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The 14th Colony
By Steve Berry
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Magellan Billet, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Lake Baikal, Siberia
Friday, January 18
Bitter experience had taught Cotton Malone that the middle of nowhere usually signaled trouble.
And today was no exception.
He banked the plane 180 degrees for another peek downward before he landed. The pale orb of a brassy sun hung low to the west. Lake Baikal lay sheathed in winter ice thick enough to drive across. He'd already spotted transport trucks, buses, and passenger cars speeding in all directions atop milky-white fracture lines, their wheel marks defining temporary highways. Other cars sat parked around fishing holes. He recalled from history that in the early 20th century rail lines had been laid across the ice to move supplies east during the Russo-Japanese War.
The lake's statistics seemed otherworldly. Formed from an ancient rift valley thirty million years old, it reigned as the world's oldest reservoir and contained one-fifth of the planet's freshwater. Three hundred rivers fed into it but only one drained out. Nearly four hundred miles long and up to fifty miles wide, its deepest point lay five thousand feet down. Twelve hundred miles of shoreline stretched in every direction and thirty islands dotted its crystalline surface. On maps it was a crescent-shaped arc in southern Siberia, 2,000 miles west from the Pacific and 3,200 miles east of Moscow, part of Russia's great empty quarter near the Mongolian border. A World Heritage Site. Which likewise gave him pause, as those usually meant trouble, too.
Winter had claimed a tight hold on both water and land. The temperature hovered right at zero, snow lay everywhere, but thankfully none was currently falling. He worked the controls and leveled off at 700 feet. Warm air blasted his feet from the cabin heater. The plane had been supplied by the Russian air force from a small airport outside Irkutsk. Why there was so much Russian–American cooperation he did not know, but Stephanie Nelle had told him to take advantage of it. Usually visas were required for entry into Russia. He'd used fake ones many times in his day as a Magellan Billet agent. Customs could also be a problem. But this time there was no paperwork, nor had any officials impeded his arrival. Instead, he'd flown into the country on a Russian Sukhoi/HAL fighter, a new version with two seats, to an air base north of Irkutsk where twenty-five Tupolev Tu-22M medium-range bombers lined the tarmac. An Ilyushin II-78 tanker had provided refueling along the way. A helicopter had been waiting at the air base, which ferried him south to where the plane waited.
The An-2 came with a single engine, two pairs of wings, an enclosed cockpit, and a rear cabin large enough to hold twelve passengers. Its thin aluminum fuselage constantly shook from a four-blade propeller that bit a choppy path through the frigid air. He knew little about this World War II Soviet workhorse, which flew slow and steady with barely any zip to its controls, this one equipped with skis that had allowed him to take off from a snowy field.
He completed the turn and readjusted his course northeast, skirting heavily timbered ground. Large boulders, like the teeth of an animal, protruded in ragged lines down ridges. Along a distant slope sunlight glinted on phalanxes of high-voltage power lines. Beyond the lakeshore, the terrain varied from flat empty earth, punctuated by small wooden houses clustered together, to forests of birch, fir, and larch, finally to snow-topped mountains. He even spotted some old artillery batteries situated along the crest of a rocky ridge. He'd come to examine a cluster of buildings that hugged close to the eastern shore, just north of where the Selenga River ended its long trek from Mongolia. The river's mouth, choked with sand, formed an impressive delta of channels, islands, and reed beds, all frozen together in an angular disorder.
"What do you see?" Stephanie Nelle asked him through his headset.
The An-2's communications system was connected through his cell phone so they could talk. His former boss was monitoring things from DC.
"A lot of ice. It's incredible that something so large can be frozen so solid."
Deep-blue vapor seemed embedded in the ice. A swirling mist of powdered snow blew across the surface, its diamondlike dust brilliant in the sun. He made another pass and studied the buildings below. He'd been briefed on the locale with satellite images.
Now he had a bird's-eye view.
"The main house is away from the village, maybe a quarter mile due north," he said.
The village with log houses seemed quiet, only fleecy clouds of smoke curling from chimneys indicating occupancy. The settlement rambled with no focal point, a single black road leading in, then out, outlined by snow. A church comprising yellow and pink plank walls and two onion domes dominated the center. It nestled close to the shore, a pebbly beach separating the houses from the lake. He'd been told that the eastern shore was less visited and less populated. Only about 80,000 people lived in fifty or so communities. The lake's southern rim had developed into a tourist attraction, popular in summer, but the rest of the shoreline, stretching for hundreds of miles, remained remote.
Which was exactly why the place below existed.
Its occupants called the town Chayaniye, which meant "hope." Their only desire was to be left alone and the Russian government, for over twenty years, had accommodated them. They were the Red Guard. The last bastion of die-hard communists remaining in the new Russia.
He'd been told that the main house was an old dacha. Every respectable Soviet leader back to Lenin had owned a country place, and those who'd administered the far eastern provinces had been no exception. The one below sat atop a whaleback of rock jutting out into the frozen lake, at the end of a twisting black road among a dense entanglement of trailing pines feathered with snow. And it was no small, wooden garden hut, either. Instead, its ocher façade had been constructed from what appeared to be brick and concrete, rising two stories and topped by a slate roof. Two four-wheeled vehicles were parked off to one side. Smoke curled thick from its chimneys and from one of several wooden outbuildings.
No one was in sight.
He completed his pass and banked west back out over the lake for another tight circle. He loved flying and had a talent for controlling machinery in motion. Shortly, he'd make use of the skis and touch down on the ice five miles south near the town of Babushkin, then taxi to its dock — which, he'd been told, handled no water traffic this time of year. Ground transportation should be waiting there so he could head north for an even closer look.
He flew over Chayaniye and the dacha one last time, dipping for a final approach toward Babushkin. He knew about the Great Siberian March during the Russian Civil War. Thirty thousand soldiers had retreated across the frozen Baikal, most dying in the process, their bodies locked in the ice until spring when they finally disappeared down into the deep water. This was a cruel and brutal place. What had one writer once said? Insolent to strangers, vengeful to the unprepared.
And he could believe it.
A flash caught his attention from among the tall pines and larch, whose green branches stood in stark contrast with the white ground beneath them. Something flew from the trees, hurtling toward him, trailing a plume of smoke.
"I've got problems," he said. "Somebody is shooting at me."
An instinctive reaction from years of experience threw him into autopilot. He banked hard right and dove further, losing altitude. The An-2 handled like an eighteen-wheeler, so he banked steeper to increase the dive. The man who'd turned the plane over earlier had warned him about keeping a tight grip on the controls, and he'd been right about that. The yoke bucked like a bull. Every rivet seemed on the verge of vibrating loose. The missile roared past, clipping both left wings. The fuselage shuddered from the impact and he leveled off out of the dive and assessed the damage. Only fabric had covered the lift surfaces, and many of the struts were now exposed and damaged, ragged edges whipping in the airflow.
Stability immediately became an issue.
The plane rocked and he fought to maintain control. He was now headed straight into a stiff north wind, his airspeed less than 50 knots. The danger of stalling became real.
"What's happening?" Stephanie asked.
The yoke continued to fight to be free, but he held tight and gained altitude. The engine roared like a rumble of motorcycles, the prop digging in, fighting to keep him airborne.
He heard a sputter.
Then a backfire.
He knew what was happening. Too much stress was being applied to the prop, which the engine resisted.
Power to the controls winked in and out.
"I've been hit by a surface-to-air missile," he told Stephanie. "I'm losing control and going down."
The engine died.
All of the instruments stopped working.
Windows wrapped the cockpit, front and side, the copilot's seat empty. He searched below and saw only the blue ice of Lake Baikal. The An-2 rapidly changed from a plane to eight thousand pounds of deadweight.
Dread swept through him, along with one thought.
Was this how he would die?CHAPTER 2
Stephanie Nelle stared at the speaker on the desk. Her direct link to Cotton's phone had gone quiet.
"Are you there?" she asked again.
Only silence continued to answer her.
Cotton's last words rang in her ears.
"I'm losing control and going down."
She stared across the desk at Bruce Litchfield, the current acting attorney general and her boss for two more days. "He's in trouble. Someone shot his plane down with a surface-to-air missile."
She was working out of an office in the Justice Department. Usually she would be ensconced inside her own secure space at Magellan Billet headquarters in Atlanta. But that was not possible anymore, and with the impending inauguration of a new president she'd been ordered north to DC.
And she knew why.
So that Litchfield could keep an eye on her.
Back in December Harriett Engle, who'd served as President Danny Daniels' third attorney general, had tendered her resignation. The Daniels administration's two terms were over and not only would there be a new president but a new party had seized control of both the White House and half the Congress. Danny had tried hard to get his man elected, but failed. It seemed the Daniels magic only applied to the man himself. Litchfield was here at this ungodly hour since he was in temporary command of both the Justice Department and what remained of the Magellan Billet.
Two months ago, on the day after Thanksgiving, she'd been informed that not only would she be reassigned from the head of the Magellan Billet, but the entire unit would be dismantled. The new attorney general, who would be confirmed by the Senate next week, had already stated that he considered the Billet duplicative of the countless other intelligence and counterintelligence units that populated the government. The Justice Department had no further need for those services, so the Billet would be abolished and all of its agents dispersed.
"Let the Russians deal with it," Litchfield said. "They asked for our help, you gave it to them, now it's their problem."
"You can't be serious. We have a man down. We don't rely on others to take care of our own."
"We do here. And don't forget, you sent Malone in there without my okay."
"The president of the United States asked me to do it."
Litchfield seemed unfazed. "You and I agreed that all operational decisions would be run through me. But that didn't happen. And we both know why. Because I would not have authorized it."
"I didn't need your authorization."
"Actually, you did. You know there's a working agreement that the current administration will keep the new one informed and that all operational decisions, starting last week, would be joint. It's my job to keep the new administration informed. For some reason, though, this operation became unilateral across the board."
Litchfield was career Justice with a respectable eighteen years. He was a Daniels appointee, confirmed by the Senate, and had served as deputy AG for the past five years. The new attorney general had yet to decide who, at the top level, would be kept on. Stephanie knew Litchfield was jockeying for a high-level post, so when the new president's AG appointee indicated a desire to end the Magellan Billet Litchfield had seized the opportunity to show he could play with the new team. Any other time she'd never tolerate this level of bureaucratic interference, but with the inauguration so close everything had gone fluid. Authority swirled in a state of flux. Change, not consistency, ruled the day.
"You tried to keep this close," Litchfield said. "But I found out about it anyway. Which is why I'm here, in the middle of the damn night. White House approval or not, this is over."
"You better hope Cotton doesn't make it out," she said, with equal casualness.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You don't want to know."
"Inform the Russians about what happened," he said. "Let them handle it. And you never really explained why the president wanted Malone there in the first place."
No, she hadn't, even though Litchfield would surely understand the value of doing someone a favor. "Coin of the realm" is what they called it in DC. A favor done is a favor returned. That was the way things worked, especially years ago when she first started the Billet. Then her twelve agents were all lawyers, each additionally trained in intelligence and espionage. Cotton had been one of her first hires, brought over from the navy and JAG with a Georgetown law degree. He worked for her a dozen years before retiring out early and moving to Copenhagen, where he now owned an old bookshop. Periodically over the past few years, because of circumstances, he'd been drawn back into her world. Of late she'd hired him as contract help. Today's assignment, a simple recon mission, was one of those hires.
But something had gone wrong.
"Make it happen," he said to her.
Like hell. "Bruce, I'm still in charge of this agency for two more days. Until that time, I'll run it as I see fit. If you don't like that, fire me. But then you are going to have to explain yourself to the White House."
She knew that threat could not be ignored. Danny Daniels was still president and the Billet had been his go-to agency for quite some time. Litchfield was a typical DC panderer. His only goal was to survive and keep his job. How he accomplished that mattered not. She'd dealt with him on only a few occasions in the past, but she'd heard the talk about being an opportunist. So the last thing he could afford was a pissing contest with the current president of the United States, not only one that he would lose but one that would draw a lot of attention, too. If this man wanted to be a part of the new administration, he had first to survive the old one.
"Look, don't take this in a mean way, but your time is over," he said to her. "So is the president's. Can't you both just let it go? Yes, you're in charge of the Billet. But no agents work for you anymore. They're all gone. You're all that's left. There's nothing left to do except some cleanup. Go home. Retire. Enjoy yourself."
The thought had occurred to her. She'd started back in the Reagan administration at State, then moved to Justice, eventually assigned to the Magellan Billet. She'd run the agency a long time, but now all that seemed over. Her sources had reported that the $10 million it took to fund the Billet would be redirected to social outreach, public relations, and other tools to bolster the new AG's image. Apparently that was deemed more important than covert intelligence work. Justice would leave the spying to the CIA, the NSA, and all the other alphabet agencies.
"Tell me, Bruce, what's it like to be second? Never the captain. Always the lieutenant."
He shook his head. "You are an insolent old bitch."
She grinned. "Insolent? Sure. Bitch? Probably. But I'm not old. What I am, though, is head of the Magellan Billet, for two more days. I may be its only employee left, but I'm still in charge. So either fire me — or get the hell out of here."
And she meant every word.
Especially the "not old" part. To this day her personnel file contained no reference to age, only the letters N/A in the space designated for a date of birth.
Litchfield stood. "Okay, Stephanie. We'll do this your way."
He couldn't fire her and they both knew it. But he could at noon on January 20. That was why she'd authorized Cotton to immediately head for Russia without seeking approval. The new AG was wrong. The Justice Department needed the Magellan Billet. Its whole purpose had been to work outside the scope of other intelligence agencies. That was why its headquarters had sat 550 miles south in Atlanta, far away from DC politics. That one decision, made by her years ago, had bred both an independence and an efficiency, and she was proud of that legacy.
Excerpted from The 14th Colony by Steve Berry. Copyright © 2016 Magellan Billet, Inc.. 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was by far the best Cotton Malone ever. You had me there when Cotton said he would explain how he got his name since they had time then...... I'm glad Cotton got the girl. She was right in front of him all along. Remember men are to introduce Love into a marriage, not the women. Macho men ain't what's happening. Again this one is #1 in Cotton's stories. Thank you!
Berry continues to provide riveting, page turning adventure with Cotton Malone at the helm. As informative and educational as it is enthralling.
My favorite kind of book. Plenty of Action and I learned a lot from this book
This as with a Of the books in the Cotton Malone series sucks you in immediately with the suspense . I really enjoy the historical detail and facts the transistor never smoothly with the fictions story line.
I always enjoy the adventures of Cotton Malone.
The 14th Colony by Steve Berry Cotton This is the 11th installment of Berry's Cotton Malone thrillers. The book opens with a historical meeting between Ronald Reagan and Pope John Pope the II. In it, they develop plans to end the Soviet Union: Forward Pass. The US sends Russia into an arms race that bankrupts the country and causes it to collapse. Fast forward to the present: Alexandr Zorin, a former KGB agent has been plotting the revenge. Disillusioned with what the Russian Federation has become, he has been plotting to carry on Yuri Andropov's master plan -- Soviet Secretary General for 15 months in 1982. The plan was developed as a Chess Game: Absolute Pin, where the King is cornered and can't move anywhere except where it would be exposed to check. Backward Pawn: One pawn behind another of the same color. Quiet move: Something that does not attack or capture an enemy piece. Fool's Mate: The shortest possible mate. Two moves and over. Hidden in Canada, there is a KGB operative, Jamie Kelly who has done all four moves and is in possession of five RA 115 - nuclear bombs that can be carried in a case. Zorin and Kelly's plan is to disrupt the Presidential inauguration -- Danny Daniels has ended his eight-year stint at the presidency and will be succeeded by Walter Fox. The plan is to set it off before the new administration is sworn in and create chaos because the 20th amendment -- "amendment zero" in Andropov's scheme -- would create confusion because it is not clear who would be president if both the president and VP are killed before they are sworn in. In a race against the clock that starts in the frozen extremes of Russia and ultimately ends at the White House itself, Malone must not only battle Zorin, he must also confront a crippling fear that he’s long denied, but which now jeopardizes everything. Steve Berry’s trademark mix of history and speculation is all here in this provocative new thriller. Narrated from the third person point of view, it makes for a wonderful read. Highly recommended!
Altogether a good romp, but slow in places. I think it could have been trimmed down to up the tension, but if you love the Cold War, the KGB, and secret Revolutionary War societies (as well as like the idea of taking Canada over, if only in theory), this one's for you.
I could not keep awake reading this book. Less talk and more action needed.