In ASSASSIN'S CODE, the fourth book in New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry's Joe Ledger series, Joe Ledger and the DMS go on a relentless chase to stop an ancient order of killers from plunging the entire world into Holy War.
When Joe Ledger and Echo Team rescue a group of American college kids held hostage in Iran, the Iranian government then asks them to help find six nuclear bombs planted in the Mideast oil fields. These stolen WMDs will lead Joe and Echo Team into hidden vaults of forbidden knowledge, mass-murder, betrayal, and a brotherhood of genetically-engineered killers with a thirst for blood. Accompanied by the beautiful assassin called Violin, Joe follows a series of clues to find the Book of Shadows, which contains a horrifying truth that threatens to shatter his entire worldview. They say the truth will set you free…not this time. The secrets of the Assassin's Code will set the world ablaze.
About the Author
Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestseller and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Patient Zero, the Pine Deep Trilogy, The Wolfman, Zombie CSU and They Bite. His work for Marvel Comics includes the Punisher, Wolverine, DoomWar, Marvel Zombie Return and Black Panther. His Joe Ledger series has been optioned for TV by Sony Pictures.
JONATHAN MABERRY is a New York Times bestselling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Deep Silence, Kill Switch, Predator One, Code Zero, Fall of Night, Patient Zero, the Pine Deep Trilogy, The Wolfman, Zombie CSU, and They Bite, among others. His V-Wars series has been adapted by Netflix, and his work for Marvel Comics includes The Punisher, Wolverine, DoomWar, Marvel Zombie Return and Black Panther. His Joe Ledger series has been optioned for television.
Read an Excerpt
By Jonathan Maberry
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2012 Jonathan Maberry
All rights reserved.
June 15, 7:23 a.m.
She said, "Look down at your chest."
I held the cell phone to my ear as I bent my head. Two red dots, quivering slightly, danced right over my heart.
"You are one second away from death," said the caller.CHAPTER 2
June 15, 7:25 a.m.
I didn't know the voice. She was a stranger. I didn't know her name. Didn't know anything except that she had my cell number. Ten seconds ago I was about to go into Starbox — yes, they really call it that in Iran — for a cup of bold and a couple of pastries. The street outside was empty.
I looked up. The shooters had to be in the building across the street, maybe the fifth floor. Didn't really matter, the range was a hundred yards and even a sloppy marksman could punch my ticket at that distance. I doubted these guys were sloppy. And there were two of them. I was also pretty sure I knew why they were after me.
"Okay," I said.
"I need you to confirm your name," she said in Persian. She had a very sexy voice for a psycho killer. Low and smoky.
"Because I have to be certain."
"Geez, sister," I said, "if this is how you ID your targets then I don't think you're going to get that contract killer merit badge."
The joke didn't translate well but she made a sound. It might have been a laugh. Glad she was amused. Sweat was pouring down my spine. The two little laser sights gave me no chance at all to run.
"If this was simply a matter of killing you," she said, "then we'd have done it and taken your wallet for identification." She had a European accent but she was hiding it by trying to speak Persian like a native. Kind of weird. Not the weirdest thing going on at the moment.
"Um ... thanks?" I said.
"Tell me your name," she said again.
There had to be three of them. Two shooters and her. Was she the spotter? If not, there could have been one or two others, spotting for the gunmen. Or it might have been the three of them.
"Ebenezer Scrooge," I said.
"No games," she warned. "Your name."
One of the laser sights drifted down from my chest and settled on my crotch.
"Once more?" she coaxed.
"Joseph Edwin Ledger." No screwing around this time.
"Captain. Want my shoe size?"
There was a pause. "I was warned about you. You think you're funny."
"Everyone thinks I'm funny."
"I doubt that's true. How often do you make Mr. Church laugh out loud?"
"Never heard of him," I lied.
