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Batman: No Man’s Land Excerpt

Batman: No Man's Land Cover

Batman: No Man's Land Cover

It had taken them a week of work to get this far, digging out the site only at night, trying to stay safe from watching eyes. The two moved rubble and dug in silence, working mostly by feel. Each of them had more cuts and scrapes on their hands than they could count, and their fingers were numb from the effort and the cold of the air and the bite of the frozen snow.

The elder of the two, Paolo, was only twenty-one. His brother, Nicky, was nineteen. They had arrived in Gotham during the summer, immigrating illegally with their parents, and for a while it had looked good for all of them.

Then the earthquake came, and the tenement they were living in, the room they shared with two other families, was buried under twenty tons of concrete and iron from the building next door. The bodies were never recovered.

When No Man’s Land came, they stayed more out of fear than anything else. There had been soldiers on the bridges, on the roads, in the tunnels. Soldiers with guns, and both Paolo and Nicky had bad memories of soldiers with guns from their childhood in Colombia. As far as they were concerned, the soldiers meant one of two things: either they’d be shot, or they’d be deported. And being deported, that amounted to being shot.

So they stayed.

It had to be past midnight when Nicky heard his brother speak for the first time in hours, the hoarse whisper of excitement.

“I found it,” Paolo hissed in Spanish. “I found a way in, look.”

Nicky moved, checking where his brother pointed. It was a clear night, with half a moon, and in the light and past the shadows he could see where Paolo was indicating, a small opening, just big enough to wriggle through. And inside, the prize, a whole Jiffy Junior convenience store, a mother lode of treasure. Canned goods, batteries, flashlights, aspirin, soda, chips, bread, cigarettes, beer…

“You remember what we do,” Paolo whispered. “You go in, you grab what you can, we cover it up again, then take it to Penguin. He’ll take care of us. But we don’t tell him where we found it, we keep this our secret.”

“I remember,” Nicky snapped. “Of course I remember.”

“Keep your voice down.”

Nicky frowned, then took the flashlight his brother handed him. It was their prized possession, and they had only turned it on once since they’d found it, just to make certain the batteries worked. Now Nicky held it tightly in one hand as he got on his knees, and crawled through the tiny opening.

The stink inside was awful, and almost immediately he wanted to throw up. He told himself it was spoiled milk and meat, and not a body. He told himself it didn’t matter if it was a body, because the dead had it easy right now. He convinced himself to keep going, and managed to work his way out of the hole, dropping down inside the wreckage of the store. His feet splashed in something when he landed, he didn’t know what. It was entirely black inside but for the broken circle of moonlight leaking in from above.

Nicky turned on the flashlight, then turned it off again.

Jiffy Junior stores were open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They never closed. That was their motto, he knew that.

There had been customers inside when the earthquake hit.

From above, he heard his brother’s voice. “Nicky? Are you all right?”

Nicky tried to answer, caught another whiff of the air, and now there was no way to pretend it was anything but death. He felt his stomach buckle, swallowed hard, and managed the words.

“There are bodies,” he told his brother.

“Ignore them,” Paolo hissed. “Hurry, Nicky. We don’t want to be caught.”

“I know that. Shut up, I’m looking.”

Paolo shut up.

Nicky switched on the flashlight again, panning the beam carefully past the corpses, toward the fallen racks. He went for the batteries first, then for the cigarette lighters on the counter. He stuffed his pockets full of all the small things he could find, tiny tins of Imodium and aspirin, bandages, matches, whatever would fit, before switching to the backpack. He was smart about it, he thought, taking another backpack, rolling it up tightly and putting it in the first. Everyone needed a backpack in the No Man’s Land. Everyone had to carry all their possessions with them.

Then he went to the racks, quickly examining the cans, taking only those that were still sealed. Ravioli, soup, beans, tuna, all into the backpack. Two cans of Soder Cola, and another two cans of Brew Beer. He put more and more into the backpack until he was afraid the seams would split, and only then did he stop, zipping the pack as closed as he could make it, then moving back to the hole.

“I’m coming up,” he whispered, pushing the backpack into the opening with a shove. Then he turned back, letting the flashlight track one last time through the store. He switched it off, but the image stayed, the crushed bodies still lit in his mind. He whispered a quick prayer, then climbed back into the hole.

It wasn’t Paolo waiting for him when he came out. It was someone else, a big man, bald, and behind him were three others, one of them already going through the backpack, the other two holding Paolo by the arms. In the moonlight, Nicky could see where his brother was bleeding at the mouth, and it made his stomach shrink. Then the big man was pulling him to his feet, and showing him the pointed end of a machete.

“This is Demonz territory,” the man said. “You’ve just been caught stealing. I should cut off your hands, that’s what I should do.”

Nicky fumbled for the words in English and managed, “It’s not stealing.”

The big man laughed and shoved him back with his free hand. “Empty your pockets, let’s see what you brought us.”

Nicky glanced at his brother, saw Paolo’s jaw clenched tight, more rage than fear in his eyes. It crept into Nicky, as well.

“No. It’s ours.”

The man looked at Nicky, surprised at the defiance, then sighed, cutting at the air with the blade. “You just broke Demonz law, kid.”

Nicky realized that he was going to die, and started another prayer, hoping to finish it before the machete came back down. He watched the blade go up, the moonlight catching its edge, watched it start to fall.

Then the blade was gone and the man was holding his hand where it was now bleeding, and there had been a noise, something hard hitting something meat. Nicky heard another sound, turned his head toward it, and saw the shape, and his heart stopped for a second, because he knew what it was.

He had never seen it before, no one he knew had, and some people had even told him it was a lie, made up by the police, to scare the criminals.

But Nicky had always known it was true, and he knew what it was.

So did the big man.

The shape moved, passing Nicky faster than a shadow hit by light, and there was another sound, and the big man made a noise of pain, and fell backward.

The shape spoke.

“Leave them alone.”

And Nicky thought there was something wrong, then, because he’d never imagined the voice would sound like that.

The big man tried to get up, and the shape moved again, and Nicky heard the snap of another kick. The man made more noise, and then the shape had grabbed him by the shirt, was turning, and the big man was stumbling away while the others stood stunned. Even Paolo, Nicky thought, looked stunned.

But Paolo had never believed.

The shape kept moving, another rustle of shadow, and the gang member who had taken the backpack dropped it, spilling the contents all on the ground. The other Street Demonz, who had been holding Paolo, moved forward, trying to attack.

But you cannot attack a shadow, Nicky thought, and as if to prove him right, their blows landed in empty air. There was another rustle, and the shape was behind them, had one of the men by the arm, had hit him twice in the face, then was pitching him sharply away. Another of the gang members was passing Nicky, as if trying to flee, and the shape turned, and Nicky got a good look then, just for an instant, as the shape reached out as if its arm were impossibly long. The man pitched forward into the street with a cry, then stumbled back up and ran.

The shape pivoted, but the last of the Demonz had already fled.

“Batman,” Paolo said.

Nicky tried to find his voice, to say, no, no, not Batman, at least, not like we were told, but the shape was already crouching at the backpack, replacing the spilled cans, then offering the bag to Nicky. When the arms moved, the cape billowed back, and Nicky saw the shape in the shadow, the yellow outline of the bat on the black chest.

A woman’s chest.

Nicky took the bag, staring.

“Are you all right?”

He tried to speak, failed utterly, and simply nodded.

“TriCorner is held by the GCPD. You’ll be safer there,” the woman said, and then she raised an arm and there was a sound, and it was as if the Batwoman were flying away.

Gone. Just like that.

After a time, Nicky looked back to his brother, saw Paolo was still staring up at the sky, where the woman had disappeared. Then Paolo lowered his eyes, and Nicky saw the understanding there, the awe.

Without another word, the boys began heading south, toward TriCorner.

It began to snow.

A Fistful of Rain (2003)

A Fistful of Rain Cover

A Fistful of Rain Cover

Twenty-six-year-old guitarist Mim Bracca’s rock band, Tailhook, sends her home to dry and out and get her head back in the game. She figures they’re firing her but it won’t last—if they lose her, they lose their sound. Mim’s barely hit town before she becomes tabloid fodder and in a very nasty way. With a father in jail and a drug-dealing brother, Mim needs the strength to solve her own problems.

While not a Kodiak story (in fact, Greg’s agent and editor have both called it “the story of someone who desperately needs Atticus and Company, and doesn’t have them”), it is set in the same “world” as the Kodiak novels with a few, minor, cross-over characters. The novel’s title comes from the song of the same name, by Warren Zevon.

Read an excerpt.

