ONE

 

 

SIMON MONK emerged from the Siverskyi Donets River sheathed in a black wet suit, all but invisible in the pale moonlight. In his thirties, he was powerfully built: six foot one and 185 pounds. He swept back his short, wet, dark brown hair, which angled down to a square-cut chin, as he stepped out of his fins and moved swiftly and silently, like a wraith, into the dense woodland thicket. Monk retrieved his trusted HK VP9 from the waterproof Loksak attached to the belt of his slick suit as he stripped down to a black Henley and MultiCam black tactical pants. He screwed on the pistol’s suppressor as he made his unhurried way to a small, run-down white boat shed and took up position. He studied the small Soviet-era dacha and its lone sentry through his night-vision monocular.

The tall paramilitary-looking figure stood about five meters from a black Euro sedan, in an informal fatigue outfit without insignia, carrying a heavy Beretta pistol. The man did not see Monk, who came from behind and felled him easily with a bullet to the head, wiping half his face out of existence. Monk pulled out the monocular again, clicked on the thermal vision, and turned it toward the house. The quick look revealed two silhouettes tinged in crimson. Monk ran across the lawn to the back door and used the thin blade of his Vendetta Corse knife to jimmy the screen latch. He retrieved his pistol, holding it level in his left hand as he went inside.

He followed the sound of the TV set on low, moving to the first bedroom, and after finding it empty, he quickly darted to the second, where inside lay the naked, sleeping figure of Colonel Yury Drugov, sweaty and spent. In his late fifties, Drugov was no longer young; distinguished silver flecked the dark, lank hair and stubble of a face heavily scarred and disfigured by shrapnel from a grenade explosion from his early days in the Russian infantry.

Monk’s gaze shifted to the naked girl securely bound by her feet to a wooden chair next to the bed. She looked to be only sixteen or so, with short jet-black hair, her delicate features marred by a lip that was bloody and split, both eyes blackened, and a throat lurid with dark aubergine bruises. The girl’s tan-colored eyes fell wide on Monk as a chill swept through her upon seeing the silenced gun barrel in her face. Monk lifted his hand palm up, indicated that she stay calm and quiet. She gave a brief nod, looking as if she was going to be sick.

He moved to Drugov’s side and emptied the ammo clip from the Makarov PM that rested beside him. Monk replaced the gun, then sat down comfortably in a hard wooden chair directly across from Drugov, his pistol leveled at the man with utter stillness.

He kicked the sleeping Russian’s foot, which dangled off the bed.

Drugov awoke startled, instinctively snapping up the gun he had used to kill untold numbers of enemies. He leveled the blunt pistol at the stranger sitting across from him, pausing just long enough for him to commit the face of his enemy to memory before pulling the trigger in rapid succession. Instead of the nine mil’s usual deadly bark, Drugov heard only the cold click of the Makarov’s hammer against empty metal—a sound he knew meant his death.

Monk held up the Makarov’s ammo mag. “I emptied it,” he said. “You didn’t think I’d leave a loaded pistol lying around with Spetsnaz in the room, do you?

Monk saw the look in Drugov’s eyes, and knew it for what it was. “Drop it, Colonel,” Monk growled as he stared balefully at the elite Russian soldier. Anything in the hands of a man like Drugov was a lethal weapon for him to use, especially an empty pistol that could be hurled.

“This is nine-millimeter hollow-point ammo. Imagine the mess they’ll make of your privates.” Monk’s voice was quite colorless, his pistol grasped firmly in front of him and pointed at Drugov’s now flaccid groin, his ability to remain emotionally detached having been impossibly shattered upon seeing the teenager who had been beaten and likely raped, if Drugov held true to his character.

Drugov let the handgun fall, seeing death in the face of the man who sat across from him.

Monk refocused back on the task at hand and emptied his mind of all emotional thoughts except what he intended to do: kill this murderous bastard. Now he would happily allow himself to enjoy it.

“You should sleep less soundly, Colonel,” Monk said, having fully regained his aplomb. “How fitting that will be your epitaph.”

“If it’s money—”

Drugov was in midsentence when Monk pumped two slugs into the man’s groin, cutting off the words before they fully left his lips.

“It isn’t.”

