|Robert Ludlum's the Treadstone Transgression
"A blown mission and a dead team leave Adam Hayes the last loose thread in a tapestry of betrayal in this latest high stakes international thriller from the world of Robert Ludlum"-
Joshua Hood is the author of Warning Order and Clear by Fire. He graduated from the University of Memphis before joining the military and spending five years in the 82nd Airborne Division. On his return to civilian life he became a sniper team leader on a full-time SWAT team in Memphis, where he was awarded the lifesaving medal. Currently he works as the Director of Veteran Outreach for the American Warrior Initiative.
Robert Ludlum was the author of twenty-seven novels, each one a New York Times bestseller. There are more than 225 million of his books in print, and they have been translated into thirty-two languages. He is the author of the Jason Bourne series-The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum-among other novels. Mr. Ludlum passed away in March 2001.
Grant County, New Mexico
Adam Hayes opened his eyes, instantly awake and ready. He lay there assessing the darkened bedroom, left hand snaking across the sheets, seeking the reassuring warmth of his sleeping wife, his right searching for the cold steel of the Archon Type B under his pillow.
Finding both where they were supposed to be, Hayes turned his attention to the digital clock by the television.
It was four a.m.
Might as well get up, he thought.
Careful not to disturb his wife, Hayes secured the pistol in the Vaultek safe mounted to the nightstand before easing out of bed. He got to his feet and crossed to the chair by the window, the puckered scar tissue from the bullets he'd taken in Luanda tight across his thigh.
Hayes dressed in the dark-pulling on the black running shorts, gray T-shirt, and a worn pair of Salomon trail runners he'd laid out the night before-snagged a faded beanie from the dresser, and slipped out of the room. Hayes tugged the hat over his shaggy blond hair and started down the hall. He paused to look in on his son, Jack. Seeing the boy had kicked free of his blankets during the night, he stepped in to cover him.
But he wasn't halfway across the room when Tr, the black Malinois he'd bought to protect his family, was growling at him from his spot on the bed.
"Stil," he said. Quiet.
The dog went silent but remained on guard, its eyes tracking Hayes all the way to the bed like a pair of aiming lasers. "Braaf," he whispered, giving the dog an affectionate scratch behind the ears before turning his attention to his son. Well done.
Being back with his family was the dream that had kept Hayes going during his government-imposed exile to Africa, and discovering that Jack no longer slept in a crib was one of many surprises he'd found waiting for him upon his return. When he'd left, Jack was just learning to walk; now he was on the verge of turning four. Covering the boy, Hayes couldn't help but reflect on how much he'd missed.
How much time they'd stolen from him.
"I promise I'm going to make it up to you," he whispered, kissing Jack lightly on the forehead before stepping out of the room.
The kitchen, like the rest of the house, was dark and still, the only light the pale white glow from the security panel that illuminated the weighted vest and headlamp sitting by the door. Hayes picked up the vest and strapped it to his torso, his mind already compiling a list of reasons why this was a bad idea.
It is too early and way too cold out there for this crap. Stay inside, forget about this nonsense.
Hayes silenced the chatter and typed his code into the security panel, disengaging the interior alarm and the motion detectors he'd emplaced around the house before throwing the lock on the Level 3 GSS security door.
He stepped outside and closed the door behind him, the chunk of its multipoint locking cylinders sliding into place muted by the howl of the early morning wind. With the door secure, Hayes tugged the headlamp on and stepped off the porch, cursing the cold and forcing himself into a stiff-legged jog.
Located two and a half hours south of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Lazy A was as isolated as it was beautiful, a three-hundred-acre paradise of desert grassland, pine-studded foothills, and mesquite-tangled canyons nestled in the shadows of the Black Range.
It was an untamed land, a remnant of the once great wildernesses that covered the southwest. The kind of place where a man could leave his past behind and start a new life, which was exactly what he'd been looking for since returning home, and the reason he'd bought the ranch from his brother-in-law nine months prior.
Unfortunately for Hayes, it wasn't the ranch's natural beauty but the ache in his knees that had his attention.
He'd never liked running, and even as a younger man he'd seen it as an annoyance, an unnecessary suffering that was to be ended as fast as humanly possible. But with the big 4-0 just around the corner and with Hayes feeling every ding and broken bone that he'd collected during his tenure with Treadstone, that annoyance had blossomed into a full-on hatred.
So why not make it worse, right, macho man? the voice chided him.
Hayes knew the voice wasn't real, knew that it was a synthetic by-product of the behavior mods the Treadstone docs had used to turn him into a genetically modified assassin. He'd tried to get rid of it, to purge it from his brain. But despite his best efforts to remove it, the voice remained, buried like a splinter in the recesses of his mind.
So instead he tried to ignore it and focus on his breathing as well as the rhythmic bob of the headlamp off the gravel beneath his feet. He maintained the slow jog for a quarter mile, letting his legs loosen up before starting the timer on his watch.
Hayes cut east across the pasture, the downward slope of the terrain and natural cushion of the buffalo grass beneath his feet a welcome reprieve from the unforgiving hardpack of the gravel drive. Taking advantage of the conditions, he snugged the weighted vest tighter across his shoulders and raced down the slope, hitting the first mile thirty seconds ahead of time.
He continued to push his pace and by the end of the third mile, Hayes had gained a full minute. He was flying, but more important than that, he was in position to conquer the course that had been beating his ass for the past month and a half.
Might want to keep something in the tank, the voice warned.
The advice was solid, but Hayes was in the zone and with his body running like a machine, he wasn't interested in holding anything back.
It's payback time.
Hayes was on his last mile and still pushing hard when the undulating terrain and the steady bounce of the forty-pound vest against his diaphragm began to take their toll. The cramp started small, a stabbing pain beneath his right rib cage that forced him to loosen the vest.
Maybe you might stop trying to prove how tough you are.
"The hell with that," he said, eyes locked on the graphite shadow to his north that marked the final leg of the run.
By the time he made it, the horizon had begun to purple in preparation for the dawn, the muted light filtering through the shadow revealing the arroyo that would lead him up to the finish line.
The sight of the wash rising up before him like a giant ramp sent a rush of endorphins coursing through his bloodstream.
This is it, he told himself.
Sure it is, the voice replied. It's half a mile to the top.
Ignoring the voice and the spreading pain in his side, Hayes pushed himself into a sprint, the alluvium that lined the bottom of the wash threatening to suck the shoes from his feet as he raced toward the summit.
The first two hundred meters were gentle, almost easy, and Hayes was still confident he could make it, but then he hit the wall. In an instant he was out of gas, his throat and lungs raw from the cold morning air, legs burning hot as fire from the lactic acid rolling through his thighs and calves.
He tried to power through it, to keep pushing, but he'd pushed too hard and now he was paying the price.
So, the same old, same old, the voice chided. How's that working out for ya?
By the time he made the apex, Hayes was gassed, his legs shaking like someone had hit his muscles with a cattle prod. He slowed to a walk and checked his watch to see that he'd run the course in forty minutes.
It was a good time for a Navy SEAL, but too slow to get him back on Treadstone operational status.
He turned his attention east, cursing his lack of judgment and his deep-seated need to prove that he could still hack it. The napalm glow of the rising sun reminded him of Angola and the gunfight in Luanda that had damn near killed him.
Going to Africa hadn't been his choice. He'd been given an ultimatum-get the hell out of the States or spend the rest of his life rotting away in some government-run black site.
It was a shit hand, but that was nothing new, and Hayes was determined to make the best of the situation. Atone for the many hell points he'd acquired during his time in Operation Treadstone and come back the kind of man Annabelle and little Jack could be proud of.
With that thought at the forefront of his mind, Hayes went to work for an aid group flying food, water, and much-needed medicines to the beleaguered refugee camps in Burkina Faso. It was a shit job and, thanks to the gauntlet of extremist gun positions encircling the camps, dangerous as hell. But people were dying and, after all, helping people was the reason he'd become a Green Beret in the first place.
Unfortunately, no amount of altruism was going to change the fact that Hayes was a shit magnet, and it wasn't long before he found himself sucked into a conspiracy that had almost cost him his life.
"That's enough," he told himself. Time to focus on the here and now, not the past.
Good idea, said the voice. And what exactly is the here and now?
Hayes took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and turned his head back to the sunrise. By then it had shifted from napalm fireworks to the glow of a fireplace. In the wafting rays he could see the glint in his son's eyes and the warmth of his wife's smile.
