Monday, 1300 Hours: Joe Ledger kills terrorist Javad Mustapha, aka Patient Zero, with two point-blank shots from his Glock .45.
Wednesday, 0800 Hours: Patient Zero rises from the dead…
When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, there's either something wrong with your world or something wrong with your skills... and there's nothing wrong with Joe Ledger's skills. Ledger, a Baltimore detective assigned to a counterterrorism task force, is recruited by the government to lead a new ultrasecret rapid-response group called the Department of Military Sciences (DMS) to help stop a group of terrorists from releasing a dreadful bio-weapon that can turn ordinary people into zombies.
"Plenty of man-to-zombie combat…a fast and furious read."Publishers Weekly
"As palatable as your favorite flavor of ice cream. A memorable book."Peter Straub
Patient Zero is the first book in the Joe Ledger series by Jonathan Maberry.
This edition of the book is the deluxe, tall rack mass market paperback.
About the Author
Jonathan Maberry is the New York Times bestselling and multiple Bram Stoker Awardwinning author of the Pine Deep Trilogy, The Wolfman, Zombie CSU, and They Bite. His work for Marvel Comics includes The Punisher, Wolverine, DoomWar, Marvel Zombies Return, and Black Panther. His Joe Ledger series has been optioned for television.
Read an Excerpt
WHEN YOU HAVE to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there's either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world.
And there's nothing wrong with my skills.
Ocean City, Maryland / Saturday, June 27; 10:22 A.M.
THEY CAME FOR me at the beach. Nice and slick, two in front, one big cover man behind in a three-point close while I was reaching for my car door. Nothing flashy, just three big guys in off-the-rack gray, all of them sweating in the Ocean City heat.
The point man held up his hands in a no-problem gesture. It was a hot Saturday morning and I was in swim trunks and a Hawaiian shirt with mermaids on it over a Tom Petty T-shirt. Flip-flops and Wayfarers. My piece was in a locked toolbox in the trunk, with a trigger guard clamped on it. I was at the beach to look at this year's crop of sunbunnies and I'd been off the clock since the shooting pending a Monday-morning officer-involved discussion with the OIS team. It had been a bad scene at the warehouse and they'd put me on administrative leave to give me time to get my head straight about the shootings. I wasn't expecting trouble, there shouldn't have been trouble, and the smooth way these guys boxed me was designed to keep everyone's emotions in neutral. I couldn't have done it better myself.
"Mr. Ledger ...?"
"Detective Ledger," I said to be pissy.
No trace of a smile on the point guy's face, only a millimeter of a nod. He had a head like a bucket.
"We'd like you to come with us," he said.
"Badge me or buzz off."
Buckethead gave me the look, but he pulled out an FBI identification case and held it up. I stopped reading after the initials.
"What's this about?"
"Would you come with us, please?"
"I'm off the clock, guys, what's this about?"
"Are you aware that I'm scheduled to start at Quantico in three weeks?"
"You want me to follow you in my car?" Not that I wanted to try and give these fellows the slip, but my cell was in the glove box of the SUV and it would be nice to check in with the lieutenant on this one. It had a weird feel to it. Not exactly threatening, just weird.
"No, sir, we'll bring you back here after."
I looked at him and then the guy next to him. I could feel the cover man behind me. They were big, they were nicely set — even with peripheral vision I could see that Buckethead had his weight on the balls of his feet and evenly balanced. The other front man was shifted to his right. He had big knuckles but his hands weren't scarred. Probably boxing rather than martial arts; boxers wear gloves.
They were doing almost everything right except that they were a little too close to me. You should never get that close.
But they looked like the real deal. It's hard to fake the FBI look.
"Okay," I said.
Ocean City, Maryland / Saturday, June 27; 10:31 A.M.
BUCKETHEAD SAT BESIDE me in the back and the other two sat up front, the cover man driving the big government Crown Vic. For all the conversation going on the others might have been mimes. The air conditioner was turned up and the radio was turned off. Exciting.
"I hope we're not going all the way the hell back to Baltimore." That was more than a three-hour ride and I had sand in my shorts.
