You’ve read the deadly prologue, now read the first chapter that sets into motion the mysterious disappearance–and return–of Special Agent Ryan Harper.
“They’re coming for you.”
Christopher Morgan’s stomach sank, though the words failed to resonate. He stopped in the middle of the street, ignoring a blistering gust of wind that swirled down the narrow stretch of parked cars and barren trees.
“They know everything about you,” the voice in his ear said. “You need to—”
“What?” Morgan pressed the phone closer to his ear, as if that would help him understand any better.
“Listen to me. They’re at your place as we speak. Do not go home.”
His eyes focused on the nondescript brick building fifty yards away. Warmth. Safety. Anonymity. There was a reason he chose this neighborhood. The street was lined with five-story apartment buildings, home to middle class and young couples. Crime was low. Nothing bad happened here.
His heart beating faster, he quickly scanned the familiar street. At first glance, nothing seemed amiss. The block was still, even tranquil. The frigid air kept people indoors; not so much as a bird made a sound. Everything looked as it should. But the façade quickly melted away. Morgan tensed. The white cable van parked suspiciously near the front door to his apartment building, the back windows tinted black. The door across the way sitting slightly ajar. A sliver of movement on the rooftop.
His silence didn’t go unnoticed. “You’re close, I can tell. Get clear, then call me back.”
The line went dead, but Morgan kept the phone to his ear. His heart beat loudly now, so loudly he could barely hear himself think. He had to calm himself.
Laughter. To his left, he observed a young girl, a teenager with a fluffy jacket, ass tight jeans and an ass worthy of them, walking down the sidewalk, chatting on a cell phone in a Hello Kitty case. She entered the corner grocery store and he was once again left in silence.
Morgan started walking again. As he stepped onto the sidewalk, he noticed a homeless man sitting on the ground, wrapping in blankets and mumbling to himself like the pathetic creature he was. Only it wasn’t right. Bums never hung around here for very long, and they certainly didn’t beg for change on an empty street far from any bustling intersections.
He searched in his jean pockets for some loose change. He put his phone away and approached the bum. As the man extended his hand—only one, his other remaining out of sight—Morgan examined him again. The beard was long and curled, with pieces of garbage tangled in the hair. The man’s cheeks were grimy. He smelled of grease. He was the quintessential bum. The perfect bum. Law enforcement.
The man was dead in an instant. Morgan’s blow struck the agent across the cheekbone. The man’s hands rose to protect himself from the punch that had already fractured his face, revealing a Glock 23. Morgan snapped the man’s wrist, retrieved the weapon and dispatched a single bullet into the man’s head. The head snapped back with a whoosh of air.
Morgan heard the van doors open. A rush of footsteps. But his attention was on the surrounding buildings. He fired three cover shots at the rooftop where he assumed the snipers were perched—where he would position himself in such a situation—and when he didn’t immediately receive a bullet to the chest in return, he figured he’d aimed correctly.
He turned and ran. Knowing he couldn’t make the full corner before receiving one in the back, he sidestepped into the grocery store. There was another entrance on the other street, the perfect shortcut to save a few precious seconds. But, as the door jingled closed behind him, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. A man running toward him from across the street. Gun in hand.
On instinct, he grabbed the closest thing to him—the teenage girl in the fluffy jacket. She screamed loudly. Under any other circumstance Morgan would have loved the situation. He loved to hear women scream.
He swung the trembling girl in front of him, driving his new gun deep between her shoulder blades. Peering over the girl’s shoulder, he spotted his assailant.
The man’s name was Ryan Harper. Harper was a rising star within the FBI, an already respected agent with limitless career potential. He was smart and stubborn. An adequate adversary.
Ever since he’d shot the senator, Harper had been pursuing him. Aimlessly, but relentlessly. He thought he’d gotten away with it. The FBI had made no progress, given no indication they were onto him. He was convinced they would never catch him. They’d failed so many times in the past. He’d gotten lazy. Complacent. And now, he had just wandered into a death trap.
Morgan surveyed Harper. He studied the young agent, watching his eyes, assessing what he was thinking. Harper did the same, reading his every move.
The grocery store would be surrounded in a matter of seconds, and Morgan didn’t have time to play around. Slender and athletic, Harper could easily beat him in a foot race, but as good a shot as he was, Morgan knew Harper was no match for him. Unlike his adversary, Morgan was willing to do anything to survive.
“Christopher!” Harper barked and stepped forward, sensing what he was about to do.
Morgan pulled the trigger. The girl’s screams silenced as she lurched forward, a torrent of blood gushing from the hole in her throat. He pushed the corpse toward the FBI man, but Harper made no attempt to catch her. Instead, he let the already-dead girl collapse to the floor and dove behind the convenience store counter.