Yeah, said the voice. Maybe it's time to concentrate less on your bad ass, and more on what's really important . . .
The thought galvanized him. After knocking out a hundred burpees, Hayes ran back the way he'd come. By the time he hit the gravel drive his legs felt like they were full of air. All he was thinking about was getting to the front door and laying eyes on who was waiting inside.
Even so, he made the last hundred yards on willpower alone. When he reached the stairs he was done, mouth dry as a bone, the sweat-soaked vest feeling like it weighed a thousand pounds. He unstrapped the thing and let it fall, the resounding thump of it hitting the ground followed an instant later by a sultry voice from the front door.
"Where you been, cowboy?"
Hayes looked up, the bone-crushing fatigue instantly forgotten as his wife, Annabelle, padded lithely across the porch-effortlessly beautiful despite just rolling out of bed, or maybe because of it.
"I . . . uh . . . couldn't sleep," he finally managed. "What are you doing up so early?"
"I'm just enjoying the view," she said, a mischievous glint in her green eyes.
"Is that a fact?" Hayes grinned, starting up the steps. "And where is our son?"
"Still asleep," she said.
"But don't you get any ideas until after you take-" she began.
Before she could finish, Hayes was on the porch, right hand snaking out to grab her around the waist.
"Too late," he said, pulling her close and kissing her hard on the lips.
For an instant the world fell away, the pain and uncertainty that had been his constant companion since coming back to the States receding like a bad dream.
But it wasn't to last. Seconds into the embrace, Hayes felt eyes on him. He looked up to see his son standing at the screen door.
"Ewww, gross," the boy said, his tiny voice popping the moment like a bubble.
"So much for that," he said.
"Don't worry, cowboy," Annabelle said before pulling away, "now that you're home, we've got all the time in the world."
Then she was gone, and Hayes was alone on the porch, wishing he shared her optimism, but knowing it was only a matter of time before Treadstone showed up to pull him back into the fight.
It was seven thirty a.m. in Port-au-Prince when the convoy turned onto the Route de Delmas, the flash of the blue lights and the wail of sirens from the lead Land Rover barely noticeable over the lively beat from the revelers gathered in the street a hundred yards ahead.
At the edge of the crowd, Junior Noel stood with the scrum of musicians, a patinaed trumpet pressed to his lips. The instrument was old and, thanks to the dry-rotted cork valves, sounded stuffy compared to the other horns, but Junior didn't care. His father had given him the instrument shortly before he died, and Junior played it with pride.
Junior paused to wipe the sweat from his brow, the band ready to launch into another song when one of the drummers saw the convoy.
"Now what do these sons of bitches want?" the man wondered.
"Who cares?" another man said. "Let them go around."
Junior nodded and licked his lips, ready to get back to the music when he saw the blacked-out Mercedes G-Class SUV coming up fast behind the Land Rover.
He opened his mouth, ready to yell a warning, but before he could, a woman in a feathered headdress and sequined bikini beat him to it.
"Dyab la ap vini!" The devil is coming.
"Run!" a second voice shouted.
In an instant the crowd was moving, musicians and revelers stampeding for the sidewalk. Junior turned to follow, crashing into one of the broad-shouldered musicians, the wooden tanbou drum swinging from his shoulder, clipping Junior in the side of the head.
The blow sent him spinning, ankle twisting beneath him, and then he was falling.
Junior hit hard, the impact knocking the air from his lungs, but the pain was overshadowed by the clatter of his trumpet into the street.
"No!" he shouted.
He scrambled to his feet and lurched forward, ready to jump out and save the instrument, when through the car's front windshield he saw the figure in the rear of the Mercedes. The sight of the man's malignant eyes and the garish scar that crisscrossed his face froze Junior in place, leaving him helpless to do anything but watch the tire flatten his prized possession.
On most days, Felix Pasquette would have savored the moment. Ordered his driver to slow the car so he could feast on the fear written across the faces of the men and women jammed together on the curb. Their abject terror coursed through his blood like a shot of morphine. Reminding him that while the president and his ministers were busy convincing themselves that they were the ones running the country, the people knew the truth. Knew that Pasquette and his dreaded Agence Nationale d'Intelligence, or ANI, were the island's real power.