A few days ago, I posted the opening chapter of my first spy novel, NOBODY DIES FOR FREE. This was in anticipation of the upcoming third book in the series, which will be called NEVER THINK TWICE. Today, I'd like to share the first chapter of the second Richard Monroe novel, UNDER THE RADAR.
I hope you enjoy the chapter. If you'd like to read the rest of the book, links are provided after the sample.
I’m a Spy, Not a…
“Where are you?” Mr. Nine asked.
Richard Monroe had the phone on speaker, his hands on the wheel. It had been a good evening and Monroe, adrenaline pulsing through his veins, was enjoying every curve of the Boston freeway, passing slow drivers, and resisting the temptation to soar over the speed limit.
“I’m on my way home.”
“Coming from where, Monroe?”
“I was out with a lady, sir.”
“Are you alone now?”
“Head straight home; I’m waiting for you.”
“You’re at my place?”
“Yes. Are you armed?”
“You know I’m always prepared, sir.”
“Leave it in the car.”
“Sir, what’s going on?”
“You’ll find out soon enough, but you’ll be observed on your way in and carrying would be a bad idea tonight. You have to trust me on this. Just get here as soon as you can. It will all make sense soon enough.”
* * *
Monroe flattened his foot against the accelerator as his excitement level rose. Any word from Mr. Nine meant something interesting was about to happen. Monroe normally received his assignments and other operational information as encrypted files sent to his phone or by courier. Face to face meetings were rarely required. Most of the time, Monroe had no idea where in the world Nine was, and now he was suddenly visiting Monroe at home. Something very unusual was going on.
He arrived at his apartment block, pulled into the underground garage, and immediately knew he was being watched. He glanced around, saw nobody, for it was late, well past eleven, but he knew. In Monroe’s business, instinct could save your life and you learned to trust it. The eyes were there somewhere, checking his movements carefully. But he trusted Mr. Nine. He had to. His life revolved around his work and Mr. Nine was his link to the world and the events he found himself involved in when the call came.
He reluctantly took the ten-round Glock 34 from his shoulder holster, put it in the glove compartment as instructed. He felt naked without his trusted weapon at his side. Moving slowly, he got out of the car. Once standing, he took off his jacket and hung it over his arm, walked slowly toward the elevator, and rose to his floor without seeing a single human being.
The hallway on Monroe’s floor was empty too, but he knew he was still being watched. The cameras were being controlled by someone other than regular security; he was sure of that now. So he went unarmed to the door of his penthouse, not knowing if he was about to be shot dead upon entry, be beaten in an ambush, or really find his supervisor waiting behind the door. The uncertainty was thrilling and he wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
The key went into the lock, turned, the door opened. Monroe went in, scanned the room quickly, muscles coiled to spring into action should it be a trap. But he couldn't have been more wrong. It wasn't a trap. Abruptly, he snapped to attention and saluted.
Monroe found the President of the United States sitting in his living room.
At first he was honored to host such a prestigious guest, but just as quickly he realized that this was not a social call. The president was there for a reason. A chill went up Monroe's spine.
President Patrick Davis had borrowed Monroe’s favorite chair and sat puffing on a Parliament, a habit his staff must have carefully concealed from the public, for Monroe had never heard a single word in the press on the subject of the president smoking. Mr. Nine stood behind the president, dressed in a trench coat. Monroe looked up at his superior and noted the cold stare from his one good eye. The other eye was made of glass.
“At ease, Monroe,” Mr. Nine said. Monroe nodded, let his spine relax just a tad, and dropped the salute.
“Good evening, Mr. Monroe. Your … friend here speaks highly of you. I’m hoping you can help.” Davis extended his hand, and Monroe shook it.
Richard Monroe, despite having loyally served his country for over a decade and a half, had never been in the same building as a serving president. Now he had one as a guest.
