Read Tom Clancy Under Fire Online

Authors: Grant Blackwood

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #War, #United States, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Military, #Suspense, #Thrillers

Tom Clancy Under Fire (5 page)

BOOK: Tom Clancy Under Fire
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Jack decided he would trust Ysabel to a point. How he would verify her bona fides was a question he couldn’t yet answer. Nor did he know what exactly he’d gotten himself into. Either way, he could use an ally.

They drove in silence for fifteen minutes until reaching the northern outskirts of Tehran. Jack asked, “Is this the Shomal?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I overheard the driver.”

“It’s the Tehran-Shomal; outside the city it becomes Freeway Three.”

“Any idea where they were taking me?” Jack asked.

“You mean aside from a shallow grave?” Ysabel replied. “No idea.”

“Do you know who they are?” Even as the words left Jack’s mouth, the word
popped into his head. In the commotion, he’d forgotten about the second American’s wallet. He patted his crotch; the wallet was still here. Thank God for bad frisking technique.

“Do you need some alone time?” asked Ysabel.

“Funny.” Jack pulled out the wallet and opened it.

Ysabel glanced over. “Where did you get that?”

“Off one of them back there.”

“What about yours?”

“They’ve got it.”

Inside the man’s wallet was a driver’s license and two credit cards. He stuffed it into the back pocket of his khakis. “Where are we going?” he asked.

“My apartment. We need to talk. Plus, you’re a mess. Your arms, your face . . .” She grimaced and said, “You look awful.”

Jack checked his forearms; below the sleeves of his polo shirt, his arms looked like they’d been worked over with a belt sander.

“It’ll have to wait. I need to go back to Seth’s.”



Ysabel paused, then with a flash of revelation in her voice, echoed Jack: “Steaks.”

•   •   •

through the city, taking a circuitous route to Seth’s apartment, skillfully doubling back and traversing alleys until she seemed satisfied they weren’t being followed. She had tradecraft, Jack realized.

“Who taught you?” he asked.

“Seth. Just a few things, really.”

She pulled to the curb a block north of Seth’s building and across from the café in which Jack had sipped tea earlier that evening. The café was closed, its wraparound windows dark. The Mercedes’s dashboard clock read 12:09. Almost three hours since they’d taken him from the apartment. He and Ysabel sat in the darkness, listening to the car’s engine tick as it cooled.

After ten minutes of watching, Jack said, “Nothing. You?”

“No. This is a bad idea, Jack.”

“I don’t see how my night could get any worse. There’s something I need in there.”
Providing it’s still there
, he thought.

“We,” Ysabel said. “

“Slow down. We’re not quite there yet,” Jack grumbled.

“Suit yourself. Let’s go.”

•   •   •

they were standing before Seth’s apartment door. Ysabel reached into her shoulder bag and pulled out a hammerless .38-caliber snub-nosed revolver.

Jack opened his palm and whispered, “May I?”


“Please, Ysabel.”

She frowned at him for a moment, then placed the revolver in his hand.

he thought abruptly. He patted his pockets. He said, “Damn, the key. They must have taken it.”

“Hold on,” Ysabel murmured. She rummaged in her purse and came out with a bronze key. “Try this.”

Jack took it. “Where’d you get this?”

“Seth gave it to me along with the one to his Pardis condo. I assumed it was for something there. It’s worth a try.”

Jack slipped the key into the lock and turned it; the dead bolt slid back. Using the knuckle of his index finger, Jack swung open the door until the knob touched the inner wall. The room was dark, the window shades still drawn. The attacker he’d left unconscious on the floor was gone, but the blood smear where his head had lain was still there.

Jack waited a few beats, then peeked left around the jamb. Nothing. With the revolver at waist level and tucked close to his body, he stepped into the apartment. Ysabel followed, then shut the door and locked it. On flat feet, Jack walked into the kitchenette, cleared it, then went down the hallway and cleared the bathroom and bedroom in turn.

He returned to the main room to find Ysabel staring at the blood. “What happened here?” she murmured.

“I got ambushed.”

“Did you kill him? Was he one of the men from the van?”

“No, and maybe. Follow me. The quicker we’re out of here, the better. Don’t step in the blood. Keep track of what you touch.”