Release information

A FISTFUL OF RAIN
Bantam US hardcover: July 2003 055380135X
Bantam US mass-market paperback: February 2004 0553581821
Bantam US e-book (Adobe Reader): July 2003 B0000B18H4
Bantam US e-book (Microsoft Reader): July 2003 B0000B18H5

Reviews

Rucka, author of five other thrillers, knows how to create and sustain suspense.
—Publisher’s Weekly

Rucka has already written a fistful of successful novels, but this may be his most memorable so far.
—Booklist

Rucka brings the same cinematic storytelling, sharp plot twists, and quirky characterizations to A Fistful of Rain that have won his Atticus Kodiak novels praise. His portrayal of Mim Bracca is thoughtfully nuanced, her credibility as a heroine drawn from her weaknesses, rather than cobbled together from unexpected strengths.
—Amazon.com

A Fistful of Rain Excerpt

A Fistful of Rain Cover

A Fistful of Rain Cover

This is the song I can never write.

There has been rain, and clouds purple like blood blisters have parted to a startling blue sky. The water, now in puddles in the street and clinging in drops to blades of recently cut grass, shines with the sudden sunlight, creating a glare too sharp for the unshielded eye. Late afternoon, and there is a chill, but it’s not enough to drive the girl and her mother inside, because they are working together in the driveway. There is newspaper spread out over age-old oil-stained concrete, two paring knives, and a black felt-tip marker, used to make the design. The pumpkin has already been lobotomized with a jagged zig-zag cut, imperfectly executed by eleven-year old hands. Seeds and guts are piled in a heap.

The girl, with pumpkin innards sticky on her hands and deep beneath her fingernails, works ferociously, trying to make the perfect face. She imagines the work completed, with a candle burning inside, knows how it should look when everything is done. But her hands frustrate her, refusing to execute the design in her mind, and in her impatience, she makes mistakes.

The mother encourages and cautions, urging the girl to watch what she is doing, to not lose the knife, to not press too hard, to get it right because there’s no second chance. She separates the pumpkin seeds into a shallow stainless steel bowl as she speaks, saying that they will toast them later, then sprinkle them with salt. They will make a good snack.

The front door opens, and the brother steps out, pulling on his jacket. He ignores his sister and his parent as he passes them, a teenager too old for Halloween now that he is too old to wear a costume. He carries the tension of the home in his shoulders and back, and grunts the barest acknowledgement to his mother when she demands he be home for dinner. The girl doesn’t look up from her work, fighting with a knife, trying to cut the perfect toothy grin. She hears her mother complain softly about that boy and the trouble he gets into, but the refrain, like so many others in the young girl’s life, has become background noise, and doesn’t penetrate.

And so they work, daughter and mother, crafting a face that once was used to ward off spirits, but instead will beckon strangers to their door.

Then there is a new sound, the motor in the garage as the opener comes to life, and the girl looks from her work over her shoulder, to see her father behind the wheel of the truck. He is waving his hand with a cigarette between his fingers, saying something lost behind the engine, and there is anger on his face. In the cab, beside him, as far as he can be without leaving the confines of Detroit Steel, is the brother, everything about him wishing he was somewhere else. When the girl looks at him, her brother looks away, but not soon enough to hide the shine in his eyes.

The mother rises, wiping her fingers on her jeans, telling her daughter to gather her things and to get out of the driveway. Her father has come home, he has had a hard day, she tells her daughter. He is tired.

The girl thinks that every day is a hard day for her father, that every day he is tired when he comes home. But she doesn’t speak, because she is feeling something familiar, and when she feels it, she knows it’s best to stay quiet. It’s an ephemeral sensation, less distinct than fear, and she has come to recognize the feeling as her friend, because it speaks of danger. She gathers her pumpkin in both hands, begins to carry it from the driveway to the porch.

She hears her father’s voice above the truck’s, louder now, and she almost relaxes. His shouting is another part of the background noise, and the girl who smells autumn and rain and pumpkin, knows that were he closer, were she in the cab with him, she would smell beer behind his cigarette. Her mother responds using words that regularly earn her brother detention at school. There is the creak of a door opening and the slam of it shutting again, and her brother’s voice joins, but not for very long at all.

The girl is setting the pumpkin on the porch when she hears the pickup truck’s engine rise to a roar, as if shouting to drown her mother’s curses. She hears the sound of tires spinning freely on wet asphalt, but only for an instant. She hears the stainless steel bowl of pumpkin seeds clatter over concrete as a tire brushes it, and she hears her mother’s voice stop, as if pulled from her body and thrown aside.

The engine falls silent.

The girl feels weightless and dizzy, and doesn’t remember turning to look at what has happened. She doesn’t know if she is running or walking or floating to the edge of garage. She cannot hear the sound of her father emerging from the cab of his pickup truck, and she cannot hear the words her brother is shouting at her as he takes her shoulders and tries to turn her away.

Most of all, she cannot hear the sound that her mother is making, caught between Firestone and the ground.

When she looks down the length of the driveway, she sees a spread of blood merging with the rainwater in the gutter.

The sunlight vanishes behind a freshly loaded cloud.

It starts to rain again.

A Gentleman’s Game Excerpt

The first time Tara Chace was ordered to murder a man it was in Kosovo, as a favor to the CIA.

She used a Parker-Hale M-85 supplied by the Istanbul Number Two that had been moved, in pieces, to a cache near what would ultimately become her sniper’s nest in Prizren. She entered the country as a member of the British peacekeeping force’s support staff, attached through the Ministry of Defense, then traveled as a liaison officer in an observer group past the NATO checkpoint into the city before striking out on her own. Once on site, she hunkered down in an abandoned apartment on the third floor of an abandoned building to wait for her target and the dawn. The night had been cold, long, and Chace sat behind the rifle playing memory games in her head not solely to keep from falling asleep, but to keep her mind off what she was there to do.

The target, a former Soviet general named Markovsky who had leapt gleefully into bed with the Red mafiya, appeared just after dawn, riding passenger in the cab of a three-ton truck laden down with confiscated small arms. At first it had seemed Markovsky wasn’t going to exit the vehicle, and Chace, behind the scope and with her pulse making the optics jump with every beat, half-wondered/half-hoped she would have to abort. The driver seemed to be handling the buy with the KLA, who had pulled up earlier, and all throughout the dance of ‘let’s see the merchandise’ and its companion two-step, ‘show me the money,’ Markovsky stayed put.

Then the driver turned and signaled the general to join them, and before Markovsky had set a foot on the ground, Chace had put three pounds of pressure on the trigger and sent his brains misting onto the truck’s windshield.

All hell had broken loose, then, as everyone back in the Operations Room in London had known it would, and Chace had run, pursued by the angry KLA and the angrier Russians. Her alpha route out of Zone was almost immediately compromised, and her U.N. cover promptly blown soon thereafter. Running pell-mell through the streets, the KLA firing wildly after her, she had caught a ricochet in the left calf and gone ass over tit only to rise and run again. Two further near-misses with her pursuers before finally managing to steal a car, and then she’d had to keep a straight face and give a good lie past a Coalition checkpoint before finally making it to the British Sector.

At which point, safe at last, Chace permitted herself the luxury of passing out.

The mission had been considered a success, and her stock in the Special Operations Directorate of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service had risen accordingly, even as she limped back into the cramped and ugly little office in the MI6 Building at Vauxhall Cross. Her Head of Section, Tom Wallace, had rewarded her not solely with praise, but also with a glowing write-up in her AIR, the annual evaluation that all directorate chiefs were required to submit concerning their personnel. He had shown it to her before submitting it–not strictly against the rules, but an unorthodox decision—and taken great delight in pointing out his recommendation for “promotion at earliest opportunity.”

“You’ll have my job, soon enough,” Wallace had said, and his grin had been as open and good-natured as ever, the look of a proud mentor. Nothing in his words hinted at anything other than sincerity.

“Let’s hope so,” Chace had replied. “Then I’ll get the really good assignments.”

It had been a joke, and they had both laughed, and time passed and the glow of the job faded as other jobs came, but the memory of it stayed with her. It followed when she was sent to Egypt and nearly lost her life in an ambush, and was forced to kill three men in self defense. It trailed her to T’bilisi where a Provisional Minder Three by the name of Brian Butler, who had been recruited into the Special Section only four days prior, died mere inches from her side.

It accompanied her home, first to her bedsit in South Kensington, and then later relocating with her when she moved to a flat in Camden.

It was tenacious, and neither the comfort found in the bottle of scotch or the arms of an eager lover could break its grip.

It became part of her life; more, it became part of her.