Now I was confused. Up till now I thought she was part of a team looking to take me down for the little bit of nastiness I got into last night. Echo Team and I went into a high-security facility and liberated three twenty somethings who had been arrested a year ago while hiking in the mountains. The Iraqi mountains. An Iranian patrol crossed the border, nabbed the hikers, and started making noise in the media that the three hikers had illegally trespassed and therefore they were spies. They weren't. One was a former Peace Corps team leader who was there with his animal behaviorist girlfriend who wanted to take photos of a kind of rare tiger to help her with her master's thesis. Acinonyx jubatus venaticus. Asiatic cheetah. Also known as the Iranian cheetah. No, I'm not making this up.
The hikers had been used as pawns in Iran's ongoing policy of stalling and disinformation regarding their nuclear program. Normally we'd let the State Department and world opinion exert pressure on the Iranian government ... but the third member of the hiking party was the only son of one of America's most important senators. The real twist is that the senator was a key player on several committees crucial to the U.S. war effort. Everyone with a spoonful of brains knew that the Iranians staged the whole thing to be able to turn dials on Senator McHale.
And it was starting to work. So the president asked Church to make the problem go away. We were Church's response.
"So, who gets to slap the cuffs on me?" I asked.
This time she did laugh.
"No, Captain Ledger," she said, "here's how it's going to work. As soon as I am done speaking you will turn off your cell phone and remove the battery and the SIM card. Put the SIM card and phone into different pockets. Walk to the curb and drop the battery into the culvert. Then I want you to go into the café. Order a coffee, sit in the corner. Do not reassemble your phone. Do not use the store's phone. Write no notes to the staff or other customers. Sit and enjoy your coffee. Read the newspaper. Ahmadinejad is insisting that the dramatics at the prison last night were the result of a boiler explosion. You should find that amusing. Do not make any calls. Maybe have a second cup of coffee."
"Do you work for Starbox? If so, I can't say I dig your new marketing strategy."
She ignored me. Her resistance to my wit was almost as disconcerting as the laser sights on my junk. Almost.
She said, "In a few minutes a person will enter the café. A man. He will recognize you and will join you. The two of you will have a conversation and then he will leave. Once he has left, you will wait another ten minutes before you reassemble your phone. You are on your own to find a new battery. You are supposed to be resourceful, so I imagine you will solve that problem without my advice."
"Then what do I do?"
"Then," she said, "you will do whatever you judge best."
"When do I meet you?"
"I'd like to."
"No," she said with another little laugh, "you would not."
"Tell me something, miss, why go to these lengths? This could have been arranged with a lot less drama."
"No it could not. If you are smarter than you appear, then you'll understand why in a few minutes."
"These laser sights going to be on me the whole time? It's a lousy fashion statement and people will talk."
There was a moment's silence on the other end and then both sights vanished. I had to control myself from collapsing against the wall. I was pretty sure it would be two or three weeks before my nuts felt safe enough to climb down out of my chest cavity. My heart was beating like a jazz drum solo — loud, fast, and with no discernable rhythm.
"The clock is now ticking, Captain Ledger. Once I disconnect, please follow the instructions you have been given."
"Wait —" I said, but the line went dead.
I held the phone in my hand and looked across the street to the office building. Even without the sights I knew they could take me anytime they wanted.
There were no real options left. Just because the laser sights weren't on me didn't mean that I was safe. I think they'd used them for effect. It was broad daylight; they certainly had scopes. So I did as I was told. I dismantled my phone and put the SIM card in my left coat pocket and the empty phone casing in my jeans. With great reluctance I walked to the edge of the pavement and stared for a moment down into the black hole of the culvert.
"Crap," I said, and dropped the battery, which vanished without a trace. All I heard was a dull plop as it landed in the subterranean muck.
Before I turned to go into the store I scratched the tip of my nose with my forefinger. I was sure they'd see that, too.CHAPTER 3
June 15, 7:39 a.m.
I went into the Starbox and ordered my coffee.
The waitress, a slim gal with a blue headscarf, glanced at my hands, which were visibly shaking. "Decaf?" she asked.
I screwed a smile into place and tried to make a joke. It fell flat. I repeated my drink order in a low mumble, paid for it and a French edition of the Tehran Daily News, and took them with me to a table where I could watch the street. It was pretty early, so the place was empty. There were two leather chairs in a corner and I took one, aware that there was no place in the café where a shooter with a good scope couldn't find me.