“Worried about fingerprints?”

“Habit. By the way, why do you have a gun?”

“Protection. Rapes are rising in Tehran. The lure of uncovered hair and all that nonsense.”

They walked back to the bedroom. Jack crossed the room, adjusted the curtains so the center slit was closed, then turned on the card-table lamp. Jack handed Ysabel the folding chair. “Against the front door.”

She returned a few moments later and pointed at the safe and said, “What the hell is that?”

“When was the last time you were here?”

“Two weeks ago, with Seth. It wasn’t here.”

Jack knelt by the safe. The hardwood floor around its gray steel bottom lip was scarred and gouged. The marks were new. Balaclava Man and his partner had been trying to get to the bolts securing the safe to the floor. If they wanted the contents that badly, they’d be back with heavier equipment.

“Steaks,” Ysabel said.


They returned to the kitchenette. Jack clicked on the range light, opened the freezer, dug around, and came up with four steaks wrapped in white butcher paper. He dumped them on the counter. Together they began unwrapping the meat.

“I found it,” Ysabel said.

Jack stepped closer to her, their shoulders touching. Written on the inside of the wrapping in black marker were a string of digits: 37-42-51. Jack folded the paper, stuffed it into his pocket. They rewrapped the rest of the steaks and returned them to the freezer.

They walked back to the bedroom, where Jack dialed in the safe’s combination, then depressed the lever. With a dull click the door swung open. Inside was a six-inch-thick brown accordion folder. Jack pulled it out, then inspected the safe’s interior: nothing else.

“Let’s go,” he said.

After using the bathroom hand towel to wipe down all the surfaces they’d touched, they stepped out into the hallway and locked the door.

To their left, the stairwell door banged open, then clicked shut.

At a trot, Jack and Ysabel headed to the fire exit at the end of the hall. Jack placed his hands on the red-striped press bar, said a quick prayer, then pushed. No alarm sounded. They stepped through and Jack eased the door shut. They stood still.

After a few moments, below them came the echoed clicking of footsteps on the concrete stairs. Jack stepped to the handrail and peeked over. Two floors below, a figure stepped onto the landing and turned onto the next set of stairs. In his right hand was a semi-auto.

Jack turned to Ysabel and pointed up the next set of stairs and placed his index finger against his lips. She nodded, then started upward. Jack waited until she reached the next landing, then followed. They climbed upward, Jack occasionally glancing over the rail to check the man’s progress; he was on the third-floor landing.

Jack and Ysabel reached the sixth and uppermost floor. Down a short corridor lit by a dim ceiling bulb was a steel door—the roof access, Jack hoped. Jack pointed to it, then made a key-turning gesture to Ysabel, who nodded, then padded down the hall. After a few moments, she turned and nodded, then opened the door. The hinges let out a rusty squeak.

Ysabel froze. Jack froze.


Footsteps pounded on the stairs below, heading upward.

Mouthing “Go, go, go” to Ysabel, Jack followed her out the door and onto the gravel roof. He hesitated, then stepped back inside and tapped the barrel of the revolver against the lightbulb. It shattered. The corridor went dark. He stepped out onto the roof and swung the door shut behind him, catching it before it latched, leaving it open a crack.

Jack whispered to Ysabel, “Walk to the edge of the roof and face away from the door. Tuck your hair into the back of the jacket. Whatever happens, don’t turn around.”

To her credit, Ysabel didn’t hesitate and did as Jack ordered.

Jack pressed himself against the wall beside the door. He drew the revolver from his belt.

A few moments passed. From the corridor came the crunch of glass.

Silence. A few more moments passed.

The door swung open, then a voice called, “Stop right there.” New York accent. “Hands up.”

Ysabel raised her hands.

Jack kicked the door shut. It crashed into the man, who bounced off the door frame, then stumbled into view. Jack took two steps forward and toe-kicked the man in the side of the knee. His leg buckled and he dropped to his hands and knees, stunned. His gun bounced across the gravel and came to rest a few feet away.

While Jack would’ve liked to have his own Q&A session with the man, it wasn’t feasible.

He cocked his leg to his chest and heel-kicked the man in the right ear. With a grunt he dropped face-first into the gravel.