Morgan spun toward the door on the other street, but instincts kept him from approaching. The FBI would take him down the moment he stepped outside. They might not even wait that long. Instead, he veered to the right, crashing through an “Employee Only” door to a windowless storage room that smelled of fish. Dim fluorescent lighting flickered overhead. He spotted a gray metal toward the back and went to it, praying that it led somewhere other than a closet.
He found himself in a gray service corridor that was even darker than the room he’d just been in. It appeared to run the length of the block, away from his street and the legion of federal agents who were undoubtedly swarming out of their hiding places. He started running, his feet feeling heavy. The corridor seemed to go on forever, straight and offering no room for cover. He was an open target. He passed a few doors, but they wouldn’t take him where he wanted to go; he was focused on the door at the end, up four steps with a faded “Exit” sign taped above.
The door behind him opened. Morgan stopped, took one breath, and fired a single round. The bullet missed, but it came close enough that Harper was forced to retreat. The door closed again, and Morgan knew Harper would be more cautious next time. That would give him a few more precious seconds.
He reached the half-set of stairs and climbed them two steps at a time. He rammed his shoulder against the heavy door, reaching for the doorknob at the same time. The door didn’t budge.
“Morgan!” his name echoed down the hallway.
He fumbled with the lock, his sweaty fingers suddenly useless. Don’t panic, he told himself. He breathed out, vanquishing if only for a moment the effects of adrenaline, and unlocked the door.
A gunshot rang out, much louder than normal given the confined space. A bullet bounced off the step directly beneath his feet, but before Harper could fire again, he was outside, back in the cold and daylight. He emerged on a sidewalk on a street much like his, another stretch of apartment buildings and condominiums.
The sound of a car engine caught his attention. To his right, he spotted his escape: a taxi was stopped in the street, a pregnant mother and small child waiting on the sidewalk with luggage. The driver’s side door was open and the cabbie, a Pakistani fellow, was walking around the rear of his vehicle to assist them with their bags.
Morgan shot the man in the head as he approached. To her credit, the woman didn’t scream, but she was in too much shock to even move. But he didn’t care about her. His cover was blown; all that mattered was escape. He slipped into the car, closed the door and sped away. Only as he turned the corner did he see Agent Harper come into view, a frustrated look on his bloody face.
Morgan ditched the taxi five miles away. He tossed his blood-soaked jacket in a dumpster, no longer concerned about the cold. He dialed a number and the man answered immediately.
“How the fuck did this happen? How’d they find me?” Morgan asked before the man had a chance to speak. He ran a tight ship and didn’t make mistakes. But clearly he’d made one somewhere.
“‘Thanks’ might be in order,” the man said coolly. “We’re still trying to figure that out. The FBI received an anonymous tip a few hours ago, but so far no one’s been able to pinpoint the source of the call.”
“An anonymous tip? Who in hell would that be?” he growled, crossing onto a busier street. He would blend into the crowds and become lost.
“We don’t know.”
“You have to know, because it sure as hell wasn’t me,” he said. “Someone on your side.”
“No,” the man said quickly, almost defensively. “Only the two of us know.”
“Curious, don’t you think?” Morgan growled, but then the answer came to him. “Patricia.”
“Nothing,” his voice grew faint. Patricia Giddy, that stupid whore, had sold him out. His girlfriend. Or as close to a girlfriend as he allowed. She knew what he did for a living. He didn’t like people knowing the truth, but as much as he despised her, he liked having someone around to talk to. Besides, she was a great fuck and didn’t know the difference between a Democrat and a Republican, let alone how to betray a man who gave her shiny things and a roof over her head. He never gave her specifics, and had purposely said nothing about this last job, but apparently she’d figured it out and gone to the cops. Stupid bitch.
“Christopher, you need to complete your new assignment today.”
“What?” Morgan snapped back to reality. “Are you fucking kidding me? The heat’s on. We’re done.”
“They’ll never see it coming, and it’s the only way I can assure your safety. Do what we paid you to do and go to the arranged meeting point. You’ll be safe there, and it’ll give us time to figure out what to do next.”
Morgan remained silent, his fists clenched.
“Christopher, is that agreed?”
Morgan frowned. He needed to get away. Disappear. Drop off the grid like before.
But this wasn’t like before. He’d shot a senator. Killed his whole family. He needed to get out of the country, out of reach of the feds. It wouldn’t be easy. By now, his face would have been distributed to every agency on the western seaboard. Airport security on high alert. The borders shut down.
He hung up.