Sidney Sheldon’s Reckless

Julia Cabot stood up and walked over to the window, aware of Frank Dorrien’s eyes boring into her back. She found the old soldier difficult. Only a week ago, she’d met with him to discuss the tragic and diplomatically embarrassing suicide of the young Greek prince at Sandhurst. It struck her then how little compassion General Dorrien had shown for the boy, as well as how dismissive he was of the political ramifications of his death on British soil and in the care of the British army.

“Perhaps he was depressed?” was the closest he’d come to offering any explanation. And when pressed he’d become positively irritated. “With respect, Prime Minister, I was his commanding officer, not his therapist.”

Yes, Julia Cabot had thought angrily. And I’m your commanding officer.

She wondered whether Dorrien was being so rude because she was a woman, or whether he was always this way.

On this occasion, however, the general was right. Bob Daley’s blood was on her hands. If the American journalist, Hunter Drexel, died too, she would never forgive herself.

“We must work with the Americans on this,” she announced. “Total transparency.”

Jamie MacIntosh raised an eyebrow laconically. “Total transparency” was not a phrase that made him feel good. At all.

“They need to get their man, Drexel, out of there. I want you to give the CIA everything you have, Jamie. Possible locations. All of that.”

“So we’re going to help rescue their man after abandoning our own?” Frank Dorrien looked suitably outraged.

“We’re going to make the best of a bad job, General,” the prime minister shot back. “And in return we’ll expect the CIA to share all of their intelligence on Group 99’s global network with us. Up until now their cyberattacks have focused primarily on U.S. targets. American companies and government agencies have been hit a lot harder than we have. I’m sure they already have groaning files on these bastards.”

“I’m sure they do, Prime Minister,” Frank Dorrien said drily. It was uncanny the way he managed to make every comment sound like a criticism.

“Something made these people change tactics,” Cabot said, ignoring him. “Something changed them from hi-tech pranksters into kidnappers and murderers. I need to know what that something is.”

“I DON’T LIKE IT. I don’t like it at all.”

President Jim Havers scowled at the three men seated around his desk in the Oval Office. The men were Greg Walton, the diminutive, bald head of the CIA. Milton Buck, the FBI’s top counterterrorism agent. And General Teddy MacNamee, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“None of us like it, Mr. President,” Greg Walton said. “But what are the alternatives? If we don’t get Drexel out now, right now, we could be looking at his brains being sprayed across a screen. If we don’t act on this intelligence . . .”

“I know. I know. But what if he’s not there? I mean if the Brits were so damn sure, why didn’t they get their own man out?”

President Havers’s scowl deepened. He was under enormous pressure, from Congress and from the American public, to save Hunter Drexel. But, if the intelligence they’d just received from the British was correct, saving Drexel meant launching a military offensive in an EU country. The United States had gotten enough flak for sending troops into Pakistan to take out Bin Laden. And this was a whole different ball game.

Bratislava was an ally, a Western democracy. Its president and people would not react kindly to American Chinooks invading their airspace and dropping Navy SEALs into their mountains, mountains that the Bratislavans themselves categorically denied were being used as a safe haven for Group 99, or any other terrorists for that matter.

And what if the Bratislavans were right and British Intel was wrong? What if Havers sent troops in, and Drexel wasn’t there after all? If a single Bratislavan citizen so much as spilt their coffee over this, President Havers would be dragged in front of the UN with egg all over his face before you could say “breach of international law.”

“They might let him go,” the president said, half to himself.

The three men all gave their commander in chief a look that roughly translated as and pigs might fly.

“I’m just saying, it’s a possibility.”

“I imagine that’s what the British were thinking, right up until last week,” said Greg Walton.

“But maybe what happened to Captain Daley was a one-off,” the president countered, clutching at straws. “An aberration. After all, Group 99 have never espoused violence before.”

“Well they’ve sure as hell espoused it now, Sir.” General MacNamee said grimly. “Can we really afford to take the risk?”

“What I don’t understand is why they even kidnapped Hunter Drexel in the first place.” President Havers ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “I mean, to what end? A two-bit journalist and gambling addict, fired from the Washington Post and the New York Times. Which is quite an accolade in itself, by the way. How is this man representative of the one percent of the people this group claim to despise? From what I understand he can barely pay his bills. How is he representative of anything?”

“He’s an American,” the FBI man, Milton Buck, observed quietly.

“And that’s enough?”

“For some people,” Greg Walton said. “These people aren’t necessarily rational, Sir.”

“No shit.” The president shook his head angrily. “One minute they’re sending pop-up balloons onto people’s computer screens and storming the stage at the Oscars, and the next they’re making snuff movies. I mean Jesus Christ! What next? Are they gonna start burning people in cages? It’s like a bad fucking dream. This is Europe.”

“So was Auschwitz,” said the general.

A tense silence fell.

If he sent in the SEALs and the operation was a success, President Jim Havers would be a hero, at least at home. Of course, he would owe the British big-time. Julia Cabot was already demanding more information on Group 99’s global network and funding sources, particularly “Althea,” information the CIA was extremely reluctant to share. If this worked President Havers would have no choice but to give it to her. But it would be worth it. His popularity ratings would be through the roof.

On the other hand, if Drexel wasn’t where the British said he would be, it was Havers who’d be hung out to dry, not Julia Cabot. America’s reputation abroad would plummet. He could wave goodbye to a second term.

The president closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. In that moment, Jim Havers hated Hunter Drexel almost as much as he hated Group 99.

How in hell had it come to this?

“Fuck it. Let’s do it. Let’s go in and get the son of a bitch.”


HUNTER DREXEL PRESSED THE radio against his ear and listened intently. The voice of the BBC World Service newsreader crackled through the darkness.

“As concern grows for the welfare of kidnapped American journalist Hunter Drexel, a minute’s silence was held today at Sandhurst Military Academy in Berkshire in memory of Captain Robert Daley, whose brutal murder last week at the hands of terror group 99 shocked the world.”

Hunter thought, So now they’re terror group 99. He laughed bitterly. Funny how one little murder changes everything.

Two weeks ago the BBC couldn’t get enough of Group 99. Like the rest of the world’s media, they’d fawned over the Robin Hood Hackers like groupies at a One Direction concert.

Then again, was Hunter really any better than the rest of them? After all, he’d misjudged Group 99 too.

At the time he was kidnapped he’d been working on a freelance article about corruption in the global fracking business. He’d been particularly interested in the billions of dollars flowing between the United States, Russia and China, and the secretive way in which drilling contracts were awarded, with oil giants in all three countries splitting obscene profits. Handshake deals were being thrashed out in Houston, Moscow and Beijing that blatantly contravened international trade law. Back then Hunter had seen Group 99 as an ally, as opposed to the rampant corruption in the energy business as he was. Ironically, he’d been on his way to meet Cameron Crewe, founder and owner of Crewe Inc. and one of fracking’s very few “good guys,” at Crewe’s Moscow office when he was dragged into an alleyway, chloroformed and bundled into the boot of a Mercedes town car, not by Kremlin thugs but by the very people he’d believed were on his side.

He remembered little of the long journey to the cabin. He changed cars at least once. There was also a short helicopter ride. And then he was here. A few days later Bob Daley showed up and was introduced as Hunter’s “roommate.” It was all very civilized. Warm beds, a radio, reasonable meals and, to Hunter’s delight, a pack of cards. He could survive without freedom if he had to. Even sex was a luxury he could learn to live without. But a life without poker wasn’t worth living. He and Bob would play daily, often for hours at a stretch, betting with pebbles like a couple of kids. If it hadn’t been for the armed guards outside the cabin, Hunter might have believed himself taking part in some sort of student prank, or even a reality TV show. Even the guards looked halfhearted and a bit embarrassed, as if they knew the joke had gone too far but weren’t quite sure how to back out without losing face.

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Categories: Sidney Sheldon