Jack felt a flash of guilt, then quashed it. While the childhood “Play fair” rule was still a part of his psyche, there was no such thing as a fair fight, not out here, and not with guys like this.

Jack leaned over the man; at the back of his head the hair was matted with dried blood, and his left cheek was swollen and the bone around his eye socket was squashed, all souvenirs from their earlier fight in the apartment. One mystery solved.

He turned to the door and eased it shut. Ysabel walked up, knelt down, and checked the man’s pulse. “He’s alive.”

And having a really shitty night,
Jack thought. “Search him.”

She did so, then said, “Nothing. Jack, you used me as bait.”

“They wanted me alive, they’d want you alive, too. Find the fire escape, will you?”

“Don’t do that again without warning me,” Ysabel said, and walked away.

Jack picked up the man’s gun, a nine-millimeter, stuffed it into his jacket pocket, then grabbed the man by the collar, dragged him to the door, and positioned him across it.

“Over here, Jack,” Ysabel called. She stood at the far corner of the roof.

He trotted over to her. She whispered, “I don’t see anyone.”

“After you,” Jack said.

they reached Ysabel’s building, an eighteen-floor high-rise in a fashionable garden neighborhood off Vali Asr Street. Inside the apartment Jack found the decor a mix of minimalist modern and traditional Persian, with a sunken seating area and a gourmet kitchen with stainless-steel appliances. The carpet was a cream berber. The wall nearest Jack was dominated by a floor-to-ceiling bookcase; at first glance, all the books looked like either classical literature or history, some of them rare.

Ysabel walked through the space, turning on floor and table lamps while Jack stood at the balcony’s French doors, gazing out the windows at Tehran’s lighted skyline. Below was a tree-lined lake rimmed by what appeared to be gas lamps. Jack kept Ysabel in the corner of his eye until she walked up and stopped beside him.

“That’s Mellat Park,” she said. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”


In each hand she held a square glass a quarter full of amber liquid. She handed him one; the ice cubes tinkled softly.

He said, “Ysabel, just for curiosity’s sake: This apartment . . . your Mercedes . . . Are you rich?”

“My father is.”

This gave Jack pause. Was all this a lark for Ysabel, an adventure to break up the monotony of wealthy leisure? He hoped not. Then again, during his dad’s first administration he’d faced the same kind of bullshit, so he had no business making any assumptions about Ysabel.

“Iranian fathers like to dote,” she said.

“I see.”

“Don’t judge, Jack.”

“I didn’t say a thing.”

“It’s in your voice.”

Jack took a sip from the glass. It was ice-cold Scotch; it burned his throat, then settled warmly in his belly. He asked, “Aren’t you Muslim?”

“Partially lapsed.”

“Daring girl.”

“Only in private. Tehran is changing, but it’s going to take a while until one can walk down the street with a bottle in a brown paper bag.”

“Hopefully the changes will stick.”

“I’ll drink to that.” She took a sip from her glass, then gestured to the park below. “It used to be called Shahanshahi Park—Park of the King of Kings—before the revolution,” Ysabel said. “I suppose Khomeini thought it sounded too . . . shah-like.”

Jack glanced sideways at her. “I’m sorry about the roof. I shouldn’t have used you like that.”

Is my regret because she’s a woman?
he wondered. No, if it’d been him and Ding or Dominic on that roof . . . well, that comes with the job. Ysabel hadn’t signed up for this—at least not to that level. Even so, she’d handled herself well. Hell, she’d probably saved his life.

“Apology accepted,” she replied. “Just don’t do it again. Why did you have me face away from the door? And why the hair?”

“So he didn’t see your face and, if we’re lucky, couldn’t tell you were a woman.”


“Thanks for the rescue on the road, by the way. The chance of me getting more than a few hundred yards was slim.”

“Something tells me otherwise.”

“I noticed your accent. There’s only a hint of Persian in there.” Despite himself, Jack found it alluring, exotic.

“I’m mostly a product of the West. I went to Leysin American School in Switzerland, then Cambridge—politics and international studies.”

“Educated in the decadent West,” Jack said. “How did you pull that off?”

“My father was a doctor. And he sat on the Tehran city council for many years. He was a politician through and through, knew how to walk the tightrope and gather favors.” Ysabel paused and smiled. “Plus, behind closed doors even extremists like Khomeini liked having our children educated in the West—the idea being we absorb all the imperialists’ knowledge then return home and use it to glorify Iran.”

“And have you?”

“Hardly. I teach at the University of Tehran. For whatever reason, our department was immune to politics—and Sharia, if you can believe that. Okay, that’s enough interrogation, Jack—”

“I wasn’t—”

“Let’s see to your arms before you start bleeding on my carpet. And your eye is almost swollen shut—not a good look for you.”

She led him down a hallway to a spacious bathroom done in earth-toned tile. She told him to sit on the toilet, then turned on the sink faucet, let hot water fill the basin, and dropped in a washcloth.

“You don’t have to do this for me,” Jack said.

Ysabel smiled, then wrung out the cloth and handed it to him. “So presumptuous . . . I’ll get the first-aid kit.”

She disappeared and Jack could hear her rummaging in the hall closet. She returned with a clear plastic case.

Teeth gritted against the pain, Jack finished wiping the dirt from his forearms until only raw red abrasions were visible. She handed him a towel, which he used to blot his skin dry.

“Painful?” she asked.


She pulled a small spray bottle from the first-aid kit and said, “Arms, please.” Jack extended them and she sprayed them. He winced. “Other side,” Ysabel said, then repeated the process on the insides of Jack’s forearms.

“Lift up your shirt,” she ordered.


“Do as I say, Jack.”

He lifted his polo shirt. She examined his torso, gently probing various spots with her index finger.

“Why Ysabel?” Jack asked. “That’s not Persian, is it?”

“My mother was second-generation American—a fiery Andalusian, or so my father tells me. I have her to thank for my dual citizenship, I suppose. She died when I was two.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Such is life.”

Her words were breezy, but there was none of it in her voice, Jack noted. To have little more than secondhand memories of your mother couldn’t be easy.

Ysabel finished her examination of his torso and said, “Just a few bruises. You’re lucky. Of course, the van wasn’t going all that fast.”

“Still pretty daring, I think,” Jack said with mock indignation.

“Okay, Indiana Jones. How’s your vision? Any nausea?”

“No. I’ve got a hard head.”

“In more ways than one.”

Ysabel doused a gauze pad and dabbed first at his cheekbone, then his forehead. She leaned back, examined her handwork with pursed lips, then nodded. “Better. Meet me in the kitchen and I’ll get you an ice pack.”

“I’ll be okay.”

“Jack, if they’re looking for you, a black eye like that might make it easier. You can shower if you’d like, there’s a robe on the door hook. I’ll make us something to eat. We have a lot to talk about.”

A huge understatement,
Jack thought. He’d already started compiling his list of questions.

•   •   •

and wrapped in a white terry-cloth robe—a man’s size, Jack noted—he joined Ysabel in the kitchen, where she was reheating a casserole dish in the microwave. She pointed to the counter, where a pile of four pills sat. “Ibuprofen.”


“Feel better?” asked Ysabel.

“Much. Should I be expecting company?” Jack grabbed the lapel of his robe and wagged it.

Ysabel smiled. “Nosy.”

“I’ve had enough surprises for one night.”

“The owner won’t be coming back.”

Am I wearing Seth’s robe?
Jack wondered.

The microwave beeped. Ysabel opened the door and, using a pair of oven mitts, lifted the casserole dish out. She placed it on the counter and began spooning the food into bowls.
“Khoreshteh qiemeh bademjoon,”
she said. “Persian eggplant stew. You’ll like it.”

Jack carried their bowls to the dining nook and sat down. Piled in the middle of the mahogany table was the accordion folder they’d found in Seth’s safe, along with the wallet and nine-millimeter Jack had taken from his attacker.

“I haven’t looked at them,” she said, sitting down. She laid a blue gel ice pack beside his bowl. Pressing the ice pack against his cheekbone with his free hand, Jack took a spoonful of the stew; the meatlike chunks of eggplant tasted of turmeric and onion. “You’re right, it is good.”

