Joe Ledger Fans Rejoice!
Everyone’s favorite snarky, dangerous, idealistic, relentless covert operative is back, and this time he’s brought friends. Joe Ledger: Unstoppable presents original short stories about Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences by some of New York Times bestseller Jonathan Maberry’s "friends in the industry." Buckle up for powerful, exciting, and nail-biting adventures by Seanan McGuire, Scott Sigler, Larry Correia, Weston Ochse, Steve Alten, David Farland, Aaron Rosenberg, James A. Moore, James Ray Tuck, Javier Grillo Marxuach, Jennifer Campbell-Hicks, Jeremy Robinson, Joe McKinney, Jon McGoran, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Nicholas Seven, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, P.G. Charles, and Dana Fredsti!
Joe Ledger is a former Baltimore cop who was recruited into a secret government agency tasked with stopping terrorists who are using bleeding-edge science weapons. The stakes are always high. If you have to call Joe Ledger, it’s already hit the fan!
About the Author
JONATHAN MABERRY is a New York Times bestselling author, five-time Bram Stoker Award winner, anthology editor, and comic book writer. He writes horror, thrillers, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, and suspense for adults and teens. Several of Jonathan's novels are in development for film or TV, including V-Wars, Extinction Machine, Rot & Ruin, and Dead of Night. He also writes comics for Marvel, IDW, and Dark Horse. He lives in Del Mar, California, with his wife, Sara Jo, and their dog, Rosie.
BRYAN THOMAS SCHMIDT is a Hugo-nominated editor and author. His anthologies include Shattered Shields, Mission: Tomorrow, Galactic Games, Little Green Men-Attack! (forthcoming), Monster Hunter Tales (forthcoming), Infinite Stars (forthcoming), and Predator: If It Bleeds (forthcoming). His debut novel, The Worker Prince, achieved Honorable Mention on Barnes and Noble's Year's Best SF of 2011. It is followed by two sequels in the Saga of Davi Rhii space opera trilogy. His short fiction includes stories in The X-Files, Predator, Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International, Joe Ledger, and Decipher's WARS, along with original fiction. He also edited The Martian by Andy Weir, amongst other novels. His work has been published by St. Martin's, Titan, Baen, and more. He lives in Ottawa, KS.
Read an Excerpt
THE HONEY POT
BY STEVE ALTEN
Shadows of movement swam through liquid daylight. Echoes whispered hollow in my brain.
"Where's the car, Cowboy?"
Female ... European accent. Hot breath in my ear. The stench of expensive vodka and tobacco.
"Come on, big guy. Don't go limp on me now ... on me now ... me now ..."
Ceiling spinning, my brain on fire —
Let me die!
Morning greeted me with the abruptness of a sledgehammer. My left temple was pressed flat against a warm ledge of porcelain, its pulse pounding. Pain fought with confusion for my attention — the combatants conceding the contest to my gut.
Straddling the tub — why was I straddling the tub? why was I naked, straddling the tub? — I leaned over the toilet and retched. Hot magma christened a bowl dubbed guest-ready by the chambermaid's version of police tape, the damp remains now wrapped around my right wrist.
The minute of hell passed. Having evacuated a lung, I fumbled with my trembling left hand for the flusher, while my right fought to keep my aching skull balanced on the seat.
Throat ... water —
Squinting, I located the sink and crawled on hands and knees across a thick throw rug. Lunging for the nearest ledge, I pulled myself up off the bathroom floor and fumbled with the faucet, scooping water onto my face and down my seared throat.
A pale, haggard stranger stared at me in the mirror, only I didn't recognize the reflection.
Sledgehammer ... ledge ... Ledger. Joe Ledger.
Hey, Cowboy. Go fuck yourself and the horse that kicked you.
Standing on wobbly legs, I popped open the small bottle of hotel mouthwash and gargled — not entirely sure it wasn't shampoo. Where am I? What the hell happened to me?
Leaning against the open door frame, I peered out at a hotel suite designed to accommodate a paycheck way beyond my means. High ceilings ... giant flat-screen television, plush carpet. Through sheer curtains I stared out the private balcony at ... the Eiffel Tower?
Paris? What the fuck am I doing in Paris?
As I staggered past the king-size trundle bed in my birthday suit, I saw the woman. She was lying on her belly beneath a cream-colored duvet — a mocha-skinned beauty with wavy, raven-colored hair.
I was about to wake her when the thought of being naked in a hotel suite with an exotic woman weighed in. Searching the room, I located a pair of men's boxers, jeans, and a sweater, slightly surprised that everything fit.
"Hey, Sleeping Beauty. Excuse me?"
