First look: Scorched Earth

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Today, American author Ty Patterson is launching his latest book, Scorched Earth. It features his all action star character Zeb Carter, and we’ve got a free excerpt from the new novel for you right here on Crime Fiction Lover.

Scorched Earth – Chapter 1

Low-tech usually beat high-tech when it came to countersurveillance and espionage. In-person meetings were harder to intercept than emails and phone calls.

The planners and perps applied those same principles when it came to the takedown. They knew that the office on Columbus Avenue was like a fortress. It had cameras on the outside, visible ones, as well as discreet. They knew a supercomputer inside the building was continually scanning street traffic.

If a vehicle or a person passed the office more than a certain number of times, the computer was programmed to investigate. If a car or a bystander loitered over a threshold period, Werner, the supercomputer, kicked in.

No, the perps had to go low-tech. It was the only way they could execute the grab successfully. It was the only way they would live, because they were going against some of the most lethal men and women in the world.

The office was home to the Agency, a covert government outfit that didn’t exist on paper. It was run by a female director, Clare, who was based out of DC and reported to only one person—the president.

It had just eight operatives: Zeb Carter, the lead agent; Broker, the intel analyst; Bear, Chloe, Bwana, Roger and the twins, Beth and Meghan Petersen.

Zeb was ex-Special Forces, as were Bear, Bwana, and Roger. Broker was a former Ranger, while Chloe had been in the Eighty-Second Airborne. The twins came from an illustrious cop family and ran the logistics and intelligence side of the Agency. They were the glue that held the outfit together.

The Agency had a near-zero admin footprint, which was due to the cover the operatives adopted. They all worked for a security consulting outfit that was housed in the Columbus Avenue office. The security firm was genuine—it had real clients and had been Zeb’s business before he’d joined the Agency.

The black ops unit went after terrorists, international criminal gangs, drug and human traffickers, anyone who was a threat to national security. It was a compact, tightly knit team that was more like a family and had never failed on a mission.

It hadn’t been attacked either, not directly.

That was about to change.

The perps knew the routine of everyone inside the tall glass-walled office. They had contacts, very deep and highly positioned people who could find out that information. They mounted watch. Werner would look suspiciously at any vehicle that lingered.

But a NYPD cruiser? A real one?

The cruiser was only one part of the surveillance team. There was an ambulance, a roadworks outfit, and a gas maintenance vehicle. They took turns and made a note of the comings and goings.

They knew all the operatives weren’t present. That was okay. They were interested in only two.

When it went down, it was ridiculously simple and proved that low-tech and ingenuity beat high-tech.

Beth and Meghan were returning to the office from a visit to a nearby coffee joint. They went to the café every day. Talked about work as well as life stuff. Beth was dating Mark, an NYPD cop. It was going well. Meghan was single, by choice. There was a lot to talk about. They might be sisters, but they were also close friends.

Zeb had drilled it into them to eliminate routine. And the twins tried, but it was hard. Humans were creatures of habit and liked to stick to a timetable.

That didn’t mean the sisters were careless. They were watchful, their eyes ceaselessly moving, observing, as they talked. They were armed, their Glocks in shoulder holsters, concealed by jackets. They had been trained by Zeb in deadly killing arts. They had been on missions. They were battle-hardened. They were vigilant.

And yet they fell into the perps’ trap.

The garbage truck came roaring down the street, which was experiencing heavy traffic. Its driver was on his cell while he drove, arguing with his girlfriend. One eye on the lights and vehicles in front of him, his ear jammed against his phone.

He didn’t see the ambulance backing out of its parking spot. When he did, it was too late.
The truck crashed at full speed into the rear of the ambulance. It climbed onto the sidewalk when he turned the wheel desperately, and plowed into a suited woman. It injured another pedestrian and finally came to a halt against a lamppost.

Meghan stood frozen for a second and then ran to the scene, Beth hot on her heels. The sisters bent over the injured woman and saw she was bleeding.

‘Call 911,’ Meghan snapped at her sister.

‘Not necessary, ma’am,’ said a uniformed man who came out of the wreckage of the ambulance. ‘My vehicle’s still serviceable. Just the rear door that’s dented. I was off duty, grabbing a bite…’

He crouched next to the fallen woman while Beth snapped her phone shut and tended to the fallen man, the second injuree. A crowd gathered, and helpful comments started to pour in, the way they did.

‘Ma’am, I’ll have to take both to the hospital. Better care there.’

He hesitated. ‘Can you two come along? Normally I work with a buddy, but like I said—’
‘Let’s go.’ Meghan rose and helped him place the woman on the stretcher and carry her inside the ambulance. She and Beth assisted him in taking the man inside. A cruiser rolled to a stop and a uniform rushed out.

He asked questions, took notes, and made calls. He sent the truck driver for further questioning, and waved the ambulance away.

Relative calm returned to the street.

The twins had disappeared.

Zeb was lounging on a couch while Broker was on Werner.

Werner was the name of an artificial intelligence program that he and Zeb had bought from a couple of Stanford kids. The software was housed in a supercomputer in the building, but they all used the name Werner interchangeably to refer to either the program or the computer.

Bwana and Roger were in Vietnam, on the trail of drug runners. Bear and Chloe were in London, working with Scotland Yard on uncovering a terrorist cell.

Zeb and Broker? They weren’t doing much. Work was light. There weren’t many active missions.

Broker glanced up and looked at the door. The twins hadn’t returned. He had seen the accident go down on his cameras and had seen the sisters climb inside the ambulance. It was the way they were.

He figured they would catch a cab back. But heck, that was a while ago.

He tried their cells. No answer. He looked up a GPS program on the computer; all of them had sensors in their jackets and shoes. It was how Werner kept track of them and reported any anomalies.

No signal from the sensors.

Might be still in the hospital. Those sensors don’t always work when there’s a lot of electronic equipment around.

He looked up the ambulance’s plates. Mount Sinai St. Luke’s, on Amsterdam Avenue.
They’ll be back soon, with a story to tell. He returned to his project, a bulletproof vest that could be worn like a tee or a shirt. It was something he was working on with the NSA.

An hour passed. He fidgeted and tried the cells again. No response. He glanced irritably at the couch. Zeb hadn’t moved. His eyes were closed, but Broker knew he wasn’t sleeping. His friend was aware of everything that was happening around him.

He can probably hear me breathe. Hear me think, he grouched internally.

Another hour passed. No sign of excited voices. No sign of the oxygen that the twins were.

‘Zeb, we have a problem,’ he said, striving to keep his voice calm.

His friend rose lithely, instantly, as if he had been thinking the same thing.

‘Call Mark,’ Zeb told him.

‘Mark, buddy, have you heard from Beth?’ Broker said into his cell. ‘There was an accident outside our office a while ago. They went with the ambulance. No, we didn’t see who was injured. Hold up a beat.’

Broker brought up the camera feed. ‘Looks like a woman and a man. On the sidewalk. There was an NYPD cruiser too.’ He gave him the plate numbers and hung up.

‘He’ll check,’ he told Zeb, unnecessarily.

Mark called half an hour later.

Broker snatched his cell and listened, his face turning grey. He hung up, tossed his cell and turned to his friend.

‘No record of an accident. That cruiser, it was in the Bronx when the accident went down. That ambulance, it’s down for maintenance. Has been out of circulation for over a week.’

Zeb didn’t reply. His breathing didn’t change. Only his face gave him away. It had turned pale. That, and the trembling of his fingers when he raised his hands were his only displays of emotion. All ten fingers, shaking imperceptibly.

‘Someone’s got them, Zeb.’

Zeb still didn’t speak. A faraway look came over his eyes, one that Broker recognized. His face shuttered and became implacable. The trembling became more noticeable.

An onlooker would have mistaken the shaking for fear or nervousness.

Broker knew better.

It was anger. Not red-hot fury, but cold rage inside his friend.

A cold rage that would drive him relentlessly till he rescued the twins. A burning that would take him wherever he needed to go, even to the far corners of the world.

A cold rage that would scorch the earth.

Order your copy today, and carry on reading Scorched Earth:

© 2017 Ty Patterson

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