Ethan Jones Books

Rogue Agents – Chapter Four

EthanJones_RogueAgents_Amazon1400Enjoy 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.

Chapter Four

Ottawa, Canada

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.

“Yes, sir.”

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.”

Justin sighed.

“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.

 

 

Weekly Intelligence Briefing

EthanJones_RogueAgents_Amazon1400I 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 WAREJones_ArcticWargame_800GAME, 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 authorethan@yahoo.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.

A note to my fans in the United Kingdom

EthanJones_RogueAgents_Amazon1400If 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.

 

Fans Mailing List

Have you joined my Fans Mailing List? It’s the best place to learn about new book releases, free advance review copies, discounts and promotions, once a month and before anyone else. Click on the following link to join: http://eepurl.com/HIG7r

Rogue Agents – Chapter Three

EthanJones_RogueAgents_Amazon1400Enjoy Chapter Three 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, and Chapter Two here. And if you like what you are reading, here are the links to buy Rogue Agents on Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords and GooglePlay.

Chapter Three

Toronto, Canada

April 25, 4:45 p.m.

Justin gazed out the kitchen window at a gathering of clouds moving menacingly over the tall maples and pines at the end of his father’s backyard. A large grove stretched beyond the property line and between the houses of the neighborhood. Justin remembered when he was seven or eight years old and he would sneak out of the house around midnight to watch the coyotes roaming the grove. When the winter got harsh and the animals grew hungry, they dared to venture right into the Halls’ backyard.

His father, Carter, caught Justin one of those times and gave him a severe scolding. Justin learned his lesson: always watch your back and vary your pattern. Then his mother discovered meat disappearing from the freezer on a regular basis, as Justin would occasionally toss small chunks of meat to one of the coyotes, a scraggly little fellow that was missing a part of his tail and dragged its left hind foot. Justin learned another important lesson: save your supplies. He began to put aside small portions from his lunches and suppers for the furry friend he named White Fang.

Justin heard the floorboards creak as someone stepped inside the spacious kitchen. The slight scent of bergamot filled the air, the unmistakable signature of his fiancée, Anna.

“Hi, how’s the party going?” Justin said and gestured to the right, beyond the window, toward the gazebo. He could not see it, but the sounds of hushed conversations of adults and joyful shouts of children came loud and clear.

Anna whispered, “They’re wondering what happened to you.” Then she leaned in for a kiss.

Justin kissed her back, then brushed one of Anna’s curls out of her face. Her blue eyes carried a soft glow as she looked at Justin from behind her square, rimless glasses. She had permed her raven-black hair that afternoon, and she was beautiful in her natural look with a peach-tone blush, a light brown eyeliner, and a nude lip balm. Anna wore a snug-fitting red woolen turtleneck and black dress pants. Justin had gone with a more casual look: light blue Levi’s jeans and a gray long-sleeved polo shirt.

His clothes were a small sign of rebellion and a slight hint of his passive-aggressive behavior. He did not really want to be here for his nephew’s seventh birthday party. This house where he was born and raised brought back many memories. Some were sweet, but most of them were bitter.

“I was waiting for the coffee maker to finish its job.” Justin glanced at the machine at the corner of the quartz countertop, then at his wristwatch. He had been gone for over ten minutes. “Would you like some?”

Anna shook her head. “No, too late for me. I don’t want a sleepless night.”

Justin shrugged, then fetched a cup from the cupboard.

“Let’s go.” Anna took hold of his hand. “It’s your family. You can do this.”

“I can, but I’d rather I didn’t have to.”

They walked out to the patio, then along the beige limestone pathway that snaked through the yard and led to the wooden gazebo. The left side of the yard was landscaped to perfection, with a couple of terraces full of different plants and shrubs. There were ornamental grasses, ferns, and barberries in the back and hydrangeas, peonies, and pulsatilas in the front. Carter must have had the gardener come and tidy up the yard yesterday or earlier today, Justin thought. His father disliked any landscaping or yard work involving manual labor or getting dirty, but did not think twice about hiring professionals to do the job. As the CEO of Hall & Brown Equity Investments Inc., one of the largest brokerages in Toronto, he could afford to hire gardeners and even renovate or redo the entire yard, which he did every couple of years or so.

A long stretch of carpet junipers and a heart-shaped patch of tulips and irises covered a section of the yard by the red brick wall of the house. Justin’s mother, Caterina, loved gardening, and irises were her favorite flowers. Justin frowned at the memory of his mother. He was only eleven years old when she had driven off a bridge in her car. The police investigation ruled it as an unfortunate accident caused by the dark night and icy roads. But Justin knew his mother was escaping from a life that had turned into a nightmare. He had witnessed the verbal abuse and the physical threats when his father was around and the neglect and the abandonment when he was gone on his long business trips. His mother’s death had not been an accident.

Justin grew up fast and strong, so he could stand up to his father and to everyone else who threatened the people he loved. He had been too young and powerless to be there for his mother, but was not going to let that happen again to anyone else in his life. As soon as he could, he joined the Service, which gave him a second family, or perhaps the only family he ever had.