 

 

 

TWO

 

DRUGOV’S HOWLS as his groin exploded, struck by the hollow-point rounds, were cut short as Monk squeezed off a shot in his face that obliterated him, sending a plume of gore against the wall. Drugov’s stocky frame fell backward on the mattress, his arms spread wide. The girl choked back a small cry as his brain matter speckled her light complexion like an abstract Warhol from what had been a human face three seconds before.

In a corner of his eye, Monk saw another gunman around the corner as he pulled down a small shotgun from the lintel over the door and leveled it toward him. Monk spun around, gun raised, firing twice at the man. The thug’s body violently jerked with each dull thump of Monk’s semiauto, and he fell heavily to the floor. Monk went to the fallen figure and kicked the shotgun away, ignoring the gaping holes the slugs had torn through the man’s chest.

Monk turned and gazed into the ashen face of the girl. She stiffened as Monk went straight to her, examining him fiercely, as she braced herself, expecting his next bullet to be for her.

But it never came.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Monk assured her in Russian with a level tone. He made sure the girl’s eyes didn’t leave his as he dropped to one knee and cut her feet free with his knife. Monk got up, grabbing the girl by her wrists, bringing her upright to her feet with him.

“Are there any other girls?”

She shook her head, shivering from shock as she looked down at the dead man splayed in crucifixion. Her eyes were stricken, and Monk guessed that of all the horrors she had likely endured at the hands of an animal like Drugov, she’d never watched anyone die before.

“How many more men are there?”

Her mouth worked soundlessly, then a single word fell from her lips. “Two.”

He helped her gather her things. “Go and lock yourself in the bathroom until I come back for you.”

She obeyed and ran to the toilet, shutting the door behind her.

When he heard the bathroom door latch, Monk slipped out of the bedroom, peering down the hallway to the living room, seeing only an empty room gazing back. Back flat to the wall, Monk stalked into the front room. He crossed quickly to where the door leading to the basement of the home stood ajar, and threw it briskly open. Barely had the door moved before twin muzzle flashes came, a revolver bullet nearly parting his hair. Monk dove to the ground and rolled to cover as two more rounds splintered the wood around him. He fired into the television, and the room went dark. In the silence he heard the metal butt of a pistol meet glass as light extinguished in the basement below.

Monk leaped from his cover, firing three rounds back into the darkness as an aim-spoiler as he bounded down the cellar stairs. When his boots landed on the dirt floor, he took a single stride and went down to one knee, holstering his pistol and drawing his knife. It was not possible to tell who was in the small room with him, where they were. Monk felt cruelly exposed, uncomfortably aware of the possibility of more than one assailant in the basement with him.

Monk froze for two seconds as a pair of large hands tightly clamped around his face. He fought unsuccessfully for a grip against the man holding his skull. He stabbed the stiletto into the stocky shape behind him with three swift jabs. With a fourth strike of the knife, the man’s limbs fell lifeless, freeing Monk. As he rose, the sound of the Euro sedan’s engine turning over sent him charging back up the stairs. His gaze fastened on the automobile as he burst from the dacha. Leveling his semiauto, he shot three times, hitting the trunk and rear window as the car took off. His third slug tore a hole in the driver’s shoulder, throwing him forward against the wheel. The sedan swerved left, sending it headlong into a tree with a violent thump of crunching metal.

Monk walked around the mangled sedan. Inside, the Russian soldier groaned and twitched, fumbling between the seat for a gun. Monk raised his nine millimeter and pumped two slugs in his chest. With all the men dispatched, Monk turned and walked back to the house. He returned to the bedroom and spoke to the girl through the bathroom door.

“You can come out now,” Monk said in Russian.

She opened the door slowly and limped from the bathroom, now fully dressed.

“What’s your name?” When she didn’t answer, he asked again.

“I’m Yeva,” she answered, her voice clogged with tears and blood. “Are they all dead?” she asked, finding her slip-on shoes.

He nodded and said, “Would you have preferred they weren’t?”

“No. He let each of them have their turn with me.”

Monk unscrewed the hollow titanium tube that was the gun’s bulky suppressor, then tucked it into his pants. While it was a necessary accessory, he hated what it did to the gun’s balance. He pulled his iPhone from his pants, took proof-of-death pictures of the dead colonel, and transmitted them via encoded e-mail.

“I’m Justin.” Monk, like all covert agents, utilized an unofficial cover. Justin Herring was his. “Do you speak English? I’m afraid my grasp of the language is borderline offensive.”

“Yes, I speak English.” Her Russian accent was a deep melodic singsong, no less thick in English than in her native tongue.

“It’s not safe for you to stay here, Yeva. More men like him are going to come. Worse men. You’re going to have to run, I’m afraid,” said Monk briskly. “Do you have a safe place you can go?”

“No,” murmured Yeva. “He killed my father, my uncle, and my momma.”

Protocol dictated that Monk leave the girl and proceed to his exfiltration point. He’d saved Yeva’s life. If she wanted to continue living, she’d have to fend for herself now. Monk needed to disappear, and her presence would only complicate things.

The inner voice in his head that opposed him belonged to his uncle Scott: “Smarts don’t come out of books, kid. Smarts is making the right decision at the right time.” Monk heard the man as if he were in the room standing next to him. He tried to push the thought out of his mind but failed. If left, Yeva faced the probable dreadful fate of further rape and eventual murder. Monk saw little choice but to shelve his protocols. He had to get the girl to some relative safety.

Monk could see the sun fast encroaching through the window and read the dials of the Omega Seamaster Diver on his wrist. Every minute counted against them now.

“Look,” Monk said, “you can come with me and I’ll help get you to a safe place. If you’re coming, we do it now, and we go where I say. Or you can stay behind.”

Yeva looked into his strong face, seeing only concern in his palest of green eyes, and all her apprehension fled.

“Yes,” she replied, her gaze darting briefly to Drugov. “I will come with you.”

“Let’s move,” he said. He turned and walked first from the room and then the house, followed by the girl.

Monk’s manner stayed dark, purposeful, and alert as they ran in swift silence through the woods until they reached the shoreline. There was a solid dock down by the river, and Monk could just make out the shape of the small boat bobbing, low in the water, at its mooring points.

“Get aboard,” Monk said, untying the front of the craft from the dock.

Yeva obeyed, leaping aboard. Monk jumped onto the fiberglass deck a moment later. He moved into the driver’s seat, finding the keys in the ignition, and started the engine. Once he cleared the dock, Monk opened the throttle up, rumbling unevenly across the dark indigo channel at about fourteen miles per hour.

Neither spoke while the distance between dacha and craft lessened. When Monk spotted the shadowy bulk of land ahead, he cut power to the engines and the boat drifted in. Once they grounded, Monk and Yeva climbed out and made haste to the subcompact, slate-colored AWD he’d parked by the river’s edge. Yeva sank into the passenger seat while Monk climbed behind the wheel. The light car shot forward as he released the clutch, pointing the vehicle south. Monk drove as fast as he could over the uneven road surface, sticking to the local back roads until they safely cleared the pro-Russian militant zones.

“You’re American.” Yeva spoke in soft, hushed tones, finally breaking her long silence.

“I am, yes,” Monk said.

“Are you a spy?”

“Are all Americans spies?” he asked.

She nodded. “Or journalists.”

“Not exactly,” he lied. It was precisely what he was, though the term spy had always struck him as a tad outdated. “I was merely being a Good Samaritan.”

“One who carries a gun? You killed all of those men.”

“This is a very dangerous country. And they weren’t nice people, were they?”

“No, it is good,” she said with some finality, and turned, looking out the window, her silence again becoming his travel companion.

They arrived in Kiev just after daybreak and drove straight to the city. Monk’s safe house was on the sixth floor of a well-groomed tenement building well away from the clashes in Independence Square that had made the capital city almost unrecognizable. The one-room flat had a single bathroom and was just barely large enough for the sofa bed and some equipment.

Monk had Yeva sit while he retrieved the first-aid kit. “Let’s have a look at you.”

The damage looked worse than it was, but it would still be a while before the girl would be pretty again. He cleaned and doctored her face, putting antiseptic on the cuts. He pressed a cloth filled with ice to her face.

“Nothing appears broken,” said Monk. “I’m sure you’d like a shower. When you’re up to it, there are clean towels by the sink. I have to step into the hallway to make a call.”

Yeva looked directly at Monk with eyes that were tired and frightened now, not watchful.

“Don’t worry,” Monk said. “No one knows we’re here. You’re safe.”

Yeva nodded, headed to the bathroom, and closed the door behind her. With the lock click, Monk stepped into the hallway and called the secure line that rang half a globe away in Langley, Virginia. He braced himself for what he knew would be a fair amount of hell from his deputy chief for his breach of protocol.