The prologue introduces us to Graham Weber, the future director of the CIA, and to James Morris, a world renowned hacker and a CIA senior official. Then the story moves fast to Weber taking the reins of the CIA and then something goes wrong. A hacker has obtained a list of CIA’s officers in Germany and Switzerland and offers it to the US Consulate in Hamburg, Germany in exchange for protection as his life is in danger. And the hacker claims there are much greater secrets that he is aware of.
Ms. Ignatius’s language is smooth and to the point. The flow of events is realistic and so are the actions of the characters. The dialogue is engaging and makes the readers feel every part of the story and of the plot. And there are many twists and turns to keep many readers well-satisfied.
The hacker ends up dead with a bullet in the head and another one in the chest. It’s now up to the CIA and Morris to figure out who is the new enemy and what is “the worst nightmare” they can give the US. But how will Morris do it? What will he have to do to get to the truth?
Enjoy Chapter Five of Rogue Agents, the newest spy thriller in the Justin Hall series, which came out on June 29. You can read the Prologue here, Chapter One here, Chapter Two here, Chapter Three here, and Chapter Four here. And if you like what you are reading, here are the links to buy Rogue Agents on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords and GooglePlay.
Military outpost fifteen miles north of Hoeryong
North Hamgyong Province, North Korea
April 26, 8:15 a.m.
Kim Jong-nam drew in a long puff on his cigarette and blew out the smoke slowly through his nose and his mouth. A thin gray cloud formed in front of his cold face, then a sharp wind gust carried it away. Kim tried to follow the vanishing spiral of smoke, but he saw nothing but the hill slopes and the valleys beyond the barbed-wire fence surrounding this remote outpost, about ten miles away from the prison camp.
His small gray eyes followed the Tumen River snaking at the bottom of the valley and separating these forests from those on the other side belonging to China. Kim wondered for a moment about the thousands of people who had tried to cross the river with hopes and dreams of a better life. Instead most of them had found death in the cold waters or the volleys of gunfire from soldiers chasing them like dogs. The ones who were caught alive were most often executed for treason, if the starvation and the daily beatings in prison camps did not kill them. And Chinese authorities routinely returned many of the escapees back to their homeland, considering them economic immigrants and not refugees, denying them asylum and protection.
The few that actually survived the ordeal had to live in constant fear about the fate looming over the family members and relatives they had left behind. Even if they were lucky enough to avoid the firing squad or the prison camps, they were branded as enemies of the state, and shame, misery, and humiliation would follow them for the rest of their lives. Their families and relatives deserve it, since they raised such fools. But that will never happen to my family. My wife and my daughters will never live in terror.
Kim took the last drag and flicked the cigarette butt into the bushes about four feet away. He did not worry about starting a fire. The ground and the plants were still damp from the long winter, which this year had dragged on longer than everyone had expected. He tapped the front pocket of his coat—a drab olive military trench coat that hung heavy on his small frame—and wondered whether he should smoke another cigarette. He was down to the last two Marlboros that a friend of a friend had bought in the black market fueled by shadowy Chinese and Russian characters. Then he would have to go back to smoking local brands like Gohyang, produced in the Paeksan Cigarette Company in Hoeryong. They were cheap but they tasted like crap. Americans may be evil but their factories make really good stuff. Smoking smuggled cigarettes was frowned upon and if caught, Kim might be subjected to some tongue-lashing from his superiors. But they were far away in Pyongyang, and he was the highest-ranking officer on this station and the man who ran the show.
Kim was smart enough to understand the politics of his country and to know when to keep his mouth shut. Which was all the time. The nail that sticks out gets hammered down, as the old saying went. Kim allowed himself the occasional American cigarette or whisky, his only vices, but otherwise was extremely careful not to stick out, especially considering his job with the Ministry of State Security, the most powerful of the four intelligence agencies of the country. The MSS was under the direct control of the country’s Supreme Leader and responsible among other things for investigating domestic espionage and counterespionage activities. And today Kim was investigating the case of a nuclear scientist suspected of planning to defect to two Canadian agents, who had been caught and brought to his station.
Kim took in a deep breath and decided to save his Marlboros for the next time he felt the cigarette craving. He walked slowly on the dirt path toward the main complex station, once a large barracks that had been converted into a prison, which at the moment held twenty-one detainees. To his right, about a hundred yards from the prison, there was a small cinderblock barracks painted gray, with offices and dormitories for the station’s personnel and the soldiers, a total of forty people. Four Chaju ten-ton trucks were parked near the barracks. A little further away stood Kim’s beauty: a black Ppeokpuggi, an off-road vehicle, assembled in the country from Chinese parts. It handled the rough country roads very well and Kim was very proud of it.