Wallace and she had laughed at the joke, but the fact was, there were no good assignments when you were a Minder, there were only ones marginally less likely to get you killed. As Wallace had told her when she’d first joined the Section as an eager Minder Three, “It’s not the bullet with your name on it you have to worry about, Tara. It’s all those damn other ones, marked ‘to whom it may concern.’”

There were no good jobs, and in that hierarchy, assassination was the worst of them all. Even putting all moral and ethical questions out of mind—and when the order came, it was Chace’s job to do precisely that—they were fiendishly difficult to execute on every conceivable level. Politically, they were nightmarishly sensitive; logistically, they were almost impossible to adequately plan; and finally, once operational, even if the politics and the logistics had fallen in line, it would all go out the window, anyway. The First Rule of Field Work, of course, having been stolen from the teachings of the noted American philosopher and engineer, Captain Edward A. Murphy.

Everyone involved, from the staff in the Ops Room to the officers of the Special Section—known in-house as the Minders—to the Director of Operations himself, Paul Crocker, understood that. Chace, then Minder Two, had distinguished herself, and Wallace had been right. One day, she would have his job. One day, she would be Minder One, the Head of Section.

Which was what she wanted. Or, more precisely, part of what she wanted. Distinguishing herself wasn’t enough. The “good” assignments didn’t interest her. She wanted the bad ones, the ones no one believed in, the ones that required a Minder, and, more, required her. She wanted to prove herself, not just that she was capable, but that she was better.

While she had done all these things, she had also murdered a man in the name of queen and of country.

No matter how she tried, it couldn’t be rationalized.

And finally she understood why Tom Wallace’s laughter never seemed to reach his eyes.

* * *

CHAPTER ONE

LONDON – OXFORD STREET, MARBLE ARCH
07 AUGUST 1517 GMT

The planning was exceptional, the result of two years spent preparing for the action, an operation meant to run like clockwork. And much like clockwork, it nearly failed, simply because men are not machines, and they feel fear.

When it came upon him, it came by surprise. It stole his breath, and it cramped his stomach, and, for an instant, he was certain he would wet himself. Just inside the Marble Arch tube stop he balked, the wash of riders flowing past him in both directions, feeling the uncomfortable pressure of the glass bottles in his backpack, the sweat springing to the backs of his hands. The adrenaline filled him, made the stink of the diesel engines rising from the tunnels all the more rank, the perfumes and deodorants and colognes that much more cloying. The noise of the station, the echoes of the trains and the voices and PA became almost unbearably loud, adding to the sudden rush of vertigo.

For a second time, he thought he might vomit.

He steadied himself against the wall, closed his eyes, fought to control his breathing. Of all the things he had practiced, of all the things he had envisioned the eleven times he had made this same trip as a dry run, he had never considered this. He had known he would be nervous. He had even acknowledged that he might be scared. But this level of fear was unexpected, and it unmanned him.

Worse, it made him question his faith, and that only served to compound what he felt, and it added a new emotion, a rising sense of shame. He willed himself to move on, to continue through the turnstiles and onto the escalator and down to the platform, painfully aware that seconds were passing, that the schedule they had so carefully crafted was now in dire jeopardy.

He thought of the others, ready to board trains at Baker Street and Bank, and he was certain that their faith was stronger than any fear, and still, he couldn’t move. His mind, which had seized, as paralyzed as the rest of him, suddenly snapped into gear once more, began racing with doubt. Even if he could move, they would fail. Even if he could move, it wouldn’t work. Even if he could move, he would be stopped before boarding the train, before opening his backpack, and perhaps the others had been stopped already, had been caught already. Perhaps they had talked, and even now, on close-circuit monitors, he was being watched, and the police were beginning to close in upon him.

He prayed, or tried to pray, but the battering his faith had taken was enough to make him feel insincere, and he had no hopes for it. God worked through him and others like him, and everything he did was as God’s will, and wasn’t it, then, God’s will that he be weakened in this moment? Wasn’t it God’s will—all praise to him—that he stand here now, lost?

Someone laughed, and he was so certain it was directed at him, that it was mocking him, that his head jerked around in an attempt to find the source.

It was a woman, or, as he saw her, a girl almost a woman. Perhaps sixteen, traveling with a group of friends the same age, of both sexes. She was small and slender, with a lovely face and a mouth that, to his eyes, was impossibly large as it opened in her laughter a second time, teasingly batting at the hands of one of her male companions as he reached for her. A boyfriend, he thought, and watched as he wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her through the turnstiles. When the boy hoisted her, her skirt crushed between them, accentuating the curve of her maturing hip, the slender strength of her thigh. She twisted in his grip, laughing, and the cotton shirt she wore was trapped between them, the front pulling down slightly, and it revealed cleavage, and against the stretched fabric, the curve of her breasts and shape of her nipples.

Then they were through, moving towards the escalator, and without another moment of hesitation, he followed, his prayer answered, his faith restored.

He had seen it all throughout Europe, women without men to watch and protect them. Women forced to live what was so condescendingly referred to as liberated lives. They worked as clerks and hostesses and teachers to men, their bodies and voices and movements to entertain and to advertise. Even now, riding the long escalator down to the platform with the girl and the boy and their friends only a few meters ahead, he was surrounded by it. Placards and posters to both sides, advertising clothes and watches and perfumes and liquors and movies. All using women as bait, the promise of their sex, of their surrender. A tease and a temptation, degrading both the subject and the viewer.

How could they not see the danger this posed? How cruel it was to treat them in this fashion? To treat women in this way, to allow them to be used and paraded and corrupted, and in so doing, making in them creatures that could only corrupt others.

It made him angry, restored his strength, and made him feel righteous. All of it coming to a point in the form of this girl, at this moment. Surely Pakistani, perhaps born not far from his own home in Kashmir, now standing on the platform with her mouth pressed to the lips of that London boy, her skirt blowing against her leg with the crush of air from the approaching train.

That girl, who could have been a good girl—should have been a proper girl—raised in another place, in proper way. That girl, who would have been contented as one of many wives, protected and nurtured and honored, rather than corrupted in the arms of neglect. Perverted by a myth called liberation, an excuse for indulgence and hedonism, flying in the face of God’s Will.

That girl, who could have been his sister, if his sister had not been murdered.

He followed them into the car, entering as close to the front of the train as he could manage, so he would be near the conductor’s door, and so his back would not be exposed. The train was not so crowded that he could not find a seat, and he removed his backpack before sitting, then set it on the bench beside him, claiming it as his own. He heard the muted clink of the bottles inside as the train began to move again, but he was the only one who heard it, and it did not worry him. Even if it had been heard, it would mean nothing. He was just a young man, just another tourist university student with a backpack, youth hostel bound, nothing more.

His watch read three twenty-three, and he saw that his fear—already fading into an embarrassment—hadn’t cost him. He was still on schedule.

He hoped the others were, too.

The train squealed, began slowing into the Bond Street station. He waited, looking at nothing, until the doors slid open and passengers began to move, then used their motion to conceal his own. He opened the backpack just enough to reach inside, found the pistol resting between the two liter bottles of petrol. He wrapped his hand around the butt of the weapon, grateful for the solidity of it in his grip, anchoring him to the moment. It pleased him that his hand no longer perspired.

Doors closed. He looked to find the girl and the boy, and they had stayed aboard. The girl was touching the boy’s face, speaking to him, and the boy had placed one hand on her bare knee.

The train took speed again, heading towards Oxford Circus, and as its acceleration crested, he rose, pulling the pistol free from the backpack. His thumb struck the safety, knocking it down, and he raised the gun, and imagined himself as he appeared to them, moving with precision and grace, and he felt an indescribable elation.

He shot the girl first.

“Get out!” he screamed. “Get into the next car!”

Then he shot the boy, and then pivoted and shot the middle-aged man surging off a nearby bench, trying to reach him. The motion of the train and man’s own momentum carried him forward, and he stepped aside as the body slid to a stop by his feet, moving his sights across terrified faces, still shouting at them.

“Now!” he screamed, “Get out!” and to urge them, like cattle, he fired again, and again, and there was screaming now, and the passengers were scrambling over each other, pulling on one another to make for the door at the far end of the car. He fired into them, hitting a woman he thought was moving too slowly.

The car emptied, and the train was still swaying, speeding towards the station.

He turned to the closed-circuit camera in the corner above him and put a bullet into it, knowing that it had already witnessed what he had done so far. If all was to plan, the conductor was already contacting the station, and the station, in turn, had begun its emergency response. The evacuation would have begun, the police been notified, Armed Response Units dispatched.

All to plan.

With his free hand, he reached into the backpack and removed the first bottle, turning and throwing it down the length of the carriage. It shattered on a metal handrail, glass bursting, gasoline splashing, its scent sudden and almost sweet. He took the second bottle and threw it against the conductor’s door, smashing it apart. Petrol spattered on his pants and arms, sloshed across the floor, saturating the clothes of man at his feet.

He heard the door from the adjoining carriage opening, and he fired without looking, not caring who, or even if, he hit. The gun was almost empty, but the gun had never been the weapon, only a tool. Even the petrol was only a tool.

As he had been taught, he was the weapon.

He reached into the backpack a final time for the box of matches. He tucked the pistol into his pants and opened the box quickly. The door at the far end opened again, and he knew they were coming to stop him, seeing this moment as an opening, or perhaps realizing what would happen next. He fumbled the matchbox in his excitement, the wooden sticks spilling onto the floor. He heard cursing and shouting, but it didn’t matter, he had a match in his hand, now, and with a stroke it was alive, and he let it fall.

The air around him moved, heated, and saw flame race the floor of the car, eating the gasoline, taking purchase, growing hotter. The man at his feet made a noise as he caught on fire, and he glanced down to see that his own clothes had caught, felt the fire climbing his body. He looked the length of the carriage, saw that the flames now held the others at bay, feeling the flames sear his skin as his shirt caught.

From the corner of his eye, he saw the blackness of the tunnel open to the harsh light of the station.

He pulled the gun from his waist, put the barrel in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

It happened again three minutes later, on the Bakerloo Line, as the train pulled into Piccadilly Circus.

And again, seven minutes after that, on the Northern Line, at King’s Cross.

When the final numbers were in, the death-toll stood at three-hundred and seventy-two. Very few of these fatalities came from direct contact with the terrorists, all three of whom had used essentially the same technique; the gun an instrument of terror, to empty the car and to buy time; the petrol as the primary mechanism of attack, to set the trains aflame and to force them to stop on the tracks.

As described, the Underground suffered from not one, but two exploitable weaknesses, both of which had been capitalized upon. The first was that, at any given time on the Tube, there were more trains in motion than there were stations to receive them. A station closure, therefore, or an instance of track blockage, would result in multiple trains stacking up between stations. If those trains were then forced to evacuate their passengers, the evacuees faced walks of varying lengths through the tunnels until they could reach appropriate access back to street level. With most of the tunnels one hundred feet or more beneath street-level, it made for quite a trek.

In and of itself not life-threatening, but certainly an added complication for both riders and rescue teams, should the situation ever arise.

What made the situation not simply life-threatening but a deathtrap was the fact that the Underground had no mechanical means to circulate air, fresh or otherwise. No air conditioning. No fans. Air moved through the tunnels and the stations as a result of the movement of the trains, forcing dead air up and out at stops and other ventilation points, sucking new air into its wake.

While the cars on the Underground were constructed with fire-resistant and fire-retardant materials, gasoline can ignite dirt. With three trains set ablaze on the three busiest London lines, all within minutes of one another, the Tube had come to a violent and convulsive halt. Cars evacuated into tunnels that rapidly filled with roiling clouds of dense, black smoke, an orgy of burning plastics that in turn produced their own toxic gases. While counter-terrorist and emergency service personnel responded as best they could, as fast as they could, civilians succumbed all the same to the mixture of poisonous air and their own panic.

King’s Cross in particular, which had seen a fatal fire in 1987 that had claimed 30 lives, suffered the worst, as dozens of riders were trampled in the panicked attempts to flee the station.

There was an added tragedy, which came to light in late August, when The Guardian ran an article citing an uncirculated report commissioned by the Home Office through the Security Services at the request of the Government. The report had been undertaken specifically to determine what, if any, exploitable weaknesses existed in the mass-transit systems in and around London, and had concluded that the Underground—despite massive counter-terrorism measure taken in the past—was still vulnerable to “a coordinated attack directed against those traits unique to the system.”

Further investigation revealed that the document had actually enjoyed limited circulation and support, until it was killed by a senior civil servant in the Home Office, who had unfortunately given his reasons in writing. “While the report is admirable in its concern,” he had written, “it fails to take into account the difficulties, both financially and in terms of public discomfort and inconvenience, that a retrofitting of the Underground would require. Given the unlikelihood of such a coordinated effort as described, and the pointlessness of the result of such speculative mass-murder, the author’s suggestions shall be set aside until such time as action becomes feasible.”

Resignations followed immediately, culminating, in late September, with the withdrawal from public service of the aforementioned senior civil servant at the Home Office.

* * *

CHAPTER TWO
LONDON – CAMDEN, REGENT’S PARK TERRACE
07 AUGUST 1551 GMT

It was a peculiarity to those in her line of work, their habits and hobbies, the things they would obsess upon in lieu of family and friends.

Tom Wallace, for instance, had put his passion into cars, specifically into the Triumph, and precisely into the Triumph Spitfire MK I, 1962 model year. He had, in the years Chace had known him, acquired four of the vehicles at one point or another. Wallace had tenderly restored each, enjoying its comfort and power in his free time, then sold the previous to make room for the next. He hunted the Triumph online and in newspapers, engaged in long, enthusiast correspondence with others of the Triumph religion, and generally poured ever pound and pence not vital to his day-to-day existence into the hobby.

The late Edward Kittering had shared Wallace’s lust of internal combustion, but in his case it had been motorcycles, and like Wallace, he’d been a devotee of a particular make and model, the Buell Thunderbolt. Kittering had been in the Section almost three years before his death from an apparent brain aneurysm, and in that time she’d seen him go through five bikes, and ridden two of them herself. They were, in her opinion, nothing more than two wheels ornamented with an over-active engine and a saddle, an opinion Kittering had often mocked her for sharing. He had been a far less discriminating collector than Wallace, his only criterion that the motorcycle be built prior to 1996, when the Harley-Davidson purchase of Buell had led to a redesign of the bike, and the motorcycle had “gotten all nice and proper like,” Kittering’s words.

Chace had inherited the last of Kittering’s bikes, a black and yellow 1995 Thunderbolt S2T that made her feel like a wasp whenever she rode it. She didn’t ride it often, traffic in London being a perpetual nightmare and mass-transit being more than sufficient to service most of her needs. The Thunderbolt was expensive, as well, as she had to pay to keep the vehicle garaged, and on those rare occasions when she did ride it, it would invariably break-down. Whereas Kittering had the patience and interest in tinkering with the vehicle, Chace could hardly be bothered.

But she kept the motorcycle anyway, because it was one of her only links to Kittering, and because in the year before he had died, they had been lovers. The affair had ended shortly before Kittering himself had, and badly at that, with Chace breaking his heart. His death had left things unresolved, with each of them uncertain of the other.

So she kept the bike, and hoped that in doing so, it would bring more closure than grief.

Nick Poole, the current Minder Two and formerly of the S.A.S., was a passionate cook. The kitchen of his Spice Quay flat, in the shadow of Tower Bridge, had been renovated with restaurant grade appliances, and Poole invested in only the finest cookware, and tried—generally in vain, due to the unreliable schedule of their work—to grow his own herbs for seasoning. He took cooking classes, read cooking books, and was zealous in his pursuit of “the fresh.” The week after Wallace had left the section, leaving Chace as Minder One and Poole suddenly elevated to Minder Two, he’d invited her over for a dinner of sole paupiette with crab and smoked salmon mousseline, watching her like a hawk until she’d taken her first bite. The meal had been extraordinary, as fine as any Chace had tasted when she’d run alongside the Sloanes and their wealth, and her praise of the dinner had done more for her relationship with Poole than any interaction they’d had in the office or in the field.

As for Chris Lankford, Minder Three – Provisional, he was still too new to the Section for Chace to have discovered his particular passion, though she was certain he had one. Given her opinion of him, she guessed it was something boring, perhaps philately.

Chace herself had survived the Section for a couple of years without discovering a hobby of her own, not seeing the need for one. She had been wrong, and in the wake of Kittering’s death had reached a moment of clarity. Her desire for self-abuse, even as a child, had been dangerous and acute, less based in the physical than in the emotional. She had been a rule-breaker, a discipline problem, and what past lovers had charitably described as a “wild spirit,” an appellation Chace herself detested. She smoked and drank and, upon entering university, had discovered sex, three things she had pursued with the same passion that Wallace, Kittering, and Poole directed towards their hobbies. But without the same rewards, enjoyment, or results to show for it. Positive results, at any rate.

It was after the break-up with Kittering when Chace had come to the conclusion that, perhaps, such self-abuse was counter-productive. Certainly, arriving in the Ops Room for a crash briefing at oh-three-hundred carrying a hangover, or worse, a drunk, wasn’t going to help her career prospects. And the less said about what it would do to a mission, the better. These things, combined with a warning from the Madwoman of the Second Floor—staff psychiatrist Doctor Eleanor Callard—that should such behavior continue, Chace could find herself confined to a desk if not out of a job, served as a wake-up call.

“Find a hobby,” Callard had urged her. “Preferably one where you don’t punish yourself for sins you haven’t committed.”

“May I still punish myself for the ones that I have?” Chace had asked sweetly.

“By all means.”

It had taken Chace a while to find something that would engage her, mostly due to a lack of enthusiasm for the exercise in the first place. As a girl, her mother had taken great pains to see her educated in a ‘proper’ fashion, including piano lessons, ballet lessons, and riding lessons. Chace had loathed it all when she was six, and now at thirty-one, she discovered that nothing had occurred in the intervening time to alter that assessment. Unlike Poole, she had no interest in cooking, and her kitchen was merely the room where take-away was moved from a paper sack onto a porcelain plate, and even then it was most likely to be eaten straight from the container while she stood over the sink. Unlike Wallace, her interest in automobiles was entirely professional. She knew enough to break into them, to hotwire them, to drive them much too fast, to use them to kill people without herself getting killed in the process, and, sometimes, should the situation warrant it, to use them to travel from Point A to Point B.

It ended there.

Finally, she’d decided to try painting, resurrecting a dim memory from her boarding school days at Cheltenham Ladies’ College. Not with oils and palettes or watercolors and easels, as she had learned, but rather with great sections of canvas spread on the floor or tacked to the wall, and pails of paint to spatter, drip, drizzle, and smear. She had no aspirations to Jackson Pollock, and at best considered her work to be more Modern Accident than Modern Expressionism. She had no idea if she had any talent for it at all, in fact, but she discovered that she did, indeed, enjoy it, to a degree that truly surprised her. It was the main reason she had moved house to Camden, to have more space in which to work. The sensuality of it, in particular, appealed to her, the indulgence of the paint on her hands and its scent clinging to back of her throat, the feel of the canvass as it drew color away from her fingers. She could lose herself in the activity for hours, her mind could relax as her body worked, and she would find herself finished, her clothes peppered with splatters, her trainers caked with paint.

And this is why Tara Chace was up to her elbows in grasshopper green when she learned that terrorists had attacked London.

A Gentleman’s Game (2004)

When an unthinkable act of terror devastates London, nothing will stop Tara Chace from hunting down those responsible. Her job is simple: stop the terrorists before they strike a second time. To succeed, she’ll do anything and everything it takes—only this time the personal stakes will be higher than ever before. For the terrorist counterstrike will require that Tara allow herself to be used as bait by the government she serves. This time she’s turning her very life into a weapon that can be used only once. But as she and her former mentor race toward destiny at a remote terrorist training camp in Saudi Arabia, Tara begins to question just who’s pulling the trigger—and who’s the real enemy. In this new kind of war, betrayal can take any form…including one’s duty to queen and country.

Based on the graphic novel series that won the coveted Eisner Award, A Gentleman’s Game is an electrifyingly realistic, headline-stealing thriller with an unforgettable protagonist—one who redefines every rule she doesn’t shatter.

Read an excerpt.

Release information

A GENTLEMAN’S GAME
Bantam US hardcover September 2004 ISBN 0553802763
Bantam US mass-market paperback July 2005 ISBN 0553584928
Bantam US e-book (Adobe Reader) September 2004 ISBN B000658TIE
Bantam US e-book (Microsoft Reader) September 2004 ISBN B000658W1S

Reviews

Inspired by his Eisner Award-winning Queen & Country graphic novel series, the author of the adrenaline-charged Atticus Kodiac thrillers (Critical Space) offers up this British cloak-and-dagger hardcover introducing Tara Chase, an intrepid, relentless female assassin. In a coolly orchestrated terrorist raid chillingly reminiscent of September 11, a well-trained trio of al Qaeda-linked fanatics bomb London subway trains at three major stations, killing 372. In retaliation, Minder One (the head assassin of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service) Tara Chase is given the assignment of killing Dr. Faud bin Abdullah al-Shimmari, a Saudi Arabian religious leader. She can’t undertake an operation inside Faud’s high-security Saudi homeland, but when the Mossad gets involved on a mission of its own, the hit is scheduled to take place on Yemeni soil. In a bit of bad luck, Chase completes her primary mission with a daring hit on Faud inside the Great Mosque, but ignites international outrage when she blows away a Saudi prince, too. As a result, her queen and countrymen betray her, and she is forced to flee with one final chance to avoid being sacrificed as a pawn in a worldwide political chess game…. The novel’s superb pacing, offbeat characters, wry plot twists and damning insight into oily schizoid Middle Eastern diplomacy add up to an engrossing read.
—Publishers Weekly

A series of firebombs go off in the London Underground — the smoke alone kills hundreds and paralyzes the city. Once the culprits are ID’d as Muslim extremists with ties to al-Qaeda, Tara Chace joins other British intelligence operatives on the bleeding edge of the government’s hastily conceived response. By mining the world of his award-winning Q&C comics, Rucka has crafted his finest novel yet. Game is the rare spy thriller that rewards patient readers with action that feels earned, not forced, with facts that feel researched, not made up, and with revelations that cause shivers, not disbelief (e.g., a certain CIA analyst becoming president). And it doesn’t hurt that Chace is the most tough-as-nails-but-still-shag-worthy secret agent since Mata Hari.
—Entertainment Weekly

Is it small-minded to point out that Greg Rucka’s new spy series has the definite rhythms and verbal shortcuts of the graphic novels from which it sprang? I think not: Rucka’s most famous work–his series about world-class bodyguard Atticus Kodiak–had the same populist flavor, a zest and imagination often lacking in books with just words in them. So for Rucka to turn his “Queen & Country” graphic-novel series into a pictureless book does have a piquancy and appropriateness.

For someone who has been watching “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “Smiley’s People” on DVD of late, part of the amazement is how much the image of British espionage has changed in 30 years. Even James Bond’s cinemacentric adventures look quaint compared to the chores Tara Chace–as Minder One, the chart-topping lead assassin for the British Secret Service–has to get through in a day’s work. No time for a well-shaken martini here: Chace is lucky if she can find time to gulp down a sandwich before going after some particularly virulent terrorists.

When these Al Qaeda fanatics set off three petrol bombs in London’s subways, 372 people are killed and Chace is turned loose on a Saudi citizen who orchestrated the attacks. Unfortunately, a Saudi prince is also killed in the retaliation–and her queen and country quickly drop Chace like a packet of overcooked chips and deny any involvement.

Some reviewers might say Rucka is too sharp and original a thriller writer for this kind of stuff. Presumably, he has a family to feed and mortgage payments to keep up. And if they look beyond the graphic novel (I gather that the term “comic book” is no longer acceptable) aspect, these reviewers will notice that a true professional is at work here.
—Chicago Tribune

A Gentleman’s Game is as engrossing and well-crafted a thriller as you are likely to read this year.
—David Montgomery for the Chicago Sun-Times

It’s what would happen if Mickey Spillane and Ian Fleming decided to write a book together. In other words, it’s Greg Rucka writing a thriller his way — which is a very good thing.
—Statesman Journal

Full of action and other rare pleasures—a modern homage cum sendup of the British spy novels that shaped many of our literary lives. Tara Chace, Rucka’s fierce and frolicsome new head of Special Operations for British intelligence, is a lovely combination of steel and sex, and his story—originally published long before London’s recent terrorist horrors—becomes especially timely because of them. Look up the word “professional” in that great crime-genre encyclopedia in the sky, you’d probably find Greg Rucka’s picture.
—Chicago Tribune, reviewing the paperback edition

Private Wars (2005)


The torture and execution of Dina Malikov has set off a cutthroat grab for power in strategically crucial Uzbekistan. Tara’s job is to slip into the country and extract Dina’s pro-Western husband and their young son before they are murdered—by his ruthless sister.

But there are a couple of wildcards in the deck, including a missing mobile weapons system that can bring down a commercial airliner, not to mention powerful political careers. Now, as she vanishes into hostile territory with a man who may or may not be what he seems, Tara is about to engage in a battle where betrayal is a conventional weapon, loyalty is a weakness, and anyone—even a child—is a legitimate target: it’s every spy, every woman, for herself.

Private Wars, a suspense novel so explosively realistic, it should be classified.

Read an excerpt.

Release information

PRIVATE WARS
Bantam US hardcover October 2005 ISBN 0553802771
Bantam US mass-market paperback July 2006 ISBN 0553584936
Bantam US e-book October 2005 ISBN 0553902091

Interviews

Newsarama: Greg Rucka on Private Wars (November 2005)

Reviews

Shortlisted for the 2006 Best Thriller Barry Award!

[A] Swiss watch of a thriller, well-machined, precise, and inexorable.
—Entertainment Weekly

Tara is often likened to a female James Bond (she can drink, sleep around and kill just like a man), but she’s really more interesting than the comparison would suggest. These are well-researched, intriguingly complicated, exciting spy novels in the tradition of Adam Hall and his great series hero, Quiller.
—Publishers Weekly

[T]he action bristles and Rucka’s way with amoral characters continues to seduce: Chace chases, chills and somehow charms.
—Kirkus Reviews

Rucka has fashioned convincing, smart, authentic-feeling novels with jaded protagonists who are doing their best on the very dark side of the world.
—Flint Journal

Try to stop reading this book, because it’s damn near impossible….
—Sarah Weinman, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind

Rucka gets things right, serving up a taut and exciting tale of spycraft and “wet work” that will appeal to anyone who thinks James Bond is too effete for modern sensibilities.
—San Francisco Chronicle

[T]he excitement and tension is unrelenting. If there is an award for Best Thriller Writer Ever…Rucka is a strong candidate for the title.
ILoveAMysteryNewsletter.com

Private Wars Excerpt


The day was clear and cold and bright, and Chace pulled off her sunglasses to get a better look at the boy at the side of the road.

She put him around thirteen, maybe a little older, thin, wearing the odd combination of traditional-meets-West clothing she’d seen so much of before leaving Tashkent that morning. The boy wore tan trousers, his pant legs tucked into the tops of his calf-high black boots, coated with dust, scuffed and scratched, with a pair of slippers on over them that could be easily removed upon entering a private home or a mosque. His t-shirt was red, just visible beneath the striped wrap-around cloak he wore, belted with a sash at his waist. His black hair was mostly hidden beneath the fleeced tilpak atop his head, its flaps dangling loosely at his cheeks. Unlike what she’d seen in Tashkent, though, this boy’s clothing showed obvious wear, and she could see where both the cloak and the trousers had been repeatedly repaired.

There’d been a mining town some twelve kilometers back, built around an enormous plant constructed to heat-leach gold from the low-grade ore brought up by miners. The plant, and Chace supposed, the mines as well, were foreign-operated, most likely by some concern out of the E.U.. She’d wondered idly in passing what the kick-back to the Uzbek Government had been. She’d imagined it to be substantial, and wondered if the return in gold was worth the cost.

The boy was likely from that community, though what he was doing out here alone she had no idea, and saw no sign of a ready explanation. He had no herd of goat or other livestock requiring attention, and carried nothing but a, ratty fabric bag slung over his shoulder. The bag, like his T-shirt, was red, but faded almost pink. He stood and stared as she slowed the car to a stop, then rolled down her window. The car was a Range Rover, left-hand drive, and at least twenty years old. Chace had purchased it from a middle-aged man she’d met at the Art Center in Tashkent early that morning. She’d paid him five thousand dollars for it, in cash, and he’d been so delighted he’d offered to sell her his brother’s motorcycle as well. Chace had, for a moment, entertained the idea; a second vehicle, stashed in Tashkent, might come in useful. But her plan ultimately required moving not just her, but two others, and a motorcycle would be inadequate to that task.

“Assalom aleikum,” Chace said.

The boy grinned at her accent. “Waleikum assalom.”

“Siz Ingliz tilida gapirasizmi?”

He shook his head. “Yoq, Uzbekcha. Uzbekcha, ha?”

Chace shook her head, bringing up a grin to match the boy’s own.

“Men Ingliz bilmayman,” the boy said. “Russki?”

Chace switched to Russian, answering, “A little.”

“I have a little Russian, too,” the boy said, answering in the same. “You are American?”

“English.”

“You are lost?”

“A little, I think. I’m looking for the market.”

He reappraised her, his look clearly questioning her sanity. “No market.”

“Across the border. For guns.”

“Oh, yes, there is that market.”

“How far?”

“It moves. Not know where now.”

“You help me find it?”

The look that doubted Chace’s sanity returned, more amused.

“Why you go there?”

“I need guns,” Chace answered, simply.

The boy considered that, then, seeing no flaw in the logic, nodded.

“They have guns. More than guns, also. Drugs. Girls.”

“I will pay. You be my guide, I will pay.” She reached into her coat, freeing one of the bills from the bundle in the inner pocket, showing him an American twenty-dollar bill. “For you.” The boy stuck out his hand, and Chace extended the bill, letting him take it. He examined it with deep suspicion, drawing the paper taut between both hands, holding it up to the sunlight. Chace doubted he could tell a forgery from the real thing, and the whole affectation struck her as vaguely charming. She fought back a smile. Once the boy was satisfied, he tucked the bill into his trousers, beneath the folds of his cloak, then walked around the Range Rover, coming from behind it. Chace tracked him in the mirrors, and this time she did smile as she watched the boy rise on tiptoe at the rear of the vehicle, to peer into the back. Seeing nothing that alarmed him, he continued around to the right-hand side. Chace leaned across the seat and unlocked the door, shoving it open, and the boy climbed in, looking around at the interior of the vehicle. Then he closed the door, sighed, stretched, and leaned back in the front passenger’s seat. Chace fought the urge to laugh. The boy straightened again, then indicated himself with his right thumb. “Javlon.”

Chace indicated herself. “Tracy.”

“Tracy,” the boy echoed, then pointed out the windscreen, down the narrow dirt road. “Tracy, that way.”

At some point early on they must have crossed the border into Kazakhstan, but there was nothing to mark it, and Chace knew that, at least in this part of the country, such designations were meaningless. Calling the border porous was generous. To the south, of course, the situation was different, the border into Afghanistan was watched, if not by Uzbekistan’s forces, then by the United States.

They stopped three times, in three separate villages, the first shortly after Javlon had climbed aboard, which he explained to her was his home. There were a handful of houses, and a small mosque, serving as the community center as much as the heart of worship. Javlon sprang from the car upon their arrival, without explanation, and for several minutes Chace waited, wondering if he was going to come back. No one emerged from any of the buildings, not even the mosque.

After five minutes, though, Javlon returned, climbing in, and after him came a handful of others, children and women, all silently watching his departure. Chace saw no men in the community.

Javlon pointed her north again, then, shortly thereafter, west, until they hit a second village. He again leaped from the car, all but accosting an older man drawing water from a well that had been dropped in the center of the square. She heard a hasty conversation in what she supposed was Uzbek, but could just have easily been one of the other half-dozen regional dialects. Returning, Javlon gave her new directions, still heading west, and at the third village, he repeated the process once more.

“Close,” he informed her upon returning this time. “Very close.

They move always.”

“How close?”

The boy thought, then held up his left hand, splaying his fingers. “Five kilometers?”

“Five, yes.”

She watched the odometer then, and after three and a half came to a stop. Javlon looked at her in confusion, and then, when she killed the engine, in something approaching alarm.

“I want you to do something,” Chace told him.

He looked at her with open suspicion, his right hand moving with almost comical stillness to the handle of the door.

“Nothing bad,” she assured him, and then, very deliberately, still smiling at him, reached again into her coat and freed two more bills from her roll. She was drawing blind, mostly because she didn’t want to reveal exactly how much cash she was carrying, and was therefore relieved to see that she had pulled another two twenties, and not any of the larger denominations. She handed the bills to Javlon.

He took them, but the suspicion remained on his face.

Chace pointed out the windshield, over the front of the car. “It’s that way?”

“Yes, that way.”

“I want you to go first,” Chace said carefully. “You understand? You go first, with the money. You buy—”

“Buy?”

Chace gestured, miming the exchange of money. “Buy, yes?”

Javlon nodded.

“You buy a gun, please.” Chace raised her right hand, turning it sideways, extending her index finger, making the shape of a pistol, careful to not point at the boy. “A gun. And bullets. You bring them back to me, here.”

Javlon’s face scrunched in confusion, and Chace was unsure if he was trying to fathom her directions or the logic behind them.

“Gun for you?” he asked.

“Yes, but you get it for me first, yes?”

“Then you go buy more guns?”

Chace nodded.

He thought about that for several more seconds, then suddenly let loose with a long “Ohh!” and began nodding.

“You have no gun,” he deduced.

“That’s right.”

“Oh!” He touched his forehead, grinning. “Smart.”

Chace gestured out the windshield once more. “You go. I wait here.”

She watched as he walked up the road, over a rise, then down and out of sight. She checked her watch, and wished, passionately, that she had bought cigarettes before leaving Tashkent. After ten minutes, she opened her door and got out of the vehicle. This part of the country—countries, Chace corrected herself— was desert, hard dusty earth and a paucity of greenery. Chilly during the day, it would become freezing at night. But if she was still out here after sunset, the weather would be the least of her problems. She had no desire to walk into an open air gun show in the middle of nowhere at sundown; it seemed like a very good way to make sure she wouldn’t walk out again, even if she was armed when she did it.

It was why she’d sent Javlon ahead, after all. A Western woman with a lot of cash on a shopping trip was going to be seen as an easy mark, and she knew it. Before any actual business could take place, she’d have to prove to the vendors that she wasn’t a valid target.

A wind came up, swirling dust off the ground, providing the only noise. She resisted the urge to check her watch again, then surrendered.

Twenty-one minutes.

Then thirty.

And then, coming back over the rise, Javlon, grinning from ear to ear, holding a pistol in one hand, and a box of ammunition in the other. When he saw her, he began jogging toward her.

“Tracy! Look!”

Alarmingly, he pointed the pistol at her, and for an awful second, Chace wondered if she would have to kill him, if he didn’t kill her first. But the triumphant grin remained on his thin face as he closed the distance, the pride of a job well done, and when he reached her, she took the pistol from his grip quickly, and without any resistance.

“Good, yes?” he asked her, breathless. “Good gun?”

Chace examined the pistol, releasing the magazine, checking to see that it was, in fact, unloaded, before sliding back the breech and holding up the weapon, to cast sunlight into the chamber. She checked the barrel, saw nothing obstructing it, then turned the pistol and examined the firing pin. She’d expected the boy to bring her a Russian gun—given the proximity to Russia and the former Soviet involvement in the region—but instead he’d brought her a Turkish clone of a Czech pistol, the Sarsilmaz M2000.

It wasn’t the pistol she’d have chosen for herself, but Javlon could have done worse, and satisfied that the gun would function, she set it down on the hood of the Range Rover. The box of ammunition was unlabeled, the cardboard cracked and peeling.

When she opened it, she found it held only sixteen rounds. She checked each bullet one by one, discovering that only half were the required 9 mm. Of those eight, she trusted five of them enough to load them into the magazine. The rest she left in the box.

“Good, yes?” Javlon asked.

“Good,” Chace agreed, slapping the magazine into place. She racked the slide, cocking the pistol, then checked the safety. Then she untucked her shirt, and slid the gun into her pants, at the front. Javlon watched, his eyes growing wider.

“Okay,” Chace told him after she had smoothed her shirt back into place. “All done now.”

“All done?”

“You can go.”

Javlon shook his head. “I come with.”

Chace shook her head. “No.”

“But I come.”

“No. Dangerous.”

The boy shrugged.

Chace pointed at the ground. “Wait here.”

“I come.”

“No, you wait here,” Chace said, growing frustrated. She pointed at the ground beneath her feet again, more insistently. “Wait here. I come back.”

Javlon folded his arms across his chest, giving her a look that seemed to say she was both stupid and unreasonable.

“Wait here,” Chace said a last time, and climbed back into the Rover.

She left him at the side of the road.

* * *

It was closer to three kilometers than one and a half, and she ended up off the road entirely, finally parking at the edge of a gulley. She could see smoke from cooking fires rising from below, and as soon as she stopped the engine, heard the din of livestock and voices and music. She got out of the car, locked it, pocketing the keys, then removing her sunglasses. She counted six other vehicles, all of them dusty, rusted, and at least as old as her own, parked around the edges of the market. The scent of roasting meat, fuel, and manure mixed in the dry, cold air.

She approached the edge of the gulley, hopped down into the dry creek bed, and made her way toward the noise. The livestock came first, goats tethered in groups of three or four to stakes driven into the ground, chickens in too-small metal cages lined up around them, dropping feathers every time they tried to flap their wings. A couple of dogs were similarly tied.

Past the livestock, the market, such as it was, began in earnest, where the gulley grew wider and more shallow. Chace experienced a painful deja vu, because she had been here before, not here, but almost here, in Saudi Arabia, a place called the Wadi-as-Sirhan. It had been night, then, and Tom had died there, and for a moment the memory assailed her, and she had to stop, to fight it off.

A large tent anchored the center of the bazaar, Soviet Army surplus, and framing the approach to its entrance, along both sides, stood pitted and bent metal folding tables, with companion benches. Three separate cooking fires burned nearby, meat sizzling over the flames, fat spitting on the grills. A ragged mutt prowled between the tables, looking for scraps. Music from three separate boom boxes competed with each other, crackling from burst speakers, country-and-western and Europop.

Spreading out, filling the rest of the gulley around the tent, were the vendors, most of them with their wares displayed on dirty blankets or rugs, a few having gone so far as to raise canopies of one sort or another on sticks, to provide shelter and an illusion of privacy. Chace saw bootleg cassettes and CDs, old magazines, bits and pieces of machinery salvaged from who knew what, and piles upon piles of army surplus equipment. There were flashlights and entrenching tools and MREs and radios that she suspected would never be made to transmit or receive again. Most of the surplus was Soviet-era, but among them she spied bits and pieces of more modern equipment, materiel either bought or stolen from Coalition forces, even what appeared to be a set of NVGs. Three separate vendors were selling drugs, pot and hash and opium and their big brother, heroin.

And there were weapons, so many weapons. Not counting the ones being carried by the vendors and the shoppers, stacked precariously in makeshift displays, arrayed on their blankets, piled one upon the other. The collections spanned the ages, it seemed, weapons that had migrated throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia over the last sixty-plus years. From the Second World War through Korea and Vietnam, the tools of war that had survived and been passed on from one set of hands to another, with varying degrees of care. There were pistols from Vietnam and rifles from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, revolvers from Korea and knives from the Second World War. There were swords and spears and axes of indeterminate origin and provenance, and a wide selection of knives that, at first glance, seemed to be of local manufacture, and fairly high-quality. Ammunition boxes formed makeshift barriers between stalls, labeled in Cyrillic and Mandarin and Uzbek and English. She saw grenades, she saw flak jackets, she saw collapsible batons, she saw submachine guns.

She stopped again, this time to orient herself, aware that she was drawing eyes. It didn’t alarm her; it was expected. There were perhaps some thirty to forty people around, either selling or buying. Almost all of them looked to be ethnic Uzbeks, though there were no doubt Kazakhs and Kyrgyzs among them.

And all were men, to the last of them, with the exception of the only other woman Chace could discern, standing at the closed flap of the tent. The men ranged in age from late teens to perhaps mid-fifties, most dressed in the traditional mix of cloaks and boots, a few in the post-Soviet work fashion, the majority with their heads covered. The woman—or girl—looked to be fifteen at the oldest, wearing a filthy robe. Her legs were bare, and Chace suspected that, beneath the robe, she wore nothing else. If she was cold, she did a good job of hiding it.

While Chace watched, the tent flap parted, and a squat man emerged, bearded, pulling up his trousers. Past him, inside, Chace could see two other girls, each naked, moving to cover themselves. The squat man exchanged words with another, seated at the table near the entrance, then stopped, looking her way. Another man, seated at one of the tables, rose and headed into the tent. Chace heard movement behind her, ignored it for the moment. They still didn’t know what to make of her. No one would try anything, not yet.

She tried to put a cap on what she was feeling, forced herself to look away from the tent and back to the vendors, began walking around the circle, looking at the items on each blanket as she passed. She stopped briefly at a display of knives, seeing a bonehandled blade that caught her fancy, thinking that she would need a knife. In her periphery, she counted three men following her as a group, staying perhaps fifteen feet back. Two of them carried Kalashnikovs on straps at the shoulders. The third, the eldest of the three, wore a pistol in a holster around his waist. Chace continued working her way around the market, finally completing her counterclockwise circuit at the largest collection of weapons for sale, to the left of the tent entrance. A grumpy-looking Uzbek in overalls and a work shirt watched over the wares, eyeing her with an expression that seemed caught between suspicion and amusement, yet undecided. Chace passed his wares, which seemed to be grouped without rhyme or reason, then stopped and doubled back, her eye snagging on a pistol half-buried in a stack near the back of the makeshift stall. It was a semiauto, what looked to be a Smith & Wesson Mk 39, but at this distance, she couldn’t be sure. The men following her stopped when she did.

Chace pointed. “Can I see that?” she asked in Russian.

“You’re not Russian,” the vendor said. It wasn’t quite accusatory, but it came close.

“That one,” Chace said, indicating the pistol again. “The Smith and Wesson.”

“You have money?”

She smiled.

“You come here alone?”

She let her smile grow a fraction.

