Act of War - Brad Thor
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ONE WEEK AGO
The air was thick with humidity. Oppressive. Typical for this time of year. It was monsoon season and stepping outside was like stepping into a steam room. Within half a block the man was sweating. By the intersection, his clothes were sticking to his body. The Glock tucked behind his right hip was slick with perspiration.
Guns, money, and a bunch of high-tech gear. Just like something out of a movie. Except it wasn’t. This was real.
Turning right, he headed into the large open-air market. It looked as if a car bomb packed with neon paint cans had detonated. Everything, even the luminous birds in their impossibly small cages, was aggressively vivid. The smells ran the gamut from ginger and garlic to the putrid “gutter oil” dredged up from restaurant sewers and grease traps by many street cooks.
There were rusted pails of live crabs, buckets of eels, and shallow bowls of water filled with fish. Men and women haggled over oranges and peppers, raw pork and chicken.
Like the first spring snowmelt snaking along a dry, rock-strewn riverbed, Ken Harmon moved through the market. He focused on nothing, but saw everything—every cigarette lit, every newspaper raised, every cell phone dialed. The sounds of the neighborhood poured into his ears as a cacophony and were identified, analyzed, sorted, and stored.
The movements of his body, the functioning of his senses, were all conducted with calm, professional economy. The Central Intelligence Agency hadn’t sent him to Hong Kong to panic. In fact, it had sent him to Hong Kong precisely because he didn’t panic. There was enough of that back in Washington already; and along with it, the repatriated body of David Cahill.
Cahill had been an Agency NOC based in Shanghai. An Ivy League blueblood type, who knew all the right people and went to all the right parties. He saw things in black and white. Gray areas were for professional liars, like diplomats and men who lacked the testicular fortitude to call evil by its name when they saw it. For Cahill, there was a lot of evil in the world, especially in China. That was why he had learned to speak the language and requested his posting there.
As a NOC, or more specifically an agent operating under “nonofficial cover,” he wasn’t afforded the diplomatic immunity enjoyed by other CIA operatives working out of an embassy or consulate. Cahill had been a spy, a true “secret” agent. And he had been very good at his job. He had built a strong human network in China, with assets in the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Liberation Army, and even the Chinese intelligence services.
Via his contacts, Cahill had been on to something, something with serious national security implications for the United States. Then, one night, while meeting with one of his top assets, he dropped dead of a heart attack right in front of her.
The asset was a DJ out of Shanghai named Mingxia. Her parties were some of the best in China. Celebrities, drugs, beautiful women—they had everything. And it was those parties that had propelled her into the circles of China’s rich and powerful.
She was not without her share of troubles, though, and that had made her ripe for recruitment by Cahill. But when he died, Mingxia dropped off the face of the earth. The CIA couldn’t find her anywhere. They wanted answers and they had turned over every stone looking for her. Then, two weeks later, she had reappeared.
It was via an emergency communications channel Cahill had established for her—a message board in an obscure forum monitored by Langley. But since her disappearance, speculation at the CIA had gone into overdrive. Did the Chinese have her? Had Cahill been burned? Had the woman been involved in his death? Was this a trap?
She allegedly had information about a crippling attack being planned against the United States, but nobody knew if they could trust her. The Agency was desperate for information. And so it had called Ken Harmon.
Harmon wasn’t a polished Ivy Leaguer like Cahill. He was tall, built like a brick shithouse, and he didn’t attend fancy parties. He usually drank alone in the decrepit back-alley bars of some of the worst hellholes in the world. He was a rough man with few attachments and only one purpose. When someone somewhere pushed the panic button, Harmon was what showed up.
He had decided to meet the asset in Hong Kong. It made more sense than Shanghai and was much