I shook her and knew, but felt for a pulse anyway. "Shit."
I pulled back the quilt.
She was model-thin, ravishing, and stark naked, save for the silk ties that bound her wrists and ankles to the four bedposts. Her legs were spread-eagle ... a stream of blood running from the bullet hole in her left scapula where it pooled in the small of her back before seeping down the crack of her perfect derriere.
Before I could render a thought the door opened, revealing the chambermaid. "Excusez-moi, monsieur —"
Her hazel eyes darted from me to the dead woman.
The first scream caught in her throat. She managed the second as she fled down the hall, leaving the housekeeping cart wedged in the doorframe.
I dragged it inside and bolted the door.
You've got three minutes before she reaches the lobby, three more before security questions her, six to ten before the gendarmes arrive.
I searched the room and found the dead woman's clothing ... a skirt and blouse, silk purple thong and matching bra, along with spiked heels. If she was a hooker, she was an expensive one. Designer purse ... a valet ticket ... a wallet!
French driver's license ... Giselle Rousseau. A wad of euros —
Where was my wallet and passport?
I searched my pockets, locating the stub from an airline ticket dated two days earlier — Dulles into Heathrow. I looked around the room, then under the bed — my head pounding as I found a pair of tennis shoes ... and a gun. It was a 9mm, a silencer still attached to the barrel.
What to do?
If you offed her, or even if you didn't, you can bet that sweet ass of hers the gun will have your prints on it.
I grabbed the shoes and the weapon. Quickly laced up the sneakers and then checked the gun. No bullets in the chamber ... one missing from the magazine.
The sound of police sirens rent the late morning air.
Move, douche bag!
I grabbed the woman's ID, cash, and valet ticket and shoved everything in my pants pocket. Using a damp washcloth, I wiped the 9mm free of prints and buried it in the container of soiled towels on the housekeeping cart. Then I opened the door and pushed the device down the hall to the next room ... Suite 1107, and left it.
Moving on adrenaline and instinct, I headed for the stairwell and descended six flights before exiting on the fifth floor. Smiling, I joined a young couple waiting for the elevator.
Together we watched the numbers descend from eight to five, my right hand nonchalantly wiping sweat from my brow.
The doors opened, revealing the prototypical American family straight out of a Hollywood script — white-collar dad, homemaker mom, two boys, maybe thirteen and ten, and toddler Jane tucked in a pink stroller.
White-collar dad was wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap.
"Mom, you said we were going to Disney!"
"Disney's tomorrow. Today we're going to tour Paris."
"I don't wanna tour Paris!"
"Easy, guys." Dad shrugged at the French couple.
"My nephews are the same way," I said, squeezing in beside the stroller. "Dan Miller, Brooklyn."
"Herschel Evans, Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. My wife, Suzie."
"Big Yankees fan?"
"Me too. This is awkward, but would you consider selling me your hat? My one nephew, Gaston, is a huge fan. It's his birthday today and dumb ol' Uncle Dan forgot to buy him a present."
Forty seconds later the elevator released us into the lobby of the prestigious St. James Hotel, the Yankees hat snug on my head, the cap kept low as I made my way across the marble floor with my new best friend.
"... we were able to get down on the field. I got a selfie with Derek Jeter, want to see it?"
"Absolutely." The peripheral vision in my pounding left eye caught the distraught chambermaid speaking rapidly to hotel security.
We headed outside, the Evans family heading for a colorful lime-green-and-canary-yellow double-decker bus while I waved for the valet, handing him the dead woman's ticket.
"Merci. Une minute, monsieur."
The wail of sirens grew louder, the distraction making it impossible to think. I searched through the wad of euros. Pulled out two tens ...
Three police cars raced around the private cul-de-sac and screeched to a halt in front of the hotel entrance. The gendarmes dashed inside as the valet pulled up in a candy-apple-red Lamborghini Murciélago.
Great. Why not the Goodyear Blimp. ...
Every eye turned in my direction as the driver's-side door flipped up. I tipped the valet and slid inside the bucket seat, wondering if I could handle the Italian sports car without looking as if I just got my license. Pulling the winglike door closed, I scanned the cockpit, then put her into gear and flew around the circular exit, hitting the av. Victor-Hugo doing eighty.
The Arc de Triomphe loomed ahead, the monument encircled by a perpetual onslaught of merging traffic. I did three laps on the roundabout before I managed to cut off a bus and exit down the av. de la Grande Armée.
Where was I going? Who could I trust? I was tempted to locate a phone and call Church. But there were questions I needed answered before I was ready to engage the Department of Military Sciences.
Why was I in Paris?
Who was the girl?
Had we been together? If yes ... was it consensual?
My right hand trembled. I was certainly a man capable of violence, and God knew I had a temper, but rape? No ... never, not in a million years or a million lifetimes. My high school sweetheart, Helen, had been raped; her suicide was the gasoline that fueled my anger.
No, I couldn't have raped her, but I did wake up in a crime scene.
How did I get there?
Did I shoot the girl?
Would they find my semen in her?
I needed to think!
Grinding the gears, I turned down another major artery, pulled onto a side street, and squeezed the Lamborghini into an alley.
Identify the pieces of the puzzle. You have an airline ticket stub indicating you flew from D.C. into London two days ago. Did the girl pick you up?
My eyes danced across the Lamborghini's cockpit to the GPS. Check the history.
After snatching the device off its base, I tracked backward through the programmed stops.
Paris ... before that London. Shards of memory pierced the brain fog. I remembered landing in Heathrow, exiting baggage claim to find the gorgeous French swimsuit model leaning against her red sports car — a classic honey pot. And now I was covered in it.
It took me nearly an hour to piece together a backstory. ...
At the age of seventeen, Giselle Rousseau had parlayed a stymied career as a swimsuit model into an all-pass ticket to the inner sanctum of the rich and famous. Sex and drugs, yachts and mansions — the seductive teen was passed around like a joint at a biker rally. By the time she was twenty-seven she had traded in sex and paid companionship from A-list actors and members of their entourage for access into the billionaire boys club — Saudi sheiks who paid lavishly to get their freak on. In the bedroom they preferred young boys; in public — exotic women — eye candy to protect their criminal fetish. Giselle was repulsed by her new Middle Eastern employers, but as long as the mortgage on her condo in the Mediterranean was paid for, she could live with that.
Giselle had met Abdul Hamid bin Rashidi eight months ago at a party in Cannes. The Saudi oil baron had made his billions playing both sides of the Middle East equation, buying Syrian oil at a substantial discount from ISIS, reselling it at submarket prices to oil companies in Turkey and the United States. At one point, he was even selling Assad back his own oil.
As long as everyone was making money, no one seemed to care.
Of course, ISIS was making the biggest share, using the profits to fund their regime. Bin Rashidi knew the men whose faces were cloaked in black scarves; the leaders of Islamic State were all former members of Saddam's Ba'athist army. Back in 2003, Paul Bremer had fired these four hundred thousand trained soldiers from their jobs while signing a decree that prevented the men from being involved in their nation's future.
Four hundred thousand men who could have kept the peace. ...
Four hundred thousand trained soldiers with access to large caches of weapons.
No potential for chaos there.
With Iraq bogged down in a Sunni-Shiite conflict and Syria's president Assad waging war on his own people, the Ba'athist commandos saw ISIS as the perfect vehicle from which they could retake Iraq and rule the region. As trained soldiers they had no difficulty overrunning Syria's military bases and taking the country's supply of Russian-made tanks and weapons. Within weeks they controlled Assad's oil wells and refineries and were paying workers higher salaries to run things for ISIL. Having organized smuggling networks under Saddam back in the 1990s to avoid UN sanctions, the Ba'athists knew exactly whom to approach to broker the Syrian crude, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars to support their terrorist regime.
Rather than operate in the shadows, bin Rashidi preferred to flaunt his wealth, his stunning Nubian beauty, Giselle, making up for his lack of social graces. By hiding out in the open while extolling Western values, he attracted like-minded Americans and Europeans, creating an ISIL/ISIS pipeline from Syria, profiting on everything from stolen museum artifacts to human slaves.
Giselle was living the good life, and with her Arabian sugar daddy preferring young boys in the bedroom, she had more time to feed her own habit — heroin. When bin Rashidi began using her as a mule on his private jets, she had ample opportunity to siphon off some of the product for her own personal use and sale.
She was caught with two ounces entering New York City, a problem that cost bin Rashidi a nine-thousand-year-old Babylonian statue to resolve behind closed doors. When she was caught in her hotel room in Los Angeles with twice that amount, the district attorney wanted cash.
Bin Rashidi warned Giselle that a third arrest would end their relationship. Knowing the Arab would not allow her to become a loose end, she entered a methadone clinic. She stayed clean for six weeks until she attended a Hollywood Oscar party and was arrested at Heathrow Airport.
What Giselle never knew was that the FBI and MI6's antiterrorist division had targeted bin Rashidi and wanted to use the girl to penetrate his organization. They had heard rumors about a major deal set to take place at Le Baron, a private nightclub and discotheque in Paris. The nature of the meeting was unknown, but the involvement of the Russian mafia concerned authorities, who feared it was only a matter of time before Islamic State acquired enough uranium to fashion a nuclear suitcase bomb.
The authorities would drop the drug charges and wipe her slate clean if Giselle wore a wire. She agreed, but only if she had backup. The agent could not be from either British or American intelligence, the girl convinced both sides had been compromised long ago. The FBI and MI6 each submitted facial shots of three members of black ops antiterrorist organizations that serviced North America.
Guess who she selected.
The event had been held last night. Giselle was dead, the French police and, no doubt, MI6 were after me, and I couldn't remember a goddamn thing.
The Lamborghini and its GPS continued to provide clues. After picking me up at Heathrow and entering France via the Chunnel, Giselle had driven us to the town of Annecy, located in the Rhône-Alpes. The car was not hers; it was registered to an American named Robert Gibbons.
So now I had a name, an address, a full tank of gas, five hundred euros, and a hangover that made me the odds-on favorite to win a pickup game of Russian roulette. Powering up the Lamborghini, I set the GPS and made my way toward the entrance of the A6 highway.
I was two hours into a five-hour journey when nature called. Feeling famished, I turned off the next exit for gas, food, and a bathroom break.
That's when I noticed the fuel gauge was still on full.
Cheap $300,000 sports car ... the damn float valve must be broken. That's all I need is to run out of gas in a stolen car in the middle of nowhere.
After pulling into an ELF: Les Prix Bas petrol station, I popped the lever to open the tank lid, rolled down the window, and handed the attendant fifty euros. "Le plein, s'ilvousplaît."
From the side-view mirror, I watched him shove the nozzle in and start the pump. Within seconds gasoline began pouring over the side.
"Le reservoir est plein, l'idiot!" He tossed my money back at me and left to service another customer.
How could I have driven almost two hundred miles without using any gas? Could the engine be a hybrid?
Beyond curious, I parked the car away from nosy civilians and popped the hood.
The device was the size of a hockey puck. It was mounted directly beneath the Lamborghini hood emblem, which had been fashioned with air vents.
I reached for the object, expecting it to be red-hot, yet it was quite cool. It was also vibrating, its internal workings spinning at an incredible velocity.
Leaving the sports car running, I walked to the back of the vehicle and bent down to examine the dual exhausts. No heat ... and no carbon dioxide!
What the hell had I gotten myself involved in?
With my bladder ready to burst, I shut off the car and headed inside the facility to use the bathroom, grab some food, and call in to one of my guys at DMS. I'd try Rudy first, then Bunny ... anyone who could report my field status to Church without divulging my whereabouts.
The female former Navy SEAL answered on the third ring. "This is the international operator. I have a collect call from a Mr. Cowboy, will you accept the charges?"
"Yes! Where are you? What's your status?"
"Mobile. Safe at the moment."
"We don't have much time, all our phones are tapped."
My heart raced. "Lydia, I didn't kill her."
"I know that. But they have video of you two leaving the nightclub together before it blew up."
"Seventeen dead, including bin Rashidi ... twenty seconds. Cowboy?"
I hung up the phone as a second police car parked behind the Lamborghini.
I grabbed a container of orange juice from the refrigerator and a pack of cigarettes and handed them to the cashier. "Avez-vous matches?"
She handed me a book of matches.
I lit the cancer stick, tossed her ten euros, and exited.
Excerpted from "Joe Ledger Unstoppable"
Copyright © 2017 Jonathan Maberry and Bryan Thomas Schmidt.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Tony Eldridge xiii
Introduction: The World of Joe Ledger Jonathan Maberry xvii
"The Honey Pot" Steve Alten 1
"Confusion" Nicholas Steven 21
"Target Acquired" Christopher Golden Tim Lebbon 43
"Vacation" Scott Sigler 57
"Banshee" James A. Moore 75
"Red Dirt" Mira Grant 89
"Black Water" Weston Ochse 109
"Instinct (A Ghost Story)" Bryan Thomas Schmidt G. P. Charles 127
"No Guns at the Bar" Aaron Rosenberg 143
"Strange Harvest" Jon McGoran 163
"No Business at All" Javier Grillo-Marxuach 185
"Ganbatte" Keith R. A. DeCandido 205
"White Flame on a Sunday" James R. Tuck 225
"Wet Tuesday" David Farland 241
"Prince of Peace" Jeremy Robinson 257
"Rookie" Joe McKinney 279
"Three Times" Jennifer Campbell-Hicks 295
"Psych Eval" Larry Correia 311
"Crash Course" Dana Fredsti 325
"Atoll" Jonathan Maberry 351