” Seaforth said. “He just got assigned to Section K. He asked me for your contact info, for a face-to-face.”
“You couldn’t warn me?”
“I was told to say nothing and to ask no questions.”
Sam didn’t like this. “You’re not involved?”
“Apparently not,” Seaforth said. “It’s above my pay scale. But I know Woodruff, and he’s solid and reliable.”
“I’ll call you after I talk to him.”
“No, Sam, you won’t. He’ll tell you not to. I can give you permission to use your resources: your bars, their financial accounts, your network connected to them. If you accept the assignment. If you don’t, we don’t ever talk about it again.”
He didn’t like this. Bob Seaforth was one of the best people Sam had ever known in intel work, and Sam trusted him. Seaforth being shut out didn’t ring right with him.
“All right,” Sam said.
“Good luck, Sam.”
And Seaforth hung up.
Sam slipped the phone into his pocket. He could see, from the streetlight, anyone approaching on foot or by car; if you wanted to have a private conversation outside and not risk a neighbor overhearing, Woodruff had chosen well. He’d clearly surveilled the neighborhood before making his request.
He waited. The night was dark but eventually he could see Woodruff approaching him, on foot, no longer dressed in the team colors, but now wearing a dark shirt. The other man stopped.
“I’m sorry that recognizing me caused you any concern,” he said. “You can call me Woodruff.”
Sam decided not to say he already knew the man’s name. Just leave Seaforth out of this. “What do you want?”
“We have a problem that needs your—and my—expertise to fix.”
“What’s the problem?”
The name silenced Sam. He forgot to breathe for a few moments. The night, cool, pressed against them both.
“Is he dead?” Sam asked. “Finally?”
“We’re not sure. He’s vanished.”
“Yes. Obviously he doesn’t travel elsewhere.”
“There’s been nothing on the news.”
“We have this information from a source inside Russia, a solid, high-placed one. Bolt dropped out of sight from Moscow two days ago and no one realized it until yesterday, their time. No sign of foul play so far, and we didn’t snatch him, so we’re assuming he’s running. The Russians are frantic to find him. They’ve said nothing publicly, of course. Not sure if the British or the French or the Germans know, and we’re not sharing this news with our friends yet. He’ll be the most hunted man in the world when the news breaks. Everyone will want him, dead or alive. But we’re getting him first.”
“I can’t go hunting after Markus Bolt.”
“You’re not. Your assignment is to watch his daughter Amanda.”
“You think he’ll head to her?”
“Either Amanda or her mother. They’re his only family. It’s a possibility.”
Sam shook his head. “There’s no way he’ll come back to America. No reason to risk it.”
“Traitors don’t often make great decisions. Maybe he regrets what he did. Maybe he just wants to see his family again.” Woodruff shrugged. “I knew him slightly. He did like to talk about his kids, the three times I met with him.”
So this was a surveillance job, where it was rather unlikely that the main target would show up. “It doesn’t seem like she would be interested in seeing him.”
“We don’t believe that she’s been in contact with him since he defected thirteen years ago. We just need you to watch her. We are trying to minimize the number of people involved. We want this chance to find him and question him ourselves, without the world knowing. So very few Americans know this news, fewer than ten right now, including you. Section K will handle Bolt.”
“Capture him and debrief him.”
“Not kill him? He wrecked so many lives.” Bolt had exposed a large number of intel assets to the Russians when he defected, both American and allied, and several of them had vanished or died. Others had their intel careers destroyed.
“We want him alive, if possible.” Woodruff fell silent as footsteps approached—a neighbor of Sam’s, walking her dog.
“Hey, Sam,” the woman said.
“Hey, Melissa,” Sam said. She had her flashlight and she cast her light up on Sam and Woodruff, at their legs.
“You doing good?” she asked as her dog strained to keep walking and she slowed.
“Just fine,” Sam said. Woodruff said nothing. The neighbor kept going and Woodruff waited until she was another block away before speaking.
“Suburbia,” he asked. “How do you stand it?”
“Where is Amanda Bolt?”
“Miami. She went through some bad times as a kid after her father defected. She lives with a boyfriend, she is part owner of a small business with him. We’ve not kept steady eyes on her for years. Never thought there was a need.”
“And I do what?”
He handed Sam an envelope, the same one Sam had noticed him holding at the game. “Details inside. Right now, you’re a babysitter. You don’t approach her. You don’t talk to her unless she talks to you. You absolutely don’t tell her that her father’s dropped out of sight and could be on his way back from Russia for a cozy family reunion.”
“And if he shows up?”
“I don’t think she’ll welcome him, but obviously our psychologists have profiled her and seeing him, unexpectedly, would be such a profound shock that she might well talk to him. Amanda was just a kid when she had to deal with the fallout of his crimes, so she might want an explanation. She might want to hear his rationale before she rejects him.”
“And if he shows up?” Sam asked again.
“Contact us and take him into custody.”
“Custody. I don’t see a badge or pair of handcuffs in my kit.”
“You’re worried about law and order now?”
“I’m worried about consequences once he gets a lawyer.”