“So ask your questions, Jack,” she said.

Not sure where to start, he took a moment to gather his thoughts.

“Did Seth have a car?”

“That’s your first question?” Ysabel replied with an amused smile. “No, he didn’t. He used taxis and buses.”

“When did you start following me? After I left Chaibar?”

“Yes. Seth told me you two were having lunch. It was the first time I’d seen him happy in weeks.”

“Nice disguise, by the way. You looked ten years younger.”

“Thank you. I think.”

Jack was only mildly surprised Seth hadn’t recognized Ysabel—if she wasn’t lying about them knowing each other, that was. To compensate for his ADHD, Seth tended to block out everything except whomever he was talking to at the time. Clearly, Ysabel knew this.

“But why the surveillance at all? Why follow me?” If Ysabel had picked him up at Chaibar, it meant she’d been staking him out for almost thirty-six hours and had followed him to his meeting with Spellman and Wellesley.

Whatever her role in all this, she was dedicated.

“Why not follow Seth?”

Ysabel said, “For a while now I’ve suspected he was in trouble and not telling me. Plus, Seth is . . . cagey, especially lately. He would have spotted me.”

“If he was—is—in trouble, why would you expect him to tell you?”

“We’re friends, Jack. And, yes—just friends.”

“Not my business.”

“But you were wondering about it.”

“That’s not the whole truth, though, is it? You’re more than friends. You’re working together.”

“After a fashion.”

“That’s not good enough.”

Instead of answering, Ysabel asked her own question: “What were you doing at that building in the Zafaraniyeh district?”

Jack was getting annoyed with the thrust-and-parry, but he decided it might break the stalemate. “I was meeting a man named Speidel.”

Ysabel let out an exasperated sigh. “Spellman, Jack. Matt Spellman.”

“Right, sorry.”

“Seth was reporting to him.”

Interesting that Seth had shared Spellman’s name with her; in the
Spy Rings for Dummies
manual, sharing a handler’s name was taboo. Why had Seth done it? Did she also know about Raymond Wellesley? He said, “Spellman thinks Seth has done a runner—along with a lot of money.”

“He’s right about the former. The money I don’t know about.”

Jack decided to gamble: “You were part of his network, weren’t you? An agent.” It was a logical guess; if Seth was reporting to Wellesley and Spellman, it suggested they were his handlers. Handlers handled agents. The fact that it was a direct conduit with no cutouts told Jack that Seth was overseeing the network. But what was he, an agent or a CIA operations officer? And what was the purpose of the network? Something to do with Iran?
So many damn questions,
Jack thought. He hated having to play catch-up.

“Who were the men who took me?” he asked.

“I don’t know. But I did get the van’s registration plate.” She closed her eyes for a moment, recalling, then recited it for him.

“Could they have gotten yours?” Jack asked.

“Doubtful. They were too busy diving for cover. Their plate might be useless to us, though—unless you want to ring Spellman.”

“We’re not doing that. I might have a way.”

“From your vast array of financial contacts?” Ysabel said with a smile.

“Yep. I think it was an electrician’s van.”

“It was. I caught a snippet from the placard on the side—Yazdi something. I’ll see what I can find.”

Jack said, “You knew nothing about Seth’s Niavaran apartment? Or about the keys he gave you?”

She shook her head. “As I said, I assumed they were both for Pardis. I’m just guessing, but maybe he thought I’d be able to track down his bolt-hole if things went bad—and if it was important enough.”

This was plausible, Jack decided. By leaving Ysabel initially ignorant of the bolt-hole, he might have been trying to protect her.

“Okay, one more question—”

“Thank goodness.”

“Was Seth really working for Shell?”

“I don’t know.”

While Ysabel’s answers weren’t proof positive she was on Seth’s side, Jack’s gut told him she was on the level.

He had his ally. Provisionally.
Goddamn espionage,
Jack thought. He’d stepped into this world of his own volition, but it had come with a price: Outside your inner circle, trust was a rare thing; of course, the actions of his former girlfriend, Melanie Kraft, hadn’t helped matters. Though she’d had her reasons—objectively good ones—he still considered her turning on him as a betrayal.

BOOK: Tom Clancy Under Fire
10.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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