Authors: William Tyree
or William Tyree’s
Line of Succession
"An espionage thriller for our times."
Amazon.com Breakthrough Novel Award review
Line of Succession clips along at an astonishing pace with verve and grace, giving us no choice but to root for the complicated characters at the book’s core."
- Jerry Gabriel, author of Drowned Boy
Believable in its particulars and chilling in its implications, Line of Succession will keep you up at night long after you've turned the final page.”
Keir Graff, author of The Price of Liberty
Line of Succession
is a gripper that won’t let go.”
Published worldwide by Massive Publishing.
Library of Congress Control Number:
2013 by William Tyree
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction, as are all books in the Blake Carver Series. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any semblance to actual events, locations, names or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without express written permission.
Story by William Tyree. Edited by Michelle Dalton Tyree. Proofed by Jacqueline Doucette. Cover design by Damon Za.
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet, mobile network or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
who served with the 70
Armored Infantry Battalion when the world needed it most
The second act of the Teatro dell'Opera’s outdoor production of Attila was coming to a close. Performed in the ruins of the Caracalla Baths, the 1800-year-old carved stones were tinged in magnificent red light under a starry Italian sky. And the actress playing the warrior maiden was just bludgeoning the audience with her vocal chords.
looked up at the postcard-perfect scene before him, drinking it in, trying to preserve it within his memory. In less than two minutes, his world would change. And in less than 10 days, he would change the world.
As Verdi’s music swelled in preparation for the climax, Zhu felt his
business partner, Spencer, tense beside him. Hours earlier, they had capped off the third stop in a lecture tour that had showcased their latest achievement and set the tongues of the European biotech community wagging. Although Zhu had been the unqualified star of the show, Spencer’s role as sideman had been the highlight of his career.
This was the happiest he had seen Spencer in the three years since they had moved their company
, LifeEmberz, from Boston to Beijing. He was riding high on Italian beer, opera and unregulated hotel WiFi. They had been accompanied to Rome by two high-ranking government officials and a couple of their best lab assistants. Spencer loved traveling with an entourage.
Zhu was all too aware that this joyride was about to end. His friend would soon be inundated with interrogations by detectives and bureaucrats. He would be subjected to unimaginable scrutiny. Their corporate offices, and even their apartments, would be torn apart by investigators. Spencer would certainly be banned from the government research lab. He might even be forced to go back to the U.S.
the actress playing Odabella raised her knife to stab Foresto. Three conspirators cried out, and the stage went black. As expected, a brief intermission was announced. It was time.
rose from his chair. “Be right back.”
rose and raced after him, nearly knocking over an old woman. “You getting more beer?”
Spencer and the others
had gotten smashed in the VIP area before the play. Zhu had been there too, but he had only pretended to drink, finding opportunities to drain his beer in the restroom on multiple occasions. This was the biggest night of his life. He needed full control of his faculties.
“Just hitting the restroom,” Zhu
glanced at his black sport watch. “I might as well join you. Gotta make room for more beer anyhow.”
crowd began to stream around them as they headed for the restrooms and concessions. Where was the exit his contact had told him to take? And even if he found it, how could he shake Spencer?
At six foot
five, Spencer towered over the much smaller Zhu. He was usually a gentle giant, but when he was drinking, he could get carried away. One year back in Boston, after the Patriots had made it to the AFC championship game, Zhu had watched his inebriated friend pick up a plus-sized woman, lift her up onto his shoulders like a toddler, and do laps around the stadium.
“I never guessed Italy would be this great,”
Spencer said now. “We should open an office here, dude! Everyone is so friendly.”
These feelings of alcohol-inspired world unity were the same ones
Adrian Zhu had felt years before. One of his early LifeEmberz projects had sought to clone and grow human skin. He had then gone to a tissue-engineering conference in Paris where he had met a burn victim who had benefitted from his research. He had been greeted as a hero. Zhu felt like he was on top of the world. But everything had changed after they moved the business to China. The money had been fabulous, but the corruption and the politics had gradually left him feeling empty and immoral. But now he had perspective on it. China was just part of his journey. It had all led him to this moment.
Now he saw the sign for Exit 16.
The one his contact, Lars, had told him to take.