Monroe took a seat across from the president. As he tried to relax, feeling a bit star struck, he kept his eyes on the Commander-in-Chief. Monroe had been working for the CIA and stationed in France during the last election. He had not voted for Davis, but he liked him. Davis was fifty-four, an old-school Maine Republican with distinguished gray hair and a charming smile. While Monroe rarely agreed entirely with a politician’s opinions, he respected the office and admired the man who currently held the position.
“I should have known it was Secret Service watching me on the way in,” Monroe said.
“I’m sorry to have surprised you,” Davis said, “but no one can know I’m here tonight.”
“That’s understood. Would you like a drink, sir?”
Mr. Nine cleared his throat. “This is not a social visit, Monroe. The president needs your help.”
“I’m at your service,” Monroe assured them.
“I realize,” the president began, “that you work alone on most assignments, are extremely discreet, and act on matters that threaten national security but could escalate if large agencies involved themselves.”
Monroe nodded. “That’s been my standard mode of late, yes.”
“Excellent. This isn’t as big a situation as your recent disposal of Garrett Khan, Monroe, but a different sort of problem, the kind that could create severe embarrassment for the government and for me specifically.”
“I see.” Monroe was surprised, though he kept it to himself. Patrick Davis didn’t seem like the sort to jump headfirst into potentially scandalous waters. What was it, Monroe wondered: an affair, a slip of the tongue with some foreign official, blackmail over some long-ago indiscretion? As far as Monroe and the public knew, Davis was solidly respectable, had a strong marriage, a daughter with a bright future, and no big black marks on his record. But something was up. Visits like this didn’t happen often, if ever. He waited for the anvil to drop, wondering who he was about to be ordered to kill.
“My daughter Sophie has disappeared, Mr. Monroe.”
So that was it, Monroe realized. That’s what all the secrecy and the clandestine visit was about.
“You mean someone’s taken her and you don’t want it getting out for fear of what the kidnappers might do?”
President Davis laughed. “No, Mr. Monroe, that’s not it at all, thank God for that! The little brat has run away and I need you to get her back for me.”
“That’s not my usual area of expertise, sir.”
“Monroe!” Mr. Nine broke his long silence. “Your area of expertise is whatever I say it is. Don’t worry, Patrick, he’ll do it.”
Monroe’s curiosity was piqued when he heard his supervisor address the president so casually, but he knew better than to ask. “Yes, of course I’ll do whatever must be done. What do I need to know, sir?”
“Do you see this?” the president held up his cigarette, which had just about burned down to the butt by now. “This is a great state secret. It shouldn’t have to be, it shouldn’t be a big deal at all if the man with one of the most stressful jobs in the world finds that a nicotine fix every now and then helps him relax. But it is a big deal because the public has a certain image in their heads of what the president is and isn’t supposed to do in the modern age and right now, Monroe, smoking is on the restricted list.”
“Your daughter, sir,” Monroe reminded him.
“I’m getting there. I was making an analogy, perhaps a long-winded one. The cigarettes are a big secret and now I’m going to tell you another one. My daughter is a perfectly normal nineteen-year-old woman! How’s that for scandal? What I mean, Monroe, is that Sophie is human. She’s not the bright, shining, genius, virgin, perfect example of everything anybody could ever want to be that the media has taken to portraying her as. Yes, my daughter is lovely and intelligent and certainly has a wonderful future ahead of her … but she’s normal too and has all the urges and desires that any young woman of her age experiences. I’m sure you read in the papers how Sophie is taking a year off before starting at Yale so she can explore her ‘spiritual side.’”
“Yes, I recall something about that, sir.”
“Well, that spiritual side bullshit is a phrase we made up to give them something to report. The phrase, ‘Girls just want to have fun,’ might have been more accurate. Now of course, there’s nothing wrong with young people enjoying themselves and I was perfectly happy to let Sophie have her time off and do whatever she wanted as long as it was safe, was governed by common sense, and, of course, she had Secret Service with her at all times. I didn’t think that was too much to ask. You would know, Monroe, being in the business, how many threats, valid or otherwise, are made against the presidential family each year.”
“Then you understand the value of security,” Davis continued, “and you see why I had to keep my daughter on a leash, even if I did loosen it from time to time.”
