Prologue - Tracking Digital Betrayal - Two years ago
Beaten as he was, he could barely stand. Trembling fear was the only reason he didn’t collapse in front of them. It was supposed to be a simple drop off, routine like the others, only this wasn’t like the others. It was a trap, and he had walked into it only thinking about where to get his adult male entertainment that evening. It was evening now, but entertainment wasn’t at top of his list at this point, only surviving.
His captor snarled, “You were supposed to bring the package straight here, unopened! Did you think we would not notice, western dog?” The brooding man stalked around the prisoner once then hollered, “Beat him again! I want to see him on his hands and knees whimpering, begging! His betrayal will earn everything we can deliver!”
Several heavy, flexible rubber hoses rained down on his shoulders, back, and arms which did indeed force him to his knees. The blows were designed to cause heavy bruising, swelling, and bleeding just under the skin, but not break any bones. The prisoner felt his strength dissolving under the pummeling.
Finally, through his sobs he cried, “I was phoned to pick up this package and deliver it here. Once delivered I would get a deposit into my account just like the other times. Someone must have gotten there ahead of me and tried to help themselves. I swear that’s the truth!”
The captor demanded, “You think we believe you? How could that be possible when no money was missing?”
The prisoner was bewildered and sobbed as he asked, “What do you mean? If no money is missing, then why…?”
A new confident male voice of authority, outside the circle of punishment, answered, “Because of the tracking device inside the package.
“You are all under arrest. Put down your guns and raise your hands over your heads. We are the…”
The man never finished his sentence as a short burst of an automatic weapon cut across his path. The bullets caught him just below his waist line, filling the area around his body with a blood rain. Gunfire then erupted from both sides. Men dropped to the ground and took cover behind the makeshift shield of those already dead. The body armor of the U.S. security troopers kept most of them from being killed outright, while the cruel captors weren’t so lucky.
The gunfire ceased, almost as quickly as it had begun. One of the U.S. security troopers, after checking on fallen team members, went to see what the captive’s status was. As he turned the captive over, it was obvious he’d been caught by a stray bullet in the fire fight and would never be able to answer any questions.
The trooper, in a fit of disgust, bitterly remarked, “Hell! After all that monitoring and tracking of this weasel, he had to go get himself killed before we could find out who hired him. Bastard! Running guns into my country to outfit a bunch of Muslim extremists! The only good news is that we won’t have to feed and clothe him while he waits for trial.”
A team member hollered, “Rogers, we are missing two insurgents! Looks like they slipped away during the firefight!”
Rogers quickly shouted, “Alright, men, let’s pursue and trap them between the secondary line and us. Watch where you fire, since we have our people on the other side. Move out!”
Rogers continued, “Carl, you and Lee maintain a perimeter here in case they double back. Come on, people! With even two of these guys loose, they get a foothold to rebuild.”
Carl finished dressing the wounds of a downed team member and stood up to check on the fallen suspects. Lee and Carl checked each body for some type of identity papers.
After checking the last body, Carl looked at Lee and spit before he said, “Here they are! Afghan troops who were brought to the U.S. for intensive counter-insurgence training by our Army Special forces. They came in, earned some trust, and then simply vanished. They had planned this all along. Suck up to the U.S. military in Afghanistan, plead for better training to protect themselves from the Muslim extremists and insurgents in their country, and all the while it was a ruse to get their military on our soil. Might have worked too, if we hadn’t intercepted their cell phone calls. They were clumsy, and we got a lucky break, digitally tracking them.”
Lee shook his head and asked, “What I don’t know is how they got all those weapons after leaving the Army compound. There were no weapons missing from the base, so someone must have smuggled them in anticipating this kind of scenario. It always seems like the bad guys have way more friends than we do.”
Carl nodded his head but offered no response.
Lee and Carl both turned their heads in the direction of distant gunfire. They both hoped it meant the end or capture of the missing insurgents, but they couldn’t be sure.
In this ninth volume of Breakfield and Burkey's (The Enigma Broker, 2017, etc.) techno-thriller series, a covert team tracks groups who are moving information and funds using nondigital means.
The latest assignment for Julie and Juan Rodríguez's Cyber Assassin Technology Services involves more footwork than is typical for them. Julie dispatches team members to various locales from Panama to Singapore to track "AIMs"--"analog information mules" working for a global energy company called ePETRO. The AIMs handle business transactions by word of mouth in order to subvert any digital surveillance. Marge Barger and Mike Patrick of ePETRO have good reason for maintaining secrecy, as they're currently buying oil illegally from Muslim terrorists and selling it to the North Korean government. Julie goes undercover as a woman named Jackeline Cooper and lands a job at ePETRO's London office, while other CATS members, including Tyler Hebert and Ernesto Gleen in New York, search for AIMs in order to record the contacts that they make. It's not as mundane as it sounds, as information mules aren't easy to trail. But then CATS members, including Julie, inexplicably vanish, and Juan and the remaining members must ensure that everyone gets home safely as they attempt to thwart ePETRO's nefarious plans. By this point in their long-running series, Breakfield and Burkey have mastered the art of telling a story with myriad characters. They've amassed a wealth of recurring heroes, which, in this installment, generates a wide variety of storylines; CATS member Brayson Morris in Panama, for example, is apparently disenchanted and may be ready to leave the team. However, it's the villains that steal the spotlight this time around. There's obvious dissention among them, resulting in a string of double-crossings and scenes that brim with tension. Marge and Mike, in particular, aren't telling each other everything; for example, a solo Marge strives to meet the North Koreans' demand for uranium on her own. This second CATS-centric installment (after 2016's The Enigma Gamers) will leave readers yearning for more.
Astute prose and an unwavering pace energized by first-rate characters and subplots.