“Sam.” Woodruff flexed a very small smile. “Markus shows up, you grab him, you give him to Section K. He will vanish. It won’t be a news story. The Russians will never be sure that we have him or we don’t. This will make them very nervous. Let them sweat the way we did when he defected. He’ll be kept in some dark hole, our country’s latest and greatest secret. He’s close to the ruling circle in Russia. He might be able to give us quite a bit of information.”
“You almost sound excited.”
“I lost friends because of that guy. Exposed, caught, murdered. He gutted a dozen operations at the CIA.”
“So if he shows up to see Amanda, I detain him.”
“You call me, we’ll extract him, and then you come home.”
“And what about Amanda?”
“What about her?”
“Say her father makes contact with her. She knows he’s in America. Suddenly he disappears again? What’s to keep her from going to the press or her elected representative or the police?”
“Then maybe you should make sure he doesn’t reach her. Catch him on his approach to her. Watch her, but also watch who approaches her. He might have help. He might try and reach out to her himself, but that means him getting close and you need to grab him first. Assuming he has any interest in her at all. You may just be sitting in Miami for a few days until his body turns up elsewhere because the Russians eliminated him first.”
Sam glanced up at the moon, peering down from above the trees. “Why would he do this now? Why give up a comfortable life in Russia with his billionaire buddies?”
“Maybe life wasn’t comfortable. Maybe he pissed off his hosts and he had to run. Maybe he had unfinished business here. Considering he’s a traitorous piece of garbage, does it matter?”
“Worst case: what am I supposed to do, gun down her father in front of her if he resists?”
He snorted. “If that happens, we’ll deal with it. You seem very concerned about her.”
“She was a child who had to carry the sins of her father. People are cruel.” And that was all Sam was willing to say to this man.
“No one crueler than her father. Read the file. Then get on a flight tomorrow morning to Miami. Isn’t one of your bars there?”
“You know about the bars?”
Woodruff smiled. “I like a nice drink after work.” He turned away and vanished into the night.
Sam stood for a moment. Then he checked his mailbox, using his phone as a flashlight. Water bill, a real estate agent’s promo piece, a fund-raiser envelope for the Lakehaven school system, a direct mail postcard from a local orthodontist. Sam had made a normal life here. He did the occasional job for Section K, but mostly he ran his bars. It was a good life, and while he wanted Markus Bolt caught and tried for his crimes, he didn’t want to be playing guard dog for Bolt’s daughter for however long it might take.
Maybe there’s another reason they asked you to stop a traitor, he thought. He pushed the idea away. After so many years, it sometimes still felt like he was being tested, measured.
Because of Lucy.
A car drove past him and stopped a block away at his house. In the porchlight, he saw his son get out of the car, say thanks to Matt, and go inside the house.
Matt turned around and drove off once Daniel was inside the house. Sam waved, but in the darkness, he didn’t see him.
It was always hard to leave Daniel, he thought. Harder for something like this. Leave on a business trip and come back with blood on your hands. Hey, son, I have to go see how my bar in Miami is doing. And also maybe kill a traitor. Woodruff might have made noises about detaining Bolt, but the message was clear to Sam: Kill Bolt if he had to. He could not be allowed to escape.
Sam Capra headed back toward his house from the mailboxes, not seeing the figure deep in the shadows, the person watching his movements from the darkness of the wooded greenbelt, watching him hurry toward the most important person in his life.
GREAT GAME,” SAM SAID AS he came into the kitchen. Daniel was sitting at his usual spot at the kitchen table, his school tablet hooked up to a keyboard, working on an assignment. Lakehaven had a very strong school district academically, and there was a lot of homework and special projects assigned. During basketball season, it was a challenge for Daniel to stay ahead.
“Thanks,” Daniel said, not looking up.
“Seriously, I’m proud of you. How you’ve applied yourself to improving your shooting and your defense.”
“Thanks,” Daniel said again.
“How was RJ’s?” That was the name of the burger place the basketball team favored.
“Fine,” he said. Still not looking up.
We’re deep in monosyllabic land, Sam thought.
Sam set the envelope Woodruff had given him down on the table across from his son. “Are you mad at me?”
- “Plenty of twists and excitement all the way to the last line.”—Kirkus Reviews
PRAISE FOR JEFF ABBOTT:
"Abbott uses his skills as a master storyteller to convey a complicated and ambitious tale that seems straightforward but is full of twists and red herrings. He also keeps the story moving without falling into clichés or over-the-top revelations. The mystery works because of the terrific characters and the beautiful road map he unveils while navigating the reader through a complex landscape. Those who enjoy unpredictable stories can never go wrong diving into the world of Jeff Abbott."—Washington Post
- "Like a stage magician, Abbott often seems to be doing one thing when he's actually doing something else, and when we realize what he's been up to, we can't help but shake our heads in admiration."—Booklist
- "Abbott is a master of misdirection."—Library Journal
- “I could not put [this book] down. For fans of authors like Mark Greaney, Don Bentley, Gregg Hurwitz and Matthew Betley [with] twists and turns everywhere.”—Red Carpet Crash
- On Sale
- Aug 23, 2022
- Page Count
- 448 pages
- Grand Central Publishing