“I think I’m
gonna be sick,” Zhu said, placing a hand over his mouth. He dry-heaved, hoping the performance would be enough to gross Spencer out and send him back to their seats.
still can’t hold your liquor!” Spencer roared, pulling his phone out of his pocket. “Ha! Tell me when you’re gonna hurl. I’m gonna get this on video!”
Zhu stooped slightly as they emerged into the autumn night. The
scientist scanned a small grove of trees and stone benches. Spencer was still fidgeting with the camera on his phone. Zhu ran out and ducked behind the shortest, thickest tree he could find.
He had to think fast.
He had virtually no fighting skills. Even as drunk as Spencer was, there was no way Zhu would be able to subdue his massive friend, nor could he outrun him.
!” Spencer called as he stumbled closer.
Zhu stepped back, nearly falling as he
slipped on an empty beer bottle.
A beer bottle.
Of course. He picked it up and raised it high above his head. He waited for Spencer to duck underneath one of the lower branches. Then he brought the bottle down hard over his partner’s skull.
To his amazement, the bottle didn’t break
over Spencer’s head, but the blow dropped him to his knees.
“Ow! Okay, okay! I won’t video, all right? Just calm down!”
Heart pounding within his chest, Zhu sprinted through the grove and toward
Via Antonina, across which he saw a parking lot full of taxis and buses.
Spencer gave chase, and it was only moments before his long strides nearly made up the distance between them.
Zhu barely noticed the headlights of the bl
ack Range Rover flash as he sprinted across the busy street. He was already on the other side when he heard the sickening thud of a body against the SUV’s grill, followed by a screech of tires.
The bioengineer stoppe
d, looked back and glimpsed the broken and bloodied body sprawled on the pavement before the headlights turned away. It was Spencer. He stood frozen as the Range Rover’s motor gunned again and swerved in his direction. A group of taxi drivers was running toward the scene of the accident.
wandered back out into the street and knelt at Spencer’s side. A smear of tire cut across his business partner’s khaki pants. His eyes rolled backwards into his head as his body convulsed.
vehicle pulled up alongside him. The driver pushed the passenger door open. He wore driving gloves and a tight leather jacket that was crisscrossed with gunmetal-colored zippers.
he shouted in German-accented English.
National Counterterrorism Center
Blake Carver peered at his opponent through the black mesh of his fencing helmet, right foot forward, waiting for the telltale sign of an imminent lunge. At six feet tall, he was at a slight disadvantage over his lankier opponent. His counterpart held his foil out to the side, as if inviting Carver to attack. But his right foot betrayed his true intentions. He lifted his toes slightly, preparing for a
– a short forward hop that would end in a quick thrust. Anticipating the move, Carver responded with a deft parry riposte to the gut.
sprawling intelligence complex had taken a page out of the Silicon Valley office model. The newly expanded gym provided spaces where employees could join pickup games of basketball, foosball, handball and even fencing, which was surprisingly popular among the agency’s left-brained workforce.
Carver knew the
agency’s facilities investment was designed to keep him working harder and longer hours than were really good for a person. But Carver didn’t mind hard work. Having been tied to a desk job these past few months, he found the gym a welcome refuge from the endless hours spent in front of a computer.
arrying a bag full of pricey foils, the younger analyst had entered the gym bragging about his exploits fencing on a championship team at Princeton and, later, with the U.S. National Team. Carver had also come to fencing in college, although his experience was hardly Ivy League. After failing to make the swimming team at the University of Arizona, the swim coach had waved his hand at the bronzed hardbodies chatting each other up in tight speedos around the sun-drenched pool. “These aren’t your people,” the coach had told the future intelligence operative. “Go on over to the rec center. The fencers practice in the basement. You’ve got the wingspan for it.”
It was true that
Carver’s arms were freakishly long in comparison with the rest of his body. “Orangutan Arms,” his sisters had called him. So against his better judgment, Carver had followed the coach’s advice. But upon seeing members of the fencing club, he instantly resented the notion that these were “his people.” They had been, without exception, engineering students with bad skin and worse social skills. Nevertheless, it had taken him only one private lesson to get hooked. He found fencing simultaneously cerebral and physical, like chess with swords.
had only recently had time to come back to the sport after a 15-year hiatus. One of the only positives to a situation that had found him tied to a desk. It wasn’t going so badly today. He had now scored eight touches in a row on the younger man with the fancy pedigree, and the analyst’s mounting frustration would only continue playing to Carver’s advantage.