Carter had been diagnosed with stage 3A non-small cell lung cancer about a year ago. He had undergone preoperative chemotherapy, a surgery in California, and adjuvant chemotherapy, and was taking a number of controversial new treatments, considering the cancer’s survival rate of less than fifteen percent. The cancer had disappeared but doctors were worried about its recurrence and kept Carter under constant observation.

The illness had brought Justin closer to his dad and his estranged older brother Seth, who had always been Carter’s favorite son, but the reconciliation process was slow and difficult. They could not make up for almost two decades of absence and bitterness through the occasional phone calls and rare visits. With Justin’s unpredictable schedule and Carter’s illness, it felt like they were not making much progress. So Seth’s wife, Tiffany, had organized this impromptu birthday party for their son, Theodore, who was turning seven in a couple of weeks. She had invited a couple of Theodore’s friends and had convinced Anna, who then had convinced Justin to take the hour-long flight from Ottawa.

Justin ducked as he walked underneath an arbor lush with clematis at the end of the pathway, then climbed up the three stairs leading to the large rectangular gazebo. Carter was half-sitting, half-lying in a comfortable armchair full of cream-colored pillows. He was dressed in a tweed jacket, black sweater, and brown slacks. Tiffany was sitting on another armchair next to Carter and was sipping from a large mug that Justin assumed contained hot chocolate, since Tiffany swore by her Ghirardelli Double Chocolate.

“Eh, there you are,” Carter said as Justin took a patio chair across from the steel-framed bistro table with a glass top, while Anna sat to his left. “What, no coffee for me?”

Justin found Carter’s voice gruff and his tone patronizing even though the old man was probably joking, since a Molson beer bottle stood half-full at the corner of the table in front of him. Justin was not sure if Carter was supposed to drink alcohol or coffee because of his condition, but then Carter was never known as a man who followed rules.

“I . . . I had no idea you wanted a drink,” Justin said, then lifted his cup to his lips. The gesture expressed much better than words his actual sentiment.

“I’ll go grab you some, Father.” Tiffany straightened her black-and-blue sweater dress with a cowl neckline and stood up. “Anything else?”

“No, just black coffee, dear.”

Tiffany smiled at Justin and left, long blonde braid swinging behind her with every step, the heels of her boots clicking on the floor panels of the gazebo.

“When’s the next time you see the doctors?” Justin asked with genuine interest. His father’s illness was one of the few things they could discuss freely without provoking bitter feelings or fits of anger. Carter was confident he would beat cancer and was treating the situation in the same way he had handled pretty much every crisis in his life for as long as Justin could remember: throw money at the problem.

“In two weeks,” Carter replied in a low voice. “Doctors at St. Mark have these new drugs they want me to try as part of my therapy. I have to pay an arm and a leg for those, of course, but they’ve given excellent results during clinical trials.”

Justin nodded.

“I told them money was no problem, as long as they work. I’m getting tired of being poked and probed, and nobody can give me clear answers.”

That’s because there are no clear answers, Justin thought, but said nothing. He nodded again and took a sip of his coffee.

“How long are you staying in Ottawa?” Carter asked.

“A few more days, maybe a week. Unless I’m ordered otherwise.”

Carter opened his mouth to talk but instead he let out a loud cough, then a wheezing sigh as he made an effort to draw in a deep breath. He coughed again.

“Dad, are you okay?” Seth’s voice came from the outdoor kitchen behind the gazebo along with the aroma of meat cooking on the barbeque grill.

“I’m all right, I’m all right,” Carter said as he held his chest. “Just . . . having trouble . . . breathing.”

Justin sat up straight in his chair. “Dad, do you need anything?”

“No, no, I’m all right.” Carter reached for a Kleenex from one of his pockets and wiped his lips. “It’s this damn cancer, that’s all. But I’m not dying.”

Justin looked at Seth through the gazebo’s trellis. Seth shook his head, then mouthed something indistinct. Justin returned his glance to his father before Carter could notice their exchange and become angry about whatever it was that his sons were plotting behind his back.

Carter sipped his Molson, then took a few shallow breaths.

A moment later, Theodore dashed through the grove and the backyard. He jumped on his grandfather’s lap and rested his head on Carter’s chest. A frown creased his small brow and his blue eyes looked like they were going to burst into tears.

“What’s the matter, Theo?” Carter ruffled the reddish hair framing Theo’s freckled face.

Justin smiled at the great resemblance between grandfather and grandson.

“I can’t find them, I just can’t.” Theo spoke in a low, desperate voice.

“Who are they?” Carter asked.

“My friends. We’re playing hide-and-seek and they always hide so well. I can never find them. Ever!” Theo let out a deep sigh. “That is, without cheating and taking a peek while I count the numbers.”

“No, no cheating and no pouting either. And we Halls, we’re not losers. Now go get them.” Carter gave Theo a gentle nudge and a pat on his back.

Justin put his coffee cup down. “Theo, come here for a second. Let me see if I can help.” He stood up and walked to the edge of the gazebo facing the grove.

Theo reluctantly left Carter’s side and dragged his feet toward Justin. “How do I find them?”

Justin pointed at the grove. “You can’t see them, but you can see their tracks, what they left behind when they scattered to find their hiding spots. Look and listen.”

