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This book is dedicated to Joanne and Doug Burns, two great friends who we met through Andy Carpenter.
In fact, Doug taught Andy everything he knows.
The three vehicles provided a surprisingly stable ride. The countryside in this desolate area of the world was rugged, famously so, but the cars were all-terrain models and could handle much worse. Besides, the ride would last half an hour maximum, and the passengers were not exactly unfamiliar with hardship and Spartan conditions.
Altogether there were eight men in the cars, three in the one in front, three in back, and two in the center car. Seven of the eight men were of little consequence in the grand scheme of things; they were there as protectors for one of the men in the middle car.
His name was Aarif Sajadi, and he was the target.
The aircraft flew twenty-one thousand feet above them, and they could neither hear nor see it. There were no passengers on board the flight; there never were. No flight attendants, no carry-on baggage compartments, no tray tables to be stowed, not even any seats to be restored to their original upright positions.
The pilot, Sergeant Brian Cole, could see the cars clearly, but even if the men stopped, took out incredibly powerful telescopes, and peered upward, they could not have seen him. That’s because they were in the mountainous region of Pakistan, near the Afghanistan border, and he was sitting in a room at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, drinking coffee and nibbling on a blueberry muffin.
The aircraft that Cole was piloting was a MQ-1B Predator drone. Many people thought of drones almost as small model airplanes, carrying cameras and functioning as eyes in the skies. But this one was twenty-seven feet long, had a wingspan of fifty-five feet, and weighed almost fifteen hundred pounds, including its two Hellfire missiles.
Cole was literally flying it with the use of a console and joystick, as if he were playing a video game. He tried to fully concentrate, as his training dictated, but it wasn’t easy. He’d had a fight with his wife that morning before coming to work, and it was weighing on his mind. He thought maybe, when he was finished, that he should send her flowers.
Fortunately for Brian, though less so for the men in the cars, the Predator’s MTS, or Multi-Spectral Targeting System, was doing most of the important work. Through the use of lasers, it had already homed in on the target and told the missiles where to go. All Cole would have to do was tell them when, by pressing a button.
At this point, the cars’ passengers were lucky to be blissfully unaware. Were they suddenly to know of the aircraft and its intentions, there was nothing they could have done about it. The nearest cover was too far for them to reach in the little time available to them.
They were dead men driving.
Cole did not think much about the political or legal implications of what he was about to do. He knew he was functioning as part of the American government’s strategy of targeted killings, and he certainly assumed that the target in this case was considered a terrorist bent on inflicting harm to the United States.
And that was absolutely true.
Cole was forever seeing claims in the media that the number-three person in the terrorist network had been killed; probably fifteen “number threes” had bitten the dust in the past year. Cole had no idea how many of those killings he had been responsible for, if any, but there was one thing he knew for sure: If he ever became a terrorist and reached number four in the chain of command, he wouldn’t want to get promoted.
A final systems check was accomplished, Cole pressed the button, and the three cars, as well as their occupants, ceased to exist. For Cole, having been at this for a while, it was business as usual.
But what he did not know was that Aarif Sajadi was not like any other target. If Sajadi did not die instantly, then in his last moments he likely took some comfort in the fact that he had already plotted his revenge against his killers, halfway around the world.
His death did nothing to change that.
I, Andy Carpenter, am not often stunned. I’m a criminal defense attorney, and I’ve handled some high-profile cases with many twists and turns, so I’ve generally learned to go with the flow, to expect the unexpected.
I am therefore difficult to surprise, but at 7:34
on March 17, in my Paterson, New Jersey, office, I have just seen something that has left me shaken to the core.
I used to think of Edna as my secretary, until she informed me she was my “administrative assistant.” Then, a couple of years ago, she self-elevated her status to “office manager.” She most often “manages” the office from a remote location, since she works maybe one day a week.
Actually, I’ve overstated it. She comes in one day a week, but she gets almost no work done even then. Instead she endlessly does crossword puzzles and considers herself the best in the world at it. She also talks on the phone a great deal, mostly with her enormous extended family.
But to see her here in the evening, outside of business hours, is disorienting. Edna simply does not work overtime. She doesn’t even work regular time.
In fact, it’s more than disorienting; it’s astonishing. It would be like walking into a bowling alley and seeing the queen of England throwing practice balls on lane fourteen. Yet here Edna is, hunched over her desk, writing on some papers, so engrossed that she barely looks up when I arrive.
With her is Sam Willis, my accountant, who has an office down the hall. He’s sitting on a couch, but Edna’s not paying any attention to him; she’s too intent on what she’s doing. Sam’s the reason I’m here. He said he wanted to talk with me about something important.
“Hey, Sam … Edna,” I say, which is a witty opening conversational gambit I’ve recently come up with.
“Andy, thanks for coming in,” Sam says, while Edna merely manages an “mmm,” without looking up.
I tell Sam to come into my office so we can talk. Once we get in there, I close the door and say, “It’s seven thirty, and Edna’s here.”
“So did we turn the clocks back or something, and I didn’t realize it?”
He shakes his head. “No, but even that would be just an hour. She’d still be here late.”
“I meant, did we turn the clocks back to 1978?”
“It’s tournament time,” he says. “She’s been practicing.”
“Aaahh.” Suddenly it all makes sense. Edna has long been talking about entering a national crossword puzzle tournament, held once a year in Brooklyn. She’s never actually entered, and I’ve always assumed it was due to some secret self-doubt about her prowess. But now she seems to be ready to throw her pencil in the ring.
“I don’t think you’re going to get much work out of her these next few weeks,” Sam says.
“That’s a shocker. What did you want to talk to me about?”
“Well, I think I may have a new client for you.”
Sam says that with an expression and tone in his voice that indicate he thinks he is giving me good news. “Yippee skippee,” I say.
I have a lot of money, many millions, some earned and more inherited. What I don’t have is a desire to work. I’m not sure where I left it, but it’s been missing for a while, and I haven’t searched real hard.
Unfortunately, even though I don’t seek clients, I seem to wind up with some, and long trials have often been the result. Working long trials is the only thing I dislike more than working short trials.
“You aren’t interested in new clients?” Sam asks.
“What tipped you off?”
“Okay. Whatever you say.” Sam seems rather chagrined at my reaction. He thought he was doing something good for a friend, and the friend just blew him off. I decide to soften the blow by acting half interested.
“What’s the case? Maybe I can recommend someone.”
He shrugs. “I’m not sure. I went to high school with this guy, Barry Price. Last time I had seen him was a couple of years ago, at the reunion. I think I told you about him; he’s the guy who married my high school sweetheart, Denise.”
“How come you didn’t?”
“Believe it or not, I dumped her when I went off to college. Biggest mistake of my life.”
“Sorry to hear that.” Coming here is now showing signs of being one of the biggest mistakes of my life. This is already a long story, and Laurie Collins is waiting for me at home. That means that no matter what Sam was telling me, I’d want him to hurry the hell up.
“Anyway, he calls me the other day and invites me to a party at his house last night; you should see this place. I’m not sure why he invited me, but as I’m leaving, he asks if I can come back tonight, that he needs my help. He sounded a little worried about something, but he wouldn’t tell me what. Then he asked if I still knew you.”
“How did he know that?”
“I guess I mentioned you at the reunion, sort of name-dropping, you know? You’re famous. He said he might want to hire you, and could I put the two of you together.”
I’ve had a lot of high-profile cases over the years, many of which have been heavily covered in the media. But famous? Aww, shucks.
He continues. “He told me to pack a bag, that we’d be flying somewhere on his private plane. Barry’s really rich, in case that changes your mind.”
“Sorry, Sam. Not a chance.”
“Really? I thought you might even come out there with me tonight.”
I shake my head. “I’m retired.”
I look at my watch and nod. “Effective seven forty-two
. But if you let me know what’s going on, I’ll recommend another lawyer.”
“As good as you?” he asks.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
Sam heads off to his friend’s house, and I head home to Laurie. Edna remains at her desk, with no signs of leaving any time soon.
We have entered the bizarro world, where black is white, up is down, left is right, and Edna is in the office after five o’clock.
Like so many of these things, it began in a bar. Drew Keller was in the right place at the right time. And while an undercover cop’s job was, in fact, to be in that right place at that right time, Drew had to admit to himself that this was more than a little lucky.
He was investigating a series of auto parts thefts in the Concord, New Hampshire, area, and had developed a relationship with a possible suspect whom he believed held some promise. The man’s name was Rodney Larsen, and he was straight out of central casting for someone in Drew’s line of work. Rodney was a walking undercover trifecta—stupid, talkative, and boastful.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to reveal information that you don’t have, and Drew was starting to believe that his instinct was wrong, that Rodney was a dry well when it came to the robberies.
And then he caught a possible break.
It took three nights and a whole bunch of beers, but Rodney said that his brother and another friend were going to “kill a big shot” and that he was a part of the team. He wouldn’t say much more, but when Drew convinced him that he had access to high-tech weaponry and the willingness to use it, he was promised an invite to meet the others and possibly join the team.
So the plan was for them to come to the bar the next night to get to know Drew and see if he was suitable to sign up for whatever they had planned. He was there at midnight, and Rodney was waiting for him.
But the plan had changed.
Rodney’s coconspirators had decided that they didn’t think the meeting should be in public, so Rodney said that he and Drew were supposed to leave the bar and meet at their “place.”