Last year I'd been in a coffee shop when a strike team tried to take me out. You'd think I'd have learned by now. My best friend and shrink, Dr. Rudy Sanchez, constantly tells me that I drink too much coffee. He says, "Caffeine will kill you," all the time. He'll be delighted to hear me admit that he was very nearly right.
I crossed my legs as if that would offer my groin any real protection from a high-velocity sniper bullet and tried to read the paper.
Apparently America is still the Great Satan. What a surprise.
The main headline was about last week's assassination attempt on the nation's Rahbare Mo'azzame Enghelab — the Supreme Leader. A man dressed as a Shia cleric had attended a prayer session at Mashhad, which is the second largest city in Iran and one of the holiest cities in the Shia Muslim world, over five hundred miles east of Tehran, near the borders of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. It's the resting place of the Imam Reza, seventh descendant of the prophet Muhammad and the eighth of the Twelve Imams. I've been there. It's a gorgeous city, and home to the most extensive collection of Iranian cultural and artistic treasures. Millions of Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mashhad every year, as do scholars and tourists like me; and that's been going on since medieval times. The saying is "The rich go to Mecca but the poor journey to Mashhad."
So, after a few introductory speeches, the Supreme Leader stepped up to lead the people in prayer and discuss matters of faith. Problem was, the fake cleric whipped off his coat to reveal a vest packed with Semtex. A group of young men grabbed the bomber and tried to drag him outside before the bombs went off. They only partly succeeded, and though the mosque was not destroyed, it was damaged. The Supreme Leader received minor injuries, but sixty-four people died, and the effect was like cutting a scar into the flesh of Islam.
I'm not a Muslim, and I'm not deeply religious even with my Methodist upbringing — not like my father and brother whose butts have worn grooves in the pews in our church back in Baltimore — but there is something that disgusts me on a deep level when someone makes a deliberate attack on the faith of another person, or in this case on an entire people. I don't like it when it happens to Americans; and I certainly don't like it when Americans do it to each other. Can't say I'm much in favor of it anywhere in the world.
Who was to blame for this particular hate crime?
Hard to tell.
Lately there's been a weirdly sharp rise in hate crimes throughout the Middle East. Five times as many suicide bombers, a 300 percent increase in political assassinations, plus car bombs, pipe bombs, and even a rash of people found murdered with their throats completely torn out.
At the best of times the Mideast was never known for its easygoing tolerance; lately it's like everyone has gone just a little bit crazier. My boss, Mr. Church, has been monitoring the escalation of violence, and although he hasn't come out and said so, I'm certain that he's suspicious of the rising body count. My friend Bug, who runs the computer resources for the Department of Military Sciences, told me on the sly that Church wanted him to run a thorough background search on the victims, even the ones who appeared to be innocent bystanders.
"Why?" I asked.
"'Cause the boss thinks there's a hidden agenda," answered Bug.
"He always thinks there's a hidden agenda," I remarked.
"He's usually right, though, isn't he?"
And I had no argument for that. Like the bumper stickers say, "You're not paranoid if they really are out to get you."
I'd been following this in the local and national news, and I scanned the paper to see if they had anything on the mosque bomber, but this rag was pretty heavily slanted toward the ultraconservative view, which pretty much concludes that if a bird shits on a statue in Iran it's a U.S. plot. The reporter, probably quoting a government directive, claimed that this was the latest act in a series of escalating terrorist attacks by America. Completely ignoring the fact that half of the recent victims in the Middle East were Americans or allies. Go figure.
The rest of the paper was local stuff. No cartoons. No Doonesbury or Zits or Tank McNamara. No crossword puzzle.
Time crawled by. A few people came in for coffee.
I debated rolling sideways out of the chair and shimmying behind the counter, but if I did that and the snipers opened up I'd be the cause of civilian casualties.
Besides ... after all this I kind of wanted to see who was going to walk in the door.
While I waited, I went over everything that had happened last night. This thing with the woman and the snipers didn't seem to fit, but ... how could it not? We did a lot of harm last night ... Somebody must want some payback.