“Good morning, Comrade Kim,” a soldier greeted him as Kim climbed up the five steps leading to the prison’s main entrance.
Kim nodded at the soldier, who began to march away in haste with an AK hanging over his left shoulder. “Where are you going?”
“Down to the camp.”
Kim stopped, turned around, and grabbed the soldier by the arm. “Why? Who ordered you?”
“Comrade Jang. He said he needed someone to examine a few files.”
Kim frowned and he felt his heart drumming in his chest. Jang was the commander of the prison camp, but he could not pull rank and order Kim’s soldiers around. Not without Kim’s knowledge and authorization. And the task of reviewing papers sounded quite routine to Kim, something one of the hundreds of Jang’s men could do very well.
“Go back to your post, patrolling the fence,” Kim ordered the soldier and pointed toward the west.
“But . . . what about—”
“I’ll handle Jang . . . if he is man enough to call me.”
The soldier grimaced, then gave Kim a quick nod and jogged up the hill.
Kim cursed Jang under his breath, pushed open the gray metallic door with peeling paint and rust marks around the hinges, and stepped inside the prison. The door creaked, and two soldiers huddling next to a wooden stove behind a small desk right inside the entrance got up and greeted Kim in a single voice.
He saluted the life-sized bronze statue of the Supreme Leader standing on the other side of the entrance as it waved and smiled at him. He nodded at the soldiers and continued down the long, narrow hall. Small windowless cells stretched along the length of the building. They had steel-plated doors and were simple eight-foot-by-eight-foot squares, each with a narrow iron-framed bed and a concrete floor with a hole that served as the toilet. There were no light bulbs, so prisoners would never know if it was day or night. Not that it would matter, since their fate was in Kim’s hands. If they confessed their crimes against the state and the people and provided him the intelligence and the answers that he and his superiors demanded, the prisoners could save themselves a great amount of pain and suffering.
Two soldiers were sitting on wooden chairs in front of the last two cells near the end of the hall. They stood up as Kim approached them.
“Good morning, Comrade Kim,” said one of them, the taller of the two.
Kim nodded. “How are they?” He nodded toward the cell to the right.
The number 19 had been scrawled on the door a long time ago. The black color had faded and the number was almost illegible against the brown, rusting door. One of the captured Canadian agents, Park Min-joon, had been held in that cell for the last three days.
The tall soldier said, “This one made no sound all night, since their transfer from the camp. Then he complained of chest pain about an hour ago. The doctor came and fed him a couple of pills. Now he’s sleeping.”
Kim glanced at the small viewing slit, covered by a shutter, in the cell door. “Did he say whether he’s getting better?”
“He didn’t say,” the tall soldier replied.
“And this one?” Kim gestured with his right hand at the cell across from Park’s and looked at the short soldier.
“He’s been singing for the last hour or so,” the short soldier said in an annoyed voice.
Kim flinched, then scratched his head. “Singing?”
“Yes. Songs about his god. Something about a shepherd and grace and other stories like that.”
“Huh. Well, his god is not going to save him from my hands. Bring him out to the interrogation room.”
Kim walked up ahead and turned left. The interrogation room was the only heated part of the building beside the soldiers’ corner at the entrance. Kim had instructed the soldiers to start the heating stove, as he was planning to spend the first part of his work day interrogating the Canadian agents, and perhaps a couple of the other prisoners who had been jailed for having political views contrary to the Supreme Leader and for criticizing his regime.
The room was about the size of four cells put together, and the black rectangular stove had begun to warm the room. Kim found the temperature still not to his liking, so he frowned and cursed the stupid soldiers. He stomped toward the pile of firewood behind the stove, picked up a couple of large logs and fed them into the mouth of the stove. He sneered at the meager fire inside the stove and cursed the soldiers again.
He retreated to a desk near the stove and removed his coat. He placed it carefully over the wooden chair’s back before sitting down. Then he began to roll up the sleeves of his gray woolen sweater. He did not want to get them dirty, and his interrogations tended to turn bloody more often than not.
The door opened and the two soldiers dragged in the other Canadian agent, who Kim knew was called Isaac Schultz. He was the one who was not wounded during the shootout at Kaesong last week. It had killed two MSS agents and the nuclear physicist working on the uranium mine complex at Sunchon in the South Pyongan province. MSS agents had given chase and had caught the agent and his partner Park and seized fifteen pounds of weapons-grade uranium in the back of their van. Now Kim wanted some answers about the whole affair and he was determined to get them. His superior in Pyongyang—a powerful and fearsome man he did not dare cross— had made it abundantly clear that Kim could not return to the country’s capital unless he had precise intelligence about the Canadian agents’ operations and their network of spies in North Korea.