“For what?” Theo’s voice rang with frustration.

Justin crouched down so his field of vision would be the same as Theo’s. “There are only so many thick trees. There, at four o’clock, I mean to your right, see that cluster there. I bet you one of your friends is there. Look carefully; one of the branches is moving, but there’s no gust of wind.”

“Jimmy is probably there,” Theo blurted out.

Justin nodded. “It could be. The trail is still muddy there, so look for footsteps, especially the ones going toward the big thick trees. And remember to also look and listen for what’s not obvious. What should there be at this time all over the forest?”

Theo took a moment to do some thinking. Then he said, “Birds, crows, blue jays, woodpeckers.”

“Right. If you can’t hear them, it means something or someone spooked them. And that someone could be . . .”

“Emilie, it could be Emilie.”

Justin nodded.

“I think I found them,” Theo said, and turned on his heels and darted through the gazebo, almost knocking over Carter’s bottle. As he climbed down the stairs he seemed to remember something as he stopped and turned his head. “Thank you, Uncle,” he said, then resumed his sprint.

Justin returned to the table as the shouts of the three children filled the grove and the backyard.

“What got them so excited?” Tiffany asked as she handed Carter a large porcelain mug.

“Justin was teaching Theo some tricks of his trade,” Carter said with a wry grin on his face.

Tiffany frowned. “You didn’t give him any ideas, did you? We don’t want him to grow up wanting to be a spy.”

Justin burned on the inside at the way Tiffany pronounced “spy” as if it were a dirty word. No, you want him to become a banker like his daddy, so he can please Grandpa and get his inheritance, he thought. But he decided to keep his cool. “Just giving him a few tips about hide-and-seek.” He returned to his chair and hid behind his cup.

“Oh, well, he needs to get better at that. He always complains he can’t find his friends. I don’t understand why they keep playing that silly game,” Tiffany said with a shrug.

Justin glanced at Anna. What are we doing here? his eyes said.

“Tiffany, where did you get that dress? It’s absolutely gorgeous,” Anna said, eager to change the subject.

“Oh, there’s this store that just opened by our place. They have all sorts of dresses—maxi, mini—and the selection is simply incredible,” Tiffany replied with great excitement. “You should come with me one day and we’ll have some girly time together.”

Justin rolled his eyes discreetly as he looked at the smoke curling up from Seth’s barbeque. Seth was elbows-deep in the grill, meticulously using a pair of tongs to gently flip over each T-bone steak. He took great pride in his culinary skills, aiming for a golden-brown crust covering both sides of the steak.

Seth turned his head and caught Justin’s look. “Five more minutes or so and we’ll be ready to have supper.”

Justin nodded. Yes, we’ll eat and get out of here.

His BlackBerry vibrated inside the right front pocket of his jeans. Justin leaned back in his seat and pulled out the smartphone. The caller ID showed his boss’s last name: McClain.

Justin stood up. “I have to take this,” he said to Carter and took a few quick steps. When he was out of earshot, he answered the call. “Yes, sir.”

“Justin, how are you?” McClain’s voice was low and edgy, with a clear hint of impatience.

“Good. What’s the problem, sir?”

“I need to see you right away.”

“I’m in Toronto, but I’ll catch the next flight.”

“Great. Meet me at the Langevin Block.”

Prime Minister’s Office? Must be a serious crisis if the PM wants to talk to intel officers. If it were one of the prime minister’s aides, McClain would have made them come to the CIS headquarters, which was just a short drive away from the Langevin Block.

“Will do.”

“Talk to you soon.” McClain hung up without another word.

Justin looked at the phone in his hand, then lifted his eyes up to the gazebo. He had mixed feelings about cutting short his visit. He was relieved but he also felt a tinge of guilt, as he did not know when or if he would be able to come down to see his father again.

“Is everything okay?” Anna asked when Justin returned to the gazebo.

“Yes, but—”

“You have to leave, right?” Carter asked.

Justin recognized the cold disappointed tone, the same one that had so often expressed disapproval of Justin’s choices over the years. Carter’s narrowed eyes conveyed the same emotion.

“Something important came up. I have to get back to Ottawa.”

“Oh, but we’re almost ready,” Tiffany said in a high-pitched tone full of regret. “Can’t this wait until after supper?”

Justin was tempted to tell Tiffany that the Prime Minister of Canada and the national security emergency could not wait until he had enjoyed his steak. Instead, he shook his head. “I’m very sorry. We’ll have to take a rain check.”

Tiffany puckered her lips for a moment, then looked at Anna. “But you don’t have to go, right?”

Anna looked at Justin and gave him a smile and a nod. I’ll stay, her look told him.

“My boss didn’t say anything about her,” Justin said.

“Great, maybe we’ll go shopping in the evening.”

Justin walked over to his dad and leaned in for a hug. “Sorry,” he said. “I’ll see you again soon.”

Carter nodded but the frown remained stamped on his face.

Seth came around to shake hands.

Justin said, “I hope Theo likes his present.”

“What is it?” Seth asked.

“A surprise,” Justin said with a small smile.

“It’s not an airsoft AK is it?” Seth furrowed his brow.

“Well, he’s not old enough for the real thing yet,” Justin replied with a straight face, then smiled again. “No, it’s not a rifle. But you’ll see the surprise when you open the present.”

Seth grinned but did not say anything.

Justin gave Anna a kiss. Tiffany stood up, gave him a big hug, and kissed him on both cheeks. An Italian thing, Justin thought, and once again was reminded of his mom, who used to cover him in wet kisses every morning before he left for school.

“Have fun,” Justin said as he cast a final glance at his family and stepped down from the gazebo. He picked up his black felt coat from the house, then got into the Nissan rental on the driveway.

Weekly Intelligence Briefing

EthanJones_RogueAgents_Amazon1400ROGUE AGENTS, the fifth and the newest spy thriller in the Justin Hall series, has been selling well this month. If you haven’t gotten it yet, please do so. 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. ROGUE AGENTS is now widely available on Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords and GooglePlay. It will soon be available on Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Enjoy it your way.

I reached the 7,000 word point in the next Justin Hall novel, SHADOW AGENTS. The Mossad covert operation in Ramallah, West Bank has gone south and the Mossad director in charge of the operation suspects one of his sources is a traitor. In Frankfurt, Justin is racing against time to stop a terrorist bombing attack on one of the busiest train stations in Germany. I’m hoping and praying to release SHADOW AGENTS in late November or early December.

ARCTIC WARGAME, the first novel in the series, is on sale for 99 cents until July 17. It’s your best chance to see how the series started and to join Justin in his adventure at the top of the world.EJones_ArcticWargame_800

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 authorethan@yahoo.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.

Rogue Agents – Chapter Two

EthanJones_RogueAgents_Amazon1400Enjoy Chapter Two of Rogue Agents, the newest spy thriller in the Justin Hall series, which came out on June 29. You can read the Prologue here and Chapter One here. And if you decide to buy Rogue Agents, here are the links on Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords and GooglePlay.

Chapter Two

Gatineau, Canada

April 24, 10:35 p.m.

James McClain drove his red Mercedes-Benz 450SL hard and fast through Boulevard de Lucerne. It was a cool evening, with the temperature hovering around fifty degrees, and he had raised up the hardtop. The corner of his eye scanned the edge of the grove bordering the Ottawa River for any deer or other animals about to scurry across the street. The roadster glided on the wet asphalt while the engine roared through the quiet night.

He was the original owner of the Mercedes, which he had bought when he was stationed in West Berlin during the long, treacherous years of the Cold War. He was a field agent, just fresh off The Plant—the Canadian Intelligence Service training facility. He had discovered his love for German cars and German women and brought back home a unique specimen of each category, the roadster and his future wife, Martha.

The Mercedes was very dear to his heart, as it had saved his life on more than one occasion. Once, counterintelligence officers from the Ministry for State Security of East Germany—Stasi, as it was more commonly known—hunted McClain through the streets of East Berlin as he was helping with the defection of a KGB agent. The Mercedes had survived a volley of AK bullets and an exhausting hour-long chase before McClain had gotten away from the Stasi agents.

He eased up on the gas pedal as he came to Chemin Robert Stewart and turned left. A four-story complex of luxury condos appeared to his left, while a row of million-dollar houses stretched on the right side. McClain always marveled at the masonry skills involved in the magnificent look of the mansions in this highly sought-after neighborhood. Backing on the private, eighteen-hole Rivermead Golf Club, a few steps away from the nature trails along the river, and a short drive from downtown Ottawa across the river, the neighborhood was home to some pretty influential people. People like Quan Van Tran, the CIS Director General of Intelligence, South Asia Division.

Quan—whose name meant “soldier” and was pronounced like “Kwan”—was a first-generation Canadian born to Vietnamese parents. Saved from the clutches of death by execution in the last few days of the Vietnam War, Quan had grown to become a fiery patriot, putting to shame many Canadians whose families had lived in Canada for as long as the nation’s history. Quan had been a smart, efficient, and brave field agent all over Asia and the Arabian Peninsula for over two decades. Then a stray bullet to his left leg had ended his clandestine operation career one fateful night off the shores of Thailand and left Quan with a slight limp. Quan did not turn to drinking, did not quit, but refocused his energies and his skills to become the youngest man in the history of the CIS to hold the powerful position of director general.

A quiet, reserved man, confident of his own abilities and of the men serving under his command, Quan rarely sought assistance from other divisions within the service—unless there was a national emergency or an operation had gone sideways. Which made tonight’s meeting even more interesting, since Quan had reached out to McClain, inviting him to his house to go over a matter so important and sensitive that it could not wait until tomorrow and had to be discussed outside the CIS Ottawa headquarters.

After a couple of right turns McClain was on Rue Félix Leclerc, the street circling most of the neighborhood. The beautiful houses had red brick or natural-looking stone facades, and the street was well lit by fancy decorative street lights. A relatively new neighborhood, most of its houses were built in the last ten years. The trees were still young, but what the front yards lacked in mature vegetation they more than made up for in manicured lawns, elaborate driveways, and cobblestone pathways.

McClain parked behind Quan’s black Lincoln Navigator on the street and made his way up the four steps leading to the main entrance of the house. A large bronze planter was neatly placed near the wooden door with a thick, tempered opaque glass. A clematis plant had climbed over a trellis and was crawling toward the red brick wall and the door.

Before he could knock, a woman opened the door. “Welcome, James. Nice to see you again.”

It was Lien, Quan’s wife. She was dressed in a floral maxi dress and had wrapped a comfortable-looking maroon cardigan around her shoulders. She held a book in her left hand, still opened at the page she had probably just been reading when McClain parked out in the front.

“A pleasure to see you, Lien.”

“Come in, come in.”

McClain stepped inside the spacious hall and removed his dress shoes and his coat. Lien hung the coat in the closet next to the door.

“How’s Martha doing?” Lien asked as they came into the living room.

“She’s doing well, thanks for asking. Are those new?” He pointed at the dark brown leather couches that matched perfectly with the maple hardwood floor and the beige walls.

“Yes, a gift from Jen and Chrissy for Christmas. Quan’s kept complaining about his bad back, and they got worried about their father. The couches are supposed to be orthopedic. They’re so comfortable.”

“How’s Jen’s and Chrissy’s medical practice?”

“It has its ups and downs, but mostly it’s well. There’s always people getting sick, right? The government is changing the health care coverage and some insured services. It’s not very clear what it means, but we hope it’s not too much trouble.”

McClain nodded.

“Tell Martha I love the dragonfly she made for us.” Lien pointed at the stained-glass sun-catcher hanging by the large bay window across from the black stone fireplace. “Does she have any new pieces? A friend of mine is interested in buying one or two.”

McClain shook his head. “Her arthritis has been quite bad over the last few weeks, so she hasn’t done much. But I’ll let Martha know about your friend.”

“All right, I won’t hold you any longer. Quan’s upstairs in his studio. Would you like some coffee? Tea?”

“I’ll have some tea.”

“Black?”

“Too late for black. Something herbal.”

“Vanilla red bush?”

“That sounds great.”

“All right. I’ll bring it up in a couple of minutes.”

Lien dropped her book on the couch next to the fireplace and walked to the kitchen through a set of French doors.

McClain headed to the staircase to the right of the kitchen and made his way to the second floor. He knew his way around the house, since he had been here a couple of times, most recently for Quan’s sixty-fifth birthday back in December. Quan’s studio was in the far end corner of the hall, secluded from the rest of the house and especially the kitchen and the living room. McClain cast a quick glance at Quan’s family photos hanging on the wall. Quan’s and Lien’s wedding picture. Graduation day with Jen, then three years later with Chrissy. Pictures from Jen’s wedding.

He knocked gently on the door. Quan’s strong voice came from inside. “Yes, come in.”

Quan was sitting behind his large antique mahogany desk reviewing a thick report. The desk was strewn with folders and papers, but there still seemed to be some sort of order among the chaos. The papers were set in a semicircle pattern around Quan’s small empty glass and a half-full bottle of Macallan Scotch Whisky.

“McClain, welcome, welcome.”

Quan stood up and hobbled to meet McClain near the door. They exchanged a strong handshake. Quan was smaller than McClain, with thin shoulders, and walked with a hunch. He was dressed in a dark blue shirt with sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and black pants. Quan had embraced his receding hairline, and the gray hair around his temples and at the back of his head was cut very short. He was clean-shaven and his reddish face had crow’s feet around the eyes, a deep crease on his forehead, and thin wrinkles along his thin lips. But his small grayish eyes were alive and full of energy as he peered at McClain with a look of appreciation mixed with impatience.

“Thanks for coming right away. Please take a seat.”

Quan gestured toward two overstuffed armchairs across from his desk. They matched the set of couches downstairs, and McClain was certain they were a part of the same Christmas gift from Quan’s daughters. He sat on the armchair closer to the window and threw a glance outside at a glowing street light and the dark expanse of the golf course.

“A drink?” Quan said as he pointed to his desk. “I’ve got this superb twenty-one-year-old Macallan. It’s rich, smooth.”

McClain shook his head. “I’d love to, but I have to drive back.”

Quan shrugged, then poured about two fingers from the bottle into his glass. He picked up a green folder from his desk, then stumbled into the other armchair. He laid the folder on his lap and took a quick sip of his whisky, as if to gather his courage before starting the conversation.

“What is this all about?” McClain asked.

He had never been a fan of chit-chat, especially when time was of the essence. Quan had approached McClain in the parking lot of the CIS headquarters about four hours ago, but had not given him any details. He had only said it was urgent and of great consequence.

Quan looked at McClain. His eyes carried a sense of hesitation, but he offered a small nod. “I don’t really know how it happened, James. I’ve . . . I’ve lost two agents.”

McClain frowned and his body went limp. He sat up straight. “Lost as in they’re dead?”

“I’m not a hundred percent sure. That would be the best-case scenario under the circumstances.”

“I’m not following.”

Quan leaned forward and handed his folder to McClain. “Let me explain. Isaac Schultz and Park Min-joon. Two of my best field operatives in Beijing. Schultz is of Hebrew descent but was born and raised in China. Fluent in Chinese and Japanese. Park is from South Korea, speaks Chinese like a native, and has strong ties to the military and secret services of both Korea and China. Both naturalized Canadians, Schultz and Park were trained at The Plant and graduated with excellent marks. They’ve been working in South Asia, mainly in China, over the last seven years.”

McClain nodded and flipped through the first couple of pages of the folder. Two photographs of the agents were clipped to the records of their files. Schultz was tall and broad-shouldered, with reddish-blond hair and an explosion of freckles on his cheeks and his chin. Park was of smaller stature, black-haired, with thin lips and a scar stretched along the right side of his face, by his ear.

Quan had stopped talking, so McClain raised his head. “Go on,” he said.

“Last year, the agents began an operation to turn North Korean scientists or members of its armed forces into double agents. We have very little accurate intelligence about the true nuclear capacities of North Korea. While we believe that they can launch a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead, the range and the reliability of such an attack are uncertain. There’s always a sharp warmongering rhetoric from Pyongyang, so we are trying to separate fact from fiction.”

McClain nodded. He was familiar with the general situation in the Korean Peninsula. Divided along the 38th Parallel after the end of the Second World War into a communist state in the north part and a pro-Western state in the south, the area still remained quite volatile and a powder keg. North Korea repeatedly threatened the South and its allies with complete annihilation.

McClain dropped his gaze to the folder, then looked up at Quan so that he could continue his explanation.

Quan took another sip of his drink. He licked his lips, then said, “North Korea carried out two underground nuclear tests last year. Its Musudan missiles have a range of about 2,500 miles. If they’re moved to the Sea of Japan, all of South Korea and Japan are within their reach. Earlier this year, we received reports of such movements of missiles. The South Korea-US Combined Forces Command raised their threat level to WatchCon 2, the highest level in peacetime.”

He sighed and began to scratch at his chin.

“What happened?” McClain asked.

“Schultz and Park were scheduled to meet with an army colonel in South Korea ten days ago. He approached them through a series of mutually trusted contacts in the Chinese Ministry of State Security. The recent political infighting at the top level of the Political Bureau of North Korea’s Communist Party threatened to spread down the ranks and spill over throughout the army. We had high hopes the army colonel would agree to provide actionable intel and even defect to our side. But he was a no-show.”

“Was he setting a trap?”

Quan shook his head. “I’m not sure. Schultz and Park reported to their HQ in Beijing and were expected to take a flight out of Seoul on the next day. They never made it.”

A light rap came from the door. “It’s me,” Lien said. “The tea’s ready.”

She waltzed in with a silver tray in her hands, which she gently placed on the glass-top coffee table between the two armchairs. “Sugar and cream on the side,” she said to McClain. “Honey, do you need anything?”

Quan shrugged, then raised his glass toward Lien. “Thanks, I’m good.”

“Okay, enjoy.” Lien said and closed the door.

McClain glanced at the tea’s steam rising from the cup. The delicious aroma of vanilla was very tempting, but he decided to wait for a minute or two before picking it up. “What do you think happened to the agents?”

Quan closed his eyes for a moment and let out a sigh. “I’m still determining the severity of this situation. After Schultz and Park missed their flight, they went incommunicado. We attempted to reach them on their secured cellphones, but they were off the grid. I dispatched a team of agents to the Seoul safe house, but it was empty. Not in disarray, and there were no signs Schultz and Park had left in a hurry or were in trouble. Not as far as we could tell from the safe house.”

“When was the last time you heard from the agents?”

“They called in to inform me that the colonel never made it to the meeting. They called four hours after the scheduled time, as per our established protocol.”

McClain frowned. “The colonel doesn’t show up, then the agents disappear. Not a coincidence.”

“No, it’s not. I had another team look over the files and the reports of their operation. I sought the assistance of the British Secret Intelligence Service, since we’ve run joint ops in China and South Korea.”

“And what did the British say?”

“They had no intel until three days ago. Then they heard some chatter coming from a North Korean military installation, a camp near the demilitarized zone, about five miles from the border with South Korea. The chatter seemed to indicate the North Koreans have a trusted source of intel about Western ops in South Korea. Then the next day, the safe house in Seoul was turned upside down.”

“North Korean State Security operatives?” McClain asked.

“Yes. Thankfully, my team had cleared the safe house of all sensitive materials. So there was no damage to our current or planned missions in the country. But yesterday, a bomb exploded at a safe house in Beijing, killing one of my agents. Another one is in critical condition.”

“Again, no coincidence.”

Quan nursed his glass. “Absolutely not. Schultz and Park had set up that safe house and used it as one of their main bases of operations.”

“And you have more bad news?” McClain said in a flat voice.

“Unfortunately. I have a couple of old friends at the NSA and pulled in some favors. They repositioned one of their recon satellites to listen to conversations inside the North Korean military installation and some of their bases. You can guess what they heard.”

McClain’s frown grew deeper and wider and he leaned back in his seat. “Park’s name came up, along with Schultz’s.”

Quan’s nodded. “The worst-case scenario. My two agents captured by the enemy and giving up intel as a result of torture.”

He finished up the rest of his whisky in a big swig. He pursed his lips, then said, “I’ve asked the NSA to double-check and reconfirm. And hopefully they can establish Schultz’s and Park’s location. Then I’ll give my orders.”

McClain looked at Quan’s face. The man was visibly in pain, and every word he was saying seemed to hurt him more and more.

“I need another drink,” Quan said and struggled to get to his feet.

“I think I’m going to have one as well,” McClain said in a low voice. “I’ll take a cab home.”

Quan nodded. He found another glass inside a cabinet behind his desk by a large bookcase, and brought the Macallan’s bottle to the coffee table. He poured about three fingers into McClain’s glass and his glass.

McClain took a small sip of the amber liquid and felt the whisky’s instant warmth. “What orders?”

Quan paused for a long moment, holding the glass in his hand, but not bringing it to his lips. He heaved a sigh and spoke in a slow, tense voice. “Once we’ve determined the location where they’re being held inside North Korea, I’ll have to dispatch a cleanup team.”

He dragged the last two words and kept his eyes glued to his glass. His words had sealed Schultz’s and Park’s fate. The cleanup team’s mission was going to be the elimination of the two agents.

McClain pondered Quan’s words. He could see the dilemma clearly.

“It pains me, James, but I just can’t have two rogue agents revealing our agency’s secrets under torture. The North Koreans are breaking my men, slowly but surely, and we’re already seeing our operations threatened. Good agents are dying. I may not be able to save Schultz and Park, but I can save the rest. I will save the rest.”

McClain said nothing. Quan had already made up his mind. It was a heart-wrenching decision that a director or a team leader wished they would never have to make, but when the time came, they gave the order. It was established protocol, familiar to field agents and their handlers. And McClain knew where Quan was going with his line of reasoning.

Quan gave McClain an intense look. “You know what I’m going to ask from you, James. I wanted to discuss this with you in person, before submitting an official request to the director. My South Asia teams have been compromised and I don’t know yet the full extent of the breach and of the damage. Schultz and Park had vast knowledge of many operations throughout Asia. So the cleanup team has to be from another region, remote and separate from mine. Perhaps from your section.”

McClain kept his eye contact with Quan but did not give him any hint of what he was thinking at that moment. The truth was, McClain needed more information and more time to decide on a course of action. His initial reaction was that it would be suicide to send a team inside North Korea. The CIS and most Western intelligence agencies had no assets in the hostile Communist country. The cleanup team needed a clear infiltration plan and a solid exit strategy.

On the other hand, the need to stop the gush of intelligence was very real and urgent, even if it meant silencing Schultz and Park in order to save the lives of many other agents. But this situation was unique because of the fact that the agents’ initial mission had not been to infiltrate North Korea. That country was off limits to all agents operating in South Korea and other areas of South Asia. McClain was wondering how Schultz and Park had ended up in the hands of the North Koreans, and he also wondered why Quan was not interested that much in finding out those reasons.

“I gave Schultz and Park specific instructions not to cross the border with North Korea. This meeting and all other previous meetings with potential assets or defectors had taken place either in South Korea or China, never in the forbidden land,” Quan said slowly, as if he had read McClain’s mind.

“And you have no idea why or how they ended up in a prison up there?”

“I can make an educated guess that they were either following a lead—the promise of intelligence or other sensitive material from the colonel or someone he could have sent in his place—and decided to continue with their mission, in violation of my direct orders. Or maybe they were captured, and if that’s the case, the North Koreans know we’ll deny any connection to them. Schultz and Park know this as well, and they can’t expect us to risk more agents’ lives on a rescue mission.”

McClain cleared this throat. “But do they expect us to insert an assassination team, which of course will put the lives of more agents in harm’s way?”

Quan’s eyes turned into small, fiery slits. He placed his glass on the coffee table and spread his hands in front of him. “I didn’t want this and neither did they. But we’re doing what must be done and choosing the lesser of two evils.”

McClain nodded. “Yes, for us. If I were in their shoes, I would strongly disagree.”

“I wouldn’t pick this option either, but the choice has been removed from my hands.” Quan gave McClain a shrug, then added in a warmer voice, “Please take this operation under consideration. I will not make a recommendation to the director unless you give me your approval.”

McClain raised his glass and finished his drink. “Okay, I’ll let you know tomorrow.”

“Thank you, James. I know I’m laying a heavy burden on you. I appreciate your help.”

McClain said nothing. He reached for his BlackBerry in his waist holster. “I’m calling a cab. And I’ll finish my tea before heading out.”

 

Weekly Intelligence Briefing

EthanJones_RogueAgents_Amazon1400ROGUE AGENTS, the fifth spy thriller in the Justin Hall series, came out last Monday, June 30, and it has gathered some wonderful reviews. Thank you very much to all the fans that have bought it, read it, and posted their reviews. ROGUE AGENTS is now widely available on Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords and GooglePlay. It will soon be available on Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Enjoy it your way.

Work is going full-throttle on the next Justin Hall novel, SHADOW AGENTS. A Mossad covert operation in Ramallah, West Bank goes sideways and the Mossad director in charge of the operation start an inquiry to find the truth. In Frankfurt, Justin is hot on the trail of Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist cells. I’ve already penned down the first 4,000 words of the novel and I’m hoping to get to 20,000 words by the end of July. My hope is to release SHADOW AGENTS in late November or early December.

ARCTIC WARGAME, the first novel in the series, is on sale for 99 cents until July 17. It’s your best chance to see how the series started and to join Justin in his adventure at the top of the world.EJones_ArcticWargame_800

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 Ethan.Jones@shaw.ca 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.

10 Questions with Errick Nunnally

My guest today is Errick Nunnally, author of Blood for the Sun, a thriller that came out on July 1. Please scroll down to enjoy his interview.

Blood for the Sun1.       Mr. Nunnally, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. BLOOD FOR THE SUN, your newest novel, came out on July 1. Tell us a bit more about this book.

Well, thank you for the consideration and opportunity. First, the most important thing to remember about the book is that it’s going to be released on Tuesday, July 1, 2014. (Real-world print production is always fun.) The book is about a long-lived werewolf suffering from a kind of supernatural Alzheimer’s who searches for missing children or avenges their murder.

2.       Who is Alexander Smith, and how did you come up with his character?

Alexander was born a long time ago, when I was in college in 1996 or so. I was in art school and, at the time, we had an annual comic publication. I painted a few pages that is essentially the introduction of Alexander’s daughter: Ana. The germination of the character, however, took place over many years. I’d always been fascinated with werewolves since watching the old Universal films with the wolfman and reading Marvel’s Werewolf by Night comics. Movies like The Howling and the updated Werewolf by Night comic only cemented my fascination. What bugged me about the popular media representation up to then was this completely out of control character who could be brought to heel by a vampire. I built Alexander and his universe as sort of the antithesis of that well-worn idea.

3.       How is BLOOD FOR THE SUN different from other vampire stories in the genre?

The main character is a shapeshifter–essentially a werewolf–but the form is barely reminiscent of a wolf, definitely a monstrous half-man, half-animal. The antagonists are vampires bent on using dark magic to secure immunity from the sun. The fuel for the magic is the blood of children and the practice of magic itself is anathema to the two once-human species. Or so it had been believed. Vampires are only similar to what’s expected in that they’re blood drinkers and acutely photosensitive. The origins of the two species are murky, but hinted at in the first book. It’s going to be revealed over time, in the series. I tried to avoid certain expected turns in the “urban fantasy” genre, such as erotica or a definitive love triangle—It’s more horror, detective thriller, noir than particularly emotional. I also wanted to emphasize the tragedy of long life as it pertains to the mind. After about a century, they begin to slowly lose their memories and go insane—but not for the reasons one might think.

4.       What kind of research did you do for this book?

I have an entire shelf of Native American history, Mayan history, coal production, world history, guns, and more. Barely any of that directly made it into the book; most of it was used to inform the characters or get a small detail correct. It’s insane!

5.       What is your greatest disappointment as a writer? What is your greatest satisfaction?

Shady business practices bug me to no end. Almost anyone can put a shingle out and claim to be a publisher or an agent. Unfortunately, the same can be said for authors. I guess my primary criteria is ‘don’t be an asshole.’ Satisfaction is being published! Especially when it’s alongside authors I admire and in publications I’ve enjoyed. It’s a steep climb, however, once a market has been cracked, you have to keep working at it to break into the next one.

6.       Why do you write?

I can’t help it; I love stories. Movies, television, comic books, novels et al. I really enjoy telling stories and I wish I’d dove into it much earlier in my life.

7.       What are your thoughts on the latest publishing industry developments, mainly the rise of the self-publishing?

Self-publishing is fine with me. The difficulty with it is separating what we can all agree is quality from those who simply have access to the tools. Taking on your own publishing means taking on the responsibilities of the editor, proofreader, publicist, art director, and others. It’s a team effort, when all is said and done, to get a story to market, into the hands of the right readers.

8.       What are your favorite pastimes?

Cocktails, barbecue, movies, reading, exercise, comic illustration, comic strips, retreating somewhere quiet to have a good conversation with a friend.

9.       What are your writing habits? Outlines or not?

Write first, outline later. I write in a long bursts; maybe three or four chapters before I’ve gotten something out of my system. Then it’s time to sit down and consider the overall structure. Mostly, I start with a series of scenes that I’d like to see, difficulties and situations for the protagonist, and then come up with a logical structure for the entire piece.

10.       What is your next book going to be about?

The sequel, of course! There’s a much bigger picture I want to paint with the overall story. I certainly want to hash out where vampires and werewolves come from, but I also want to explore what it means to be something like this in a modern world where data is being collected around the clock. Discovery is inevitable. So the big question is: what then? I’ve read a few books where the action takes place after discovery, it’s part of the past. I want to get into what happens during and immediately after. Ooooh, the cauldron’s bubbling.

Thanking our Readers

Along with other authors, I’m thanking our readers for allowing us to write and publish as we see fit. Check this link to learn about some of the myths being thrown about you, the reader, and sign the petition, if you so chose: https://www.change.org/petitions/authors-to-thank-our-readers-2 I’ve signed it.

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