“Yes, sir,” Monroe said.
“Good, I’m glad we’re on the same page. But anyway, Monroe, it’s time to cut the long story short. Five days ago, Sophie asked if she could spend a day or two at our little cabin up in Maine. She’s loved that place since she was a tiny little tot. Of course I said yes. She headed up there with her Secret Service escort and all seemed fine … until she slipped away in the middle of the day, in broad sunshine, from right under her watcher’s nose!”
“How did she manage that?”
“We’re not entirely sure yet. The buffoon who was supposed to be guarding her claims he was sick and may have dozed off, but I don’t know how true that is or if he’s hiding something. That cabin is our one refuge from the real world, and it always has been. My wife was adamant about not installing the battery of cameras we have in all our other usual haunts. Now we haven’t seen or heard from my daughter in five days now and I’m afraid to think what she might be doing out there.”
“I’m sure she’s all right, sir. She sounds like a resourceful girl.”
“I’m more worried about me, Monroe! Sophie’s certainly got a wild side, despite what the press says, and she’s obviously angry with me if she’s going to run off like that. I’m worried she’ll do something stupid and cause a scandal of some sort while she’s out in the world enjoying her new found freedom. I don’t have any patience for paparazzi and controversy. I’d prefer the focus to be on my work as president and not on family issues.”
“That’s as it should be, sir.”
“I’m glad we agree. Now I want you to use any resources you think necessary to locate my daughter and bring her home. Everything I have to offer is at your disposal, but I demand discretion. Keep it quiet and get the job done as fast as you can. Mr. Nine will keep me updated on your progress.”
The president stood, marched right past Monroe, opened the door himself, and was met in the hall by two large men who escorted him off into the shadows.
Before the footsteps’ echoes had faded, Monroe was up and pouring scotch, two glasses. He handed one to Mr. Nine, took the first sip of his own.
“That was bizarre,” Monroe said after swallowing.
“You enjoyed it and you know it,” Mr. Nine reacted.
“I did … and I’m honored. I just had a symbol in my living room, the man who stands for the country I’ve devoted everything to. Corny as that may sound, it was an amazing experience. But what he just asked me to do …”
“What he just asked you to do, Monroe, sounds like a vacation to me. Nobody to shoot, no malicious threat to take down or die trying; just a young lady who’s run away from her mean old daddy. Use your skills, track her down, convince her to come home, and you’ll have the president’s gratitude and probably a nice reward to go with it.”
“Sure,” Monroe said, “and when I find her, what do I do? Put her over my knee and spank her and throw her over my shoulder and carry her back to the White House kicking and screaming? I don’t have kids; I’ll probably never have kids. What do I know about dealing with them?”
“Damn it, Monroe, I know you were just thrown out of your element, but didn’t you hear a word Davis said to you? You’re not going after a child. You’re hunting down a nineteen-year-old woman with a wild streak who’s run off to have a good time. That, Monroe, is right up your alley and it’s something you truly are very, very good at. This will be an assignment you can enjoy … and you’ll be doing your country a big favor in the process.”
“Sir, it’s the president’s daughter. I can’t just …”
“Monroe, in case you didn’t quite catch his meaning, I think Patrick Davis just said, not in so many words, that he’d rather you went there than some random young man his daughter happens to encounter on her impromptu road trip.”
“I’m forty years old, sir! I could be her father!”
“Would that stop you if the target were anyone else? And that’s only one possible way of bringing her in, Monroe. If having her kick and scream suits you better, then so be it. Just get the damn job done.”
“I will, sir. I'll require a full dossier on Sophie, and any friends and acquaintances that she may seek out. And the president implied the Secret Service operative assigned to watch her may have been involved. I'll need a complete run down on him. And, of course, anything else you deem important, sir.”
“You’ll have that in the morning. Get some sleep, Monroe.”
Mr. Nine put down his glass, straightened the collar of his coat, and walked out of the apartment.
Monroe sighed and went to bed.
UNDER THE RADAR is available at Amazon in the following versions: