FBI agent Nicholas Drummond and his partner, Mike Caine, are deep into an investigation of COE—Celebrants of the Earth—a violent group known for widespread bombings of power grids and oil refineries across the country. While investigating a tip from a civilian who’s overheard about a possible bombing plot, the Bayway Refinery in New Jersey explodes. Nicholas and Mike race to the scene and barely escape being killed by a secondary device.
Returning to the civilian’s home to continue their interrogation, they discover the tipster—and the FBI team left to guard him—dead. While Nicholas calls in the assassinations, COE strikes again, this time launching a cyber-attack on several major oil companies and draining their financial and intellectual assets.
But COE has been infiltrated by a deep-cover counterterrorism agent named Vanessa Grace. A bomb-making expert, Vanessa must leave COE and join forces with Nicholas and Mike to stop the organization’s devious plan to assassinate the President. But there’s an assassin on the loose who could tip the scales in COE’s favor, and no one knows his ultimate target, or who has contracted his services.
Working with the CIA, the Secret Service, Mossad, MI-5, and even Savich and Sherlock, Nicholas and his team put their lives on the line to prevent another conflagration—and save the President.
The End Game -- by Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison
United States-Mexico Border
Three Months Ago
Zahir Damari watched the coyote turn to face the ragged band of Hondurans on the sloping Texas side of the Rio Grande. As the last Honduran climbed up the bank, pulled up by his father, Zahir saw hope now dawning on the dirty faces, saw the relief in their tired eyes at surviving the nightmare trip. They'd made it; they were in America.
The coyote, Miguel Gonzales, eyed them with contempt--nothing new in that, he'd treated this group with unveiled scorn since the beginning of their trek eight days before. Gonzales stuck out his hand to the leader of the group, an older man, a father of two younger sons. He waggled his fingers.
"Pagenme porque ustede son unos miserables."
He wanted the other half of the money owed. No, the thieving scum wanted more. Gonzales had upped the payoff. He saw the Hondurans' shock, their fear, saw them talking among themselves, voices rising.
Gonzales pulled a pistol, aimed it at the group, and held out his hand again.
Zahir smiled at Miguel Gonzales, a brutal man with stained teeth and black eyes that reflected Hell. He walked up to him, his hand outstretched with bills, and as the coyote grabbed them, Zahir stepped in quickly and gently slipped his stiletto into Gonzales's filthy shirt. Gonzales didn't make a sound because Zahir's knife was always true. It slid under the breastbone, directly into the coyote's heart. Gonzales simply looked up into Zahir's face, dropped the pistol, fell on his side, and died in the mess of dry shrubs.
The Hondurans were frozen in place, too terrified and shocked to move. Zahir leaned down, pulled out his stiletto, cleaned it on Miguel's' filthy jeans. He calmly went through Miguel's pockets, pulled out a big wad of bills, handed them to the young woman closest to him, and smiled.
"Buena suerte"--good luck--and he gave them a salute and walked away, toward El Paso, only three miles to the north.
The day was brutally hot, but he didn't mind since he'd been raised in the worst desert heat imaginable. In his shirt pocket was a small notebook filled with information and strategy from Hezbollah's top enforcer, Hasan Hadawi, called the Hammer, about a brilliant young scientist named Matthew Spenser, and how Zahir could use him to help cut off two heads of the hydra. It made Zahir's heart speed up to think about the actual doing of it, the awesome pleasure that would course through him when he'd succeeded.
Zahir knew most of the intel and strategy was from Hadawi's Iranian master, Colonel Vahid Rahbar, openly committed to the obliteration of anyone who wasn't a Shia, which would leave a small world population indeed, Zahir thought.
Zahir knew Spenser and his small group were hiding near Lake Tahoe. Spenser, according to the Hammer, had gone off the rails years before when his family had been killed in London's terrorist subway bombing in 2005. Now he led a small group called Celebrants of Earth, or COE, their goal to eliminate oil imports from the Middle East, but no murder, no casualties. The idiot ideologues, Zahir thought. Until recently, the group had operated in Britain and Europe, blowing up small to mid-sized oil refineries, small crap. But now they were here, in America, their message to the media after each bombing always the same:
No more oil from terrorist countries or you will pay the price.
Both the Colonel and the Hammer believed Spenser was an unsophisticated anti-Muslim zealot, and ripe for manipulation. Over the Hammer's favorite gin and countless French Gauloises, he'd told Zahir to become Matthew Spenser's best friend, his mentor, a man he would come to trust implicitly, a man he would follow. "You will gently mold and manipulate this fool's penny-ante goals until they become your glorious ones"--that is, until Spenser became a murderer, Zahir thought, and knew it would be a challenge, but one he would win. Zahir knew he wasn't as smart as Spenser in science, but he was years beyond Spenser in strategy, planning, execution, and sheer balls. But unlike the bare-fisted Hammer, Zahir was never guilty of underestimating an opponent, or reducing him to faults and weaknesses and strengths. He knew when to use a hammer, when to use a simple lie.
It was over the Hammer's fourth gin that he'd told Zahir with a snicker that Spenser might have a possible weakness--a woman named Vanessa, a beauty, late twenties, red hair, milk-white skin, and blue eyes, and the Hammer showed him a photo of her. She hardly fit the image of a wacko bomber, but the Hammer assured him she'd been building bombs with an Irish IRA git named Ian McGuire and his faction. Both groups hated what they saw as radical Islam's encroachment into their world, and according to the Hammer, this common cause united them.
With another snicker, he told Zahir the woman and Spenser were probably lovers and his grin split his mouth wide enough to see the gold filling in his back molar. He suggested Zahir seduce Vanessa away from Spenser, but Zahir couldn't figure out what that would gain him, certainly not Spenser's trust and friendship. He would see.
But it was Iranian colonel Vahid Rahbar who'd told him his most important goal: to steal Spenser's amazing invention, a bomb that looked like a gold fifty-cent piece, no larger, and, according to their sources, would be undetectable. Nearly perfected, they'd heard, and the minute it was perfected, he wanted it. The colonel had rubbed his hands together. "You, my friend, will light the fuse that will begin the war, then we will explode their cities, kill millions, and none of them will even know how it was done. Our casualties--it is nothing compared to what we will gain. When it is all over, we will rule the world." Unspoken was Shia will arise from the ashes and control the earth's destiny.
Zahir didn't really care if Shia ran the world or if Buddha took over. His specialty would always be in demand.
He whistled as he got into another stolen car, lifted from a side street in Reno. He would steal another car in a place named Incline Village, drive into the Sierras, and find Spenser.
He wondered which head of the hydra he'd manipulate Spenser into killing--the president or the vice president.
The game was about to begin.
Chapter 4 -- Pawn to G6
Elizabeth, New jersey
They arrived on scene along with most of the first responders. Mike speeded through the gates of the refinery, onto the long road leading to the huge converters, closer and closer to the fire. When the road ran out, blocked by a large chunk of metal, she pulled to a stop and flew out of the car, running toward the flames, Nicholas beside her, both dodging the debris still raining down. Nicholas grabbed her arm, jerked her back to him. He pulled off his leather jacket, ripped off his shirt sleeve, and wrapped it around her face. "Tie it tight."
He ripped off the other sleeve and covered his own nose and mouth. Still, the choking black smoke seeped in, making them wheeze and cough. And then they were off. It was like running through a battlefield toward a wall of flames, he thought, as he shrugged his jacket back on. It wasn't much protection, but some. Mike was wearing her motorcycle jacket, heavier than his, and that was good.
They sucked in their breaths and kept running. he heard Mike scream, "Over here, Nicholas!"
He changed course, dodging flying rubble, banging his hip against a concrete pylon, there to ensure the security of this place, only it hadn't done any good. The bombers had gotten in despite all the safety precautions.
Nicholas saw a man pinned under a piece of the wreckage. His skin was deathly white and blood seeped from his legs, black in the night.
Nicholas moved behind the man, nodded to Mike. "One, two, three," she yelled, and Nicholas pulled up the stinging hot metal burning his hands, heaving with all his strength while Mike tugged the man clear. He dropped the metal back to the ground with a crash barely heard in the hellish chaos around them.
"Bloody hell." He shook his hands, rubbed them together, wincing at the blisters that had popped up. he hadn't thought to get gloves from the car's boot, lame brain that he was.
"There's another man over there!"
Nicholas saw a large chunk of metal sticking out of the man's neck and the odd angle of his head. "He's dead. Keep moving."
Mike swallowed, nodded. They wound their way closer to the center of the blast site. The heat was incredible, the flames shooting madly into the night, singeing their arms and hair, but they kept moving, picking through the rubble, looking for survivors.
'here's one," Nicholas shouted, and they dragged the man free, picked him up by arms and legs, and ran him back to where firemen had set up a protected space for the arriving EMTs to tend to the wounded.
They lost count of the men they'd carried back to the staging area. Finally a firefighter stepped in their way, hands up.
"Hey. Stop, both of you. I don't know who you are, but you don't have the right equipment. Get back away from here, now. I don't want the two of you hurt as well."
Mike shouldered her way past him. "These men are going to die if we don't get back in there. Help us or get out of the way."
The firefighter opened his mouth to yell at her when Nicholas grabbed his arm, saw his name on his jacket. J. JONES. "Don't bother, mate. She's unstoppable. Come on, we could use your help. We'll tell your supervisor you were escorting us. Move it, now."
Without waiting to see what the man did, Nicholas ran after Mike into the flame-lit night.
Twenty minutes after the bomb went off, the scene looked like a Hieronymus Bosch nightmare scape. The air was still ripe with the scent of carnage, men stumbling from the converters, others slumped silent on the ground, bloody, groaning, so many others more seriously hurt and bleeding in the staging area. in that instant, this hell shot Nicholas back to a place more than three years before, in another part of the world, and the terrible mistakes made, and he felt a ferocious hit of pain and guilt.
The firefighter who'd tried to stop them, Jones, was at his elbow, pointing and shouting. Nicholas whirled round. He thought they'd cleared everyone in this quadrant. He couldn't see any more bodies in the hellish light.
"What is it? I don't see anyone."
Jones yanked on his shoulder, pulled him backward, shouting, "No, look, over there. Bomb, bomb!" and Nicholas saw a black backpack on the ground, with wires sticking out of the top. His heart froze.
Mike was a good twenty feet in front of him. He sprinted to her, caught her, grabbed her hand, and dragged her as fast as he could away from the backpack into the darkness, yelling, "Secondary device, run, Mike, run!"
They ran toward Jones, who was still screaming at everyone to fall back, fall back.
The backpack exploded, and the world around them shattered.