Authors: John Gilstrap
Tags: #Action & Adventure, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction - Espionage, #American Mystery & Suspense Fiction, #Fiction, #Suspense Fiction, #Adventure fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Crime & Thriller, #General, #Thriller
"Gilstrap is back in fine form with
. No other writer on earth is better able to combine in a single novel both rocket-paced suspense and heartfelt looks at family and the human spirit. And what a pleasure to meet Jonathan Grave, a hero for our time...and for all time."
"A great hero, a pulse-pounding story--and the launch of a really exciting series."
grabs hold of you on page one and doesn't let go. Gilstrap's new series is terrific. It will leave you breathless. I can't wait to see what Jonathan Grave is up to next."
"The release of a new John Gilstrap novel is always worth celebrating, because he's one of the finest thriller writers on the planet.
showcases his work at its finest--taut, action-packed, and impossible to put down!"
"Gilstrap hits the accelerator and never lets up."
"Gilstrap has an uncanny ability to bring the reader into the mind of his characters."
The Denver Post
AT ALL COSTS
"Riveting...combines a great plot and realistic, likable charactersection team from a weapons dump....A novel to be read at all costs."
"Gilstrap builds tension...until the last page, a hallmark of great thriller writers. I almost called the paramedics before I finished
At All Costs.
"Gilstrap takes his readers on an adventure none will soon forget. Don't miss this one."
"Gilstrap has ingeniously twisted his simple premise six ways from Sunday."
"Not to be missed."
Rocky Mountain News
"The plot and the killer keep you on the edge of your chair."
"Packed with nail-biting suspense, edge-of-the-seat intensity, surprising twists, a fine supporting cast, and the year's best villain...a must for thrill seekers."
"Gilstrap pushes every thriller button...a nail-biting denouement and strong characters."
San Francisco Chronicle
"Gilstrap has a shot at being the next John Grisham...one of the best books of the year."
--Rocky Mountain News
"A winner of a thriller."
"Exceptional...one of the year's best."
"A page turner and a heart tugger."
G. V. Loganathan
Mary Karen Read
Waleed Mohammed Shaalan
They are Virginia Tech.
The fullness of the moon made it all more complicated. The intense silver glow cast shadows as defined as midday despite the thin veil of cloud cover. Dressed entirely in black, with only his eyes showing beneath his hood, Jonathan Grave moved like a shadow in the stillness. Crickets and tree frogs, nocturnal noisemakers by the thousands, gave him some cover, but not enough. There was never enough cover. He reminded himself that he was in Indiana soybean country facing a clueless adversary, but then he remembered the penalty for failing to respect one's adversary.
The Patrone brothers had been arguing for every one of the twenty minutes that Jonathan had been monitoring them. The bud in his left ear picked up every word, beamed to him from the tiny wireless transmitter he'd stuck to the lowest pane of the front window. From what he'd been able to determine from his hasty research in the past few hours, the Patrones were nobodies--just a pair of losers from West Virginia whose motives for this kidnapping adventure were unclear, and from Jonathan's perspective, irrelevant.
The stress of the kidnappers' ordeal had clearly begun to take its toll. They'd counted on Thomas Hughes's parents coughing up the ransom quickly, and now they couldn't figure out what had gone wrong.
"I'm tired of being jerked off by that asshole," Lionel said. The older of the two, he was the hothead. "Old Stevie Hughes needs more proof, maybe we should just cut off a piece of Tommy and send it to his old man in an envelope."
Jonathan picked up his pace, kneeling in the dew-wet grass to un-sling his black rucksack and open the flap. With his night vision gear in place, the darkness burned like green daylight.
"You're not serious," said Little Brother Barry. His tone carried an unstated plea. He was the pacifist. Jonathan liked pacifists. They lived longer.
Lionel continued to rant as Jonathan produced a coil of detonating cord from his pack and slid a K-Bar knife from its scabbard on his left shoulder. He measured out about an inch of cord, sliced it off the roll, and slid the knife back home. With a loop of black electrician's tape, he attached the det cord to the cable that brought electrical service to the house, then slid the initiator into place. Det cord was the best stuff in the world. A woeful bit of overkill in this case, but unquestionably effective.
"Chris said of his Kevlar vest and whispered, "Boss's name is Chris." It was the missing bit of data from three days of gathering intel.
A familiar voice crackled in his ear, "Copy that. Any sign of him yet?"
"I was going to ask you," Jonathan whispered. "I've only got two friends here." They knew from an eyewitness to Thomas Hughes's kidnapping that three hooded figures had carried the naked Ball State student out of his apartment in the middle of the night. Jonathan didn't like the fact that one member of the team remained unaccounted for.
The tone and pace of the kidnappers' argument told him that their frustration level had passed the tipping point into desperation. He moved faster.
"This whole thing is hopelessly messed up," Lionel said. "Maybe Chris got picked up by the cops."
"Maybe you're just paranoid," Barry soothed.
"This was supposed to be easy money. My ass."
Jonathan was at the back of the house now--the black side, as he thought of it--and it was time to prepare the doors for entry. The Patrones had stashed Thomas Hughes in the basement. In this part of the country, it was probably called a storm cellar. Or maybe a root cellar. Constructed entirely of stone, from the outside it could be accessed through two heavy wooden doors that sloped at a shallow angle from ground level. When the time came, those doors would be Jonathan's point of entry.
Pulling his cell phone from its pouch on his vest, Jonathan flipped open the cover and viewed the image transmitted by the spaghetti-size fiber optic camera he'd inserted between the doors. In the light cast by the single dim lightbulb inside, he had difficulty making out any real detail, but he saw what he needed. Their precious cargo hadn't moved in the last half hour. The fourth-year music major lay naked on the basement floor, his arms, legs, and mouth bound with duct tape.
"Hang on a little longer," Jonathan whispered. The kid had no idea that he was moments away from rescue. For all he knew, this was all he'd ever see again. Even after he was safe, there'd be no way to erase the trauma of these past four days. Whoever Thomas Hughes had been before the kidnapping would be forever changed. It would be years before he'd feel real joy again, and chances were, he'd never rediscover the trust he once felt toward others.
The speaker bud in his right ear--the one not occupied by the Patrones--crackled again. "Sit rep, please." Apparently two minutes had passed since they'd last spoken, and Jonathan's airborne partner, Brian Van de Meulebroeke--"Boxers"--wanted a situation report, per their standard operating procedure. They spoke on encrypted radio channels without worry of casual eavesdroppers.
"I'm preparing for breach now," Jonathan said.
Still using night vision, he removed three GPCs--general purpose charges--from his rucksack, one for each of the door hinges on the right-hand side, and a third for the heavy-duty padlock in the middle. Constructed of C4 explosive with a tail of det cord to ensure proper activation, GPCs were as malleable as modeling clay, infinitely reliable, and effective as hell. The phrase "shock and awe" would take on a whole new meaning when the blast waves were focused on a room as small as the cellar.
Lionel said, "Let's cut off the kid's balls."
Jonathan felt his stomach drop.
?" At least Barry was horrified. on the floor, hugging his knees, making a keening sound. "You killed him. You killed him..." He said it over and over again.
Three feet away, Thomas tried to rise to his knees.
"Stay put, Thomas!" Jonathan commanded. The last thing he needed was to have his aim spoiled. "Just stay on the floor out of the way. You're not going to get hurt."
When Barry Patrone looked up, Jonathan saw that he'd made up his mind to be stupid. Uncannily, he looked straight at Jonathan when he said for the dozenth time, "You killed him."
"Don't be an idiot, Barry. You've got no cards here..."
Barry dropped to the floor and rolled to his left, on the concrete, drawing a snub-nose revolver from his pants pocket. The shoulder roll ended with Barry on one knee, aiming at the night. Jonathan took two baby steps to the side, knowing that right-handed shooters tended to pull to their left when they fired.
Barry fired, his bullet ricocheting off the concrete wall to Jonathan's right.
"Drop it now!" Jonathan roared. Barry didn't need to die, goddammit. Lionel had been the nut job, not him.
This time, Barry zoned in on Jonathan's voice and aimed dangerously close. It was done.
Jonathan's finger flinched by sheer instinct and his pistol bucked twice.
Barry made a barking sound as two .45 caliber slugs drilled his chest through a single hole, shredding his heart. He was dead before the second bullet hit.
"Damn it," Jonathan spat. How could a ransom be worth this? He dropped the magazine out of the grip of his pistol and replaced it with a fresh one from his belt, slipping the used one into the vacated pouch. He holstered his weapon with its hammer cocked, as always, and pressed the transmit button on his chest. "Room secure, two friends sleeping. Exfil in five."
Boxers replied, "I copy room secure. See you in five."
Thomas Hughes was screaming, but with the duct tape gag in place, nothing made sense. From the emphasis on the hard consonants, however, the smart money said that it was mostly obscenities. Jonathan approached the
young man carefully, not wanting to get kicked, and even more, not wanting to leave any unnecessary footprints in the spreading pool of gore.
"Thomas, be quiet," he said. "
You're safe. I'm here to take you home. They're both dead, and you're going to be just fine. Do you understand that? Nod if you do."
Thomas hesitated, and then he nodded. It was clearly a calculated move. The fear remained in his eyes, but how could he go wrong allowing the new attacker to think otherwise?
"I'm going to get us some light now," Jonathan explained. As he snapped his goggles out of the way, he reached behind his head into a side pocket of his rucksack and produced a glow stick. He cracked it and shook it to life. The room glowed green again, only now they could both see.
The fear in Thomas's eyes peaked when he saw Jonathan's masked face. The rescuer tried hard to make his eyes look friendly. "I'm going to cut you loose," Jonathan explained. "That means I have to use a knife. Don't freak out when you see it."
The eight-inch tempered steel blade of the K-Bar was honed to a razor's edge, and looked scarylet that happen. The last thing he needed was a bad guy on the loose. Operating by instinct, Jonathan brought the slung M4 rifle to his shoulder, aimed, and fired six quick rounds at the van's front left fender. The muzzle blast ripped like thunder through the humid night. He'd loaded every third round in this clip as armor-piercing, and he wanted to make sure to blast two holes in the engine block. He was rewarded with the infrared flash of two heat plumes as the vehicle stopped dead on the pavement.
With his rifle still up and ready, Jonathan moved toward the crippled vehicle.
His earpiece crackled, "I'm on infrared, and I've got visual on you and the vehicle. There's movement on the far side. He's out of the car, moving north toward the woods. He's using the vehicle to cover his retreat."
Jonathan didn't take time to acknowledge, but he liked knowing that Boxers was watching from the air. In his gut, he wanted to ignore the vehicle and chase the bad guy, but doctrine wouldn't allow it. There might be a second guy in the van, and he couldn't afford having someone sneak up behind him while he was trying to sneak up behind someone else.
The passenger side window--the one closest to him--was up and unbroken. Keeping the rifle tucked against his shoulder with his right hand, he used his left to pull his collapsible baton from its pouch on his web gear. He approached in a wide arc to come in from the rear. The back cargo doors of the van were closed, and their windows were intact.
"Careful there, cowboy," Boxers said in his ear. "There's only one of you."
Jonathan stooped low to the ground near the back doors, let his rifle fall against its sling, and lifted a tear gas grenade from the right side of his web gear. He pulled the pin, and with the safety handle squeezed, he rose, shattered the glass in the back door with one enormous punch from the baton, and tossed the grenade into the van. As the cloud of noxious gas bloomed, he moved forward and shattered the glass on the passenger door. He confirmed in a single glance that it was empty. The fleeing driver had come alone.
"Vehicle's clear. Where's my target?"
After a pause, the voice in his ear said, "Sorry boss, I was watching you. I lost him. Can't have gone far."
Terrific. "No exfil till we find him."
"Understood. Gauges say lots of time." Translation: he had enough fuel to hover for as long as it took.
Something popped inside the van, and Jonathan whirled on it, rifle at the ready. Heavy black smoke was pouring from the broken window in the back. He must have lobbed his CS grenade onto something combustible.
"Your van is burning, boss."
Jonathan started moving away from it, closer to the farmhouse, giving the vehicle a wide berth. You never knew what people carried in vehicles with them. He'd seen portable drug labs in Colombia--perfectly harmless looking trucks or vans--go high order because of the bizarre mixture of chemicals they needed to make the shit they sold. He snapped his NVGs out of the way again, turning the night from iridescent green back to shades of black, silver, and gray.
His earpiece popped again. "You got company coming in from behind you. Blind side. From the house."
. Jonathan dropped to his knee and tried to become small as the fire grew behind him, creating an ever more perfect silhouette for a shooter. The NVGs came back down, and there was his target: Thomas Hughes. Goddamn kid. These were the times when he hated working alone with Boxers. If this had been a Unit operation, somebody from being stupid. "Get down!" Jonathan called.
Thomas froze in his tracks. "Don't shoot! It's me!"
"It's me!" The kid was terrified.
Jonathan rushed him, closing the thirty yards that separated them in five seconds. He slung his arm across Thomas's chest, pivoted his hip, and flipped the precious cargo onto the wet grass. When he was down, he covered the kid with his own body. "I didn't ask who you were," Jonathan hissed. "I told you to get down. I swear to God, if you don't start listening, I'm gonna shoot you myself."
"I heard shooting," Thomas said, grunting against the weight on his back. "Then I saw the fire and I got scared."
"So you wandered
the guns and the fire?"
Thomas wriggled to get rid of the weight. "Get off of me."
Jonathan unpinned him, and scanned the horizon again for Chris.
"I came out because I thought you might be hurt."
The comment drew a look. "Thanks, then," Jonathan said. "I need you to stay down because the driver of that van is no friend, and he's still out there."
They had to move away from the van. The light made them too good a target, and it rendered his night vision gear useless. Into his radio: "Do you see anything?"
"A big-ass hot fire, but not much...wait. I've got movement--"
Jonathan saw it, too, at exactly the same instant he heard the crack of a bullet passing disturbingly close to his head. A second bullet tore into the ground near his elbow.
Thomas yelled something that Jonathan didn't care to hear. He was busy. "Stay flat!" He nestled the M4 back into his shoulder.
The gunman kept shooting, his muzzle flashes providing all the visual input Jonathan needed. Twenty yards past the burning van, the posture said pistol shooter; the range and accuracy said good one. Jonathan squeezed his trigger, three quick rounds. He went for center-of-mass. He knew that his first shot found its mark because he saw the target stumble backward. He was pretty sure about the second shot, but the third was anybody's guess. When he thought he saw additional movement, he fired two more.