Most careers begin with an interview and a handshake. Others require a little ... something more.
Meet Jake Oliver. The day will come when he's one of the best cleaners in the business, a man skilled at making bodies disappear. At the moment, however, he's a twenty-two year old rookie cop, unaware his life is about to change.
In a burning barn a body is found—and the fire isn't the cause of death. The detectives working the case have a pretty good idea about what went down. But Officer Oliver thinks it's something else entirely, and pursues a truth others would prefer remain hidden—others who will go to extreme lengths to keep him quiet.
Every identity has an origin. This is Quinn's.
Ask anybody about Brett Battles and they’ll tell you about the same thing: his smart characters. The link between incredible knowledge and swift action means there’s not a dull word to be found. Aaron Sorkin could take lessons. – Jason Letts
"A pure delight."–Jeffery Deaver, author of EDGE and the Lincoln Rhyme's novels
"Battles is a master storyteller."–Sheldon Siegel, author of PERFECT ALIBI
"Quinn is one part James Bond, one part Jason Bourne."–Nashville Book Worm
"Highly recommended."–Library Journal (starred review for THE DECEIVED)
"The best word I can use to describe his writing is addictive."–James Rollins, author of the Sigma Force series
Durrie WASN'T A fool.
No way would he position himself right next to the old barn when the takedown happened. Where one bullet was sure to fly, others would often follow. Once things calmed down, he could move in. That's how he liked to work.
So instead, he'd set up a hundred feet away, behind an old steel tank that looked like it had been empty for years. If a bullet did somehow end up heading in his direction, the tank would rob it of whatever momentum it had before it could reach him.
To keep tabs on what was happening in the barn, he had a small monitor on the ground beside him displaying a feed from a camera inside. The camera and monitor were connected by a long cable that ran through a signal booster so that the image wouldn't be too degraded. He could have used a wireless camera, but the technology was still new, and didn't always work correctly. Until it did, he preferred to go the tried-and-true hardwired route.
The agent tasked by the Office to perform the termination, a guy named Larson, was already in the barn. Durrie could see him in the monitor, leaning against the wall and taking a sip from the cup of coffee he'd brought along. In addition to Larson, there were four other members of the operation team. Two were hidden near the barn, while the other two were positioned down where the private dirt road met the blacktopped street the target would be arriving on.
The selection of the site was good. Not perfect, Durrie noted, but good. They were on the edge of Phoenix, Arizona, in an area populated mostly by small horse ranches that would undoubtedly be swallowed up by development at some point in the future.
Now, though, the barn's closest neighbor was a half-mile away. A mile would have been better, but you took what you could get. At least it wasn't happening in a hotel room downtown.
Durrie checked his watch, then took a look at the road. Nothing. In the wide-open surroundings he should have been able to see the guy's headlights by now.
Perhaps the target had found out about his reduced life expectancy. It wouldn't have been the first time someone had figured out their services were no longer needed. If that happened, the ops team would have to go on the hunt, and Durrie would have to follow. That was not something he was interested in doing. Durrie was a cleaner, his job to get rid of the body. Anything that made doing his work harder brought with it the potential of discovery. Not a pleasant prospect.
He looked back at the monitor, annoyed. Someone had screwed up somewhere, and he and the ops team were going to have to deal with it. Why couldn't everyone be as good at their job as he was? It would sure make things a hell of a lot easier.
He was about to check his watch again when a pinprick of light caught his eye. He looked toward it. Headlights on the blacktop road, heading this way.
He stared at them, watching them approach, then willing them to slow as they neared the dirt road. As if on command, he saw brake lights flare off the shrub behind the vehicle.
When the car turned, he smiled.
Sure, someone was about to die, but it was the target's tough luck. He should have thought about the likely outcome before trying to make some extra cash selling secrets.
"Heat sensor confirms only one person in the vehicle," one of the spotters near the turnoff said over the radio. "ETA one minute."
On the monitor, Larson set his coffee cup on the ground, and moved into position in the center of the barn. Though Durrie couldn't see it, he knew the man was palming the remote control for the automated rifle mounted in the rafters. As soon as the target was in position:
Well, that was if your target cooperated. Durrie thought it was unnecessarily complex. It would have been better, in his mind, to have a gun hidden nearby that the shooter could grab when needed and pull the damn trigger himself. Though no one had said anything, Durrie had a funny feeling someone had decided this was a good opportunity to field-test a new toy.
"Vehicle has stopped." This was a different voice. Durrie recognized it as belonging to Mills, one of the ops team members near the barn.
Durrie looked away from the monitor, and over at the mirror he'd set up so he could see the building around the side of the tank. The target's sedan was parked right next to the barn's door. The driver sat behind the wheel, seemingly frozen in place. Maybe the guy did know what was about to happen, Durrie thought. Or at least sensed something was wrong. Durrie sure as hell would have.
Durrie would have never allowed himself to get into this position in the first place. If he sensed he was on the verge of being taken out, he would have disappeared, and no one would have ever found him. He'd already made the preparations. In this business, it was probably more a question of when rather than if he was going to have to disappear.
Finally, the guy got out of his car.
"Visual on target," Mills said. "ID confirmed."
No going back now, Durrie thought.
The target walked around the sedan to the barn's entrance. He hesitated there a moment, then opened the door and went inside.
Durrie turned his attention back to the monitor. Larson, still in position, had donned a disarming smile.
"Owens," he said. "I was getting worried."
"Took me a little longer to get here than I expected," the target said. He was standing just inside the door, several feet from the kill zone.
Durrie frowned, his eyes narrowing. If he'd drawn up the plans for this operation, Owens would be dead by now, and Durrie would be moving in to wrap up the corpse and get it out of there.
"Sorry about that," Larson said. "The op we wanted to talk to you about is sensitive. So the more isolated, the better."
Owens snorted a laugh.
Oh, he knows, all right.
"Okay," Owens said. "So tell me about it."
"It'll be easier if I show you. I've got some photos and a map you'll need." The agent turned and started walking toward the far wall, then stopped and looked back. "They're over here."
Owens didn't budge. "Are they heavy?"
"No," Larson said, confused.
"Then I like where I am right now."
There was a click over the radio comm, then Timmons—the ops leader and other man stationed at the barn—said, "Prep alt B."
Durrie knew Timmons wasn't particularly fond of the automated gun setup either, but its inclusion had come down from someone above him. Peter, perhaps. He was their employer on this one, head of an organization known only as the Office, so it was either him or someone who worked for him. Thankfully, Timmons was an experienced operative, and had laid out several options in case their primary plan failed. Something that at the moment looked very possible.
On the screen, Larson continued to the back wall where he'd left a briefcase earlier.
"Mills?" Timmons said.
Durrie realized the other man hadn't responded to Timmons's command.
"Mills, what's your twenty?" the head man asked, wanting to know his colleague's location.
When there was still no response, Durrie's gaze instinctively flicked to the mirror. Everything looked quiet outside the barn.
"Mills, what's your twenty?" Nothing. "Mills!"
Durrie tensed. Something was definitely wrong.
He's going to abort, he thought. Durrie would have, in a flash.
He quickly scanned the area around his position, double-checking where everything was—his two kit bags with his tools and supplies, the monitor, and the coveralls he'd resisted putting on so far because of the heat. And the mirror. He couldn't forget the mirror.
"Larson, Durrie. Ac—"
The radio cut off.
Durrie waited a moment, then touched his transmit button. "Didn't copy. Repeat."
He waited, but Timmons said nothing. For a second, he wondered if something had gone wrong with his communication gear. It seemed likely, given that everything else was screwed up. But when he glanced at the monitor, he could see Larson hovering over his briefcase, looking unsure.
Durrie touched his transmit button again. "Larson, touch the left side of the briefcase if you can hear me."
On the screen, Larson moved his hand down and touched the case as instructed.
"Son of a bitch," Durrie said under his breath.
His comm gear was working fine. Something had happened to Mills and Timmons.
He looked at the mirror again. There was a man by the door. Though dressed in dark clothes like the ops team, Durrie was sure this was the first time he'd ever seen him. Where the hell had he come from?
"Larson, find cover," Durrie said. "Unfriendly coming in the front door."
"I thought you wanted to show me something," Owens said, still standing in the barn by the door. "What's up?"
Larson rose, the briefcase in his hand. "Just…making sure I have everything."
In the mirror, the man outside had his hand on the door handle.
"Larson! Quit dicking around and take cover."
One corner of Larson's mouth turned up in a half smile, but he didn't move.
Then, in a near flawless single motion, the briefcase flew open, and Larson's hand darted inside, coming out with a Glock G29 10mm pistol as the case fell away. He fired twice before the briefcase even hit the ground.
While the bullets missed Owens as he dove to his left, they pierced the door, and smacked into the other man just as he started to enter. The one that caught him in the shoulder didn't matter, but the other went straight through his neck, dropping him to the ground. Even a hundred feet away, Durrie was sure the man would never get up again.
Inside, Larson finally took Durrie's advice and moved behind the cover of a stack of rusted barrels. Owens, in the meantime, had scrambled into the remnants of an old animal stall.
"Guy at the door is down," Durrie said into the radio.
"Your friend is dead," Larson called out.
Owens remained silent.
"Step on out, and keep your hands high."
For a moment, there was still no response, then Owens said, "You brought me here to kill me. Did you really expect me just to let that happen?"
"Hey, I'm just doing a job here. Don't blame the messenger."
"Are you kidding me?" Owens said. "Your job is to kill me. Like hell I won't blame you!"
"If you've got a weapon, toss it in my direction now," Larson ordered. "Then step out where I can see you."
"No way. I'll take my chances. You against me."
"You really think I'm here alone?" Larson asked.
"No. But my friend took care of your backup."
"Really? How many did he get? One? Two? You don't really know, do you? Because he didn't get a chance to tell you. How do you think I know one of my bullets killed him? I still have people out there."
In response to this, two clicks came over the radio, and both Durrie and Larson knew the two other men who'd been stationed by the road were on their way back. Unfortunately, Durrie also knew it would take them at least two minutes to get to the barn—an eternity in situations like this.
"Even if I believed you, it wouldn't matter," Owens said. "I'm not going to just let you kill me."
"You're making a fool of yourself," Larson said. "Take it with some dignity."
Just go get him, Durrie thought but didn't say over the radio. It was doubtful Owens was armed. He would have played it safe, just in case the others had planned on patting him down when he first arrived. His buddy was probably carrying two weapons, one of which he was undoubtedly supposed to have given to Owens when they reconnected.
But Larson was playing with him, almost like he was teasing his prey.
The angle of the camera in the barn was such that Owens was mostly hidden from view in the stall. Durrie could only see the top of the guy's head and one of his shoulders. He could tell he was moving around, but couldn't see what he was doing.
"Enough, Owens," Larson yelled, but while he was giving the impression his patience was starting to run out, his body language was calm and controlled. "Enough screwing around. Get rid of your weapons and step out now."
"Go to hell!"
Owens shuffled back a couple of feet from the stall divider, instantly giving Durrie a better view. The guy was looking at something in his lap. No, not his lap, his hand.
Durrie pressed the transmit button. "He's calling someone!"
As Owens lifted a mobile phone to his ear, Larson sprinted out from behind the barrels. Durrie could see Owens start to talk, but he couldn't hear what the man was saying. Whatever it was, he didn't get much out before Larson came around the end of the stall and fired twice.
Owens fell backwards, his phone clattering to the ground beside him. Larson checked his pulse, but Durrie had yet to see anyone survive a shot through the forehead. Satisfied the target was dead, Larson picked up the discarded phone and looked at the display.
A second later, his head snapped to the side, his eyes looking directly into the lens of Durrie's camera. "He called 911."