The soldiers held the agent by his arms and shoved him onto the chair across the table. Kim looked at the face of his enemy. Schultz’s lips and eyes were swollen and he had bruises and cuts along the side of his face, on his forehead, and near his ears. A couple of his front teeth were missing, revealing black gaps. The soldiers down at the camp had beaten him with bamboo sticks and had kicked him, so Schultz probably had other wounds all over his body. The front of his white shirt and black pants were caked with dried blood. But still Schultz had a small but defiant smile on his face, and he was already getting on Kim’s nerves.
“My name is Kim Jong-nam and I’m an officer with the Ministry of State Security,” Kim said slowly in a warm tone in English. He had learned it in elementary school and was told he spoke it rather well but had quite the accent. Kim had not practiced it very often and when he did, it was mostly with other North Koreans. English-speaking visitors were very rare in the country, and his line of work was not the ideal setting to have lengthy English-practicing conversations. “I’m in charge of your case and from now one you will communicate with me. Do you understand what I’m saying?” He looked at Schultz’s blue eyes and offered him a genuine smile. Kim truly wished the Canadian would cooperate so he could return to his family in Pyongyang.
Schultz kept his gaze on Kim, then winced. “What happened to Jang?” He slurred his words and his voice was hoarse and low.
“He and his men are no longer a concern. They are in the past, the same as the torture and the beating. Very shortly you will go back home.”
“Yes, but only after I’ve given you everything I know.”
Kim smiled and leaned forward. “Very good. We are coming to an understanding, Mr. Schultz. I like that. Now would you like something to eat? Or perhaps something to drink?”
“No,” Schultz said.
“Bring me two cups of citron tea,” Kim ordered one of the soldiers, the short one. “You’ll like it. Very good with honey. Now tell me: what were you doing in Kaesong?”
Schultz gave Kim a wry smile. “Will you believe me if I said we were there as tourists?”
“I wish I could. But unless your tourism involved purchasing some uranium made in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, I would say you were trying to lie to me. And I don’t appreciate liars. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Schultz just stared at Kim.
“Let’s start at the beginning: how did you cross the border?”
Schultz began to shake his head but Kim stopped him with a dismissive hand gesture. “Don’t tell me you flew to Pyongyang, because your passports show no stamps. So how did you get into the country? Did you break through the fence? Did you get in by boat? Or did you bribe any of our border guards?”
Schultz winced as if a jolt of pain was shooting through his body. He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them again he seemed calm and collected. “Since you have my passport, you’ve probably noticed it’s of a diplomatic type. That means it affords me protection and—”
“It doesn’t afford you anything.” Kim cut him off in a stern voice. “You entered illegally into my country. You tried to smuggle nuclear material from my country. And you shot and killed two agents, colleagues of mine, and upstanding citizens of my homeland. You can be executed for these crimes. I’m offering you a very good trade: your life in exchange for some information. You don’t value your life?”
“You should contact my ambassador in Seoul, who can negotiate my release with your politicians or your Supreme Leader—”
Kim pushed back his chair and jumped to his feet. He slammed his fist on the table as he towered over Schultz. “Don’t you mention his name, you imperialist aggressor, you scum of a spy. You came here to fuel discontent among our peaceful people, to find renegades willing to betray their country and rebel against their loving leaders. But you failed, and you will rot and die in this very place if you do not tell me everything. Right now! Start talking, you scum!” Kim slammed his fist on the table again, and a fleck of spit flew out of his mouth and landed on Schultz’s face.
Schultz did not say a word but the defiant look remained stamped on his face. He showed no fear. He raised his hands, handcuffed in front of him, to clean his face, but Kim grabbed one of his arms. “You talk or I will pry the words out of your mouth.”
Kim seized Schultz by the throat, his fingers digging deep into the man’s skin. Schultz struggled for breath and tried to resist by elbowing Kim. The soldier stepped forward and kicked Schultz to the side, throwing him off the chair.
“Talk or I will kill you, slowly and painfully, ripping you to pieces.” Kim leaned over the captive and yelled in his ear.
He stomped on Schultz’s back, and his boot formed a large smudge on the man’s shirt. Kim put his boot to Schultz’s head and leaned on him with his full weight. Schultz moaned and whimpered. But there was nowhere to go. Kim kicked Schultz, then shoved his head against the whitewashed wall, stained with other prisoners’ blood.
“Get up, get up, you wicked running dog,” Kim shouted and spat on Schultz.
The soldier hoisted Schultz in his arms and shoved him onto the chair. Schultz sighed and wheezed as he tried to get some air into his lungs. Blood was oozing from a cut running from the left to the right side of his face. Two wounds on his forehead had also burst open and a blood trickle was making its way along the side of his nose.
Kim said, “My actions are just a sample of what will happen and continue to happen to you until you talk and tell me everything about your informants, about all the traitors that are helping you plot the collapse of our socialist system. But the masses of the people are masters of our revolution and reconstruction, and we will not allow capitalist bastards to destroy it.”
Schultz said nothing. He let out a weak sigh and his face slowly began to resume its bold, defiant look.
Kim said, “You have nothing to gain and everything to lose by being stubborn and refusing to confess to what we already know. We have the human scum you had convinced to betray his country, and we are going to find all the other traitors that worked with him. And if you do not talk to me, I will get my answers from your comrade, that swollen-headed, loud-mouthed traitor.”
Schultz began to shake his head. “No, don’t hurt Park or I will—”
“What? You will do what?” Kim screamed.
The interrogation room door opened and the short soldier strode in, balancing in his hands a wooden tray with a white porcelain pot decorated with a blue-and-green flowery motif and two matching cups. Kim turned to the guard and stared at him with rage pouring forth from his eyes.
“The tea you ordered, sir?” the short guard said with a sense of insecurity and fear in his voice, especially after glancing at Schultz’s face.
“This bastard doesn’t deserve a cup of tea.” Kim spat out his words. “He deserves the whole pot.”
He clutched his fingers around the teapot handle, ignoring the heat that started to burn his hand. He swung the teapot around—tea spilled all over the table as the cover flew across the room—and smashed it against Schultz’s head. The spout caught him right above the left ear, carving a deep gash. The scalding liquid poured over the captive’s face and neck. The force of the blow knocked him to the ground, where Schultz writhed and screamed in agony.
“That’s where you’ll be, where you belong, eating dirt underneath my foot.” Kim jammed the heel of his boot on Schultz’s neck and pressed the captive’s face against the coarse cement floor and the pool of blistering hot water. “And while you take some time to rethink your position, I will have a little talk with our Comrade Park.”
“No, no,” Schultz shouted, and tried to grab Kim’s boot, but the man had already stepped beyond his reach.
“Enjoy your tea.” Kim spat in Schultz’s direction and headed toward the desk. He picked up his coat and put it on calmly and slowly while his eyes were focused on Schultz’s face, distorted because of his pain. Then Kim looked at the soldiers. “Bring the doctor to treat his wounds,” he told the tall soldier in Korean.
The tall soldier nodded and hurried along with the short soldier to pick up Schultz and take him to his cell.
Kim sighed as he stepped outside in the hall. He had truly hoped one of the captives would have started to talk and give away their secrets by now. I’ll need to change tactics if I am to show results to my superiors. Beatings and threats do not seem to work. Kim frowned and realized he might have to call the man he hated owing a favor, since he usually ended up paying a very steep price in return. Jaw-long was an influential man in China’s Political Bureau and had strong ties to political counterparts in Korea’s Workers’ Party and National Defense Commission, the top government branch responsible for all military and security policies. It’s like dealing with a snake, Kim thought, but it is better to keep an eye on the snake and watch its sharp teeth than turn my back and suffer the venomous bite.
Last week was quite fruitful in my writing of SHADOW AGENTS, the sixth spy thriller in the Justin Hall series. Some parts of the story are writing themselves. In others, Justin is telling me what he is going to do, whether I like it or not. And I love writing action and battle scenes. Those words fill the page at a mind-numbing speed as my fingers hammer the keyboards.
ROGUE AGENTS, is still not available on amazon.co.uk as the pricing issue with Amazon has not been resolved yet. On the good news side, this spy thriller is now available on iTunes and Barnes & Noble, besides Amazon.com, Kobo, Smashwords and GooglePlay. And now ROGUE AGENTS includes bonus content from The Diplomat: A Justin Hall Novella (Justin Hall # 4.5) and Double Agents (Justin Hall # 4).
I have decided to extend the special promotional sale for ARCTIC WARGAME, the first novel in the series, for the entire month of August. The novel will be 99 cents. Please let a friend or two know about this great deal, and how they can start enjoying a new thriller series this summer.
At the end, a big THANK YOU to all my fans for your kind and steady support. I love all your e-mails, book reviews, Facebook shares, re-tweets. You are a great encouragement and a source of inspiration. Keep letting people how about my books and how wonderful (or horrible) they are. And share your thoughts with me at my personal e-mail account firstname.lastname@example.org. I promise to answer every one of you.
Today, I’m featured on Diplo Denizen, James Bruno’s blog. Head out there to read the wonderful post on ROGUE AGENTS and check out James’s works as well. Here’s the link: http://jameslbruno.blogspot.ca/2014/07/latest-thriller-from-ethan-jones-rogue.html
My guest today is Barbara Rogan, author of the fantastic thriller A DANGEROUS FICTION, which comes out on paperback on July 29. Please scroll down to enjoy the interview. And all who leave a comment will be enter a draw to win one of two paperback copies of A DANGEROUS FICTION.
1. Ms. Rogan, thanks for coming again to my blog. Your latest work, A DANGEROUS FICTION, is coming out on paperback on July 29. How was the reception for this murder mystery?
Thanks so much for having me back, Ethan. The reaction was very gratifying. The New York Post called it a “Must Read,” and NPR station WSHU gave it a rave review. There were a lot of online reviews as well, from bloggers and websites but also from individual readers. What was different this time around was the ability to interact directly with readers through Twitter, Facebook, and my blog, In Cold Ink.
2. What’s one of the most interesting fan mails/e-mails you have received about this book?
That wasn’t a letter but a series of tweets by literary agent Janet Reid. Janet’s not my agent and we don’t know each other outside of Twitter, but she picked the book up because it featured a literary agent. As she read, she tweeted her reactions, which were everything a writer could hope for. At one point she said she was reading under the covers, too scared to get out of bed. I loved that, especially coming from a working agent.
3. What’s one of your favorite aspects about writing A DANGEROUS FICTION?
There are really two aspects. The first is setting. I loved having the opportunity to go back into the world of big publishing, the whole New York scene. It’s a world I knew and loved during the years that I spent as a literary agent; and it made a terrific setting because it requires clever, witty characters who love to talk and do it well. The second was the character of Jo Donovan herself. She is the most complicated protagonist I’ve ever created, and the only one whose story I’ve told in first person. She has an aptitude for fiction, not only in her professional life, but in her personal life as well, and that makes her interesting to write.
4. If you could go back and do one thing different in this book, what would that be?
Not a whole lot. I’m pretty happy with the way the book came out. Of course, I didn’t know that A Dangerous Fiction would be the first of a series when I decided that Jo was born in Appalachia. Had I been thinking in terms of a sequel, maybe I’d have made it Tahiti, thus ensuring a necessary (and tax-deductible) research trip.
5. What is your next book going to be about?
It’s the second Jo Donovan mystery. This one centers around two of my favorite characters from A Dangerous Fiction: Mingus, the retired SWAT team German shepherd, and his owner/trainer, Gordon Hayes, both of whom get into terrible trouble when Mingus kills a man.
Enjoy Chapter Four of Rogue Agents, the newest spy thriller in the Justin Hall series, which came out on June 29. You can read the Prologue here, Chapter One here, Chapter Two here and Chapter Three here. And if you like what you are reading, here are the links to buy Rogue Agents on Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords and GooglePlay.
April 25, 9:05 p.m.
Justin got out of the taxi at the corner of Elgin and Wellington Streets. He took in the Langevin Block, an impressive four-story structure built in the Second Empire style from olive sandstone and polished granite and completed in 1889. Across from Parliament Hill, the Langevin Block had been the home of Canada’s Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office since 1975.
Justin had called McClain five minutes ago to inform him of his exact time of arrival. McClain had told him the meeting was taking place in room 307-S, Prime Minister Joseph Williams’s private office on the third floor in the Centre Block. Justin had never been there, and a large tall man from Williams’s security detail waited for him by one of the side doors of the building.
They climbed the stairs at a brisk pace and walked fast through the large corridors, ignoring the curious looks of a couple of aides passing by in the other direction. The guard and Justin stopped in front of the door of the prime minister’s office. The guard gestured toward the door, then turned around and left. Justin took a deep breath, then rapped quietly on the door.
A man about Justin’s age but dressed in a navy blue suit opened the door slightly and gestured for him to come in. Justin immediately felt uncomfortable and out of place. I should have listened to Anna and dressed in business casual for Theo’s party. But at least there are no holes or tears in my jeans. He stepped inside the office and stood by the door next to the man in the suit.
Prime Minister Williams was sitting behind a sizable light mahogany desk—the centerpiece of the room, flanked by two large Canadian flags. An avalanche of folders and papers had covered every possible inch of the desk’s top, unlike in the photos of the meticulously clean workspace Justin had seen on the pages of newspapers. Williams was listening attentively to someone on a corded phone and nodding occasionally. He was dressed in a black suit and white shirt but no tie.
McClain was sitting across from Williams on a burgundy leather sofa along the wood-paneled wall with elaborate designs and underneath a large portrait of Sir John A. Macdonald, the Father of Confederation. Another man whom Justin recognized as Raphael Gauthier, the Minister of Public Safety, was reading a thick folder resting on his lap as he sat in an armchair to the right of McClain.
Williams gave Justin a slight nod and pointed at an empty seat on the sofa. Justin sat next to McClain while the man in the navy-blue suit sat in the other armchair. McClain handed Justin a manila folder that was labelled TOP SECRET. Justin opened it and read the first page. The classified document provided an abbreviated report of a CIS unauthorized operation in North Korea, which had resulted in the capture of two Canadian agents. Their names were not in the report but the suspected location where they were being held was at a site near Prison Camp 37 in North Hamgyong province.
Williams said, “All right, Jack, you do that.” He waited for a moment while he ran his left hand through his silver hair. “Of course, of course, I understand. Inform me of your decision. Yes, you too. Take care.” He sighed and the frown on his forehead grew deeper and wider. Then he placed the phone handset on the receiver.
“Mr. Hall, a pleasure to meet you.” Williams came around his desk and shook Justin’s hand. “You know Mr. Gauthier, and this is my National Security Advisor, Mr. Foster.”
They exchange pleasantries and handshakes.
“I’ve heard excellent things about you, Mr. Hall,” Williams said in a pleasant voice as he reached for one of the folders on top of his desk. “Your skills brought home Mr. Duncan safe and sound after his long and terrible captivity in Nigeria.”
Justin nodded. “Thank you, sir.”
“Some people are unhappy with the turn of events, but as far as I am concerned you did a very fine service for our country.”
Justin said nothing but kept his eyes fixed on Williams’s face.
“And your operation this week in Syria resulted in the elimination of two terrorist leaders while entailing no Canadian casualties or collateral damage caused by us, unlike in the event of a drone strike. Excellent job.”
“Thank you, sir,” Justin said, truly pleased by the compliment.
Williams moved the folder to the side. “Now, the other reason why I’ve called you here is because our country needs your services again, this time to deal with a new, even more serious crisis.”
Justin nodded and waited.
Williams groped around the desk for his glasses, lifting and shifting papers around, then found them and settled them at the bridge of his long, narrow nose. His black eyes now looked bigger and more serious than before as he looked at Justin from behind his thick, round glasses with a horn-rimmed frame. “McClain, do you want to fill in Hall about the details?” Williams asked.
McClain took the next few minutes to update Justin on the situation on the ground. He talked about the most recent operations of the two agents and how they had tried to entice North Korean nuclear scientists to give up that country’s atomic bomb program. He mentioned the scheduled meeting with the North Korean army colonel who never showed up, the raid on the safe house in Seoul, and the bomb explosion in the safe house in Beijing.
McClain continued his explanation, and Justin’s mind began to play him flashbacks from six years ago when he had ended up in the deepest, darkest cells of Iran’s most brutal prison. That long week in Evin Prison in Tehran was a nightmare he would never forget. The jailers fed him moldy bread and foul water but put him on a healthy diet of daily beatings. Justin was allowed to go home only after complicated negotiations, the intervention of Williams’s predecessor, and an exchange of favors.
“I want you to lead a team of elite CIS agents in this mission,” Williams said when McClain was finished.
Justin nodded. He had wanted to speak up and volunteer for a rescue mission, but he did not want to interrupt McClain.
“It’s a mission like nothing you’ve done before,” Williams said in a low but steady voice. “Not only because of the location but also because of the purpose of this mission. It’s something extremely dangerous—and frankly, it’s something no leader ever wants to order done to his people, brave agents who have given so much to their country.” Williams sighed. “Hall, you will go to North Korea to put an end to the agents’ sufferings.”
Justin understood Williams’s order but still a small part of his mind refused to believe he was being dispatched to eliminate two agents of his own agency. His face remained calm but his voice wavered a bit as he asked, “Pardon, sir?”
Williams’s shoulders slumped, and he removed his glasses and tossed them on his desk. He massaged his temples with both hands as if to fend off a headache. He paused for a long moment then said, “I know, Hall, it’s not the order you expected. But it’s the only possible option at the moment and under these circumstances.”
Justin unlocked his tightened jaws to object to the claim that the agents’ fate was sealed and the only possible mission was an authorized kill. But before he had a chance to say a word, Foster let out a low cough. Williams noticed it and made a hand gesture for Foster to speak.
Foster said, “As we know, the Communist Party and its leaders have a stranglehold on North Korea and its people. They rule with an iron fist. The army and the secret services of that country control pretty much every aspect of the people’s lives. They have no freedom of any kind; they cannot watch foreign television and their Internet access is heavily restricted. They cannot even travel to the capital without permission. The communist propaganda has brainwashed them into worshipping and bowing down before their leaders. They aren’t allowed to think or do as they like. Now the men are being forced to wear the same hairstyle as their leader. They are starving, as the famine of the nineties showed, when over three million of the twenty-two million population of the country died. Now food is rationed or lacking altogether. Yet, North Korea’s army is the fourth largest in the world and they spent one-third of their national income on their army.”
Justin nodded and wished Foster would move along and tell him something he did not know. Anyone with a computer and Internet access and ten spare minutes could learn these facts for themselves after a simple Google search.
Foster exchange a glance with Williams, then looked at Gauthier before he pushed up his metal-framed glasses, which had slid to the tip of his nose. “I didn’t mention the extraordinary network of informal spies, but we estimate that one in three people regularly monitors and reports to the government about the activities of their relatives, neighbors, and friends. In this situation, a rescue operation is tantamount to suicide. The agents are held in a well-protected location, near a maximum-security prison camp, a short distance away from hundreds of soldiers. A prison break would require a large team—at least a dozen men—which would make a stealthy insertion and a clean exit very difficult if not impossible.”
Justin frowned and swallowed hard. Foster’s words made sense and gave a fair assessment of the situation.
“What makes this particular case even worse is the fact that we’re not completely sure about the integrity of our agents,” Gauthier said as he leaned forward in his seat. “They were not cleared for an operation inside the territory of North Korea. Their safe house in Seoul was found clean and tidy. No signs of a struggle there or anywhere else, and nothing to indicate the agents were kidnapped or forced to cross the border.”
“Are you saying they’re defectors? Traitors?” Justin asked in a loud, gruff voice that sounded like an open accusation.
Gauthier was not expecting Justin’s reaction. At first he looked confused, then annoyed at the interruption. He rubbed his bushy gray-and-black goatee and narrowed his small gray eyes. “Eh, no, I am not saying anything like that, Mr. Hall. The facts, the evidence shows that Mr. Schultz and Park at the moment are giving sensitive information to our enemies. We have to put an end to this flow of intelligence that’s crippling our mission, threatening our security, and costing the lives of our agents.”
Justin fell back on the sofa. A heavy burden was laid on his shoulders. He knew Isaac Schultz personally. They had been good friends at The Plant and had graduated the same year. They had never worked together, because they were posted to different areas of the world, and had since lost touch. But there was no way, absolutely no way that Isaac Schultz would betray his country and go rogue inside North Korea.
He thought for a quick moment about the implications of having a personal connection with one of the missing agents. I’m sure McClain knows about it, and thus the prime minister and everyone else is aware of that piece of intel. Perhaps that’s why they selected me for this mission. Schultz’s betrayal of his country is also a personal betrayal.
Foster said, “Regardless of how or why our agents ended up in the hands of the North Korean army, the undeniable truth is that we have a considerable leak of intelligence. The agents could be willfully cooperating with the North Koreans—a possibility which I wish I could dismiss—or they could be tortured to reveal what they know. I believe the latter is the situation we have in our hands.”
Justin nodded. He took advantage of a small pause and said, “Shouldn’t we at least give them a chance to explain themselves? Tell us exactly what happened? We can at least try a rescue mission.” He looked at Foster, then at Williams for a reply.
Williams shook his head. “We have spent the last two days going over many scenarios, and rescuing them was at the top of the list and the highest priority. But after the bomb explosion in Beijing, it has become very clear that a rescue mission is no longer on the table. Our agents are giving away secret intel.” Williams stopped for a moment, seemingly to organize his thoughts. He nodded to himself and said, “We could start negotiations for their release, of course, but the North Koreans have not officially or unofficially acknowledged their capture. If we admit the two agents belong to us, it will cause a scandal and a diplomatic crisis, causing irreparable damage to many other ongoing CIS operations in that part of the world.”
Justin opened his mouth but Williams stopped him with a hand raised in his direction. “I know what you are going to say and trust me, this is not about politics or about me heading a minority government that can collapse at the first hint of a scandal. It’s far from it. And this is different from your capture in Iran a few years back. You were carrying out a sanctioned operation in that country, you did not break under pressure, and the Iranians made it exceptionally clear they were looking for a trade. The North Koreans are notorious for never negotiating the release of captives, especially the ones they have not admitted to having.”
“This is extremely difficult, Justin,” McClain said slowly, and placed an arm on Justin’s shoulder. “We just want to make it absolutely clear that this operation is our last and only resort.”
Justin nodded but his hands were balled into fists. He let out a deep breath, then said, “How do you want me to proceed?”
McClain reached for a folder in the briefcase on the floor next to his feet. “Schultz and Park were working on developing potential assets among Korean nuclear scientists. One of them, a certain Hong Song-Ok, was the best candidate. Hong works at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, which is the largest complex in North Korea. And the government is expanding its facilities and operations. Our agents met with Hong twice in China when he was travelling for conferences. He’s always chaperoned by an agent who’s better at chasing tail and drinking himself stupid than keeping a watchful eye on his man. Hong was on the fence, but our agents’ reports indicate a strong possibility Hong was going to defect and provide us with a trove of secrets about Korea’s nuclear program.” He handed the folder to Justin, then continued, “Hong is travelling tomorrow to Dubai for yet another conference. You’ll have to turn him and convince him to provide you safe travel within Korea, as we have no assets on the ground.”
Justin looked at the thin, pale face of Hong in the first page of the report. He was in his early fifties but looked much older, with a wrinkled and pockmarked face. His grin showed his uneven yellow teeth, and there was an overall sadness in the man’s appearance. “And the infil and exfil?”
McClain said, “The agents are held near Camp 37. It’s only five miles away from the border with China and about sixty miles from the border with Russia. Infiltration from Russia across the Tumen River that serves as the border between the countries is easier. The border is porous, the area sparsely populated, and your appearance will not attract much attention, considering you speak Russian and you fit in.”
Justin nodded. “A four-man team should be sufficient for a hit op. I will need Carrie and Nathan and another man, someone who’s also familiar with the terrain, in case the Hong option doesn’t work or something happens to him and then—”
Williams interrupted him. “The man earlier on the phone was the British Prime Minister, Jack Edwards. The British have two great MI6 agents who operated in North Korea over the last two months on reconnaissance missions and one of them speaks Korean. Edwards is still deciding on whether to support our mission, and if he says ‘yes,’ those two operatives would be the rest of your team, along with O’Connor.”
Justin held his tongue. He did not like the idea of working with agents of another service. Their skills and abilities may appear as great in their files, but he would be the one trusting them with his life in the middle of a hostile North Korea, surrounded by countless enemies. But they came highly recommended by Williams, and their knowledge of the Korean language and the terrain could provide the team’s winning card.
“As far as the details of the operation, that’s up to you to decide, Hall,” Williams said. “But you need to move fast. Meet with Hong the day after tomorrow in Dubai and then infiltrate North Korea as soon as possible after that.”
“Understood, sir,” Justin said in a strong, confident voice, although he had many doubts about the objective and the execution of the operation.
Williams said, “Gauthier and Foster will provide you any assistance you may need, but you’ll report to McClain on the mission’s progress.”
Justin nodded and looked at McClain, who gave him a small smile.
“Will do, sir,” Justin said.
Williams stood up. “Thank you, Hall, on behalf of our country.” Then he shook Justin’s hand.
Justin said goodbye to Foster, Gauthier, and McClain. He tried to look upbeat but he found it difficult. He was going deep inside a hostile country to kill two agents of his own agency whose only mistake was to fall into the hands of the enemy. He did not feel the mission was something he should be thanked for. But he had received his marching orders and he needed to make preparations.
I reached the first milestone in SHADOW AGENTS, the sixth spy thriller in the Justin Hall series: By the grace of God, I reached the 10,000 word mark. Only 70,000 or so more words to go. Justin has identified and neutralized one of the terrorists about to blow up the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin’s main train station, and is now chasing the rest of the sleeper cell.
ROGUE AGENTS, the fifth and the newest spy thriller in the Justin Hall series, has encountered a bit of a hiccup. It is not available for sale on Amazon.co.uk, as I am in negotiations with Amazon over a pricing issue. My UK fans can still enjoy the first three chapters of ROGUE AGENTS for free at this link. And then, the full book is for sale on Amazon.com at this link or on Amazon.ca at this link. My apologies for the inconvenience and I will post a note when the book will be available once again in the United Kingdom.
If you haven’t read ROGUE AGENTS yet, please do so this week. It will enthrall and entertain you, filling your summer with a wonderful adventure deep in the forbidden lands of North Korea. Read one of the excellent reviews if you still need more convincing. Besides Amazon, ROGUE AGENTS is available on Kobo, Smashwords and GooglePlay.
ARCTIC WARGAME, the first novel in the series, is still on sale for 99 cents. The price should go up at any time, since Amazon’s system is not working properly at the moment with their updates. So now it’s your best chance to see how the series started and to go with Justin Hall on his adventure at the top of the world for less than a buck.
If you join my Fans Mailing List and you will have a chance to enjoy advance readers copies of my works, learn about promotions and many other deals.
Finally, thank you very much for your continuous support. Your book reviews and word of mouth help so much, and I truly appreciate each and every one of you. Give a voice to your opinions and post some feedback on my books on Amazon and other retailers. And drop me a note at email@example.com to let me know what you liked or disliked in my books and my writing. I love getting e-mails from fans and I promise to answer every one of them.
If you are a fan of my works, you’ve probably noticed my last thriller in the Justin Hall series, ROGUE AGENTS, which came out on June 30. Currently, ROGUE AGENTS is not available for sale at the Amazon.co.uk, as I am in negotiations with Amazon over a pricing issue.
However, the first three chapters of ROGUE AGENTS are available for free at this link. And if you like them, you can enjoy the full book at this link on Amazon.com or at this link on Amazon.ca. My apologies for the inconvenience and I will post a note when the book will be available once again in the United Kingdom.
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