The man smiled in return, revealing the fact that he was missing his upper two front teeth. “You should not come alone.”

“That one,” Chace repeated.

The man hesitated, and Chace saw his eyes flick past her, to her left, to the three men who had been following, and she knew what was coming, and she knew what the cue would be.

The vendor nodded, shrugged, and started to turn away from her, toward the indicated stack of weapons. As he did, she heard the movement, caught the motion in her periphery, the Kalashnikovs coming off of the shoulders of both men. There was no haste in their movement, and it gave her all the time she needed. Chace swept her right hand up, over her belly, and brought out the pistol Javlon had bought for her. She struck down the safety with her thumb as she freed the weapon, had her finger settled well on the trigger by the time she put her sights on the vendor’s back. Everyone stopped, the men with the rifles and the ones shuffling at their blankets and the ones eating their meals.

“Alone,” Chace said. “Not stupid.”

The vendor turned around to face her, slowly, and when he saw the pistol pointed at him, raised his hands, showing her his palms. “They lower the guns,” Chace told him. “Or I shoot.” The vendor nodded and spoke in Uzbek. Chace risked turning her head enough to see the three, and to confirm that they had complied.

“Have to try,” the vendor said, by way of explanation, still showing her his hands, and working in a shrug for added effect.

She looked back at him. “I understand.”

“If you want, we can do business now.” He smiled hopefully, again revealing his missing teeth.

“Yes, please,” Chace agreed, and with her free hand, she pointed to the stack once more, and added, “It’s the one sticking out at the bottom.”

The vendor nodded, turning to retrieve the gun in question, and as he did, Chace threw the safety back into place on the pistol, and slid it once more into the front of her trousers. She felt as much as heard the tension lift from the market, then, and by the time the vendor was showing her the Smith & Wesson, conversations were resuming.

* * *

It took the better part of two hours to buy everything she thought she would need, or at least, to buy everything that they had that she thought she would need. When she was finished, the three men who had stalked her helped to carry her purchases back to the Range Rover, where she loaded them into the back. She’d bought three blankets off one of the vendors, and used them to cover the weapons, ammunition, and other equipment. Once everything was squared away, Chace walked back to the vendor with the missing teeth, and paid, in cash. No one bothered her, no one followed her, as she returned to the car, poorer, but certainly better armed.

* * *

When she returned to the spot where she’d left Javlon, he was gone, and the sun was dipping below the horizon.

Chace waited by the side of the road until darkness came.

The boy never came back.

Keeper (1996)

Keeper Cover

Keeper Cover

For Atticus Kodiak, professional bodyguard, the object is to keep people alive, and there is no margin for error. Dr. Felice Romero hires Atticus and his team of security specialists to protect her and her daughter, Katie. As administrator of the Women’s LifeCare Clinic, she’s accumulated a thick file of anonymous death threats. With the approach of the Common Ground Conference, designed to forge a compromise between pro-choice and pro-life groups and end violent protest, the threats have escalated in number and ugliness. Even as he defends the doctor’s right to speak, Atticus knows that protecting the doctor at the conference will be logistical nightmare. Soon it becomes not only a matter of keeping her safe during the conference, but to keep everyone, including his own team, alive until the conference.

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Release information

KEEPER
Bantam US hardcover June 1996 0553102443
Bantam US paperback May 1997 0553574280

Reviews

An impressive debut…Keeper is one to hang on to.
—People

Crisper, tighter and tougher…A keeper as a novel!
—San Francisco Chronicle

Riveting…Keeper is full of surprises.
—Houston Chronicle

Keeper pulls at the heart-strings and brings tears to the eyes….A remarkable first novel.
—The Orlando Sentinel

The book is a keeper.
—The Boston Sunday Globe

Keeper is no ordinary thriller….Remarkable.
—The Denver Post

A strong debut and a real contribution to the genre. Keeper combines compelling plot with right-now subtext. Greg Rucka is going to make his mark…stay tuned!
—Andrew Vachss

A few top crime writers—Robert B. Parker in the Spenser series, for instance—have wandered into bodyguard territory. Rucka has the talent to make it his own, however, especially if he spins this trim tale into a series.
—Publishers Weekly

Keeper Excerpt

Keeper Cover

Keeper Cover

Much as I wanted to, I didn’t break the guy’s nose.

Instead, I kept both hands on Alison’s shoulders, using my body as a shield to get us through the crowd. At six feet and over one hundred and ninety pounds, I’m big enough to be intimidating, even wearing glasses. People normally get out of my way when I want them to.

But the guy stuck with us, even going so far as to lean his face closer to mine. His teeth were the product of either good genes or expensive orthodontia, and the fire was hot in his eyes. He yelled, “Don’t let her murder your son!”

Another man pushed a camera at us and snapped a quick photograph, reflecting us in the lens. Over the prayers of several people who pleaded with Jesus to save the soul of our unborn child, I could hear the photographer say, “We won’t forget you.” Whether that was directed at us or the fetus wasn’t clear.

Alison said nothing, her head low and near my chest, one hand around my back, one on my arm. I’d never felt her hold me like that. It almost hurt.

A young black man wearing a safety-orange vest over his T-shirt opened the glass door for us. As we went past he said, “Damn. We don’t usually get this.” He closed the door behind us, then turned and gave a nod to the uniformed security guard, who buzzed us through a second door, letting us into the ground-floor reception room.

For a disorienting moment we stood there, on the neat checkers of linoleum, still clinging to one another. New faces all around looked back, some embarrassed, some sad, some carefully blank. Eight women, waiting on chairs and couches, and only two of them looked obviously pregnant. One had a baby in her arms. Somehow the child could sleep through all the noise from outside.

A nurse behind the desk said, “Your name?”

Alison let go of me. “Alison Wallace.”

The nurse checked a printout on the counter, then nodded. “You want the second floor. Through that door, down the hall, take the elevator or the stairs.” She smiled at Alison. “Check in at the counter there.” Then the nurse looked at me and asked, “You’ll be going up with her?”

“Yes.”

“Your name?”

“It’s Atticus,” Alison told her. “Atticus Kodiak.”

I took Alison’s hand. We went through the door and down a long hall, past a lounge and several examination rooms and offices. We passed a doctor in the hall and he gave us the same smile the nurse had.

Alison wanted to take the stairs. “I’ll get to see the elevator after,” she said. She let go of my hand when we reached the second floor, stepping into another waiting room, almost identical to the one on the ground floor but with nicer furnishings. More couches and chairs, magazine racks, coffee tables, a coffeemaker, a television. The walls were painted light blue, with white detailing at the trim. At the opposite side of the room from the stairway was a glass partition where more nurses were controlling intake. There was a door beside the partition, and I figured it led to the procedure and recovery rooms. Another door on the wall to the right of that had a sign on it reading “Education and Services.”

Alison told me to sit down, then went to the partition and checked in. We filled out her paperwork together, and I had to sign a waiver and a release form, not unlike the forms you fill out before getting your wisdom teeth pulled. Alison returned the completed paperwork, and we sat together for another forty-five minutes before the nurse called her name. I gave her a kiss on the cheek before she rose.

“This is the right thing,” Alison said.

“I know.”

She returned my kiss with dry lips, then went with the nurse. She didn’t look back.

Finder (1997)

Finder Cover

Finder Cover

The scene at Manhattan’s lower West Side clubs is rough trade, but no rougher than Atticus Kodiak has to be to keep it under control. No promises made, none needed in the raw and raunchy underground, the perfect place for him to avoid the guilty feelings over his best friend’s death. Until he sees Erika Wyatt, the teenage daughter of an Army colonel Atticus once guarded. Stalked by a cold-eyed commando fondling a wicked knife, Erika draws Atticus back into the protection business. In a case built on lies, vengeance, and sins of the past, Atticus learns that a promise can be the most dangerous weapon of all.

Read an excerpt.

Release information

FINDER
Bantam US hardcover June 1997 055310098X
Bantam US paperback September 1998 0553574299
Recorded Books US audio (unabridged) December 1999 0788739948

Reviews

The action is nonstop.
—The Boston Globe

Rucka makes superb use of crisp, understated prose, complex and enigmatic characters, highly charged emotions, breakneck pacing, and a brilliantly original, cleverly engineered plot. A powerhouse of a story that will leave readers gasping.
—Booklist

A memorable novel, dark as a moonless night.
—Mostly Murder

As grit-gray and compelling as life. A-plus.
—The Philadelphia Inquirer

Rucka blends Spillane’s ‘tough-guy’ private eye with Chandler’s noir insights and Hemingway’s spartan expression….Once you’ve picked up this book, chances are you’ll just keep going. And want more.
—Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon