Behind the well-known U.S. security organizations-the FBI and CIA among them-lies a heavily guarded, anonymous government agency dedicated to intelligence surveillance and to a highly specialized brand of citizen protection.
Behind the well-known U.S. security organizations- the FBI and CIA among them-lies a heavily guarded, anonymous government agency dedicated to intelligence surveillance and to a highly specialized brand of citizen protection.
Shock waves of alarm ripple through the clandestine agency when Washington, D.C., police detective Ryan Kessler inexplicably becomes the target of Henry Loving, a seasoned, ruthless "lifter" hired to obtain information using whatever means necessary. While Loving is deft at torture, his expertise lies in getting an "edge" on his victim-leverage-usually by kidnapping or threatening family until the "primary" caves under pressure.
The job of keeping the Kessler family alive falls to a man named Corte, a senior federal protection officer known as a "shepherd." Uncompromising, relentlessly devoted to protecting those in his care and a passionate board game aficionado, he applies brilliant gaming strategy to his work. For Corte, the reappearance of Loving-the man who, six years earlier, had tortured and killed someone close to him-is also an opportunity to avenge his friend's death. The assignment soon escalates into a fast-paced duel between Corte and Loving, a dangerous volley of wits and calculated risks.
As he shepherds the Kesslers to a concealed safe house, Corte must anticipate Loving's every step as the lifter moves in on his prey, and with the help of razor-sharp investigator Claire DuBois and his longtime ally, FBI agent Paul Fredericks, pinpoint which of Kessler's seemingly insignificant cases has triggered Loving's return. As the team digs deeper, each of the Kesslers comes under close scrutiny, and in captivity their family bonds are stretched to the breaking point-as the lifter draws near, Corte must ultimately choose between protecting his charges and exposing them to a killer in the name of long-awaited revenge.
"WE'VE GOT A bad one, Corte."
"Go ahead," I said into the stalk microphone. I was at my desk, on a hands-free. I set down the old handwritten note I'd been reading.
"The principal and his family're in Fairfax. There's a go-ahead order for a lifter and seems like he's under some time pressure."
"A couple of days."
"You know who hired him?"
"That's a negative, son."
It was Saturday, early. In this business, we drew odd hours and workweeks of varying lengths. Mine had just begun a couple of days ago and I'd finished a small job late yesterday afternoon. I was to have spent the day tidying up paperwork, something I enjoy, but in my organization we're on call constantly.
"Keep going, Freddy." There'd been something about his tone. Ten years of working with somebody, even sporadically, in this line of work gives you clues.
The FBI agent, never known for hesitating, now hesitated. Finally: "Okay, Corte, the thing is ?? ?"
"The lifter's Henry Loving?? . I know, I know. But it's confirmed."
After a moment, in which the only sounds I could hear were my heart and a whisper of blood through my ears, I responded automatically, though pointlessly, "He's dead. Rhode Island."
"Was dead. Was reported dead."
I glanced at trees outside my window, stirring in the faint September breeze, then looked over my desk. It was neat but small and cheaply made. On it were several pieces of paper, each demanding more or less of my attention, as well as a small carton that FedEx had delivered to the town house, only a few blocks from my office, that morning. It was an eBay purchase I'd been looking forward to receiving. I'd planned to examine the contents of the box on my lunch hour today. I now slid it aside.
"In Providence? Somebody else was in the building." Freddy filled in this missing puzzle piece, though I'd almost instantly deduced-correctly, from the agent's account-exactly what had happened. Two years ago the warehouse Henry Loving had been hiding in, after fleeing a trap I'd set for him, had burned to the ground. The forensic people had a clear DNA match on the body inside. Even badly burned, a corpse will leave about ten million samples of that pesky deoxyribonucleic acid. Which you can't hide or destroy so it doesn't make sense to try.
But what you can do is, afterward, get to the DNA lab technicians and force them to lie-to certify that the body was yours.
Loving was the sort who would have anticipated my trap. Before he went after my principals, he'd have a backup plan devised: kidnapping a homeless man or a runaway and stashing him in the warehouse, just in case he needed to escape. This was a clever idea, threatening a lab tech, and not so far-fetched when you considered that Henry Loving's unique art was manipulating people to do things they didn't want to do.
So, suddenly, a man a lot of other people had been content-I'd go so far as to use the word "happy"-to see die in a fire was now very much alive.
A shadow in my doorway. It was Aaron Ellis, the head of our organization, the man I reported to directly. Blond and fiercely broad of shoulder. His thin lips parted. He didn't know I was on the phone. "You hear? Rhode Island-it wasn't Loving after all."
"I'm on with Freddy now." Gesturing toward the hands-free.
"My office in ten?"
He vanished on deft feet encased in brown tasseled loafers, which clashed with his light blue slacks.
I said to the FBI agent, in his office about ten miles from mine, "That was Aaron."
"I know," Freddy replied. "My boss briefed your boss. I'm briefing you. We'll be working it together, son. Call me when you can."
"Wait," I said. "The principals, in Fairfax? You send any agents to babysit?"
"Not yet. This just happened."
"Get somebody there now."
Behind the well-known U.S. security organizations- the FBI and CIA among them-lies a heavily guarded, anonymous government agency dedicated to intelligence surveillance and to a highly specialized brand of citizen protection. Shock waves of alarm ripple through the clandestine agency when Washington police detective Ryan Kessler inexplicably becomes the target of Henry Loving, a seasoned, ruthless "lifter" hired to obtain information using whatever means necessary. While Loving is deft at torture, his expertise lies in getting an "edge" on his victim-leverage-usually by kidnapping or threatening family until the "primary" caves under pressure.