“Again,” the analyst said wearily.
He was stiff now, standing nearly straight up. He had a bad habit of moving his blade in a predictable semi-circular oval pattern while preparing an attack. Carver had knocked the foil out of his hand a few minutes earlier, and now the analyst clutched the grip hard, decreasing his flexibility.
Carver bided his time, waiting for the next
offensive. When it came, Carver angled his body away from the lunge, pivoting with his rear foot while simultaneously bending down and thrusting. A well-executed
The analyst went in
to a rage, ripping off his mask, hurling it across the room.
The voice belonged to Arunus Roth. The skinny kid in the secondhand suit standing in the doorway was the last person Carver expected to see in the gym.
Roth was 100 percent geek. His idea of a workout was an all-night hackathon with friends.
Roth scurried over to him. “We need you in the NCC,”
he said. “It’s Crossbow.”
removed his helmet, running his fingertips through his gentleman’s haircut and down his sideburns, which had always been slightly too long for conservative Washington. He stuffed his blade into the oblong gray sports bag containing his work clothes and headed for the door. It was drizzling as they made their way, walking and talking, across the sprawling campus. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or ODNI, was located, along with the National Counterterrorism Center, in one of the most modern complexes in the agency system. Its lone downside was its physical location, which was far from downtown D.C. and even farther from CIA headquarters.
“What’s happening?” Carver said.
“Zhu’s team was attending the opera,” Roth said.
“Was?” Carver said, checking his watch. “It shouldn’t be over yet.”
“I’m getting to that.”
“Is Callahan there?”
Their man on the ground in Rome, Thomas Callahan, had only last night managed to infect Zhu’s phone with malware that would allow them to both intercept his communications and track his location.
“Yeah, Callahan was there. His seats were about 10 meters behind Zhu’s
. He’d just called in saying Zhu and his partner had stepped out for intermission. Then all of a sudden, I get an alert that Zhu’s on the move.”
Carver walked faster. “What do you mean, on the move
He was suddenly moving at 60 miles per hour, or about 96 kph.”
Stop converting everything to metric.”
Sorry. Okay, so then Callahan calls in. He says there was just a hit and run outside the Caracalla Baths. He has no idea where Zhu is.”
“At least we can still track his location.”
Don’t be so sure.
You said Callahan didn’t see where Zhu went. For all we know, he tossed the phone into the back of a truck, and it’s zipping along the freeway right now while Zhu is busy watching the third act.”
The two men
entered the National Counterterrorism Center, a massive X-shaped structure. Carver stood for a moment on the concourse, looking down on the pods of analysts dutifully going about their business. Immense screens on the room’s outer walls displayed feeds from websites, TV stations, satellites and cameras around the globe.
“Are we getting any data from Zhu’s phone?”
“Already intercepting data,” Roth said. “We have full touchpad monitoring on his device, so we can see anything he does, bro.”
Had the kid really just called him
“bro”? He took a deep breath, reminding himself that Arunus Roth was only 21 years old. Like many of the agency’s newest geek recruits, he hadn’t even finished college. The American university system wasn’t producing nearly enough computer science degree holders these days, and venture capital-funded companies were out-recruiting the federal cybersecurity teams.
Roth had been expelled from an Albuquerque community college for playing an elaborate prank. Roth had used his burgeoning hacker skills to infiltrate the school’s vocational aptitude software, which several thousand new students were required to take each year. During the college’s busy enrollment week, the administration office had been flooded with complaints after the guidance software recommended that students pursue a variety of unusual occupations, including Alpaca husbandry, buffalo slaughter and gang thuggery.
may not have been disciplined enough to stay in school, nor was he brilliant enough to head out on his own and create the next Facebook. But in this talent-starved environment, he was good enough to groom for cybersecurity work. As a first step, he was on track to spend one probationary year doing technical mission support, which meant doing pretty much anything Carver asked of him.
Now they proceeded down the stairs toward Roth’s pod.
“What about voice monitoring?” Carver asked. “I want a recording of everything he says.”
I’m trying to make that work. Should be able to get it done tonight.”
Carver checked his watch. The timing of this couldn’t have been
worse. He was due to give a briefing on Crossbow in an hour.