"No." That was the only word Buckethead said on the ride. I settled back to wait.
I could tell that he was a leftie from the bulge his shoulder rig made. He kept me on his right side, which meant that his coat flap would impede me grabbing his piece and he could use his right hand as a block to fend me off while he drew. It was professional and well thought out. I'd have done almost the same thing. What I wouldn't have done, though, was hold on to the leather handstrap by the door like he was doing. It was the second small mistake he made and I had to wonder if he was testing me or whether there was a little gap between his training and his instincts.
I settled back and tried to understand this pickup. If this had something to do with the action last week on the docks, if I was somehow in trouble for something related to that, then I sure as hell planned to lawyer up when we got wherever we were going. And I wanted a union rep there, too. No way this was SOP. Unless it was some Homeland thing, in which case I'd lawyer up and call my congressman. That warehouse thing was righteous and I wasn't going to let anyone say different.
For the last eighteen months I'd been attached to one of those interjurisdictional task forces that have popped up everywhere post 9/11. A few of us from Baltimore PD, some Philly and D.C. guys, and a mixed bag of Feds: FBI, NSA, ATF, and a few letter combinations I hadn't seen before. Nobody really doing much but everyone wanting a finger in the pie in case something juicy happened, and by juicy I mean career beneficial.
I kind of got drafted into it. Ever since I'd gotten my gold shield a few years ago I'd been lucky enough to close a higher-than-average number of cases, including two that had loose ties to suspected terrorist organizations. I also had four years in the army and I know a little bit of Arabic and some Farsi. I know a little bit of a lot of languages. Languages were easy for me, and that made me a first-round draft pick for the surveillance van. Most of the people we wiretapped jumped back and forth between English and a variety of Middle Eastern languages.
The task force seemed like it would be pretty cool but the reality of it was that they put me on wiretap in a van and for most of the last year and a half I drank too much Dunkin' Donuts coffee and felt my ass grow flat.
Supposedly a group of suspected low-level terrorists with tenuous links to fundamentalist Shias were planning on smuggling something in that we were told was a potential bioweapon. No details provided, of course, which makes surveillance a bitch and largely a waste of time. When we (meaning us cops) tried to ask them (meaning the big shots from Homeland) what we were looking for, we were stonewalled. Need-to-know basis. That sort of thing tells you everything about why we're not all that safe. Truth is that if they tell us then we might play too significant a role in the arrest, which means they get less credit. It's what got us into trouble with 9/11, and as far as I can tell it really hasn't gotten much better since.
Then this past Monday I caught a little back and forth from a cell phone we were spooking. One name popped up — a Yemen national named El Mujahid, who was a pretty big fish in the terrorist pond and was on Homeland's must-have list — and the guy talking about him spoke as if El Mujahid was somehow involved in whatever the crew in the warehouse were cooking. El Mujahid's name was on all of the DHS lists and in that van I had nothing to do but read, so I'd read those lists over and over.
Because I rang the bell I got to play when the takedown was scheduled for Tuesday morning. Thirty of us in black BDUs with Kevlar body and limb pads, helmet cams and full SWAT kit. The whole unit was split into four-man teams: two guys with MP5s, a point man with a ballistic shield and a Glock .40, and one guy with a Remington 870 pump. I was the shotgun guy on my team and we hit this portside warehouse hard and fast, coming in every door and window in the place. Flashbangs, snipers on the surrounding buildings, multiple entry points, and a whole lot of yelling. Domestic shock and awe, and the idea is to startle and overpower so that everyone inside would be too dazed and confused to offer violent resistance. Last thing anyone wanted was an O.K. Corral.
My team had the back door, the one that led out to a small boat dock. There was a tidy little Cigarette boat there. Not new, but sweet. While we waited for the go/no-go, the guy next to me — my buddy Jerry Spencer from DCPD — kept looking at the boat. I bent close and hummed the Miami Vice theme and he grinned. He was about to retire and that boat probably looked like a ticket to paradise.
The "go" came down and everything suddenly got loud and fast. We blew the steel dead bolt on the back door and went in, yelling for everyone to freeze, to lay down their weapons. I've been on maybe fifteen, eighteen, of these things in my time with Baltimore PD and only twice was anyone stupid enough to draw a gun on us. Cops don't hotdog it and generally neither do the bad guys. It's not about who has the biggest balls, it's about overwhelming force so that no shots are ever fired. I remember when I went through the tac-team training, the commander had a quote from the movie Silverado made into a plaque and hung up in the training hall: "I don't want to kill you and you don't want to be dead." I think Danny Glover said that. That's pretty much the motto.
So, usually the bad guys stand around looking freaked out and everyone bleats about how innocent they are, yada yada.
This wasn't one of those times.
Jerry, who was the oldest man on the task force, was point man and I was right behind him with two guys at my back when we kicked the door, hustled down a short corridor lined with framed inspection certificates, and then broke left into a big conference room. Big oak table with at least a dozen laptops on it. Just inside the door was a big blue phone-booth–sized container standing against the wall. Eight guys in business suits seated around the table.
"Freeze!" I yelled. "Put your hands above your heads and —"
That was as far as I got because all eight guys suddenly threw themselves out of their chairs and pulled guns. O.K. Corral, no doubt about it.
When IAD asked me to recollect how many shots I fired and who exactly I fired them at, I laughed. Twelve guys in a room and everyone's shooting. If they're not dressed like your buddies — and you can, to a reasonable degree of certainty, determine that they're not civilian bystanders — you shoot and duck for cover. I fired the Remington dry then dropped it so I could pull my Glock. I know the .40 is standard but I've always found the .45 to be more persuasive.
They say I dropped four hostiles. I don't notch my gun, so I'll take their word for it. I bring it up, though, because one of them was the thirteenth man in the room.
Yeah, I know I said that there were eight of them and four of us, but during the firefight I caught movement to my right and saw the door to the big blue case hanging loose, its lock ripped up by gunfire. The door swung open and a man staggered out. He wasn't armed so I didn't fire on him; instead I concentrated on the guy behind him who was tearing up the room with a QBZ-95 Chinese assault rifle, something I'd only ever seen in magazines. Why he had it and where the hell he found ammunition for it I never did find out, but those rounds punched a line of holes right through Jerry's shield and he went down.
"Son of a bitch!" I yelled and put two in the shooter's chest.
Then this other guy, the thirteenth guy, comes crashing right into me. Even with all that was going on I thought, Drug addict. He was pale and sweaty, stank like raw sewage, and had a glazed bug-eyed stare. Sick bastard even tried to bite me, but the Kevlar pads on my sleeve saved my gun arm.
"Get off!" I screamed and gave him an overhand left that should have dropped him, but all it did was shake him loose; he blundered past me toward one of the other guys on my team who was blocking the door. I figured he was making for that sweet Cigarette outside, so I pivoted and parked two in his back, quick and easy. Blood sprayed the walls and he hit the deck and skidded five feet before coming to rest in a motionless sprawl against the back door. I spun back into the room and laid down cover fire so I could pull Jerry behind the table. He was still breathing. The rest of my team kept chopping the whole room up with automatic fire.
I heard gunfire coming from a different part of the warehouse and peeled off from the pack to see what was happening, found a trio of hostiles in a nice shooting blind laying down a lot of fire at one of the other teams. I popped a few of them with the last couple of rounds in my mag and dealt with the third hand-to-hand and suddenly the whole thing was over.
In the end, eleven alleged terrorists were shot, six fatally including the cowboy with the Chinese assault rifle and the biter I nailed in the back — who, according to his ID, was named Javad Mustapha. We'd just started going through IDs when a bunch of Federal types in unmarked black fatigues came in and stole the show, kicking everyone else out onto the street. That was okay with me. I wanted to check on Jerry. Turned out that none of our team was killed, though eight of them needed treatment, mostly for broken ribs. Kevlar stops bullets but it can't stop foot-pounds of impact. Jerry had a cracked sternum and was one hurting pup. The EMTs had him on a gurney, but he was awake enough to wave me over before they took him away.
"How you feeling, dude?" I asked, squatting next to him.
"Old and sore. But tell you what ... steal me that Cigarette boat and I'll be feeling young and spry."
"Sounds like a plan. I'll get right on that, pops."
He ticked his chin toward my arm. "Hey, how's your arm? The EMT said that fruitcake bit you."
"Nah, didn't even break the skin." I showed him. Just a bad bruise.
They took Jerry away and I started answering questions, some of them for the Feds in the unmarked BDUs. Javad hadn't been armed and I'd drilled him in the back so there would be a routine investigation, but my lieutenant told me it was a no-brainer. That was Tuesday morning and this was Saturday morning. So why was I in a car with three Feds?
They weren't talking.
So, I sat back and waited.
Easton, Maryland / Saturday, June 27; 11:58 A.M.
THEY PUT ME in a room that had a table, two chairs, and a big picture window with a drawn curtain. An interrogation room, though the sign outside had read Baylor Records Storage. We were somewhere in Easton off Route 50, more than seventy miles from where they'd picked me up. Buckethead told me to sit.
"Can I have a drink of water?"
He ignored me and left, locking the door.
It was nearly two hours before anyone came in. I didn't kick up a fuss. I knew this routine. Park someone in an empty room and leave them to stew. Doubt and a guilty conscience can do a lot when you're alone. I didn't have a guilty conscience and no doubts at all. I simply lacked information, so after I did a visual on the room I went into my own head and waited, reviewing the number of thong bikinis I'd seen. I was pretty sure the count was twenty-two, and of those at least eighteen had a legal and moral right to wear a thong. It was a good day at the beach.
The guy who finally came in was big, very well dressed, maybe sixty but there was no trace of middle-age soft about him. Not that he looked especially hard, not like a muscle freak or a career DI. No, he just looked capable. You pay attention to guys like him.
He took a seat opposite me. He wore a dark blue suit, red tie, white shirt, and tinted glasses that made it hard to read his eyes. Probably on purpose. He had short hair, big hands, and no expression at all.
Buckethead came in with a cork restaurant tray on which was a pitcher of water, two glasses, two napkins, and a dish of cookies. It was the cookies that weirded me out. You generally don't get cookies in situations like this and it had to be some kind of mind trick.
When Buckethead left, the guy in the suit said, "My name is Mr. Church."
"Okay," I said.
"You are Detective Joseph Edwin Ledger, Baltimore Police, age thirty-two, unmarried."
"You trying to fix me up with your daughter?"
"You served forty-five months with the army, honorably discharged. During your time in service you were involved in no significant military actions or operations."
"Nothing was happening while I was in the service, at least not in my part of the world."
"And yet your commanding officers and particularly your sergeant in basic wrote glowingly of you. Why is that?" He wasn't reading out of a folder. He had no papers with him at all. His shaded eyes were fixed on me as he poured a glass of water for each of us.
"Maybe I suck up nicely."
"No," he said, "you don't. Have a cookie." He nudged the plate my way. "There are also several notes in your file suggesting that you are a world-class smartass."
"Really? You mean I made it through the nationals?"
"And you apparently think you're hilarious."
"You're saying I'm not?"
"Jury's still out on that." He took a cookie — a vanilla wafer — and bit off an edge. "Your father is stepping down as police commissioner to make a run for mayor."
"I sure hope we can count on your vote."
"Your brother is also Baltimore PD and is a detective two with homicide. He's a year younger and he outranks you. He stayed home while you played soldier."
"Why I am here, Mr. Church?"
"You're here because I wanted to meet you face-to-face."
"We could have done that at the precinct on Monday."
"No, we couldn't."
"You could have called me and asked me to meet you somewhere neutral. They have cookies at Starbucks, you know."
Excerpted from "Patient Zero"
Copyright © 2009 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part One Walkers,
Part Two Heroes,
Part Three Beasts,
Part Four Killers,
Excerpt: Joe Ledger: Unstoppable,
Also by Jonathan Maberry,
Praise for Patient Zero,
About the Author,