I sipped my coffee. It wasn't Starbucks, but it was hot and black.
I could almost hear the echo of gunfire in my ears ...CHAPTER 4
Afa Police Station
One Day Ago
June 14, 7:20 p.m.
The trial was set to start in two days, so to avoid the crowds near the capital building that had been a constant since the mosque bombing, the military moved the three hikers to a secure location on the outskirts of Tehran. The move was also likely done to reduce the risk of having the press ask any questions of the hikers, and there was an army of reporters from all over the world in Iran right now.
This whole thing worked for us. It gave us a window we otherwise would never have had.
The new location was a small jail near a residential district; no one would think to look there. Except we were already looking there. Our computer, MindReader, was plugged into the Iranian military police network, courtesy of Abdul Jamar, an Iranian on the CIA payroll. Abdul's older brother had been murdered by the secret police for writing essays in protest of the nuclear program. This was his form of payback.
When Mr. Church formed the Department of Military Sciences he built it around the MindReader computer system, which was his sole property. Bug, our head of computer operations, hinted that Church may have written some of its more advanced software packages, but Church refused to confirm it. Actually, Church simply ignored the question, which was his style. MindReader has a lot of functions, but two stand out and make it the most valuable tool in the intelligence arsenal. It is designed to look for patterns, and though computers can't generalize, MindReader comes damn close. It gathers information from other sources, including many that refuse to share their intel with the DMS. That doesn't matter to MindReader, and that's the other reason it's so valuable. It is designed to intrude into virtually any other computer system without tripping alarms, and when it backs out, it rewrites the target computer's software so that there is no record that it had ever been hacked. The system is proprietary and no one outside of a select few DMS senior staff has access to it; and no one has full access except Church.
My team and I were staying in a seedy hotel near the center of town — one that allowed dogs — and my dog was currently waiting there for us. When we got word about the transfer, we began tracking the move through a series of high-security-coded e-mails. I had half of Echo Team with me for this: my number two, First Sergeant Bradley "Top" Sims; the big California kid, Harvey "Bunny" Rabbit; the professorial Khalid Shaheed; the laconic former LAPD sniper John Smith; and the newbie, Lydia Ruiz, who was in the navy's first covert group of women SEALs.
Khalid was, among other things, a makeup artist who could have gotten work on Broadway. When we arrived at the hotel room, among the equipment delivered for us was a professional stage makeup kit. Khalid used it to transform us all into Iranians. Luckily a lot of people in Iran look like their European forebears. Khalid had to tone down his own darker Egyptian complexion. Bunny and I both got our fair hair dyed black. Lydia was Latina but had the olive skin of her Madrid ancestors; with the right eye makeup and a modest chador with a headscarf, she would blend right in. John Smith was already dark-haired, so Khalid gave his pale face a little more color.
Top was never going to look like either an Iranian or an Arab, but that was okay. There were plenty of African Muslims in Iran, and Top could speak Somali and Persian with an African lilt. Except for Top, we all dressed in military police uniforms.
We let the transfer happen and gave it about three hours for all the hubbub to settle down. Top, dressed like a factory worker, came into the police station to report that someone had stolen the tires off of his car while he was out to dinner with his wife. Lydia was the wife. Top was not hysterical but still managed to be loud enough to draw attention, and no matter what he said, Lydia contradicted and corrected him. The officers found it all very amusing, though they dutifully took the report.
The rest of us watched all this on tiny monitors built into the faces of our wristwatches. Very Dick Tracy. One of the last toys Mr. Church got from his longtime friend Steve Jobs. Stuff was three years away from hitting the commercial market. They'll be going out as iSee, and Apple will make another gazillion off it. Pretty handy for the military, especially when married to the high-definition digital camera built into the middle button of Top's shirt.
Excerpted from Assassin's Code by Jonathan Maberry. Copyright © 2012 Jonathan Maberry. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part One: Acts of War,
Part Two: By the Rivers Dark,
Part Three: The Blood of Angels,
Also by Jonathan Maberry,
About the Author,